Potatoes are one of the most rewarding vegetables to grow in a vegetable garden. They are fairly easy to grow and produce many delicious tubers that can be prepared in a limitless amount of dishes.
Growing potatoes takes just a bit of preparation, a little bit of work, and some fun digging at harvest time.
There are many different seed potatoes available to the home vegetable gardener today.
Some very popular potatoes to grow are:
That’s just to name a few! There is a great assortment of potatoes available through most seed companies because of the increase in popularity of growing potatoes.
If you are interested in growing your own potatoes there are a few things to keep in mind in order to have a bountiful harvest.
Here you can learn how to plant potatoes, care for them as they grow and mature, learn different ways of harvesting the potatoes, and common issues you may encounter while growing your own delicious spuds.
Before Planting Potatoes
Before we get to the subject of planting potatoes, let’s talk a minute about seed potatoes.
Certified seed potatoes are the tubers that you buy from seed companies, or garden centers.
Certified seed potatoes have been designated as disease-free and are the ideal choice for growing potatoes in your vegetable garden.
Being disease-free is important because you do not want to inadvertently bring soil-borne disease into your garden soil.
You can grow potatoes from store-bought potatoes if they have not been treated with some type of sprouting inhibitor.
It is still best to use certified seed potatoes to be absolutely sure you don’t bring any unwanted diseases into your vegetable garden.
Cutting the Seed Potatoes
Once you have your seed potatoes, you may need to cut them into plantable sections. Any tubers that are about the size of a small egg can be planted whole.
Larger seed potatoes should be cut into more plantable pieces.
Cut the seed potatoes using a clean, sharp knife so that each piece contains at least two eyes.
Pieces should be cut with plenty of flesh around each eye, since the plant will utilize this stored food during the first couple weeks of growth.
Now that your seed potatoes are cut into plantable pieces, you can plant them right away if it’s time to plant according to your frost date, or you can pre-sprout (chitting) them.
Chitting the Seed Potatoes
Chitting is simply letting the eyes of the seed potato grow out a bit before planting, and is typically performed about two weeks before planting. This can be done before, or after cutting the seed potatoes into smaller pieces.
Chitting has been known to help speed up the sprouting process and can help grow higher yields in less time.
To chit your seed potatoes, simply spread the tubers out onto open-top crates, boxes, or flats. Place the tubers with the seed end pointing up.
You want to place the tubers in a warm location (about 70°F) with medium light.
The warmth will promote the sprouts to grow, while the light will help keep them short and strong. This is important so the sprouts will not be easily broken when planting.
Now that your seed potatoes are well-prepared, it’s time to plant.
How To Plant Potatoes
Potatoes require good soil that is well-drained and, at the same time, be able to retain some moisture. A sandy loam soil with a pH of 6.0 – 8.0 is ideal.
Avoid soil that is alkaline as this can promote scab, and soil that is too cool, or too moist as this can cause the seed potato to rot.
Raised beds can help to alleviate issues with compacted soils and improve drainage.
The earliest time you should plant is about two weeks before your last frost date.
Optimum soil temperature is between 50°F and 70°F. Check with your local cooperative extension office for ideal planting times for your area.
Planting Potatoes In Rows
The width between rows is determined mainly by the size of your garden space.
The ideal distance between rows is 30 inches to 36 inches, but you can get by with 20 inches to 26 inches for smaller spaces.
Planting potatoes farther apart can help deter issues during droughts or if you have poor soil.
More narrow spacing can help to create a canopy in summer, keeping weeds at bay while also shading the soil keeping it cooler.
Dig a shallow trench about six to eight inches deep, and three inches wide. Plant the seed potatoes about twelve inches apart.
Cover the seed pieces immediately after planting with four inches of soil maximum. Do not cover them too deeply.
Planting Potatoes Using a Cage
If you have limited garden space, you can grow potatoes in boxes, or cages.
Set the cage on loosened, prepared soil, and plant seed pieces six to eight inches apart. Cover lightly with no more than four inches of soil.
Once the plants emerge and grow to about six to 8 inches tall, add soil around the plants, leaving the top four to six inches of the plant exposed.
Continue adding soil around the plants every few weeks as they grow upward.
This method can produce more potatoes in far less space.
When planting the seed potatoes make sure the eyes, or sprouts, are always facing up towards the sky. This goes for any planting method you may use.
How To Care for Potatoes
Potatoes grown in rows will need to be hilled as the plants grow.
Once the plants reach a height of eight inches, hill soil around the plants just leaving the top four to six inches exposed.
Hilling helps cool the soil and gives more room for new tubers to grow.
This will need to be repeated every two to three weeks depending on the rate at which the potato plant grows.
Providing mulch in the form of hay straw, or dried grass clippings will also improve tuber growth, keep the soil cooler, retain soil moisture, and suppress weeds.
Potatoes arte thirsty plants will developing so make sure to keep the soil consistently moist until the plant begins to bloom.
Avoid overwatering since soggy soil conditions can lead to rotten tubers.
Once the blooms begin to emerge you can water less often. As the tubers mature, they need to slow their growth.
Too much water towards the end of the season will cause the potatoes to become disfigured.
How to Harvest Potatoes
There are two main ways that you can harvest your potatoes: digging for “new” potatoes, and harvesting the main crop.
You can also harvest using both methods, but the more new potatoes you harvest, the less you will have for the main crop.
Harvesting New Potatoes
New potatoes are those that are small and newly grown on the plant. About 40 – 60 days after planting these new potatoes can be gently harvested from the plant.
Carefully dig under the potato plant to see if you can find any new potatoes. They are generally anywhere from one inch to two inches in diameter.
Avoid damaging the plant roots and stressing it out while stealing a few of the delicious new potatoes. The best practice is to try to harvest a few new potatoes from each plant.
Harvesting Main Crop Potatoes
For later potato varieties, harvest the potatoes when the plant dies back.
Once the plants begin to brown and wilt leave the tubers in the ground for about two weeks.
This will cause them to cure, or toughen up a bit, and can help to prolonge their storage life while prevent bruising.
Harvest the potatoes in the morning hours while it is still cool. Avoid harvesting during the hot times of the day.
You can hand dig for the potatoes, or use a small garden fork to carefully dig the potatoes out of the soil.
It’s always best to harvest potatoes when the soil is dry. If the soil is wet, wait a day or so for it to dry out before harvesting the potatoes.
Common Pests and Diseases of Potatoes
Use good sanitary gardening habits to help reduce the chances for soil-borne diseases.
Avoid wetting the plant leaves when watering. Direct the water stream at the soil not the plant to reduce the risk of blights.
Always use crop rotation methods.
Gophers can be a problem will growing potatoes if you have them in your area.
The best way to deal with gophers is by trapping them, or luring them away from your potatoes with different scent repellants found at most garden centers.
The Colorado potato beetles is the most common insect pest of potatoes. Just a few of these beetles can strip a potato plant of most of its foliage in a couple days.
Keep a close watch on signs of the beetle and hand pick off the plant if found. Drop them in a bucket of soapy water, or crush them.