How To Grow Potatoes

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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:

Kennebec

Red Pontiac

Russian Banana

German Butterball

Russet Norkotah

Yukon Gold

Purple Majesty

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.

cutting seed potatoesLarger 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.

Hill Potato Plants When 8 Inches TallOnce 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.

Harvesting PotatoesOnce 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

Potatoes are susceptible to a few diseases, the main one being blight. Potatoes are in the same plant family as tomatoes, and are susceptible to the same diseases.

Colorado Potato BeetleUse 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.

Try These Awesome Potatoes!

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Comments

  1. This was a big help for my first time planting potato’s thanks for doing this.

  2. Great tips. I have grown potatoes for years with moderate success. I now know I am not properly hilling them. I can’t wait to try it the right way. Also, I have always been told you have to heal potatoes and allow the flesh to dry before setting them in the ground, but you make no mention of that. Is there no merit to this practice? I was told this was to help prevent disease from entering the cut potato. Thank you for all you do!

    • Hi Brandi – Hilling soil around the potato plants helps to increase the yield of the plant quite a bit. The more you can hill the more potatoes you should get in many cases. Thank you for bringing up the part about drying the potato pieces. There is merit to that procedure. Many believe in allowing the potato pieces to dry out before planting, while others just cut the pieces and plant.

      You want to allow the pieces to dry out first if you have very wet, or soggy soil. This can help prevent the potato pieces from rotting, or developing scab. If you have well-draining soil then it’s not really needed, although you can still allow them to dry some before planting if you like. It won’t hurt anything.

  3. Perfect timing! I just received my seed potatoes in the mail yesterday. Am going to experiment with grow bags, since this is my first time planting taters and I want to maximize yields. I’ll probably plant them over the weekend, since we’re supposed to have great weather in the DC area… wish me luck!

    • Hi Sonia! I think you will really enjoy growing potatoes. When using the grow bags, or any type of container, remember to keep them well watered. Once the temperatures begin to rise the soil can dry out fairly quickly. It can be a tricky balance because you want the soil to be consistently moist, but not soggy.

      Good luck and let me know how your potatoes are doing every now and then!

  4. Hi…I had some organic potatoes that sprouted in my cabinet. I decided to just plant them in my garden to see what came up. The plants have grown to over three feet tall and blossomed. Some now have round fruit type things growing on them (maybe three to four in a bunch). The plants are getting heavy and some are falling to the ground. Do you know what the round fruits are? And should I tie the plants up so they don’t fall to the ground? I have never had potatoes before. Thank you for any information you have on this. Best to you.

    • Hi Toni – At times some heirloom variety (and some hybrids) potatoes will form a berry at the blooms. Whatever you do, DO NOT eat those berries. They are poisonous! You can just leave them on the plant. They will not harm it. If you have children, dogs, or cats you may want to pick the berries off and throw them in the trash to keep them from accidentally eating them. Eating a couple might not kill you, but you could get very sick.

      You can tie them up to keep them from touching the soil if you like, but it’s not necessary.

  5. Thank you for this great site!

    I’m going to try growing potatoes in large plastic pails with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. How much sunshine/day do potato plants need?

    Cheers
    Sue

  6. Katy Brown says:

    Hi Tee,
    I have read in several different places that potatoes and tomatoes should not be planted near each other due to concerns with blight. My question is, how far apart in required. I have raised beds in my “garden area” with lots of tomatoes, garlic, cukes, etc. Should the potatoes be planted in a totally different area of my yard or will a separate raised bed in the “garden area” be okay?

    Thanks for your great info,
    Katy

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