One of the most important staple food crops in the world, there are many different types of potatoes loosely classified between early season potatoes and late-season potatoes. Potatoes are a cool-season vegetable able to tolerate light frost in the early spring and able to grow during the cooler part of the growing season (during the fall months) in many areas of the country.
The portion of the potato plant which is harvested for food is called a tuber, not a root, and is often associated with the great potato famine in Ireland in the 19th century. Tuber formation occurs when soil temps are between 60 and 70 degrees F. (16-21 C.) and will fail to thrive if temperatures hit over 80 degrees F. (27 C.)
All potato plant varieties may be planted in March or April whether early season, midseason, or late-season potatoes. Care must be taken not to plant the seed potatoes too early, however, as the pieces may rot in overly damp soil, and likewise, if planted in March, they stand a chance of being frozen back by a late frost. Midseason potatoes can be planted as late as the first of July, while late-season potatoes are the best variety to plant for winter storage purposes.
Types of Potatoes
There are over 100 potato plant varieties with the most commonly purchased at the supermarket being the russet potato, specifically the Russet Burbank. Although more of us may buy Russet Burbanks, the precipitation flux and temperature of most of the country prohibits home garden production. Have no fear though; you are sure to find a type of potato among the 100 that is ideal for your home garden and climate.
Early Season Potatoes
Early season potatoes reach maturity within 75 to 90 days. One example of a tuber ideally suited for early season planting is the Irish Cobbler, an irregularly shaped variety with light brown skin.
You may also opt for the Norland, a red-skinned potato that is resistant to scab. Choose northern-grown seed potatoes for best results when planting in the early season, and of course, certified disease-free.
A hugely popular variety, the Yukon Gold is one of the trendiest yellow-fleshed varieties and has a moist, almost buttery flavor and texture. Yukon Golds have large, evenly sized and shaped tubers and produce not only a great early season harvest but the smaller plant size allows for closer spacing.
There are a plethora of mid-season potato types which mature between 95 and 110 days. The aforementioned Russet Burbank is an example of just such a variety and is ready for harvest after about 95 days.
Additionally, some other mid-season potato varieties to choose from are:
- French Fingerling
- Gold Rush
- Ida Rose
- Kerrs Pink (which is an heirloom)
- Purple Viking
- Red Pontiac
- Red Sangre
- Rose Finn Apple
- Yukon Gem
Late Season Potatoes
Types of potatoes suitable for planting during the latter part of the growing season (late summer into autumn) will mature in 120 to 135 days. One such varietal is the Katahdin, a light brown skinned spud which is resistant to some of the viruses, such as verticillium potato wilt and bacterial wilt, which may plague the potato grower.
Kennebec is another late-season potato plant variety as well as:
- All Blue
- Bintje (an heirloom)
- Canela Russet
- Fingerling Salad
- German Butterball
- King Harry (an heirloom)
- Purple Peruvian
- Russet Norkotah
Another heirloom variety is called Green Mountain and is notable for its wonderful flavor. However, it has an indistinct shape and is no longer commercially produced but well worth the effort due to its dependable production.
Most fingerling types of potatoes are late-season potatoes as well.
Yes, there are more options than just digging trenches.
If you’ve been thinking about growing your own potatoes, now’s the time. But before you get started, you need to consider the right planting approach for your yard. A few years ago, I conducted a test: I grew German Butterball potatoes using seven different planting methods. Throughout the course of the growing season, the pros and cons of each became quite transparent.
Take a look at the different planting methods you can consider, including those that worked the best and which ones delivered less-than-stellar results.
Cheapest: Hilled Rows
Dig straight, shallow trenches, 2 to 3 feet apart, in prepared soil. Plant seed potatoes 12 inches apart and cover with about 3 inches of soil. When the shoots reach 10 to 12 inches tall, use a hoe or shovel to scoop soil from between rows and mound it against the plants, burying the stems halfway. Repeat as needed through the growing season to keep the tubers covered.
Unlike container gardening, there’s nothing to buy or build and no soil to transport. This is a simple, inexpensive, and proven method that farmers have used for millennia. It’s practical for large-scale plantings, also.
However, the quality of the soil may limit the yield. In places where the dirt badly compacted or low in organic matter, an above-ground technique might work better.
Here’s a video that shows this potato-planting method:
Least Digging: Straw Mulch
Place seed potatoes on the surface of prepared soil following the spacing specified for hilled rows and cover them with 3 to 4 inches of loose, seed-free straw. Mound more straw around the stems as they grow, eventually creating a layer of one foot or more in depth.
The benefit here is that the thick mulch conserves soil moisture and smothers weeds. Harvest is effortless with no digging, and this method is suggested as a way to thwart the Colorado potato beetle. However, this produced a smaller yield than the hilled row and field mice have been known to use eat the crops under the cover of the straw.
Biggest Yield: Raised Beds
Loosen the soil in the bottom of a half-filled raised bed. Space seed potatoes about 12 inches apart in all directions and bury them 3 inches deep. As the potatoes grow, add more soil until the bed is filled. If possible, simplify harvest by removing the sides.
This method yielded the largest harvest in my trials, and the potatoes were uniformly large in size. Raised beds are a good choice where the garden soil is heavy and poorly drained. The downside: The soil to fill the bed has to come from somewhere — and it takes a lot.
Good for DIYers: Wood Boxes
Build or buy a bottomless square box — I used lumber from discarded pallets — and plant the same as for a raised bed. The box is designed so you can add additional slats and soil as the plants grow. In theory, you can temporarily remove the bottom slat for harvesting, or just tip it over.
This is another strategy for growing potatoes where the ground soil is of poor quality. It yielded a similar quantity to the raised bed. However, a lot of time and effort went into building the box and I felt the results did not justify the effort.
Best for Wet Yards: Wire Cylinders
Using hardware cloth with ¼-inch mesh, fashion a cylinder about 18 inches in diameter and 24 inches tall. Put several inches of soil in the bottom, then plant three or four seed potatoes and cover them with 3 inches of soil. Continue to add soil as the potatoes grow. To harvest, lift the cylinder and pull the soil back to expose the tubers.
In a climate with incessant spring rains, the wire mesh would provide excellent drainage and prevent the soil from getting waterlogged. This is another raised technique to consider where garden soil is poor. Unfortunately, I only harvested a small number of undersized tubers from the cylinders — a dismal showing, probably because the soil-compost mixture I used dried out so quickly that the plants lacked adequate moisture.
Easiest Harvest: Grow Bags
Commercial growing bags are made with heavy, dense polypropylene. Put a few inches of a soil-compost mixture in the bottom of a bag, then plant three or four seed potato pieces and cover with 3 inches of soil. Continue adding soil as the plants grow until the bag is full. To harvest, turn the bag on its side and dump out the contents.
Grow bags can go on patios or driveways or where garden soil lacks nutrients. The bags should last for several growing seasons. Their dark color captures solar heat to speed early growth. Harvest is simple and the yield can be impressive, considering the small space each bag occupies. However, this can be a pricey technique. The brand of bag I used costs $12.95.
Best to Skip: Garbage Bags
Fill a large plastic garbage bag the same way as a grow bag, punching a few holes through the plastic for drainage. Roll the top edge of the bag to help it stay upright; otherwise the bag will sag and spill soil. To harvest, rip the bag and pour out the contents.
Like the grow bags, a garbage bag can be employed where in-ground growing is not an option. Black bags capture solar heat to speed early growth. Aesthetically, however, this is the least appealing choice. Our yield was meager, perhaps because the thin plastic allowed the soil to heat up too much, limiting tuber formation.
Written by Alex Darc
Many people think that growing potatoes in your Square Foot Garden isn’t possible, but if you choose the right varieties you can have a successful potato crop. Mel made some great videos on how to grow potatoes in pots and grow bags, but we’re going to talk about how to grow them right in your SFG plot.
The most important part of growing potatoes is starting with certified disease free seed potatoes from a reputable source. Can you plant potatoes from your grocery store? Yes, you can, but grocery store potatoes are not tested for soil borne diseases, like Early or Late Blight, or Scab or Black Scurf, and could infect your Mel’s Mix with diseases that will affect your nightshade crops for years. In addition you will likely have no idea what variety the potatoes are, when to expect to harvest them, or whether they are determinate or indeterminate, and when it comes to planting in SFGs, this is very important.
Indeterminate vs Determinate?
What is the difference?
Indeterminate potatoes are also called Late Season potatoes and they will continue to grow for most of the season often until frost and the plants will get very large and if you mound them up with soil or mulch, they can grow potatoes all the way up the stalk.
Determinate varieties are sold as Early Season Potatoes (55-70 days) and Mid Season potatoes (70-90 days). These plants have a more restricted growth and will begin to die back when it is time to harvest. These plants will not grow as tall as the indeterminate potatoes and when they start to flower they do not need to be mounded any higher. And that is what makes them perfect for SFG or planting in 3-5 gallon grow bags or pots.
Preparing to Plant:
The next part is all about timing. Plan to plant your potatoes out 2-4 weeks before your last frost. 4 weeks before that, plan to start greensprouting (also called chitting) your potatoes.
To do that, place the potatoes rose end up in egg cartons located near a window. The rose end is the end with the most eyes. The warmth will help them break dormancy and the light will make the sprouts nice and green and keep them short. Many people sprout their potatoes in the dark, so the sprouts get really long and white, but that is not the best choice for the best harvest.
Shorter, greener sprouts are stronger and provide more food to the plant even while they are trying to break to the surface of the soil. The goal in greensprouting is short dark green leafy sprouts, not spindly, leggy sprouts.
If your potatoes are larger than the size of a chicken egg, you may want to cut them up into smaller pieces. This will give you more pieces to plant and can be a frugal way to extend your planting area. Try to divide them into pieces no smaller than an egg with no less than three sprouts per piece. Do this at least a week before planting so that the cuts have time to heal. They should be well healed and dry before planting.
Before planting, make sure your bed is well drained and the soil temp is at least 45˚. In SFG you can choose to plant 1 potato, 2 potatoes or 4 in a square foot. The more you plant in a square the smaller your harvested potatoes will likely be. Planting 4 to a square is a good method for getting “new potatoes” or baby potatoes. If you are hoping for large storage/baking potatoes, plant 1 or 2 to a square.
In your square, make a deep hole (or 2 or 4 depending) and place your potato sprouts side up as close to the bottom of the box as you can. Then cover with an inch or two Mel’s Mix.
Once a week, cover the sprouts again with Mel’s Mix you had removed from the hole. Do this until the soil is nearly level. At this stage you can either add a “top hat”, a bottomless box to hold added soil to your square( you can purchase one here https://www.sfgrrv.com/product-page/top-hat-box-for-carrots-leeks-potatoes) and keep adding Mel’s Mix or good light mulch , or just pile the mulch on top like a mound. I use straw or salt marsh hay or even chemical free dried grass clippings to cover the plants once more to keep any tubers forming close to the surface from being exposed to sunlight.
Potatoes need 1-2 inches of water a week, and water is critical when they are first planted and when they are flowering. Once tops begin to die back, reduce watering before harvest. Check your plants regularly for potato beetle larvae on the backs of the leaves and any signs of disease. Snip off any flowers to make sure all the energy goes into tuber production, not flower/seed production.
After the appropriate days to maturity for your variety, you can begin harvesting. Mel’s Mix makes potato harvesting easy, because it is light and easy to dig. Remove any mulch you applied and dig with a hand spade so as not to damage any of your potatoes. Try not to disturb the roots of any other plants you have planted in the bed.
When harvesting potatoes that you plan to store long term, you don’t wash them. You can dust the soil off them, but don’t wet or wash them, keeping them dry and a bit dusty will help them keep longer.
About the writer: Alex is an avid gardener and has been Square Foot Gardening since 2008. Living in many different growing zones across the USA, she has faced many gardening challenges. Alex now resides in zone 6b and is an expert in many areas of general organic gardening, concentrating on Square Foot Gardening. Alex is currently a valued moderator of the Official SFG Foundation Facebook group fielding questions from over 65,000 members daily.
How long does it take to grow potatoes? I’m here to give you the answer! Plus, we’re going to briefly discuss the possible factors of delayed growth and proper care for this root crop vegetable.
Potatoes are all-time favorite worldwide. From fried to baked, this vegetable is served in various occasions and embraced for different reasons. Many children prefer eating this than other vegetables, while adults continue to like it because of its versatility. It’s definitely the kind of veggie you want to put on the side of your plate whatever meals you’re having.
As far as planting is concerned, potatoes are also one of the easiest vegetable to grow. There’s no need to have a large acre of land to be able to plant potatoes. As little as 4-square foot, it is enough to grow this vegetable.
Even if you live in an urban area, as long as you have time and determination, it should be easy to sow. The only question we’re trying to answer is how long does it take to grow potatoes?
Variants of Potatoes
You must understand that there are different varieties of potatoes. To be more specific, you can choose one or more among the 14 variants (see the list below). Depending on the type, potatoes can grow from as early as 70 days (more than 2 months) to 120 days (4 months).
1. 70 to 80 Days – Early Harvesting
The following variants of potatoes grow between 10 and 11 weeks: Amandine, Annabelle, Belle de Fontenay, Chérie and Sirtema.
2. 100 Days – Mid-Season Harvesting
There are also Bernadette, Charlotte, Mona Lisa and rose of France. How long does it take to grow potatoes from these variants? It takes about over than 3 months before they are ready to be harvested.
3. 120 Days – Later Harvesting
The kinds of potatoes that grow longer than other variants include Bleue d’Artois, Caesar, Corne de Gatte, Désirée, Vitelotte. You have to wait at least 120 days or 4 months.
Causes of Delayed Growth in Potatoes
It’s not only about how long does it take to grow potatoes that you need to be concerned about. You must also know the potential delay of their growth. This can happen from the time you planted them before harvesting. It’s very important to be aware of such problem to ensure you have plenty of potatoes to harvest when the right time comes.
The following list is the factors that may delay the growth of your potato plants:
1. Too Dry, Wet or Cold Soil
The ideal soil for potatoes must be well-drained and at least 40 degrees F. You can improve the condition of the soil by adding or mixing some organic matter right before you plant them.
Again, how long does it take to grow potatoes? It should be only at least 70 to 120 days, right? If it’s more than 150 days, then there’s problem with the soil
2. Freshly Cut Seed Potatoes
You basically have to plant seed potatoes as the initial process. However, do not pick freshly cut ones as these can become easily dehydrated and do not heal immediately, which can result to growth prevention.
It’s inevitable to say the least that potato growth can be interfered due to pests and diseases. Be aware of flea beetles, leaf hoppers, potato scab, and aphids or generally known as potato bugs/beetles*. Just in case, use natural insecticides to solve this problem.
Planting and Harvesting Tips
Now that we have learned how long does it take to grow potatoes, let’s refresh our mind regarding some basic matter when planting, taking care and harvesting this vegetable.
- 1. Add and mix some organic compost or rotted manure in the soil.
- 2. Plant certified seed potatoes that are 0 to 2 weeks old after last spring frost in well-drained, loose soil. It must be one foot apart and 4-inch deep.
- 3. Water regularly once the tubers start to form.
- 4. Hill potatoes every 2 to 3 weeks for extra protection.
- 5. When harvesting, dig potatoes during a dry day. Do it gently and avoid compacting the soil.
- 6. Start harvesting once the vines of the potatoes die.
- 7. Brush off soil on potatoes before storing in a cool, dry and dark place (ideally 35 to 40 degrees F).
- 8. Do not wash potatoes unless you use them for cooking. Otherwise, it can shorten their storage life.
How long does it take to grow potatoes? Well, you already know the answer! What’s left for you to do is probably start planning seed potatoes.
By: Jarrett Melendez
12 December, 2010
Georgia’s climate is well-suited to growing most varieties of potatoes; you can start as early as February in the southern third of the state. Midwinter is about the earliest you can plant potatoes in most of Georgia. The farther north in the state you live, however, the later you will need to plant your crops. Gardeners in the middle of the state should plant in March, and northern Georgia gardeners should plant in early April.
Buy certified seed potatoes from your local garden center, nursery or farmer’s market. You can also buy organic potatoes to use as seed potatoes. Commercial potatoes usually are treated with growth inhibitors, so they are not good for planting.
Place the seed potatoes in a single layer in a warm, sunny spot for about two to three weeks. This process is called “greening” and gives your potatoes a head start, similar to germinating seeds before planting them in your garden. Do this around mid-January so you can plant by early February.
Prepare your planting area. Work the soil with a garden fork or tiller to a depth of about 10 inches. This aerates the soil and makes it easier for the potatoes to grow and produce crops. Spread a 6-inch layer of compost over the bed, and blend it in to the soil.
- Buy certified seed potatoes from your local garden center, nursery or farmer’s market.
- Spread a 6-inch layer of compost over the bed, and blend it in to the soil.
Cut the potatoes so that there are two to three sprouts on each piece. Dig planting holes that are 6 inches deep, and space them about 10 inches apart. Place a single potato piece in each hole, and mound the soil over it to create 5-inch-tall hills. Water the area thoroughly so that the soil is moist.
Water the potato plants regularly, about twice a week or so, to keep the soil from drying out. Check the height of the plants after about two or three weeks. Once they get about 10 inches tall, bury all but the top 4 inches of the plant. Repeat this process every time the plants reach this height.
- Cut the potatoes so that there are two to three sprouts on each piece.
- Place a single potato piece in each hole, and mound the soil over it to create 5-inch-tall hills.
Use a 10-20-10 formula fertilizer to feed the potatoes once a month. Apply the fertilizer using the instructions on the packaging. You can harvest the potatoes by June or July.
The Spruce / K. Dave
There is nothing better than a perfectly-boiled new potato, lightly buttered and salted. Although a perfectly baked russet runs a close second. If you’ve been accustomed to purchasing potatoes from the grocery store, chances are that you’ve only tasted a few common varieties. When you grow your own, there is a whole world of flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes open to you. You can grow all the new potatoes you could possibly ask for, or grow good keeping potatoes to store for the winter. And the good news is that potatoes are really not much work for the gardener.
Site and Soil
Potatoes should be grown in an area that gets at least six hours of sun, in soil that is of average fertility and well-drained. Heavy clay soils make it difficult for full-size tubers to form. It should also be a spot in which you have not grown potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants for the past two years, to prevent soil-borne diseases.
You’ll be planting early season varieties as soon as soil can be worked and when soil temperatures have reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Mid and late season varieties can be planted one to four weeks before your last spring frost.
You should only plant certified disease-free seed potatoes, which are available in garden centers, nurseries, and catalogs.
For an extra-early start on your early potatoes, you’ll want to “chit” them. This simply means laying your tubers, eye-side up, in a box in a cool, dry place for one to two weeks, until the eyes sprout. You do not need to chit mid and late season potatoes; simply plant the tubers whenever you’re ready.
Small seed potatoes can be planted whole. Those larger than a chicken egg can be cut so that there are one to three eyes per piece (though you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.) Just make sure that you let the cut seed potatoes sit out for at least 24 hours before planting so that the cut sides callous over and they don’t rot.
There are several methods for planting potatoes in your garden:
- Planting in trenches: Dig a trench six to eight inches deep and place potatoes 12 inches apart. Cover with four inches of soil.
- Planting in individual planting holes: Dig a hole six to eight inches deep and wide, place potato in the hole and cover with four inches of soil.
- In containers such as barrels, trash cans, or wire enclosures. Place six inches of soil or potting mix in the bottom, place potatoes on top of the soil, and cover with an additional four inches of soil.
” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />
The Spruce / K. Dave
Growing potatoes is very simple. They require one inch of water per week, and if you’ve amended your soil with compost, won’t require fertilizer. If you haven’t been amending the soil with compost or other organic matter, you can mix a balanced organic fertilizer into the soil at planting time, following the instructions on whichever product you decide to use.
In addition to keeping the area watered and weed free, you’ll need to hill your potatoes regularly. Hilling ensures that the forming tubers stay underground and don’t turn green (green potatoes are poisonous). When the foliage of your potatoes is 12 inches tall, add either soil or straw to the top of the trench or hole, leaving three to four inches of foliage exposed. You’ll want to do this every couple of weeks, being sure to leave the top few inches of foliage exposed each time.
Pests and Diseases
Common pests and diseases for potatoes include:
- Colorado Potato Beetle: handpick beetles, larvae, and eggs from plants
- Flea beetles: keep the area weed-free so you don’t provide cover for flea beetles, spray with insecticidal soap
- Leafhoppers: blast with water from the hose
- Aphids: blast with water from the hose
- Scab: crop rotation, plant resistant varieties (‘Norland’ ‘Chieftain,’ ‘Russet Burbank’)
- Late Blight: crop rotation, clean up previous season’s foliage and tubers, plant resistant varieties (‘Sebago,’ ‘Elba,’ ‘Allegheny’)
If you have the pests mentioned above in your garden, it’s advisable to cover your potato patch with a floating row cover to avoid problems.
” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />
The Spruce / K. Dave
New potatoes can be dug any time during the season, as soon as you see blooms on the plants. If you are growing potatoes to store, you’ll want to let the foliage turn brown. Cut it back, then leave the potatoes in the ground for a few more weeks, being sure to harvest before you get a hard frost.
The best way to harvest potatoes is to use a digging fork and start at the outer edge of the hill or trench. Try to get the fork as deep into the soil as possible, and lift to harvest the potatoes.
You can save seed potatoes from your garden from year to year. Simply save healthy tubers in a cool, dry spot. The good thing about this is that, over time, you end up with a strain of potatoes that is particularly suited to conditions in your garden.
To store potatoes, keep them in a cold but not freezing, dark spot with some humidity. Don’t wash them before storing, but let them sit out for a few days after harvesting so that any soil clinging to the tubers dries thoroughly.
One plant will typically yield between two and ten pounds of potatoes.
” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />
The Spruce / K. Dave
Early Season (65 days until harvest):
- Russet Norkotah
- Red Norland
- Yukon Gold
- Adirondack Red
- Adirondack Blue
- Early Rose
Midseason (80 days until harvest):
- Idaho Russet
- All Blue
- Purple Viking
- Austrian Crescent
- Red Gold
- Rose Finn Apple
- French Fingerling
- Yellow Finn
Late Season (90+ days until harvest):
Potato planting is done using small pieces of mature “seed potato” tubers, during the cool season when the soil is above freezing and in time to before temperatures get above 90 or so.
Start to Finish
Like this? Here’s more:
How to Grow Potatoes 05:02
Potato planting is done using small pieces of mature “seed potato” tubers during the cool season when the soil is above freezing and with enough time to harvest before temperatures get above 90 or so.
Before finding out how to plant a potato for fun or feed a family on the nutritious spuds, you must find a well-drained garden spot that gets at least 7 or 8 hours of sunlight, or grow in a sunny raised bed or large container. This must be done while temperatures are cool, not freezing or broiling hot.
Few people who wonder how do you plant potatoes realize that the tubers actually form on lower stems, not on roots of potato plants. For the ‘taters to grow, you have to pile soil up on the stems as the plants grow.
Start With the Right Kinds
Grocery store potatoes often fail to produce well in home gardens. Instead, visit local garden centers for the best varieties for your part of the country, or shop online to find more interesting varieties, early enough to beat the rush. Buy only fresh, disease-free “certified” seed potatoes.
Prepare the Potatoes for Planting
A few days before planting, cut potatoes into pieces about the size of large eggs, each with one or two “eye” buds on them. Dry them indoors for a day or two to let cuts heal which reduces rotting in cold, wet soils. Dusting with agricultural sulfur can protect against fungal diseases.
How Deep Do You Plant a Potato
The best way to grow potatoes is in rows or hills, but they do well in raised beds and even containers. Bury seed pieces two or three inches deep, about a foot apart, cut side down. Water deeply to start them sprouting.
Important: Hill the Potatoes
Potato tubers sprout on stems above the original seed pieces. Those growing too shallow will get sunburned and turn green and bitter – and can actually become poisonous. When small plants get a few inches tall, pile soil, straw or hay over them until with just a few leaves left showing. Repeat every couple of weeks until there are at least six or eight inches of soil covering the lower stems so that new tubers are never exposed to direct sun.
Keep Plants Growing
Though too much water can cause root and stem rot, and dark or hollow spots in the tubers, plants need a good soaking during dry spells, especially when flowering, to form uniform tubers. Weeds, insects and diseases weaken plants; for good local information on potato pest control, contact your county Extension Service office.
Harvest and Store the Potatoes
Dig small “new” potatoes within about three months, but for larger mature potatoes wait until plants begin to yellow. If they remain green for four months or more, cut the plants down and let tubers dry in place a few days. Avoid cuts and punctures as you dig; do not wash, but gently dust off excess dirt. Those you don’t use quickly can be stored in a cool, dry, dark place for several months, with regular checking for shriveling or decay.
With a little knowledge and preparation, you can plant your very own potatoes in your home or community garden.
Photo by: Mint Images RF/Getty
Mint Images RF/Getty
Potatoes are vegetables many of us may take for granted. After all, “meat and potatoes” is usually a term used to describe basic yet fundamental foods. However, when you look at the over 2,000 varieties of potatoes grown in the spud’s native home of Peru, you quickly realize that this hearty vegetable can be much more exciting than the few varieties you find at the supermarket. In North America, we also have a wide variety of heirloom potatoes that boast a dizzying array of colors, flavors and textures, and you can plant all of them yourself. What’s best is that potatoes are just as hardy in a garden as they are hearty in a soup or stew, meaning that even a novice gardener can get a handsome crop of spuds. So, if you’re a potato fanatic or simply wanting some variety in your veggie garden, read below to learn how to plant potatoes yourself.
Best Conditions for Planting Potatoes
Planting potatoes requires a little bit of preparation, but they’re nothing to get anxious about. As long as tubers have access to decent soil, sun and water, you’re sure to get a good crop. The first thing you need to know about planting them is that they won’t start growing until the soil temperature reaches 45 degrees Fahrenheit. You can typically start to plant potatoes in the spring as soon as the soil is workable (i.e. not frozen solid). However, they won’t start growing until the soil warms up.
Potatoes like lightly packed, loose soil that is well-drained and slightly acidic (pH of five to seven). If you’re not too sure about how well your soil drains, make sure to put rocks or gravel down first before adding soil and be careful not to pack your soil too tightly. Your soil should be moist but avoid over watering. Really wet soil can cause the potatoes to rot.
Potatoes love full sun, so make sure to plant them in an open area where nothing is blocking the rays. Potatoes are pretty resilient, but you should still protect them from frost with insulation, such as mulch. If you plan to plant potatoes early in the spring, pay attention to the weather forecast and make sure to cover up your spuds if the weather is going to drop.
You can also opt to plant your potatoes as late as early June and still be able to harvest later in the winter, although you will still need to pay attention to frosts and protect your spuds. If you get hooked on growing, remember that soil they’re planted in needs to be rotated. This means that you should not grow potatoes in the same spot for at least two to three years to let the soil regain its nutrients.
You are here
Growing potatoes in containers is a great option for anyone who has limited space to garden, is concerned about what is in their soil or is looking for an easier way to harvest potatoes. Almost any vegetable can be grown successfully in a container, and potatoes are no exception.
Though you may not harvest as many potatoes in a container as from garden soil, given the right growing conditions, a single potted potato can produce a considerable number of tubers. All it takes is growing them in a location that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day, choosing the right container and providing enough water.
Choosing and Preparing Seed Potatoes
Potatoes in containers usually don’t get quite as big as their soil-grown counterparts. Rather than trying to grow large russet varieties, container gardeners will likely have better luck growing small “new” potatoes. Potato varieties are also distinguished from one another by how soon they are ready for harvest.
In general, mid or late-season varieties are better choices for containers than early-season types because they will continue to form tubers over a longer period of time. “Seed potatoes,” which aren’t seeds but small potatoes used to grow new plants, should be purchased from reputable seed catalogues or garden centers in the spring. Don’t bother trying to plant grocery store potatoes because these are often treated with chemical sprout inhibitors that will prevent new growth.
Twenty-four to forty-eight hours before planting, seed potatoes need to be prepared. Large seed potatoes can be divided into pieces to produce multiple different plants. As long as a seed potato piece has one or more “eyes,” it should grow into a new potato plant.
Potato eyes are small dimpled areas that contain vegetative buds. Large seed potatoes should be cut into 1-2” diameter pieces that have at least one eye, while small seed potatoes can be planted whole. Allow cut pieces to air dry for a day or two in order to reduce the chance of rotting.
Picking a Container and Potting Soil
A wide variety of different containers can be used to grow potatoes. While it is possible to purchase ready-made potato towers or special growing bags, any opaque container with drainage holes will do, including barrels, garbage bins, plastic storage tubs and chimney flues.
An ideal container will be about 2-3 feet tall with a 10-15 gallon capacity. Avoid containers that are taller than this, because it could be difficult to water them evenly; the top portion of tall containers usually dries out long before the bottom, which can remain soggy and cause potatoes to rot.
Using the right potting mix is just as important as picking a good container. In the ground, potatoes grow best in fertile, acidic, well-drained soils. However, the same garden soils that are good for potatoes grown in the ground can be a poor choice for containerized plants.
Garden soil compacts easily, dries out quickly, yet drains poorly and can contain weed seeds and diseases. Instead, fill containers with a half-and-half mixture of “soilless” potting mix and quality compost. Peat-based potting mixes are lightweight, retain moisture and readily shed excess water, and compost adds important nutrients. Both pre-made soilless potting mixes and bagged compost are available at garden centers.
When it comes to planting seed potatoes, it is important to understand how potato plants develop. After a seed potato has been planted, it grows a main shoot. Rhizomes, which are underground stems, develop off the main stem and produce tubers at their tips.
This means that potatoes are formed above where the original seed potato was planted. When additional soil is mounded around the main stem of the potato plant, new rhizomes will form below the soil line and more tubers will develop.
When getting ready to plant, start by filling the container with about 6-8 inches of potting soil. Next, place seed potatoes within the container, spacing them about one foot apart. The number of seed potatoes to plant depends on the size of the container.
To maximize health and productivity, plan for five gallons of soil volume for each plant. After placing the seed potatoes, cover them with an additional six inches of potting soil. As the growing season goes along, continue to add more soil to the container, leaving six or so inches of foliage exposed at any given time.
Watering and Fertilizing
Adequate watering and fertilization is essential for heathy plant development. The potting soil in containers should be kept moist but never soggy. Water whenever the top 1-2 inches of soil feels dry to the touch, and apply enough water for some to escape out of the bottom drainage holes.
Potatoes require lots of nutrients throughout the growing season to produce new growth and quality tubers. Once shoots emerge, begin using a balanced soluble fertilizer once every couple of weeks.
Choose a product that has a higher middle number (phosphorus) than the first number (nitrogen), because while potatoes need nitrogen to grow heathy green leaves, having more phosphorus is important for tuber production. Synthetic fertilizers with a nutrient ratio of 5-10-10 are good choices. Organic growers can instead use a combination of fish emulsion, greensand, kelp meal and bone meal to feed their plants.
Mature potatoes can be harvested once the tops have yellowed and started to die back, or after the first frost in the fall. Often the easiest way to harvest container-grown potatoes is to spread out a tarp and tip the container onto it. Sifting through the soil should quickly reveal an abundance of tubers.
Handle the potatoes gently – they can bruise – and move them to dry in an area out of the light to avoid greening. Brush excess dry soil from potatoes but don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them. Washing can injure the skin and promote rot. Finally, store the potatoes in a cool, moist, dark environment such as root cellar or basement.