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Planting Potatoes: Things You Should Know

Planting Potatoes

Potato, puhtato. Whatever you call it, it’s hard not to love this starchy root vegetable. 

We eat them as carbohydrates on our plates (cheesy baked potato, anyone?) or as a guilty pleasure like french fries. Imagine if you had fresh potatoes from your backyard each day!

Well, let’s turn that into a reality. We’re dishing out everything you need to know about planting and growing potatoes!

What are potatoes?

What are potatoes
Image: Grow Like Grandad

Potatoes are herbaceous plants that produce stolons with edible underground tubers. It is widely cultivated for its starchy root and has become the world’s 4th most important food crop.

Potato plants are indigenous to South America, specifically Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. Currently, its major producers are China, the United States, Germany, India, and Russia. 

They grow best in well-drained sandy and acidic soil, preferably with pH levels between 4.8 and 5.4. They are also sun-loving plants, requiring at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. 

Here are the key characteristics of potatoes:

Scientific NameSolanum tuberosum
Common NameIrish Potato
Pomme de Terre
White Potato
Seasons of InterestFlowers – Summer and Fall
Fruits – Summer and Fall
Tubers – Summer, Fall and Early Winter
Life CycleAnnual for harvesting
Perennial for planting
Height1 to 2 feet
LightFull Sun
SoilHigh Organic Matter
Good Drainage
Preferred Soil pHAcidic (<6.0)
Watering1 to 2 inches per week
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b
Days to Maturity90 to 120 days
Approximate yield6 to 15 pounds per 10-foot row
EdibilityEdible tubers
ToxicityExtremely Toxic Fruits, Leaves, Roots and Stems

When do you plant potatoes?

When do you plant potatoes
Image: Food Network

Potatoes are best planted from mid-March to late April during the spring season, as they are cool-weather vegetables. 

This time is approximately two to three weeks before the last frost date, so potato plants will sprout just in time for the next frost. 

Here’s a table summarizing the best months to plant potatoes according to their types.

TypeLength of MaturityPlanting MonthsHarvest MonthsSample Varieties
First Early or New Potatoes10 to 12 weeksMarchJune to JulyRed Duke of York
Lady Christl
Second Early Potatoes14 to 16 weeksMarchJuly to AugustCharlotte
Maris Peer
Maincrop Potatoes16 to 22 weeksMid to late AprilAugust to OctoberPink Fir Apple
Maris Piper
King Edward
Sarpo Mira

Ancient folklore also influences the best days to plant potatoes. For instance, in Pennsylvania Dutch folklore, they consider March 17, the feast day of St. Patrick and St. Gertrude, as the official day to plant tomatoes. 

On the other hand, Christian farmers believed that potatoes were evil because of their “eyes,” and planting them on Good Friday and sprinkling Holy Water over them would drive out the devil. 

There seems to be a bit of truth for these two cultural beliefs since St. Patrick’s Day and Good Friday usually happen during March. Based on the table above, potatoes are best planted between mid-March to April, but it’s up to you to follow these traditions.

How to Plant Potatoes

How to Plant Potatoes
Image: Gardening Know How

There are two major parts to growing potatoes – preparing the seed potatoes and planting them. 

Begin your potato planting journey by following these simple steps. 

1. Prepare the seed potatoes.

Prepare the seed potatoes
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration30 minutes to 1 hour
Things You Need

Preparing the seed potatoes involves the cutting up of the potato so it will get “eyes” on each piece. 

The “eye” refers to the puckered spot or bud where the new sprouts will develop. These sprouts will later grow stems and leaves of the new potato plant.

This is followed by a process called “chitting,” where seed potatoes are encouraged to develop shoots before they are planted. It’s best to do this a week or two before your preferred planting date. 

Generally, one pound of seed potatoes can fill a 5 or 8-foot row and yield 10 pounds of potatoes. 

Here are the steps on how to prepare seed potatoes.

How To DoCut the potatoes.
Split the potato in half, where each piece has at least one “eye” out. If the potato is smaller than a golf ball, plant it whole.
Chit the potatoes
Lay the seed potatoes in trays. Make sure the “eyes” are pointing upwards. 
Place the tray in a cool, light, and frost-free area where it will get bright light for 2 to 4 weeks.
Thick, callous, green sprouts will emerge from the seed potatoes, which means they are now ready for planting. 

2. Plant the potatoes.

Plant the potatoes
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration30 minutes to 1 hour
Things You Need

• Seed potatoes
• Water
• Soil
• Compost
• Chicken manure pellets
• Straw

Potato seeds are ready to plant when their sprouts are already around half to 1 inch long. 

Choose a location where the potato plant will get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. It’s also a must that the soil temperature is at least 55°F (12°C) when planting.

Always plant the seed potatoes with the sprouts facing upward and bury them 6 to 8 inches deep in the soil. Finally, provide 12 to 15 inches of space between each plant. 

There are four methods for planting potatoes. Here’s how to do each of them!

How To Do
By Digging Trenches
1. Dig 2 to 2.5-foot (60 to 75 inches) long trenches. Each row must be spaced 3 feet apart.
2. Lay a cushion of compost and chicken manure pellets at the bottom of the trenches. Then, fill each trench with 4 inches of soil.
3. Plant the seed potatoes facing up and 12 to 15 inches apart.
By Digging Holes
1. Dig a 6-inch deep hole for every seed potato. Make sure they are 12 to 15 inches apart.
2. Add chicken manure pellets to these holes.
3. Plant the seed potatoes with the sprouts pointing upwards and cover them with soil.
By Using Straw
1. Prepare the garden bed by removing weeds and adding an inch of compost. 
2. Lay the seed potatoes on the compost with the sprouts facing upward. 
3. Plant them 12 to 15 inches apart, especially for maincrop potato varieties. 
4. Cover the garden bed with 3 inches of straw and dampen them with water. You can use organic or untreated straw bales. 
5. Once the leaves grow 6 inches above the straw, add another 3 inches of straw.
By Using Containers
1. Fill the bottom of your container with 4 to 6 inches of soil. 
2. Lay one or two seed potatoes and cover them with another 2 inches of soil. Make sure they are 5 to 6 inches apart and 3 to 4 inches away from the sides of the container.
3. Once the leaves become visible, add more soil until only ⅔ of the plant springs out of the soil.

How to Care for Potatoes

1. Water potatoes regularly.

Water potatoes regularly
Image: Food Gardening Network

Potatoes require 1 to 2 inches of water per week. They need a regular supply of water, especially when the potato flowers begin to bloom.

However, you should stop watering your potato plant once the leaves turn yellow and it starts to die back. This is to give enough time for the tubers to grow to dry out and toughen up their skin, making them last longer in storage.

2. Use the “hilling” process.

Use the “hilling” process
Image: Hunker

Hilling potatoes means regularly mounding up soil around the plant so that the potato spuds are not exposed to sunlight. 

Whenever the stems of the potato plant rise up to 6 to 8 inches above the ground, cover the potato plant with soil until only two-thirds of the plant is poking out. 

We prevent potato spud exposure to sunlight at this time because it causes them to turn green and produce a toxic chemical called solanine. 

Solanine is a poisonous substance that causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, and headache to anyone who ingests it. So, once the tuber turns green, they are no longer edible, lessening your potato harvest for the season. 

3. Feed the potatoes regularly.

Feed the potatoes regularly
Image: Low Technology Institute

Potato tubers grow best when the soil temperature is kept between 60 to 70°F (15 to 21°C). To maintain this ideal temperature, you can add mulch or other organic matter to the soil to reduce its temperature by 10 degrees. 

Applying mulch also prevents weeds and pests, bacteria, and fungi from growing and infecting the potato plant.

If you decide to use fertilizer, use one rich in calcium and magnesium to help the tuber formation. On the other hand, don’t use nitrogen-rich fertilizers because they will only encourage foliage growth and not tuber growth.

4. Cover the plant from frost.

Cover the plant from frost
Image: Wisconsin Horticulture

Although potato plants can self-heal from frost bites, these can divert the plant’s energy away from growing large and healthy tubers from below. 

So if you’re expecting frost in your area, immediately cover your potato plants with warming fleece or row covers. Make sure to also draw up the soil on new shoots to protect them from getting damaged by the cold.

5. Protect the potatoes from pests and diseases.

Protect the potatoes from pests and diseases
Image: Gardening Know How

Potatoes and tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are part of the Nightshade or Solanaceae family. 

But that’s not the only thing these crops have in common. Members of the Nightshade family also share the same pest infestation and diseases. 

So to break the cycle, crop rotation is the key. Crop rotation means planting one crop in a particular area only once every 3 to 4 years. 

For example, in a plant bed, you grew tomatoes during the first year. Next year, this plant bed should have a different crop, like broccoli, which is not a Nightshade family member. 

Continue to plant different crops in the plant bed, and only in the 3rd year can you plant tomatoes again in the original spot. 

This way, crop rotation ensures that plant diseases do not stay and spread through the same members of the Nightshade family that are vulnerable to the disease. 

Apart from crop rotation, here are other pests and diseases that commonly affect potato plants and how to address them. 

Pest or DiseaseCauseSymptom/sTreatment or Prevention
Potato ScabBacteriaRough, brown and sunken spots on potatoesUse disease-resistant potato seeds.

Dust seed potatoes with sulfur.
Early BlightVirusLower leaves with concentric spots and yellow ringsRemove the infected plant. 

Use disease-resistant potato seeds.

Avoid overhead and overwatering.

Sanitize gardening tools.

Practice crop rotation.
AphidsInsectYellow leavesSooty black moldApply insecticidal soap.

Place banana or orange peels around the potato plant.

Wipe the leaves with dish soap and water solution. 
Colorado Potato BeetlesInsectYellow orange eggs laid on the undersides of leaves
Holes in leaves
Manually remove the beetles. 

Apply straw mulch.

Use row covers. 

Practice crop rotation. 
WirewormsInsectSevered seedlings
Wilted leaves
Dig holes with germinating beans as bait to kill wireworms. 

Use soil with good drainage.

Practice crop rotation.

How to Harvest Potatoes

How to Harvest Potatoes
Image: Harvest to Table
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration30 minutes to 1 hour
Things You NeedShovel

Potatoes are best harvested when the weather is cool, usually between June to October.

Early or new potatoes can already be gathered 2 to 3 weeks after the plant produces flowers. However, if you want larger potatoes, harvest them 2 to 3 weeks after the leaves have wilted and the plant has completely died back. 

Here’s how to succesfully harvest your potatoes!

How To Do
1. Using a shovel, work your way to dig out the potato plant’s root. Be careful and avoid stabbing the potatoes themselves because this will cause them to rot. 
2. After loosening the soil around it, lift up the plant to expose the potato spuds. 
3. Lay the potatoes in the field unwashed for 2 to 3 days. This curing process allows the skin to thicken and extend its storage life.
4. If you see small green spots, trim them off the potato because they contain a toxic substance called solanine. 
5. Only use a rag or brush off the soil on the potatoes. 
6. Do not wash potatoes unless you’ll be eating them. Washing will shorten their shelf life.

How to Store Potatoes

How to Store Potatoes
Image: Treehugger

Potatoes are best stored in a cool dark place, preferably with a temperature between 35 to 40°F (1 to 4°C). In this environment, your potato yield can last for 6 months.

The storage area also needs to be humid with adequate air circulation to prevent the potatoes from withering. 

How to Cook Potatoes

How to Cook Potatoes
Image: Rocky on Food52

There are generally 6 types of potatoes found in the market. Here’s a table on how to cook with each of them.

TypeHow to CookVarieties
Russet Burbank
German Butterball
Inca Gold
Mountain Rose
Yukon Gold
Yellow Finn
Making au gratin
Klondike Rose
Red Pontiac
Cranberry Red
Mountain Rose
Making au gratin
White Rose
Cal White
Russian Blue
All Blue
Purple Cream of the Crop
Purple Majesty
French Fingerling
Austrian Crescent
Russian Banana

FAQs on Planting Potatoes

What is the best month to plant potatoes?

Potatoes are best planted from mid-March to late April because the cool spring weather is ideal for growing potato plants. 

How late can you plant potatoes?

Potatoes can be planted as late as June, but expect only a small harvest of new potatoes between September to October. 

What are new potatoes?

New potatoes are the thin and small potatoes harvested before the plant fully matures. These new potatoes are usually sweet and waxy and best for boiling, steaming, and making soups.

Is a potato a vegetable?

Potato is an edible root vegetable. It is packed with fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and other nutrients that keep the body healthy.

Is a potato a root?

Potatoes are roots that develop into starchy enlarged stems called tubers.

Do potato plants produce flowers?

Potato plants produce flowers, and their growth is usually a sign of the plant’s maturity. However, these flowers are toxic as they contain solanine which causes diarrhea, headache, and abdominal pain in humans.

What parts of potato plants are poisonous?

Potato plants’ stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits are poisonous because they contain high levels of a poisonous alkaloid called solanine.

Are green potatoes toxic?

Green potatoes are toxic as this indicates the presence of poisonous solanine in the tubers. To be safe, trim the green part of the potato or avoid eating it altogether.

What are the worst companion plants for potatoes?

Never plant potatoes near tomatoes, sunflowers, raspberries, squash, pumpkins, or cucumbers because these plants are vulnerable to the same pests and diseases.

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