Potatoes are some of the most rewarding plants to grow in your vegetable garden. They are filling, rich in vitamins, minerals, and oxidants, and are a delicious crowd-pleaser on any dinner table. Provide them with full sun, loose soil, compost, and regular watering, and they will produce a large crop that will last you throughout winter.
In this how to grow potatoes guide, we’ll discuss the growing requirements, when and how to plant, harvest, store, and prevent and treat the most common potato pests and diseases. Also, for those looking for an easy way to grow potatoes, we’ll look at five methods that don’t require digging, tilling, or hilling.
Growing Potatoes — The Basics
There are as many ways to grow potatoes as ways to cook them. These vegetables have been cultivated for over 10,000 years, and farmers and gardeners have always looked for ways to make growing them easier.
Let’s start with the traditional method for growing potatoes: planting them in the garden soil.
When to Plant Potatoes
You can start planting potatoes outdoors at least two weeks after the last spring frost. Potatoes are not frost-hardy, and freezing temperatures can cause the tubers to rot in the ground and damage established plants.
The soil temperature for growing potatoes should be at least 45°F. Once planted, the ideal temperature range for plant and tuber growth is between 60°F and 70°F.
Where to Plant Potatoes
Plant potatoes in a part of your garden that receives full sun. These vegetables need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day for healthy growth. Potatoes can tolerate some partial shade (less than 4 hours of sunlight per day), but they will grow slower and take longer to mature.
Getting Potatoes to Sprout
Usually, potatoes kept in storage will sprout on their own. But you can encourage them to sprout indoors — a process known as chitting — 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost.
Chitting potatoes is not mandatory, but it will give you a better idea of how many sprouted potatoes you have available for planting and give you a head start in the growing season.
Start by picking healthy-looking potatoes without any bruises or blemishes. Set them on a single layer in a cool, ventilated place that gets filtered light.
Avoid freezing temperatures, which prevent sprouting, and direct sun, which will make the tubers go green. Potatoes will sprout indoors in about 2 to 4 weeks, developing small stem buds known as “eyes.” Keep three eyes on each potato, and rub the other ones off with your finger.
Some gardeners recommend cutting larger potatoes in halves or quarters before planting them. Others recommend leaving them whole to avoid the risk of rot. If you want to cut your potatoes, do so 3 to 5 days before planting to give the “wound” plenty of time to callus over.
If any potatoes start rotting after being cut, throw them away.
Potatoes grow best in a well-draining, nutrient-rich, sandy, slightly acidic soil. They need plenty of organic matter to thrive and benefit from a generous application of compost before planting.
Prepare the soil in the fall, the year before you plan to grow your potatoes. Dig it to a depth of at least one foot, and incorporate plenty of manure, compost, grass clippings, leaf mold, and other green plant matter left over after harvesting your other vegetables.
Potatoes can tolerate a pH as low as five but prefer a pH range of 6 to 6.5. Use a soil test kit to check if your planting site meets the potato growing requirements.
You can also grow potatoes in slightly alkaline soil, but this will make them susceptible to a disease called scab. The scab doesn’t harm the potatoes or spoil their taste but will create rough, hardened patches on the tubers.
Planting and Spacing
Dig a furrow about 5 inches deep, and place your potatoes in it with the sprouted stems (or eyes) pointing up. To give each plant room to grow, space potatoes at least one foot apart. Cover them with a layer of compost, then water them well.
Hilling potatoes or covering them with soil as they grow is necessary. Potato tubers grow from small stems called stolons, which emerge from the part of the main stem that’s underground.
The more you earth up your plant, the more potatoes you will have. If you skip this step, your plants will grow many stems, leaves, and flowers and produce a very small tuber harvest.
Hilling also protects the tubers from sunlight. If they are exposed to the sun for more than a day, tubers will start turning green and produce a substance called solanine, which makes them turn bitter, and can cause solanine poisoning.
Start hilling your potatoes when the plants are about 6 inches tall. Use a garden hoe or a rake and pull the soil towards the plant.
You can also use straw, grass clippings, and compost to build mounds around the main stems to make your job easier. Cover the plants until only a few of the top leaves are showing. Repeat the process 2 or 3 times throughout the growing season.
Water your potatoes regularly to keep the soil moist but not soaked. Potato plants need plenty of water when they’re young. You may need to water them twice a week in hot, dry climates.
You can reduce your watering frequency to once a week when the plants start flowering and the harvesting time is around the corner.
Potatoes are heavy feeders but don’t always need fertilizer applications. If your soil has been amended with compost and manure before planting, and if you use compost and grass clippings to hill them, that should provide them with all the nutrients they need.
Otherwise, use a liquid fertilizer low in nitrogen but rich in potassium and phosphorus. An N-P-K nutrient ratio of 5-10-10 will work nicely.
When to Harvest Potatoes
How long will it take for potatoes to develop? Small new potatoes are ready as early as ten weeks. However, larger potatoes can take between 80 and 100 days to mature.
You can start harvesting potatoes two weeks after they begin flowering. First, remove some of the soil or mulch from the top, and dig out some of the new potato tubers. Pull the soil back around the plant when you’re done.
If you’re not in a hurry, you can leave potatoes in the ground for up to two weeks after the plants have died off.
However, avoid leaving any potatoes in the ground after harvesting your main crop or storing potatoes in the ground over winter. If you leave them in the ground for too long, they will begin to rot.
Although some tubers left in the soil can survive the winter frost and sprout the following spring, growing potatoes in the same spot year after year is not ideal.
This can lead to a buildup of pests and soilborne diseases. If you’re growing potatoes directly in the garden soil, always practice crop rotation to keep your vegetables healthy.
How to Store Potatoes
Use a soft brush to remove any soil from the potatoes after harvesting them. Do not wash them.
Store your potatoes in baskets or wooden or plastic crates. Keep them in a root cellar, a pantry, or a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Stored this way, they will keep for at least five months.
If you don’t have a cellar, put your potatoes in a paper bag and store them in a dark, dry cupboard for up to two weeks.
Alternatively, you can cut your potatoes into cubes or wedges, blanch them, then either freeze or can them. Never keep potatoes in the fridge or next to apples, bananas, and onions, or they will begin to spoil.
Alternative Ways to Grow Potatoes
Growing potatoes in the garden soil can be pretty labor-intensive. If you’re not a fan of digging and tilling, you can use some alternative methods.
Growing Potatoes in Containers
You can grow potatoes in pretty much any container you can think of. This includes:
- Soil or compost bags
- Plastic or clay pots
- Hardware cloth (¼ inch mesh) cylinders
There are just two things to keep in mind:
- Your container should always have drainage holes. Use a drill piece to make holes at the bottom of a bin or bucket, or poke some holes around the bottom of your soil or compost bag.
- The container should be at least 16 inches in diameter. A container this size can fit 2 to 3 seed potatoes.
Fill ⅓ of your container with a well-draining potting soil mix. You can also incorporate some slow-release organic fertilizer, such as bone meal, to give the young plants a nutrient boost.
Next, place your seed potatoes with the stem buds (eyes) pointing up, then add another layer of soil on top. The container should be half-filled with soil at this point.
Keep your container in a sunny part of your garden and water it regularly. When the potatoes are 6 inches tall, cover them up to the top leaves with soil.
Repeat the process until the container is full, then harvest your potatoes when the plants begin to die down.
Growing Potatoes in Tires
One easy way to grow potatoes is using tires. It requires fewer materials, is less labor-intensive, keeps the soil warm, makes harvesting easier, and ensures that the plants receive plenty of light throughout the entire growing process.
Start by placing a sheet of cardboard on the ground. Place one tire on top and fill it with soil and compost.
Next, plant your sprouted potatoes about 2 inches deep and water them well.
As the plants grow, add another tire on top, and cover it with another layer of soil. Repeat the process until you have 4 or 5 stacked tires, wait until the potatoes flower, then dismantle the tire stack to harvest your tubers.
Potential Health Concerns About Growing Potatoes in Tires
Although this method is popular with many gardeners, it’s not always safe to grow potatoes in tires. Old tires, in particular, can contain toxic substances such as benzene, toluene, xylene, and heavy metals such as lead and copper.
These substances will leach into the soil during watering, where the plants absorb them, posing a health risk. So if your goal is to grow potatoes in an organic garden, tires may not be the best choice.
Growing Potatoes Under Polythene Sheets
This is a great way to grow potatoes without hilling. The black polythene sheets keep the soil warm, reduce your water usage, reduce weeds and slugs, and make it easier to harvest your potatoes.
Prepare the soil by digging it to one foot, adding compost and manure, and then lay down the polythene sheet.
Make sure to anchor it well. Otherwise, it can blow away in the wind.
Next, cut several 6-inch squares in the sheet, about one foot apart, and place one potato seed in each hole, 6 inches deep.
After planting, there’s very little work left to do. You don’t need to hill your potatoes or dig out the weeds. Just check that the soil is moist now and then.
Then, in the fall, when the stems and leaves die down, cut them off, lift the polythene sheets, and harvest your potato crop.
Growing Potatoes in Straw (Ruth Stout Method)
The Ruth Stout method is a wonderful choice if you’re a fan of permaculture or if you want to avoid digging, tilling, and hilling your potatoes.
First, start preparing the planting site in the fall. Take several bales of old straw and pull them apart, spreading the straw on the ground in an 8-inch deep layer. If you have any green compost or vegetable kitchen scraps, you can also mix them in. The straw will gradually decompose, and it will turn into nutrient-rich mulch by spring.
Plant your seed potatoes in the straw two weeks after the last frost. Simply dig a small hole about 5 inches deep, put the potatoes inside, cover with straw, and water them well.
Cover everything but the top leaves with more straw as the potatoes grow.
Repeat the process two more times, wait for your potatoes to flower, then begin harvesting them two weeks later.
Growing Potatoes Indoors
If you don’t have a garden, it is possible to grow potatoes indoors. You will need a room that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. A room facing south would be ideal.
Alternatively, you can use some grow lights.
Pick an early maturing variety, such as Vivaldi, Orla, Rocket, or Red Duke of York. Keep the seed potatoes in a cool, dark, dry place for two weeks or until they sprout.
Then, fill ⅓ of a 2.5-gallon pot with an organic, well-draining potting mix.
Place two potatoes in the pot, and cover them with 2 inches of soil. Water them well, and cover them with more soil when the stems reach 6 inches above the soil line.
Your new potatoes are ready to harvest two weeks after the plants have flowered or when the stems and leaves start to die off.
Additional Potato-Growing Tips
- If you’re not looking to hassle with the hilling process, you can plant your potatoes 8 to 9 inches deep. The drawbacks are that they are slower to sprout, and the harvest may be less.
- Potatoes are a bit acidic (5.8-6.5 pH). Use composted manure or fertilizer to achieve optimal results.
- In the case of growing potatoes in containers, A good soil preparation recipe includes 1 part peat moss, one portion organic potting soil, and one portion cow manure.
- If you’re looking to make getting rid of weeds simpler (and you have space), put your potatoes at a minimum distance of two feet apart so that you can weed them without difficulty.
Common Potato Problems
Here are the most common pests and diseases you’ll encounter when growing potatoes and how to prevent and treat them.
The Colorado beetle is the main threat to your potato plants. Adults and larvae feed on the leaves and stems and can decimate entire crops in no time.
You can prevent infestations by using row covers and sprinkling some diatomaceous earth around the plants.
Then, pick adults and larvae by hand and drown them in a bucket of soapy water. In severe infestations, you can also spray the plants with Spinosad.
Also known as late blight, the potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) is the most severe potato disease. It is difficult to control, spreads rapidly, and has caused severe famines throughout Europe in the 19th century.
In addition, potatoes are susceptible to blight during hot, humid summers. To manage its spread, avoid overhead watering, cut down and burn any infected plants, and spray the healthy plants with Bordeaux mixture once every two weeks.
Potato plants can be susceptible to aphids, which can cause yellowing or deformed leaves. Spray infested plants with an insecticidal soap solution.
Also, plant nasturtiums and marigolds around your potatoes. These two plants are aphid magnets and will keep pests off your main crops.
These small insects suck the sap from the stems and leaves of your potato plants, causing wilting, yellowing, and white speckles on the foliage. Use row covers and sprinkle some diatomaceous earth to protect your plants, and spray infested plants with an insecticidal soap solution.
This fungal disease can infect your potatoes in hot and humid weather. Luckily, it’s easy to identify and treat.
First, remove any leaves that have white, powdery spots, and spray the plants with potassium bicarbonate or a sulfur-based organic fungicide spray.
To prevent powdery mildew, try to grow your potatoes in full sun and avoid overhead watering.
You can grow potatoes in any garden that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. These versatile vegetables will be happy growing in straw, compost bags, bins, buckets, and even indoor containers.
Just remember to keep them well-watered and covered with soil as they grow, and you’ll enjoy a bumper crop in no time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Grow Potatoes From Seed?
Yes. Potatoes produce small, green, tomato-like fruit which contains seeds.
However, the process of growing potatoes from seeds is lengthy and labor-intensive. The easiest way to grow them is from “seed potatoes,” which are just fully-grown potato tubers.
Wait until they sprout, then they’re ready to plant.
Can You Grow Potatoes From Supermarket Potatoes?
Yes. If you have store-bought potatoes that have started to sprout, you can plant them in the soil to start a new potato crop.
Ideally, though, you’ll want to use “potato seeds” specifically designed for planting, which are also certified to be disease and virus-free.
When is the best time to plant potatoes?
It’s a matter of the location you reside in. Gardeners who live in warm climates usually plant their plants around Valentine’s Day, while those living in cooler regions may plant their plants in the ground around Easter or the early spring.
The best guideline is to set a goal of three to four weeks before your last frost date.