Updated: Jul 17
Potatoes are one of the most diverse garden vegetables enjoyed in North America. Yet how to home-grow them still remains a mystery for many. I'll give you the know-how you need to transform yourself into a potato-growing expert. As GI Joe liked to say, 'Knowing is half the battle,' so with that in mind, let's get started!
To help ensure your Potatoes thrive, we’ve put together this how-to video and transcript with everything you need to go from seed to harvest. Covering topics like:
Varieties of Potatoes available
Caring for Potatoes at all stages
Fertilizer and/or Mulching
Transplanting best practices
Potato Companion Plants
Pests, Diseases and what to do about them
Harvesting and storing your Potatoes
Glossary of Potato Terms
Before we begin, let's get to grips with some of the terms we'll be using in this guide. Knowing these will help you get the most out of this book and your gardening season. So get yourself a tea or a coffee (or a glass of wine—I won't judge!) and get to know your potato terms.
Chitting potatoes is the process of encouraging seed potatoes to sprout before they are planted.
Early crop potato varieties are the best choice to grow small, new potatoes. If you plant them between the end of February to late May, the first of your early potatoes will be ready to harvest approximately 10 weeks from the planting date. Early crop varieties are ideal for growing in bags or containers.
Main crop potato varieties produce larger potatoes which are perfect for baking and roasting. You should 'chit' the tubers and then plant them between March and mid-May for best results. The potatoes will be ready for harvest approximately 20 weeks from the planting date.
A potato with buds or sprouts is planted to produce more potatoes.
Tubers are large organs used by various plants to store nutrients. In the case of potatoes, the tuber also is how new potatoes can grow.
Most important things to know before you plant
OPTIMAL HARDINESS ZONES
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
BEST SOIL TYPE
Sandy, with a pH between 5.0 to 6.0
REQUIRED SUN EXPOSURE
WHEN TO PLANT
Plant seed potatoes with at least 2 eyes, 0 to 2 weeks after the last frost
REQUIRED DEPTH WHEN PLANTING
3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm)
At least 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water per week, and water heavily when potatoes are forming
Apply well-rotted compost manure when planting, side dress with a balanced fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks after first hilling.
REQUIRED SPACE WHEN PLANTING
10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) between plants and 20 to 26 inches (50 to 60 cm) between rows
90 to 120 days after planting, when all the plant vines have dried.
Best garden companions
Beans, cabbage, coriander, corn, horseradish, tansy, nasturtium, catnip, spinach, alyssum, lettuce, scallion, radish, marigold, petunias
Worst garden companions
Tomatoes, pepper, carrot, fennel, raspberry, turnip, onion, sunflower, squash, cucumber, pumpkin, peas, sunflower, kohlrabi, rutabaga
Bacterial ring rot, blackleg, common scab, black dot, black scurf, Rhizoctonia canker, early blight, pink rot, gray mold, powdery scab, verticillium wilt, late blight, leak, potato leaf roll, potato virus A, potato virus X, potato virus Y, aphids, Colorado potato beetle, cutworms, flea beetles, wireworms
Depending on which variety you’re using, the texture of cooked potatoes can vary between waxy and floury. This means some types are better than others for boiling, roasting, or mashing. Read on to see which kind of potato will work best for your use.
Russets are very common potatoes. They're usually pretty large and are great for baking, for making French fries, hash browns, and latkes (or potato cakes). The Russet is also one of our preferred types to make mashed potatoes with.
These are medium-sized potatoes that have smooth flesh. They are great for frying, boiling, steaming, and using in salads. They have a low sugar content with a mild sweet flavor.
Waxy potatoes include varieties such as Yukon Gold and Red potatoes. They hold their shape very well, so they are good for boiling, using chowders and potato salads, and working well for scalloped potatoes.
Colorful potatoes include varieties such as All-blue potatoes. These have bluish outer skin and are purplish inside, and they contain different vitamins to other types of potato. They're suitable for roasting and baking and are good for salads.
Fingerling potatoes are a favorite in our household. They are pretty small and are usually 'finger-shaped, and they are great for use in potato salad as they hold their shape well.
New potatoes are baby potatoes that are harvested in the spring. They are very tender, and they taste delicious! After boiling, use them as a side dish or put them in salads.
How to Grow & Care for Potatoes
The good news is that you don't need seeds to grow potatoes, and you just need another potato—a seed potato.
1. Begin by placing ample compost and manure in the area where you plan to plant your seed potato(es). Make sure the place you choose has well-draining soil and plenty of sun exposure.
2. Make sure your chosen seed potato has plenty of eyes on it. Cut it up into large chunks, ensuring that each section has at least two eyes on it. Do your cutting at least two days before you plan to plant, as it will give the potato pieces a chance to develop a protective coating. This coating will help retain moisture while also protecting the potato from rot.
3. Plant each piece of potato approximately one foot (30 cm) apart and around 4 inches (4 cm) deep. Be sure that you plant the potato pieces with the eyes pointing up.
4. You will need to water your potato plants regularly. Once you see tubers developing, ensure they get extra water because they desperately need it.
5. Finally, before your potato plants bloom, but when they are about
6. Inches tall (15 cm), begin making hills around the roots to protect them. You will need to do this every few weeks as the plant grows.
Though planting your potatoes in a reasonably-sized veggie patch is a great option, there are several other growing methods that also work really well, even if you don’t have much outdoor space.
If you don’t have a vegetable patch in your garden, you shouldn’t let that deter you from growing potatoes. Just build a few raised beds, follow the steps above, and enjoy a home- grown crop of pots!
IN A BAG FULL OF SOIL
I love the ease and simplicity of this method. All you need is a large outdoor trash bag filled with well-fertilized soil. Get those seed potatoes in, and watch the new ones grow!
IN A WOOD BOX
Some people prefer this method because it helps keep your potatoes organized and it looks nice, too. Just plant everything in a pretty wooden box, and then let your seed potatoes do their thing.
IN A CONTAINER
If you live in an area without much yard space, you probably try to grow your food in containers. I like container gardening because it is condensed and organized. If this sounds right for you, find a nice large container, drill several drainage holes in the bottom of it, and get planting!
IN A WIRE CYLINDER
The wire cylinder is another way of keeping your potato-growing efforts more organized—the potatoes are neatly stacked inside a wire cylinder.
IN A COMPOST AREA WITH STRAW
Compost is a great thing to grow almost any plant or vegetable in, as the straw mulch helps to protect whatever is growing. If you have a compost area in your yard and can get your hands on some straw, you have the right ingredients to grow your own potatoes.
YOUR POTATO’S BEST FRIEND
Almost every plant has other plants that they like to hang out with in the garden to receive protection or extra nutrients from them. Potatoes are no exception.
If you want to try the ‘buddy system’ in your garden, then try to plant your potatoes with beans, corn, cabbage, horseradish, marigolds, or eggplant.
Hopefully, you will see great production from your potatoes and their planting companions, too. Increasing crop production simply by arranging plants next to a buddy is an easy way to get more food from your garden.
YOUR POTATO'S WORST ENEMY
Although potatoes have many friends in the garden, they also have a few foes. Potatoes do not enjoy being planted near:
You’ll probably have noticed that some of these other producers grow vines which means they will choke potatoes out. Others block sunlight and attract certain pests that will kill your potato crop.
Common Potato Challenges, and their solutions
Late blight is a fungus. It strikes when your potatoes have been planted during an unusually wet period and when the temperatures are still frigid.
As the temperature heats up, late blight progresses. You’ll know you have it when the leaves of your plants begin to turn black and brown. At this point, your plants will start to die off.
Solution: If you have this disease in your garden, all you can do is pull up all infected plants and remove them, and this will help keep the fungus from spreading to other plants.
The Mosaic virus causes light and dark green splotches to appear on a potato plant’s leaves, which will also begin to curl. The good news is that this virus will not kill your potato plant. It will, however, seriously stunt its production, so you still want to avoid the Mosaic virus if possible.
Solution: You can avoid this disease mainly by choosing plant varieties that are resistant to it. In addition, you can use insecticides to keep the virus under control.
POTATO YELLOW DWARF VIRUS
This disease is spread by nasty little bugs called leafhoppers. Their name is self-explanatory! Potato yellow dwarf virus will cause your plants to dwarf and your plants' leaves to curl and turn yellow. The tubers will crack and lose their shape.
Solution: To avoid this disease, you'll want to pick varieties of potatoes that are resistant to it. However, if you do develop this disease in your crop, you'll need to get rid of all infected plants and not compost them because this can spread the disease.
If you encounter this disease, you will probably do so during a rainy period. The leaves will turn yellow and light green, while the stems will turn dark brown and black, right at the soil level. Potato blackleg will probably kill your plants, and the tubers will rot either before or after harvesting.
Solution: The easiest way to avoid contracting this disease is to plant your potatoes in soil that will be well-drained. In addition, you should avoid planting your potatoes during an extremely wet period.
This disease can be contracted through the soil, as it's the soil itself that cultivates the bacteria that cause potato scab. Potato scab usually only impacts the appearance of potato, though, so your crop should still taste just fine.
Solution: The best way to deter this disease is to use slightly acidic soil when planting your potatoes, as this isn't a suitable breeding ground for the bacteria that cause potato scabs.
BACTERIAL RING ROT
This disease basically looks exactly like it sounds. Your potato leaves will curl and turn yellow; the stem will be filled with white goo and will rot on the inside. Lovely!
Solution: If your potato plant has contracted this disease, you’ll need to eliminate every part of the plant. Don't compost any diseased plants you have pulled up to ensure that the infection won't spread the following year.
Make sure that you rotate your crops each year to keep from cultivating more diseases in the same area.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of bugs that love potatoes. The Colorado potato beetle, flea beetles, aphids, wireworms, cutworms, slugs, spider mites, potato psyllids, and leafhoppers all love to make a meal out of your potato plants.
Keep a close eye on your plants to see if you have any of these pests hanging around them, and if you do, act early.
Solution: Mulch can help protect potato plants from pests, as can insecticidal soaps.
More generally, keeping soil off of your plants is always a good idea as it helps keep pests and diseases at bay.
How to Harvest Potatoes
Potatoes are actually really easy to harvest and store. The following steps will explain the process:
1. Begin by cutting the water supply off from your crop a few weeks before you are planning on harvesting, and this helps the plant dry up.
2. Make sure that the plant is completely dead. Look for dried leaves and completely dried vines. When you see this, you know that the potatoes have reached full maturity.
3. Your next step will be to dig your potatoes out of the ground. You can usually do this by hand or using a tool like a potato pitchfork or a small spade to help loosen the soil.
4. Next, you should cure your potatoes if you're able to. To do this, place them in a dry box or brown paper sack, and store them for about 10 days in a location around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 °C) and humidity of about 90%. A basement or a cool garage usually works pretty well. If this step isn’t an option, though, just skip it and go right to storage (step 6).
5. Your potatoes should be stored in a dark, cool place like a root cellar or basement. Whatever you do, do not store your potatoes alongside apples or other fruits that put off-gases, as this will cause spoilage to your potatoes. However, in the right conditions, your potatoes should keep for about 3 to 4 months.
Important Note for Storing Potatoes
Do not store your potatoes alongside apples or other fruits that put off-gases, as this will cause spoilage to your potatoes.