Knowing how to plant potatoes correctly, including their depth, spacing, soil needs, sunlight, water, and temperature preferences, will get your harvest off to the best start possible and provide your family with food for months to come. Read on to learn how to plant potatoes the right way (including how to grow them in containers).
One of my favorite things about the pioneer lifestyle is growing our own food. But with recent biotech and GMOs sneaking into our food, it's not just about being frugal or the added health benefits (you did know homegrown vegetables and fruits have more nutrients, right?), it's about protecting our families.
Knowing how to grow enough food at home to feed my family for a year, having some basic gardening secrets tucked in your back pocket, knowing how to protect crops from common garden pests, and even how to grow a large scale garden without acreage will help get you headed down the right path to self-sufficiency.
Growing potatoes is just one small step in starting a vegetable garden.
Favorite Potato Varieties
If you haven't grown potatoes, now might be the perfect time to start. Many of you know I'm a firm believer in growing heirloom plants, and the potato is no exception. We have grown many varieties of potatoes over our 20 years of gardening, and we've settled on a few of our favorites…
- Russet Norkotah PH
- German Butterball
The above are my favorites for long-term storage, we've previously grown a purple potato called Purple Majesty. It has 10 times more antioxidants than a regular potato (and my kids love the color… lavender mashed potatoes anyone?).
There are three basic kinds of potatoes:
Early, Mid-Season & Late Potatoes
Before planting just any old potato, you need to know how many potatoes you're growing (get my free chart on how much to plant per person for a year's worth of food here), how quickly your family will eat them, and if you're hoping to still be eating that potato harvest the following spring (meaning you'll need to choose good storage varieties). Read on for more info about the kinds of potatoes.
Also called “new potatoes” or basically, potatoes that haven't fully matured or finished growing.
Early season potatoes are ready for harvest in about 75-90 days. This is a great variety to grow if you're looking to get multiple plantings in one area of your garden.
If you live in a climate with very warm summers (staying above 90 degrees for days and weeks at a time), these early season potatoes will be your best bet.
Likewise, if you want to plant a late-summer garden for an early fall harvest, then early season potatoes are great for planting mid to late August.
If your potatoes have been prone to disease, the early potatoes may also be a better choice as they're the least likely to get blight because they're generally harvested well before disease sets in.
Early potatoes are not great storage potatoes, so these will be your “fresh eating” crop from the garden.
Early Season Potato Varieties
- Red Pontiac
- Yukon Gold
Similar to early-season potatoes, mid-season potatoes will be ready fairly quick in about 95-110 days.
Mid-season potatoes aren't always great storage potatoes, so be sure to read up on the variety you're buying to know if they're better for fresh eating or long-term storage.
Mid-Season Potato Varieties
- Adirondack Blue and Red
- Purple Majesty
- Gold Rush
- Red Gold
Because I like to grow food for my family that will last us a whole year, the late-season potatoes tend to be my go-to potatoes.
Late-season potatoes are sometimes referred to as “Main Crop Potatoes” and are generally ready to harvest in about 120-135 days.
Late-Season Potato Varieties
- German Butterball
- Russian Blue
Supplies Needed for Growing Potatoes
You don't need much to grow potatoes successfully, but there is some general knowledge that will come in handy throughout the growing season. So stick with me…
- Seed Potatoes – see my favorite varieties mentioned above
- Soil – Potatoes aren't picky, but crop rotation is important, don't plant potatoes where you had tomatoes the year prior, and it's best if your soil is rich, well-draining, and acidic (4.8 to 5.5 pH).
- Space – whether you're planting in the garden or in containers, you need to have enough space for the tubers to develop.
- Sunlight – potatoes grow best in full sunlight. Plant them in a place that gets all day sun and you should be golden.
- Water – consistent watering is key for potatoes. Try not to go too long between waterings, and don't over-saturate them when you're watering.
When growing potatoes you can only grow them from seed potatoes. The potatoes you've purchased in the grocery store are not suitable for seed potatoes because they can carry disease (remember the potato famine in Ireland during the 1800s, it was caused by a late blight that infected the soil and crops for multiple years). They also may have been sprayed with chemicals to keep them from sprouting on the shelf. Source
Seed potatoes are chosen for their resistance to disease and are certified disease-free, starting with disease-free potatoes is key.
I know some people do plant potatoes they've purchased from the store once they've sprouted (with great success!), but I'd rather not take the gamble of introducing any disease to my soil and don't think it's worth the risk. Each person must decide this for themselves.
If you grow and harvest your potatoes correctly, you can grow your own seed potatoes for the following year, essentially having an endless supply of potatoes. Stick with me, we'll talk about that soon.
Where to Buy Seed Potatoes
As mentioned above, we grow enough potatoes each year to have extra left over for our own seed potatoes. But if you've gotta start somewhere, so if you're looking to grow potatoes and are in need of seed potatoes, try some of the following places:
- Local garden center
- Local nursery
- Grand Teton Organic Seed Potato Company (this is where I purchase mine)
- Territorial Seed
- Peaceful Valley
- Irish Eyes
- High Mowing
NOTE: Many places completely sell out of seed potatoes. It's a good idea not to wait until mid to late spring to try and buy them. When possible, order seed potatoes ahead of time (generally in the winter) to be sure you get on the list when they're in stock.
If you can't find seed potatoes, ask a friend if they'd be willing to share, you can cut your seed potatoes into pieces (be sure there are at least two “eyes” per piece) and it weighs at least 1 to 2 ounces per piece, allow them a couple of days to dry out and “scab up” to prevent rotting once planted, then proceed with the planting instructions below.
What is “Chitting” Potatoes?
Chitting refers to forcing potatoes to sprout. If you've stored your potatoes correctly, they may not be sprouting come spring when it's time to plant.
To chit potatoes, bring them into a dark room that's around 70 degrees F for about two weeks. This brings them out of dormancy and allows them to sprout.
Once they've begun to sprout, you can move them to a cooler location with decent light for a few weeks until you're ready to plant.
How to Plant Potatoes
There are many ways to grow potatoes, so it's important to consider both your space and how many potatoes you want to grow for both fresh eating and storing.
If you're short on garden space, you can grow potatoes in containers or fabric bags. They can be grown in raised beds, long rows that you'll hill up, or even in mounds. Some people even grow them in trash cans! The moral is to grow with what you have at the moment.
Choose which growing method works best for you:
- Fabric bags
- Raised beds
- Trash cans!
If you don't have the garden space for potatoes, they make an excellent container crop. You basically follow the same method as I'll lay out below, however, instead of digging a trench, you simply add a little dirt at the bottom of your container, then fill with more dirt instead of mounding each time. I discuss more about this method in Using Vegetable Grow Bags in the Garden. I've even seen pictures of people using large plastic laundry baskets… get creative!
When growing potatoes plant them in well-draining acidic soil that's been fertilized. Ideal pH levels for potatoes is 4.8 to 5.5 They will grow in slightly more acidic soil and usually do okay into the 6 pH range but if they're in more alklaine soil (above 7.5 pH) they can't uptake many of the macronutrients in the soil and are more prone to developing scab.
It's not advised to try and change your pH level by more than 1 point in a twelve-month period. Our soil pH range is naturally around 6 (slightly acidic) so at planting time I add 0.2 pounds of elemental sulfur (make sure it says elemental sulfur to avoid aluminum) per 10-foot row. This will lower the pH by 1 point.
Potatoes are heavy feeders. You don't want them to rot in the ground or develop a fungus. Never plant where you had tomatoes or eggplant (they are susceptible to the same diseases) the previous year and always rotate your potatoes each year.
The ideal soil for growing potatoes is:
- Well draining
- Loose and fluffy
The biggest nemesis of growing potatoes is having them rot in the ground. This can be avoided by consistent watering and well-draining soil.
Potatoes don't like to be soggy, or sit in extremely wet soil. The soil should hold water well, but not pool or puddle up. It sounds funny to want well-draining soil that holds water, but that's exactly the “just right” Goldilocks effect we're looking for.
Well-draining soil is also what allows me to store my potatoes in the ground all winter and harvest them as we need them in the kitchen!
Loose and Fluffy
As mentioned above, make sure your soil is light and fluffy and not too compact (you don't want it to form a solid ball when squeezed together in your hand).
If your soil isn't well-draining, then you'll need to add in some organic matter (but nothing with too much nitrogen). Adding some compost and or worm castings will give the potatoes the nutrition they need to grow nice big greens, but also develop large tubers as well.
Too much nitrogen in the soil and you'll get nice big greens, but tiny, underdeveloped tubers (no good!).
Temperature & Sunlight
Potatoes prefer cooler weather and full sunlight and can be put in the ground as early as 2 weeks before your last frost date.
They'll tolerate some heat, but if temps stay at or above the 90s for prolonged periods of time, they may die. Our summers are extremely mild in the Pacific Northwest, so I don't have to deal with this.
We generally plant our potatoes the first to mid part of May.
When watering potatoes, consistency is best. Try not to go too long between waterings, and don't over-saturate them when you're watering.
A general rule of thumb is to give them about 1 inch of water per week.
Preparing Your Seed Potatoes
Once your seed potatoes are sprouting, you have two options. If the potato is large and has more than four eyes, you can cut your seed potato (giving you two seed potatoes). However, your seed potato needs to be at least 1 to 2 ounces in order to have enough food to feed the emerging sprouts so I don't cut my potatoes unless they're at least 4 ounces in size.
I prefer to plant whole seed potatoes, these produce more pounds per plant for me and less chance of the potato rotting in the ground.
How to Cut Seed Potatoes Before Planting
If you do wish to cut your seed potatoes, there are a few simple rules to follow:
- don't cut smaller than 1 ounce
- make sure each piece has 1 to 2 eyes
- allow cut potato to set out over 1 to 2 days to scab over (dry out)
- if cut part isn't scabbed fully, dip in elemental sulfur at planting time
Depth & Spacing
Dig a trench about 6 to 10 inches deep. Place your cut potato with the eyes facing upwards (or plant whole potatoes as shown below if you have plenty to spare). Space 12 inches apart.
I also like to add in some elemental sulfur to help acidify and reduce scab. Cover the potatoes with about 2 inches of soil.
What Are The Best Companion Plants For Potatoes
Companion planting is used to help both repel bad pests, attract “good” pests, and placing plants together that benefit one another.
Don't plant potatoes with other members of the nightshade family (tomatoes and peppers) because they are all susceptible to blight. Avoid planting potatoes with carrots and squash.
Read How to Get Rid of Bugs on Plants Naturally Tips that Actually Work for more tips.
What to Plant with Potatoes to Keep Bugs Away
Basil – repels potato beetles
Nasturtium – repels potato beetles and attracts beneficial insects, also helps to repel cabbage moths so is excellent to plant with potatoes if you've paired them with brassicas.
Marigold- deters root nematodes (this happens once the plant is chopped up and worked back into the soil for the following year), repels potato bus and white fly. Attracts beneficial insects such as hover flies, lacewings, ladybird beetles, mantids, robber flies, some spiders and predatory mites.
Mounding or Hilling Potatoes
After potatoes have sprouted, you'll need to mound soil around them. We have lots of slugs here, so I don't use mulch, just good old dirt.
You may wonder if mounding is really that important. I'm here to tell you, it is.
Potatoes are produced from the tubers, and if left exposed to light, they'll turn green and possibly poisonous. (Yes, this is true.) When you see green on potatoes, it's chlorophyll (harmless) BUT it can be a sign it has a higher level of solanine (a glycoalkaloid and toxic chemical) so you want to avoid eating large amounts green potatoes.
Mounding helps protect the tubers (potatoes) from getting too much sun and keeps them safe for consumption.
Mounding also helps inhibit blight. Mound the soil up once the foliage has reached about 8 inches high with a hoe. It's better to not mound the soil too steep, so it won't wash away in the rain. Mound up until only 2 inches of leaves are left showing.
Additional mounding of dirt should be done once you have new growth of about 4-6 inches. This will be repeated 3 to 4 times throughout the growing season.
Once potatoes are blossoming, stop mounding. You can damage the new tender shoots beneath the surface of the soil.
Have you had success growing potatoes? What kind of potato are you growing this year?
More Gardening Articles
- Sheet Mulching the Easy Way
- Wood Chips for Garden Mulch – Beneficial or Not?
- Beginner Gardening Secrets You Need to Know
- Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies
- 13 Basic Steps to Starting a Vegetable Garden
- How to Create a Garden Plan for More Harvest & Less Stress
- Planning a Fall Garden (28 Crops to Plant in August)
- 10 Tomato Growing Tips for a Disease Free Harvest
- Preventing and Treating Early Blight for Tomato and Potato Plants