How to Grow Potatoes

June 1, 2012 · 4 comments

Potato Plants in the Garden

Potato Plants in the Garden, photo by Cygnus921

I promised I would write about how to grow potatoes, so today I’ll share the entire process with you.

First, important points about growing potatoes:

  1. Potatoes do especially well in full sun, so place them in your sunniest spot.
  2. Rotate potatoes in the garden by not planting them in the same spot for four years (not as important when you replenish the soil in raised bed garden).
  3. How to Prepare Seed Potatoes

    Compared to other plants, potatoes are quite unusual. The “seeds” are whole potatoes called “seed potatoes,” and they need to sit out and form sprouts before you plant them. About two weeks before you want to plant them in your garden, set them out in the light where the temperatures are around 60-70 degrees. Doing this starts the sprouting process. Sprouts will appear after a few days.

    Once you see sprouts—and a day or so before you plant—slice the larger seed potatoes. When I did this, I made sure to include a few eyes or sprouts on each piece, which gives them a way to form roots. Each piece you cut should be approximately 2 square inches. I eyeballed the size without actually measuring, and my plants are doing fine. If the seed potato is a small one, it might make sense not to cut it at all. Let them sit out a day or so after you cut them, so they can form a protective cover over the cuts.

    When I planted my seed potatoes, they were squishy. A few were rotting, which was no fun. Honestly, I waited a day too long to plant them. I threw out the moldy ones and planted the rest. So far, I’ve been rewarded with rows of healthy looking plants.

    When To Plant Potatoes

    Plant your seed potatoes in loose soil that is about 45 degrees. I may have planted mine a bit too early because I was excited. It didn’t hurt anything though.

    The Planting Process

    I took a trowel and dug a row about six inches deep in one of my longer raised beds. I made 4-5 rows about 1 foot apart from each other. Then, I planted each potato piece with the cut side down and the eyes pointing up. I left about 12 inches of space between each seed potato. Some say to plant the potatoes at least 2-3 feet apart. I ignored that because I’m working in a small urban garden. So far, I’ve been able to plant veggies closer than recommend with no bad results. After I finished putting the seed potatoes into place, I pushed the soil from the side of the trench (where I’d left it) over the seed potatoes. Plants appeared within 1-2 weeks and then they grew huge very fast. Yay, fertilizer and leaf compost!

    Watering Potatoes

    After some heavy rainstorms, the plants are enormous. I watered them generously to get them growing. Once it started raining, I cut way back. Note that it’s important to water while the potato plants are flowering. When they flower, they are creating tubers—and they need the water to form good ones.

    When to Harvest Potatoes

    With some veggies, I’ve made the mistake of harvesting and then not using the veggie the same day. Then, it becomes spongy and unappetizing. Sigh! If you harvest potatoes early (when the foliage is still green) use potatoes the same day you harvest them. They might be small, of course, if you harvest that early. If you want to store them for winter, harvest them after the foliage turns yellow or brown and dies back.

    Do you have any potato growing tips you want to share? If yes, please share them in the comments!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anne Wheeler June 2, 2012 at 9:30 pm

I’ve saved articles from Sunset mag. on growing potatoes in large cylander shaped cages, adding soil to the tops as they grow. At harvest you just lift off cylander and they come right out of soil. I havent tried this but I did get some wonderful new potatoes that volunteered in my outdoor compost bins (I use the cylindrical ones). They were delicious.

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2 gardening June 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Anne–Thank you for sharing that. That sounds like a good idea to me. I love volunteers. We have volunteer blackberries. Yum.

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3 Jennifer June 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm

I was super-excited to try potatos this year (so likewise may have planted unusually early) – I don’t have a traditional yard-type garden, just a patio, so I tried to research the burlap bag method (and saw encouraging info on the cylinder way, too). Then couldn’t find burlap sacks at anything less than hugely-expensive hipster prices, so I bought burlap at Home depot and stapled it into cylinders.

So far, so good – no flowers yet, but lots of long, leafy stalks… If anyone knows when flowers might come, I’m all ears. I read something yesterday about potatos liking the cool, rainy weather and was starting to think that DC was not going to be good for it!

My main issue (aside from worrying if it will work at all) is watering, since the burlap is a bit awkward and it’s hard to know if I’ve watered enough…

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4 gardening June 27, 2012 at 2:31 pm

In my case, the flowers come later. They stay green a long time. That’s a good idea about buying the burlap at a regular store to avoid the higher prices you mentioned! Come back and let us know how it goes, okay?

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