Potatoes are not only a versatile ingredient, but they're also fairly easy to grow regardless of how much space you have, making them the perfect plant for just about any garden. Discover the best tips on how and when to plant potatoes for a successful harvest.
What You Need to Grow Potatoes
Unlike many vegetables growing in your garden, potatoes don't come from seeds but from parts of the actual potato called the "eyes". Instead of planting seeds, you will plant mini tubers or "seed" potatoes. These tubers will develop into an entirely new potato plant when planted in the ground. Tubers are cultivated specifically for growth and are disease-free, making them the best option for a successful harvest.
Potatoes require full sun, so select an area in your garden that receives plenty of sun throughout the day. In addition to the sun, the key to growing potatoes is the soil. For proper development, you need deep, loose, well-drained soil. They won't grow well in soil that's rocky or heavy with clay. Also, avoid planting in a bed where you grew tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or potatoes the previous year.
You don't have to have a lot of space to grow potatoes. If you don't have a large garden bed, you can plant potatoes in a container or growing bag.
When to Plant Potatoes
Deciding when to plant potatoes will ultimately depend on your climate and garden growing zone. Potatoes are a cool season crop with a lengthy growing period, so the best time to plant is typically before the last spring frost in cooler climates. For milder growing zones, potatoes often fare better as fall crops to avoid high summer temperatures.
Planting and Care
Potatoes are a relatively easy crop to plant and care for. The key to a successful harvest is understanding how deep to plant potatoes and maintaining that depth as they grow. Before you plant your tubers in the garden bed, you'll need to prep the soil. First, remove any rocks or sticks that will get in the way of proper development.
Once the soil is ready, dig trenches in the bed about 4 to 5 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches wide. If you're planting multiple rows, each trench should be about 2 feet apart. Place whole tubers or seed potatoes at the bottom of the trench about 12 inches apart. Gently cover the tubers with 2 inches of soil and leave the rest of the soil mound to the side.
When the plants emerge and reach about 5 inches in height, it's time to start the hilling process. Hilling will help ensure that you have a healthy potato crop, as the roots will stay deep and prevent the potatoes from growing too close to the surface. Pulling from the dirt mound on the side, add more soil around the stem of the plant until you've nearly covered it, leaving about 2 inches of foliage. Repeat this process every two weeks as the plant continues to grow. Cover any potatoes you may see to prevent them from turning green.
Water your plants regularly, keeping the soil moist but not saturated. Try to avoid disturbing the top layer of dirt when you water. Keep an eye out for and treat any pests, diseases or weeds.
If you're planting potatoes in a container, the hilling process will be similar in that you'll need to continuously add more soil on top of the plant at regular intervals as it grows. Start with about 6 inches of soil in the bottom of the container when you plant the seed potatoes so you have room to add soil on top as you go. Container-grown potatoes will require more frequent watering as they'll dry out faster.
The trickiest part about growing potatoes is understanding when to harvest them since you can't actually see the potatoes. While most potatoes take about 10 weeks to reach maturity, this can vary based on the potato variety. The sign to watch for is the plant's flowers. When the potato plant starts blooming, you can begin harvesting new potatoes one at a time. Mature potatoes will be ready to harvest all at once, about two weeks after the flowers and vines start to yellow and die back.
Potatoes are an excellent choice for all gardeners, from beginners to seasoned growers, as they're simple to grow and a well-loved staple in the kitchen.
To learn more about harvesting, check out Burpee's guide to when and how to harvest potatoes.