I've been growing potatoes for more than a decade, and I'm here to tell you that there are very few rules for getting a nice harvest! I've written a this ultimate guide to planting potatoes for you to follow, but let me tell you a secret. Another name for this post could have been, "Things that are nice to know but not completely necessary." As with developing any new skill, arm yourself with the basics, but then let your intuition get you to the home stretch!
Read along to learn how to grow potatoes, including soil preferences, finding the perfect amount of sunlight, water, and the ideal temperature. We’ll also discuss seed potatoes and how to properly plant, care for and harvest.
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Is it hard to grow potatoes?
Harvesting potatoes is the adult equivalent of an Easter egg hunt. You push your hands through the dirt, wondering what you'll find. You brush the dirt off and take it straight into the kitchen. Once a fresh potato is boiled, baked or mashed into creamy perfection, you'll be hooked! Potatoes from the grocery store just can't compete with the buttery flavor and smooth texture.
The beauty of growing potatoes at home is that there isn't much effort to the process. You will need a seed potato, which can be purchased from a garden center or ordered online, and a small amount of healthy soil to plant it in. We grow in our raised beds, but potatoes will thrive whether they are planted in the ground, in a wooden tower or in a grow bag.
What are early, mid-season & late potatoes?
Did you know there are different types of potatoes? Obviously there are different colors, yellow, white, red and brown. But I mean actual varieties. Let's break down what each of these special types of potatoes can do for you!
- early season potatoes are the fastest to mature, requiring just 75-90 days. These are often called new potatoes and are well suited for hot climates and are less likely to develop common diseases like potato blight. Potatoes generally do not tolerate intense heat, so for garden zones 6+, this can be a great option. This year I am growing Norland reds, but I've also had great luck with Red Pontiac. We try to eat these potatoes soon after harvest.
- mid-season potatoes these are also known as secondary potatoes and take just a bit longer to mature than early season potatoes. They are ready to harvest in about 95-110 days. I've had good luck with Yukon Gold, which is the potato pictured above. It has a thin skin and buttery-rich flesh. It is my favorite potato variety for making homemade French fries in the air-fryer or oven. We love how this potato naturally puffs up during the roasting process. It also makes divine mashed potatoes!
- late season potatoes are known as main crop potatoes and are generally used for multi-purpose farming. They take longer to mature, about 120-135 days, and are prone to diseases like blight and the Colorado potato beetle. Watch them closely for signs of pests and treat as needed. I started with the drawbacks, but these potatoes have some stellar qualities, too! Late season potatoes have thicker skin and are usually the best potato for mashing or baking. Consider these varieties when looking for potatoes to keep in long term storage.
How to grow potatoes in raised beds or containers
This might just be my favorite thing about growing potatoes. Unlike fussier garden vegetables, I'm looking at you PUMPKINS, potatoes really try hard to thrive. Living = very good! It's an excellent quality in a garden plant.
I have grown potatoes three ways: in a raised bed (my favorite), in a grow bag and in the ground.
I want to chat a second about the pros and cons of each of these methods. Growing in the ground means weeds and lots of bending over. I'm just not a fan of either of those things, so we've abandoned the idea of ever having a traditional garden again.
Grow bags are an excellent option for a smaller quantities of potatoes or a gardener with limited space. One bag can produce several pounds of potatoes and it's so convenient to be able to move them around, if needed. We had grow bags on our patio when we lived in town, and it was literally thrilling to dump the bag onto a tarp and look at our harvest.
As I mentioned before, we use raised beds. There are a few casualties that occur when we are digging the potatoes and a pitchfork tine impales a spud, but overall it's incredibly handy to grow potatoes this way. Our raised beds are almost five years old, and each year we amend the soil with fresh compost and anything else it needs. Potatoes love light and fluffy soil, honestly who doesn't, and I'm happy to give it to 'em!
How to grow potatoes in a grow bag or container
- Plant sprouted seed potatoes about 3 inches deep in the soil. Space the potatoes 3-5 inches apart. If the potatoes are tiny, I will plant them closer together, if they are big they get more space. Water thoroughly. In a grow bag, focus on the bottom ⅓ of the bag for this first step. As the potatoes grow, add more soil to cover ½ of the stems and leaves. Repeat the process of planting more potatoes. Hello, larger yields!
- Position or place then growing container or container in full sun. The ideal temperature for growing potatoes is between 50-80 degrees.
- Potatoes are heavy feeders and need compost in the beginning and middle of their life cycle. Add your choice of compost, we use llama manure, and additionally water with diluted seaweed extract once a month. Here is my method: Once the potatoes are planted, I add a layer of compost and then mulch with straw. This allows aeration and creates a nice environment for the potatoes to grow. Once the stems are about 6-8 inches tall, I add more, essentially burying half of the stem. Repeat as the potatoes grow. Remember to do this to increase your yields!
Supplies & Requirements
- Seed Potatoes
- Soil – Well-draining & acidic
- Compost & Straw - to allow fluffiness for the growing potatoes
- A container, grow bag, raised bed or garden area
- A sunny location
What is a seed potato?
I usually spend a short shopping trip browsing seed potatoes at our local hardware store. I try to find seed potatoes in February because they are often sold out by early March. My advice is to GET ON IT FAST! Have an idea of which varieties you want, and then see what is available. As always, online shopping is always an option. Just remember to order early! I've learned with seed companies that the good stuff goes quick!
Okay, back to what a seed potato is. The only difference between a seed potato and a regular potato is that seed potatoes are generally a little smaller, dirtier and have lots of 'eyes.' Eyes are little dimples where the roots and plant parts sprout from. Any potato can be a seed potato! Seed potatoes are cheaper than food potatoes from the store and have not been treated with anti-sprouting chemicals.
Did you know that one seed potato can grow up to six pounds of potatoes during a season?
Can I grow potatoes from store a store bought potato?
Sure! This is a way to save a little money and experiment. While this method is sometimes frowned upon, there is no reason not to try it. Choose an organic potato and wait to see if it 'chits,' meaning it develops shoots or sprouts. Many conventional potatoes are treated with chemicals to keep them fresh longer, so this won't always work. I am currently growing some purple fingerling potatoes that sprouted in my cupboard a few months ago. I'm seeing growth, so it should be successful!
Let's figure this 'chit' out!
Chitting is when a potato is taken out of it's cool, dark paper bag and allowed to sprout. Because this process takes 4-6 weeks, I usually try to do this about a month before I'm ready to plant, so mid February.
I'm going to be honest, potatoes tend to sprout fairly quickly at hour house. Even the ones from the store will send off shoots within a month or so of living in my pantry. One lesson that I learned the hard way was that a potato that chits too early will not grow a thriving potato plant.
See the photos below to get a visual for what I mean. Both of these potatoes were set out to chit at the same time, but the smaller potatoes on the right are shriveled and soft to the touch. They chitted too early and took it too far. Now, I'm still going to plant them because they are purple fingerlings sooo tasty, but I will plant them with a heavier hand because I know they probably won't all make it.
Can I use a potato to grow more potatoes?
One of the ways that I can be extra frugal with growing potatoes is to cut larger potatoes into smaller pieces. The potato only has to meat a few requirements to be a good candidate for this. It must be mold free and have several eyes.
Select a healthy potato and divide it into large sections. I select a nice-sized potato and divide it into 2-3 pieces using a clean knife. Each piece needs to have at least 1-2 good eyes, or dimples, for the shoots to grow from.
After I've divided my potato, I place it on a plate in a dark area for several days to allow the flesh to harden. If I skip this step, the potato will rot in the ground instead of grow. It's kind of like developing a scab to seal the wound off from potential infection. You can see in the image below that I divided several russet potatoes. It's okay if the flesh of the potato turns a little gray during this process.
Potato soil preferences
Would you rather snuggle into a bed with light and fluffy covers, or a heavy duvet that makes you feel smashed? Um, bad example. I do kind of like heavy bedding. Potatoes, however, like their soil to be light & fluffy with plenty of compost. It needs to also be well draining. No one likes a rotten potato, and that's just what you'll get if the garden container, grow bag, raised bed or in-the-ground soil doesn't drain.
What's the best soil pH for potatoes? They like it acidic, 4.8-5.5. Most conventional potting soils are around 6.5-7pH. Rather than guessing, I usually test my soil using a pH strips from the hardware store. If you find your pH isn't within the healthy range, consider using amendments like shade planting mixes (like the kind developed for blueberries).
I have also found that there are also potting mixes that are specially made for potatoes, no guessing required! Just browse around your local garden center to find what's available. I also have used various fertilizers like Dr. Earth Acid Lovers Mix and Down to Earth Acid Mix to help feed my acid-loving plants.
Ideal growing conditions for potatoes
Once my potatoes are in the ground, I begin giving them consistent, even, deep moisture. No drowning & drying! To help hold the moisture in and keep the soil from compacting, we top with straw & compost after planting.
This is going to sound crazy, but my current favorite compost is llama manure. It isn't 'hot' compost and will not burn any of my veggies. I just sprinkle it on top of the soil and then add my straw layer. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers like miracle grow. Instead, use compost, compost tea, worm tea or seaweed water.
How to harvest potatoes
The potatoes will tell you when it's time to harvest! It helps to know the varieties you planted to get an estimated harvest date, but my rule of thumb is that once the foliage begins to die back, watch for a few weeks until it is completely dead and yellow. This is the best time to harvest your potatoes!
Potatoes can stay in the ground for several weeks after the foliage is dead, just make sure to harvest before the first frost! I usually find potatoes the next year that I missed when I see their green leaves poking up through the soil. I consider it a happy accident and let them grow!
Can I harvest a few potatoes early?
Once the plants have blossomed, you can dig down carefully and steal a few new potatoes. I will do this, especially if I'm hungry for tiny red new potatoes. Just keep in mind that potatoes will grow bigger the longer you wait!
How to store potatoes
This has been a challenge for us. Big challenge. My onions and potatoes tend to sprout or get mushy when we try to store them long term. I've been researching, and this is the method we plan on using this year:
"In late summer when the potato foliage has died back, your potatoes can be dug and “cured” for storage. Curing toughens up a potato’s skin and extends its storage life. Cure the tubers by laying them out on newspaper in a well-ventilated place that’s cool (50 to 60 degrees F.) and dark (so they don’t turn green). After about two weeks, the skins will have toughened up. Rub off any large clumps of dirt (potatoes should never be washed before storage) and cull any damaged tubers, which should be eaten, not stored. Treat the tubers very gently so as not to bruise or cut them. Nestle your spuds into ventilated bins, bushel baskets, a Root Storage Bin or a cardboard box with perforated sides. Completely cover the boxes or baskets with newspaper or cardboard to eliminate any light. Even a little light will cause potatoes to turn green and be rendered inedible. The ideal storage temperature for potatoes is 35 to 40 degrees, though they will usually keep for several months at 45 to 50 degrees."
from Gardeners.com :
What questions do you have?
Did I cover everything? Comment here or message me on instagram @NinnescahHomestead if you need any clarification! I love connecting with fellow gardeners. I've linked plenty of delicious potato recipes to get you in the mood for growing your own. Be sure to check them out!