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Growing Potato

(Solanum tuberosum)

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
                P P P  

(Best months for planting Potato in South Africa - Summer rainfall regions)

P = Plant direct in garden where they are to grow.

  • Plant tuber. Best planted at soil temperatures between 10°C and 30°C. (Show °F/in)
  • Space plants: 30 - 40 cm apart
  • Harvest in 15-20 weeks. Dig carefully, avoid damaging the potatoes.
  • Compatible with (can grow in same bed): Peas, Beans, Brassicas, Sweetcorn, Broad Beans, Nasturtiums, Marigolds
  • Avoid growing in same bed: Cucumber, Pumpkin, Sunflowers, Tomatoes, Rosemary
  • An 'earthed-up' row
  • Potato flowers

Seed potatoes

Potatoes sold in nurseries and produce stores are certified seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are small potatoes (usually fairly dried up and wrinkled) which are free of viruses and other diseases. You are more likely to get a good crop from certified seed potatoes.

Before planting expose seed potatoes to light to start shoots growing. Avoid direct sun as this can burn or par-cook the seed! Let the potatoes grow shoots up to 1cm long - this can take a few weeks. In hot or dry climates sprout seed potatoes in seed trays of dampened potting mix.

Large seed tubers can be cut into pieces - just make sure each piece has at least one 'eye' or shoot. Let the cut pieces dry for a few days before planting or else they will probably start rotting.

Growing in the ground

Prepare the soil by digging in plenty of well-rotted animal manure or compost (don't use fresh manure as it will 'burn' plants). Dig a trench for the seed potatoes about 30 - 40cm wide and 10 - 20cm deep. Add a bit more compost/manure to the bottom of the trench and cover with some soil. Put seed potatoes 20 - 30cm apart in the trench, shoot-side up. Fill in the trench to cover the potatoes.

As potato shoots start to appear, cover them up with soil from either side of the trench. 'Hill up the crop' this way a few times in the first four or five weeks of growth, which gives the potatoes an nice loose mound of soil in which to grow. Now leave the shoots to develop on to form leaves.

Keep potatoes well-watered. The soil should be damp enough to stick to your fingers.

No-dig and container growing - ideal for home gardens

If you don't have a ton of space then no-dig and container growing both work well for home garden growing. Using container growing you can produce potatoes in any handy space, even on balconies.


Make a no-dig bed of potatoes by layering newspapers (or flattened cardboard boxes) at least six layers thick on an area to be planted. Spread your seed potatoes on top of the newspapers about 30cm apart, trying to get the shoots pointing upwards.

Cover the potatoes with layers of compost, weed-free straw, rotted animal manure, and other mulch materials, until the potatoes are covered by about 20 - 30cm. Don't flatten the cover down.

Water well. As the potatoes start to grow through, add more layers of mulch material and keep watered. After about four weeks of growing through and covering up, let the potatoes grow on without covering. As the mulch breaks down keep adding more mulch to keep the tubers covered.

Container growing

Get a container at least 40 - 50 cm deep with holes in the bottom for drainage. Shrub-sized flower pots work well. An old wheelbarrow will work if holes are drilled in the bottom. You can also make a 'container' using loose bricks or chicken wire.

Put about 10 - 20cm of mixed compost and potting mix in the bottom of the container and put your seed potatoes on top, about 30cm apart. Cover with about 10 - 20cm of compost mixed with mulch (straw, grass clippings. Water well.

As the potato shoots start to grow through, cover up with more compost and mulch mix and keep watered. Keep on covering up for about four weeks (but stop if you reach the top of the container!)

For both no-dig and container growing, keep the mulch well watered - wet enough to stick to your fingers but not sopping. If the potatoes dry out they will probably go scabby.

  • The longer potatoes grow, the bigger the tubers will be.
  • Don't grow potatoes in the same place as other solanum crops as they share many diseases - for example, don't grow potatoes to follow a tomato crop, or vice-versa.
  • You can start harvesting a few tubers as soon as they are big enough to eat - dig around under the plants and retrieve a few, and cover up the rest to keep growing.
  • Potatoes exposed to light will go green, so keep them covered up with straw and soil as they grow. Green potatoes are poisonous!
  • Potatoes accumulate cadmium and other heavy metals, so avoid fertilizers which contain these elements. Similarly, avoid using tyres as containers for growing potatoes as they can leach heavy metals.

Culinary hints - cooking and eating Potato

Peeled or unpeeled and scrubbed, potatoes can be boiled, baked, fried and roasted. - The only way they are not used is raw.

Keep in a pot of cold water after peeling, otherwise they will discolour.

Your comments and tips

04 Dec 14, Reuben (South Africa - Summer rainfall climate)
I am staying in NORTH WEST in MAHIKENG area and need to know best months to plant potatoes aswell a s the best seed suitable for our area...My other place consists of LOAM SOIL and the other is CLAY SOIL,,,I need to know which is best suited ?...Thanking you in advance...
04 Nov 14, Natalie (Australia - temperate climate)
Do potatoes mind clay soil. I heard they grow anyway and will help to break up the soil
17 Oct 14, graham (Australia - temperate climate)
i live in tasmania had a frost should i remove the dead parts from my potato plants all just leav them thanks
13 Oct 14, Lachlan (Australia - temperate climate)
If I am doing no dig potatoes, do I need to use crop rotation?
29 Oct 14, Genevieve (Australia - temperate climate)
Absolutely, can't plant potatoes in the same spot for 3-4 years unfortunately due to diseases.
30 Oct 14, Lachlan (Australia - temperate climate)
But they are not in the soil.
15 Nov 14, Genevieve (Australia - temperate climate)
Unsure what you have in your no dig, but used some manured soils, first time I did it , and was advised not to plants spuds in the same spot Now do it in bags, maybe a horticulturist could give you advise.
24 Sep 14, Rowena (Australia - temperate climate)
How do I stop my potato patch from becoming a compost heap? I prepared my soil and when the plants emerged I put a wire cage around them (3ft). They then proceeded to quickly shoot up. I layered straw up around them until the plants reached the height of the wire. I watered the straw once by hand as rain has been good. Then yesterday - 3 days after the hand water - I discovered that two of my plants had wilted and on further investigation they had rotted off just below the first few centimetres of straw on top. I put my hand down into the straw and found it to be an oven - perfect for a compost heap. Should I poke holes in the mound to allow air to circulate? What can I do to save my other plants?
11 Sep 14, Jean Bittkau (South Africa - Semi-arid climate)
You can cut off a piece of potato with 2 eyes . Let the cut dry out for a day or two. This helps seal in moisture and prevents rot setting in.
05 Aug 14, MBUSO (South Africa - Semi-arid climate)
Hi can you please assist i have 1.5 hectors which i want to plant potatoes in the rural areas of White River Mpumalanga. i want to know is it a good place for potatoes or not? Water is also not enough in the place. Where can i buy seed that will adapt to my place conditions.
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This planting guide is a general reference intended for home gardeners. We recommend that you take into account your local conditions in making planting decisions. Gardenate is not a farming or commercial advisory service. For specific advice, please contact your local plant suppliers, gardening groups, or agricultural department. The information on this site is presented in good faith, but we take no responsibility as to the accuracy of the information provided.

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