Growing Potato

Solanum tuberosum : Solanaceae / the nightshade family

Jan F M A M J J A S O N Dec
      P P              

(Best months for growing Potato in USA - Zone 5a regions)

  • P = Plant seed potatoes
  • Plant tuber. Best planted at soil temperatures between 50°F and 86°F. (Show °C/cm)
  • Space plants: 12 - 16 inches apart
  • Harvest in 15-20 weeks. Dig carefully, avoid damaging the potatoes.
  • Compatible with (can grow beside): Peas, Beans, Brassicas, Sweetcorn, Broad Beans, Nasturtiums, Marigolds
  • Avoid growing close to: Cucumber, Pumpkin, Sunflowers, Tomatoes, Rosemary
  • An 'earthed-up' row
  • Potato flowers
  • Potato harvest

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 1 cm 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 - 40 cm wide and 10 - 20 cm deep. Add a bit more compost/manure to the bottom of the trench and cover with some soil. Put seed potatoes 20 - 30 cm 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.

No-dig

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 30 cm 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 - 30 cm. 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 - 20 cm of mixed compost and potting mix in the bottom of the container and put your seed potatoes on top, about 30 cm apart. Cover with about 10 - 20 cm 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 solanaceae 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

06 May 24, Etta (USA - Zone 8b climate)
Best potatoes for zone 8b And when should they be planted. Ate buying potatoes online an ok idea?
09 Jun 24, dan (USA - Zone 10a climate)
Etta, Peaceful Valley in Central Calif. is a good place. Although, there may be a place closer to you. Homestead and Chill has articles and other potato resources and advice; they're good people and they have a cat named Badger. [dry humor emoji] This website has the months suggested on 'when' to plant. Dan
14 Oct 23, Anonymous (USA - Zone 10a climate)
Which varieties of Indeterminate potatoes do well in Zone 10A?
11 May 23, dz (USA - Zone 10a climate)
I live in Southern California Zone 10A and grow potatoes year-round in bags and containers, anywhere from 5 to 15 gallons size. I have found what works well for me is to put about 4-6 inches of good soil in the container, lay a few seed potatoes on top so the slips are pointed up, about 12 inches apart, then cover them with about 4-6 inches of soil, and water moderately or they will rot. These potatoes will only produce new tubers in the soil about 6-12 inches above the original seed potatoes, so when the plants are about a foot above the soil, if I have any new add seed potatoes and the container has enough room, when I add more soil I may consider adding a few more seed potatoes that will produce "baby potatoes" above the older tubers, then cover them with another 6 inches of soil that will also bury more of the new growth of the first seed potatoes. Doing this stimulates more growth, and I may even add even more soil as the plants get taller depending on the depth of the container. I don't always add the second layer of seed potatoes, but doing this produces a few larger potatoes below (Baked Potatoes!) and a lot of smaller potatoes above them, and they are all excellent eating. I am growing Russet, Golden, and Red potatoes in containers, but I think they are all determinant varieties since they are all started from potatoes purchased in grocery stores, and each plant only produces tubers in the area near the seed potato, but do not continue to produce tubers as the plants get taller no matter how much more soil is added. I am still learning as I go, such as "location, location, location!" is making a noticeable difference on how successful my efforts are, and I would like to find an indeterminant variety potato that will grow well in Zone 10A.
24 Feb 23, Richard (USA - Zone 7a climate)
I'm planting potatoes in root bags. When should I plant (indoor) and when can they be left outside?
26 Dec 22, nelg strebor (USA - Zone 5b climate)
I made sectional container and added 7" sections as growth poked through. Got to about 5' tall . when I unveiled it in latter fall there were very few potatoes. A lot of care for no result, any idea what happened?
29 Jul 23, dz (USA - Zone 10a climate)
Neig, the potatoes you planted were probably determinant, which means they will only produce tubers for a limited space even if the green growth continues and you keep burying it as it gets taller. That is what I discovered when I tried to grow in potato bags that are 17" tall, 13" in diameter. I used store bought potatoes and used any that started sprouting as seed potatoes, and began with 6" of soil, put seed potatoes on top, added another 6" of soil, and when the tops got about 8" above the soil, I kept added soil as they grew, thinking the plant would produce more tubers above the original layer, but none have ever done so, so I think all my russet, golden, and red potatoes originally purchased from stores are all determinant varieties. If anyone knows of any indeterminant varieties suitable for container gardening in Zone 10A, please post.
09 Feb 23, Celeste Archer (Canada - Zone 5a Temperate Warm Summer climate)
I forgot to mention -- not all potatoes are suitable for towering -- it is very possible they used all their energy going up -- and did not have enough time left over for tuber formation -- which to me means -- if your going to tower that tall -- once you have the potatoes at full height your still going to need at LEAST a couple of months for the plants to set potatoes. One potato site lists these potatoes as being suitable for towering (they are not the only varieties, but they are the varieties they sell that are suitable for towering -- it has something to do with setting potatoes throughout the season -- kind of like indeterminate tomatoes) -- AmaRosa, Bellanita, French Fingerling, Pink Fir Apple, and Rode Eesteling (my personal favourite). I have only ever towered successfully to about 3.5 feet -- and the containers had 3" holes all around and the potato plants sent leaves out the holes on the sides of the container.
09 Feb 23, Celeste Archer (Canada - Zone 5a Temperate Warm Summer climate)
Potatoes need potassium (also called potash). Further, potatoes need potassium at the VERY BEGINNING of their growth cycle -- that is, for some reason potato plants uptake all (or MOST) or their potassium at the VERY beginning of tuber formation. If at the very beginning of tuber formation (probably barely visible to the human eye) -- anyhow, if there is not enough potassium you WILL impact tuber growth. At a minimum you will have HOLLOW HEART -- which is potatoes with an empty middle -- the potato sort of grows like a balloon being blown up -- and the tuber will take from the middle to reinforce the outside walls -- that is why the smaller potatoes will not have hollow heart, but the larger potatoes will -- THAT IS TO SAY: potassium supply will impact not only SIZE of the potatoes but the density.
06 Feb 23, Rob (USA - Zone 7a climate)
If you grow determinate potato they only grown on one level. There is absolutely no need or reason to keep piling up as the plant grows. Indeterminate potato will grow multi level but also no need to pile up. Not when container grown anyway. There is a gentleman that knows a ton on growing and constantly had tested different things. He has a great playlist on YT and his channel is simplify gardening. He is in Wales UK but really knows his stuff. Also knowing what potatos are early, second early variety helps as to when to get them started etc.
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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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