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

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.

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 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

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?
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.
05 Jan 23, Anonymous (Australia - sub-tropical climate)
Probably too much N fertiliser. It is not about growing a tall plant. It is about growing a plant that produces a crop. A good amount of general fert before planting and hill the soil up around the pant when about 12 inches
02 Sep 22, Geri (USA - Zone 7b climate)
Not enough water or not enough nutrients. My guess is water.
19 Jul 22, dz (USA - Zone 10a climate)
I just read about Determinate and Indeterminate potatoes. Which varieties of Indeterminate potatoes do well in Zone 10A?
21 Jul 22, Anonymous (Australia - sub-tropical climate)
Check on google what varieties are indeterminate and then see if any in your area.
13 Jun 22, Deb (USA - Zone 10a climate)
How late can you start growing potato’s? My first batch was planted March 20 but plants are already wilting back and I was wondering if I could plant more in June?
Showing 1 - 10 of 59 comments

April May if you had checked the planting guide here.

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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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