Growing Potato

Solanum tuberosum : Solanaceae / the nightshade family

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

(Best months for growing Potato in Australia - temperate regions)

  • P = Plant seed potatoes
  • 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 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

24 Feb 24, Calfred Andawe (Australia - tropical climate)
I Need your assistance on how to plant Potatoes in Large scale in dry and Humid climate, full procedures on planting and harvesting
19 Jan 24, Dot (New Zealand - sub-tropical climate)
I want to get a crop in and I need to grow them in planter bags. Can I grow them in layers or only one layer per bag?
19 Jan 24, Celeste Archer (Canada - Zone 5a Temperate Warm Summer climate)
It depends -- not all potatoes are suitable for towering (layering). Additionally, I have found that the potato plant SPENDS A LOT OF ENERGY GROWING UP, UP, UP, as you cover its leaves with soil (leaves have specialized cells designed to collect light - and why you would want to cover them with soil is beyond me this is not really a good move -- leaves are not roots). My recommendation is: if you have a DEEP PLANTER bag starting at about six inches from the bottom -- in sort of a pattern that looks like the 5 on a die (dice) -- make about 3-4 inch round holes -- and make them on the sides that receive light keeping the holes about 10 inches apart (6 inches away from the bottom and 10 inches away from the top of the bag). Fill the bag with a good soil/compost/manure mix of some kind -- starting from the bottom -- when you are level with a hole, place a seed potato there, level or slight below the bottom lip of the hole, and about 3 inches from the side of the bag (so there is soil between the potato and the hole) -- continue up until the bag is full -- the top layer of potatoes can be planted as usual. Yes, the soil will come out of the holes ... not to worry -- just be sure that the soil covers the topmost holes by at least 6-8inches. That is - each potato planted in the bag should have access to a WINDOW (air and light) OR those planted on the top layer (like a usual planting) should be down about 9 inches or so. The Key to this planting is ALL potatoes need to be able to put leaves somewhere -- they will follow the air and light to find that spot -- all potatoes need water -- so you will be watering from the top of the bag only (like a potted plant) -- but you water DEEPLY, since the water needs to make it to the very bottom potato plants -- so maybe you water every 5 days or so... depends on the soil, temperature, amount of light , amount of wind/air (which whisks moisture away), Additionally, ensure there is drainage at the bottom of the bag .... maybe a two inch hole directly at ground level. It might be better to use a crate of some kind.... rather than a bag...anyhow this set up will work with any kind of potato plant without consideration as to whether or not it can handle towering. Hope this helps. Conversion of inches to cm : 1 inch = 2.5cm
20 Apr 23, Benjamin Chapman (Australia - temperate climate)
I understand that "non specific" potato varieties don't need the soil to be mounded up as they grow. Where can I find a list which shows "specific" and "non-specific" potato varieties.
06 May 23, Celeste Archer (Canada - Zone 5a Temperate Warm Summer climate)
Technically you don't HAVE TO HILL any variety of potatoes. Here's how it works: you plant the seed potato (which is an extra small potato saved/stored from last year's harvest -- or a piece of a larger potato that you stored/saved from last year) -- the DEPTH THAT you PLANT that SEED POTATO determines your LOWEST POINT -- GENERALLY, and I do mean GENERALLY (like 95% of the potatoes) the potato plant will not create tubers LOWER than the depth you planted the seed potato at (so your seed potato is the BOTTOM of the plants tubers/potatoes). Which is why some people think the very bottom potato always rots, when in reality it is the seed potato and is expected to grow and will appear rotten. Which means if you don't hill up as your potato plant grows and you planted the seed potato shallow, there is not that much ROOM for the potato plant to put it's tubers, and larger tubers will usually "pop" out of the soil and turn green due to sun exposure. If you don't want to hill up, plant your seed potato deeper than recommended -- yes it will be fine -- the reason you plant shallow and mound up is because the potato plant will be able to get leaves into the sun sooner if it's seed potato was planted shallow, which means it will grow quicker because it is collecting light sooner -- then you mound up to offset that you planted the seed potato shallow, but you always leave lots of leaves exposed to the sun so the plant can collect sun and grow. It's a lot of extra work work to mound up soil-- and maybe speeds up the process "brings in the harvest" by 10 days or so.... My experience is planting seed potatoes a foot deep ((30cm) is fine -- yes the plant takes a little longer for it's leaves to surface -- but it's fine and you should not experience any problems - provided the soil is nice and loose. (hopefully that makes senses). I think in the future I will plant two potatoes side by side -- one deep, one using the mound method and record the progress and final outcomes... I have never done a tandem planting -- BUT I HAVE had potatoes spring up from deep down Once as I dug out one of these "self planted potatoes" I realized it was down about 30" (70cm) -- it was in a potato planting tower (old full size garbage can full of 3" holes all over) which I dumped and collect the potatoes from the year before, then just put the soil back, week by week, as I composted kitchen scraps directly into the soil... so no surprise that a potato was so deep -- it grew -- it put out potatoes and it's crop was average good... it spent a lot of energy growing up -- and perhaps I harvested too early based on the other potatoes-- but it made it and did OK, good size potatoes, good quantity. I would not recommend placing your seed potatoes that deep, but a foot (30cm) should be fine.
03 Nov 23, Scott (Australia - sub-tropical climate)
The other reason to hill potatoes is that the plant gets quite tall and top heavy. This makes it susceptible to getting blown over by wind. This will cause the plants to die off early. If you hill it mid season you stop the plant from blowing over and you increase the size of the potatoes as they have had longer to grow and mature.
13 Nov 23, Christian (USA - Zone 7b climate)
I heard that the potato will stop sending nutrients to the tubers if the stalks are bent. One of the most successful potato harvests I have ever seen was a large container grown project where he used several layers (think of a layer cake) of horizontal plastic fencing and t-posts at each corner to hold the horizontal fencing to keep the stalks from bending at all and support them as they grew. They were able to get an absolutely massive yield with that method although he was sick all summer and didn't care for them or water them at all. I am not sure that the container growing was as pivotal in the results as just keeping the stalks from bending over. I have container grown before and will try it again this spring as well as ground growing using his methods to keep the stalks upright. I think another often overlooked issue is either too much or too little phosphorus and potash in 10-10-10 fertilizer. I think 'balanced' fertilizers can present real problems for root crops since they don't need or want balanced inputs. You will always have too much of something and too little of the other. Also there is a time delay on phosphorus while it stays in the upper part of the soil, so you can apply phosphorus to increase tuber formation, but it takes 3 months to disperse into the soil, while nitrogen sinks like a stone through soil an becomes almost immediately bio-unavailable (or runs off into the environment via water). So if you are using 10-10-10 you are going to end up poisoning your plants in order to get one or another nutrients available in the correct quantity. Plus factor in the time delay to bioavailability. I think it is better to thoroughly prepare soil before you put your garden to bed in the winter than prepare it in the spring (actually I have revived some fruit trees that were very old and no longer producing by fall fertilizing; I got almost $700 worth of organic pears and even more than this in apples last year through fall fertilizing). I also heard (and studied it last year in my own garden) that potatoes grow between the seed potato and the surface. If you bury them deep you will increase yields as there is more space for them to grow above the seed potato. But if you plant them shallow, they have a very narrow area to make potatoes in, significantly reducing production. This means in container gardening you need to put them at the very bottom of a 1'-6" (0.45 meters) tall container to get a full yield. I tried this method last year and doubled my production. I was putting them very close to the surface before last year. Also, potatoes need cool roots and won't produce anything at all if their roots are too hot in the container during the summer. Afternoon/evening shade is a must in Southern US zones or other hot environments. Or you could insulate or shade the container.
06 May 23, Benjamin Chapman (Australia - temperate climate)
I have been told that the terms I used (specific and non-specific) could be wrong. Someone else has said the terms are "determinate" and "non-determinate".
08 May 23, Celeste Archer (Canada - Zone 5a Temperate Warm Summer climate)
I'm not certain if the initial question is using the correct terminology or not... there are so many different ways to categorize things. If it is determinate verses indeterminate -- then it is like tomatoes -- the indeterminate are like a vine, and continue to grow - which means they CAN BE towered ( but don't have to be) and they will continue to put out "layers" of tubers as you hill up. However, indeterminate potatoes can be grown as determinate.... you DON'T HAVE TO tower or hill up -- so long as you plant the seed potato deep enough. You can get more potatoes per square foot of real estate out of the indeterminate type of potato, but it does take longer. So you need to think about - time verses space verses growing methods.
15 Mar 23, Loreley dunwell (Australia - sub-tropical climate)
Where can I buy seed potatoes, please. We are in the Lockyer valley. Last year we grew sebago and had a wonderful crop but can’t find any at the moment,
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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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