I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like.
I’d eat them for every meal if I could, and I usually have to force myself to think of alternative side dishes, because in my world, potatoes go with everything. (This may have to do with the fact I grew up in Idaho? I can’t help myself.)
Therefore, it’s only logical they’d be one of my most-favorite things to grow in the garden. I get all-sorts of giddy when I’m pulling pounds and pounds of them out of the soil and piling them into the wagon to be taken into the house.
You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten tender new potatoes, fried in a bit bacon fat and smothered in sour cream and chives. Grocery store potatoes don’t even remotely compare. Not even close.
I’ll stop waxing poetic about potatoes if you promise to try growing them at least once. Sound like a deal?
Let’s talk details so you know exactly how to make this potato-gig happen.
Growing Potatoes: What You Need to Know
Start with Seed Potatoes:
Seed potatoes– you need em. And you’ll want “official” seed potatoes– not sprouted, shriveled grocery store potatoes. Using proper seed potatoes ensures you won’t be introducing any diseases into your garden, and you can find some pretty cool varieties that’ll grow better in your climate. There are a variety of online seed potato suppliers (Google ’em) or check your local nursery or farmer’s market for organic seed potatoes.
I get seed potatoes from our local organic garden store each year. Yukon Golds are my #1 absolute favorites, but I usually grow several different kinds each year, including Kennebec, Red Pontiac, German Butterball, All Blue, and/or some various purple ones (whose names I can’t remember). The varieties you pick will depend on your availability and climate– I do recommend picking options that aren’t easily available in your grocery store, though. I’ve found them to generally be more delicious, and it’s more satisfying to grow something you couldn’t get otherwise.
When/Where to Plant Potatoes:
I generally buy my seed potatoes, and then get distracted from planting them for a week or so. But my procrastination is actually beneficial here. Chitting (aka pre-sprouting) your seed potatoes can give your plants a head start for healthy growing. (You just might want to let the sprouts get *quite* as long as they are in my photos…. whoops.) I also cut up the larger potatoes to make them stretch a bit further– however if you do this, make sure to have at LEAST two eyes per piece. Also, cure the cut pieces afterwards by letting them sit for at least 24 hours in a cool, dry place so that their exterior surface will be hardened. (And they’ll be less likely to rot once you plant them.)
You can plant your potatoes a few weeks before your last frost date in the spring. Potatoes love to start growing in cool weather. Just make sure the soil has both thawed and dried out a bit.
Since potatoes are a root crop, plant in loose, compost-rich soil with good drainage.
A few more potato reminders:
- Plant your potatoes in full sun.
- Plant them where you have not recently grown either tomatoes or potatoes (crop rotation is a MUST!).
- When planting, space them at least 1 foot apart, and have your rows about 3 feet apart.
How to Properly Plant Potatoes:
The classic way is the ‘trench and hill method‘: Start by making rows of shallow trenches, with the mounds of soil from those trenches in between the rows. Place the potatoes (cut side down and/or sprout side up) in these trenches and cover with loose soil. As your potato plants grow, hill up the excess soil around the plants, so that you not only get MORE potatoes, but you are also protecting your potatoes from the sun (sunlight makes them green). Keep mounding soil up around your potato plants until there is at least 1 foot of soil hilled up around each plant. I’m planting mine in my new raised beds this year— I’ll keep ya posted how it goes.
If you get tired of trying to find enough soil to hill up on your potato plants, you can switch to mulch instead, after you have about 6″ of soil. Mulch also helps keep the soil weed-free and cool.
Alternative Methods of Growing Potatoes:
There are many creative alternative methods of potato planting if you want to think outside the box. The ‘trench and hill method’ is the classic way, and many gardeners claim the best way, however, if you don’t have the space or soil for the classic method, here are a few other options:
- Potato towers: I’ve seen pallet towers, fancy wooden towers, and even recycled tires for potato towers. You basically add sides to the tower and more soil as the plants grow. If you have poor soil or limited space, this might be a good option for you.
- Potatoes in grow bags: You can grow potatoes in burlap bags or grow bags (like this one on Amazon– affiliate link). You start with the bags rolled down, and then bring the sides up and add dirt as the potatoes grow. This method might work if you need mobile potato growing stations, or smaller batches of potatoes.
- Potatoes in mulch: I’ve experimented with growing potatoes in mulch, and while it worked, I suspect it did decrease my yields a bit. I like using mulch as you don’t have to dig the trenches as deeply, and you don’t have to mound with tons of soil– just add more layers of straw or hay as the plants grow.
- Potatoes in containers: Creativity is your friend when it comes to potato-growing containers. Trash cans, storage tubs, 5 gallon buckets, old bathtubs in the backyard… Just as long as you keep adding soil as the plants grow, almost any container could grow potatoes. If you’ve had success growing in containers, I’d love to hear more about it in the comments!
Potato Growing Maintenance:
Potatoes are pretty easy-going once they get started (another reason I love them), just keep a few things in mind:
- Occasionally check to make sure the potatoes are properly covered with dirt or mulch and not exposed to sun, which will turn them green.
- Keep an eye out for bugs. Aphids can occasionally be a problem, however, the main culprit is the Colorado potato beetle. You are almost guaranteed to get potato beetles, so try to get rid of them as soon as you see them. (They’ll also lay egg clusters under the leaves, so lift the leaves to check that too.) In the past I’ve paid my kids to pick potato bugs/eggs or my DIY organic pest control spray is a good option too.
On occasion, potato crops can be lost to late blight as well. I’ve not personally had to deal with this (yet!), but if you see black or moldy leaves, it’s possible you have potato blight. Remove and burn the damaged foliage and be sure to always use high-quality seed potatoes to attempt to avoid it in the first place.
Once your potato plants bloom, you can start harvesting baby potatoes for immediate use. (These are the most tasty, in my opinion.) Some people use digging forks, but you can also just dig into the soil with your hands (that’s what I usually do…). Use caution as you dig to avoid damaging the roots of the plants, and be sure to leave some potatoes to mature for later.
If you are growing potatoes for storage, leave them in the ground for a few weeks after the leaves and stems turn brown and dry. This gives them a chance to thicken their skins for better storage. You can leave them in the ground as long as you want, really, just as long as you dig them up before your first hard frost. (You don’t even wanna know how many years I’ve been out frantically digging potatoes as a snow storm rolls in…) Do NOT wash your potatoes if you are going to store them. Just brush them off and call it good.
For storage potatoes, harvest them on a dry day and allow them to cure them for a few days before storing in a dark, cool, and well-ventilated place. They can last for up to 6 months in proper conditions.
I recently wrote a very thorough post just about harvesting potatoes. Click here to learn more about digging up and storing potatoes for winter use.