Potatoes are among the most versatile foods that can give you comfort. The good thing about potatoes is you can prepare them in various ways. You can roast, mash with garlic, bake, boil, or fry them depending on your preferences.
Growing and caring for potatoes is also easy, which is great if you no longer want to constantly buy from a grocery store. You will realize that it is easy to grow potatoes if you only have a specific space at home capable of receiving a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of direct and full sun, especially during the summer.
In This Article
Quick Facts About the Plant Potatoes
- Common name: Potato and Irish potato
- Botanical name: Solanum tuberosum
- Type of plant: Annual tuberous vegetable
- Soil type and pH: Loamy and well-drained; acidic – should be 5.0 to 6.0 pH level
- Size: 1 and ½ to 3 feet; similar spread
- Hardiness zones: 3 to 10
- Sun exposure: Full sunlight
- Toxicity: Toxic leaves
- Native area: Andes regions that are part of South America
Short Description of Potatoes
Also known as solanum tuberosum, potato is one of the most crucial commercial crops and food plants worldwide. It came from the Andes and is available in various types, shapes, and colors. It provides significant amounts of digestible carbs and nutrients in its tuberous roots.
This plant forms part of the Solanum or nightshade family, which refers to a plant group containing several vital food vegetables. These include eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.
Like the mentioned plants, note that potatoes also have toxic alkaloid compounds. You can find these toxic compounds in the potato’s leaves as well as its other green parts.
One crucial fact about potatoes you should know is that they grow from seed potato tubers rather than actual seeds. You can also find russet variations of this plant recognized for being starchy and having brown skins. Those are perfect for baking.
There are also red potatoes with yellow, red, or white, and waxy or starchy flesh. Aside from that, there are white potatoes that feature yellow or white flesh. In most cases, the plants grow in sunny areas.
Potatoes come in numerous varieties and most of them are categorized into three, namely:
- Long white potatoes and russets – They are perfect for baking, frying, and boiling.
- Round white potatoes – These are often boiled or made into potato chips.
- Red-skinned potatoes – You can often find them used for baking, boiling, and when making potato salads.
The mentioned categories also have sub-varieties of potatoes, namely the early, late, and mid-season types.
- Irish Cobbler – This type is irregularly shaped while having tannish skin. It is perfect for mashing and boiling.
- Norland – It features red skin. What is great about the Norland variety is that it can resist scabs.
- Mountain Rose – These potatoes have pink flesh and red skin and are capable of resisting a few viruses.
- Red Pontiac – Featuring red skin, the red Pontiac is one of those potatoes that you can easily grow.
- Chieftan – It is recognized for its red skin and ability to resist potato scabs.
- Viking – This is another red-skin potato known for being a productive crop.
- Yukon Gold – This variety is popular for having thin skin, yellow flesh, and no eyes.
- Katahdin – It is a late-season variety with tan skin and can resist several viruses.
- Elba – Also with tan skin, the Elba features large and round tubers. It is resistant against potato scab and blight.
- Kennebec – Just like a couple of late-season varieties mentioned, this one is also tan-skinned. You can breed it to resist several viruses and late blight.
The Basics of Planting Potatoes
Potato planting does not have to be that hard. You may be able to do this process successfully based on the following steps:
In some cases, seed potato tubers refer to small and whole potatoes with a diameter of around 1 to 1 and ¼ inches. This is the perfect diameter as it means that dividing them is no longer necessary.
If you get a hold of larger tubers, then make sure to cut them into chunks that are around 1 and ¼ inches each. Each piece should also have a minimum of one eye. The eye we are talking about here refers to the indentation designed to produce new shoots. The ideal number of eyes is around 2 to 3 for each piece.
With a clean knife, cut the tubers into pieces. The cut pieces should then be placed in a tray and should be stored in a place with room temperature, ideally around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Let the pieces stay there for a few days or until the surfaces where the cut is dry out and form a tough layer of protection. In case sprouts begin forming, be extra careful when dealing with them. Your goal should be to avoid rubbing them off when planting.
Plant the pieces of seed potatoes
Once you have collected some pieces of seed potatoes, plant them right after noticing the soil warming up. In most cases, this period occurs during the early parts of April, especially in Minnesota.
If you are living in Southern Minnesota, then plant the potatoes earlier than that. However, if you are in Northern locations, then you may have to wait until May, which is the time for these areas to have warmer soil.
Start planting the seed potato pieces with the side where they are cut down. Ensure that these seed potatoes are apart by around 1o to 12 inches. Plant them at a depth of around 3 inches to 5 inches, too.
If planting seed pieces in rows, ensure that they are apart by around 30 to 36 inches. If you are using smaller tubers, then ensure that the space between each piece is closer.
Meanwhile, if you have fewer yet bigger tubers, then the pieces should be spaced farther apart. Complete the planted pieces by covering them with around 4 inches deep of soil. You can use compost, too.
Upon noticing the emergence of green shoots, you need to hill up the garden soil along the plants while they are achieving growth. Note that one vital aspect of planting and growing potatoes is preventing tubers or the crops from being exposed to light for an extremely long period.
The reason is that exposed tubers may turn green, which can then produce solanine, a toxic compound. This can make them inedible, bitter, and capable of inducing nausea. You can prevent that through hilling, which works by preventing the exposure of shallow tubers to light.
Begin hilling once the stems of the potatoes are already around one foot tall. Do it once or two times more when the growing season arrives. As soon as the season ends, expect to hill around a total of 6 to 8 inches deep of soil.
You can also follow some other gardeners who tend to plant the tubers in trenches that are considered shallow to promote further ease in hilling. This makes it possible for the tubers to be pushed more to the trench rather than mounding up the soil.
How to Grow Potatoes in Containers and Pots?
You may also want to use the container method when it comes to growing potatoes. This is beneficial as it prevents you from dealing with the possible complications that hilling may bring. Growing potatoes in containers or pots can also lessen the space they can take.
To grow potatoes in containers, you can use a tall container. It could be a whiskey barrel, garbage can (ensure that it is clean), or a pail with a 5-gallon capacity. You may also do it in a planting bag, which is specifically made for such a purpose.
Put soil, around 6 inches, at the bottom before spreading the plant seed potatoes. Continue adding peat or soil as you notice the plants grow and become taller. The good thing about using peat is that it is lighter and easier to use and work with. It also has an acidic pH, which is helpful in preventing scabs.
Caring for your Potato
Begin caring for the potatoes you have planted by ensuring that you meet or adhere to the requirements for the following aspects of the plants’ growth:
Encourage proper root growth by planting potatoes in full sun. You can expect them to handle partial shade. However, the lush growth on the topmost part is the one that provides nourishment to the tubers beneath the ground.
With that in mind, potatoes grow best by providing them with sufficient light. A great recommendation is a minimum of 6 hours daily.
Make sure to protect the tubers from sunlight, though, in case their growth is close to the surface or if you notice them turning green. Prevent that from happening through hilling, the process of mounding up soil close to the stem while the plant grows.
Use a well-drained soil for the growth of potatoes that has an acidic pH, between 5.0 and 6.0, to be exact. Note that potatoes cultivated and cared for in soils that have a high pH level are vulnerable to scabs, thereby leading to some rough spots and parts.
One more thing you should remember about this plant is that they are not fond of rich soil. Potatoes grow best by providing them with sufficient organic matter while they are in the soil as well as a neutral to acidic pH level.
Ensure that the soil is well-draining and loose, too. In case you are using soil with plenty of clay, prepare it down until it reaches the depth of the growth of potato tubers.
Another crucial requirement when growing potatoes is water. As a matter of fact, this plant requires a solid and steady supply of water. Water the potatoes with a minimum of an inch per week.
Remember that these are sensitive to drought, especially once they start flowering. The reason is that it is also the peak for the potato tubers to be formed. If you want to retain moisture for that procedure, then it would be best for you to mulch in areas surrounding the plants.
Humidity and Temperature
Ensure that you do not plant potatoes until the actual temperature of the soil reaches 40 degrees F, at the very least. It is even preferable to target 50 degrees F. Potato tubers can also be expected to have an incredible growth once the temperature in the soil goes to around 60 to 70 degrees G.
Once the temperature of the soil gets to 80 degrees F, expect the tubers to stop growth. In that case, it helps to mulch around the potato plant. You can do that by adding a thick layer composed of straws. Doing that can help make the soil cooler by around 10 degrees F.
For those who are in places that experience the hot summer, the potatoes may be planted and cultivated as winter crops. The good thing about potatoes grown in gardens and on the ground is that they do not have a particular level of air humidity that they prefer.
When nourishing your potatoes, it helps to use a slow-release and organic fertilizer. Feed the plants with fish emulsion or diluted liquid fertilizer every few weeks or so.
New potatoes can be described as still small and immature. It is possible to harvest some of them without harming the entire plant once it gets to around one foot high. This should be around 50 days after you have planted the crops.
Once the plant flowers, you can harvest the new potatoes. You just have to feel gently what is surrounding the soil close to the plant then lift the new potatoes.
If you want them to get into their full size before harvesting, then wait for around 2 to 4 months (120 days). You will know that the whole crop is perfect for harvest upon noticing the topmost parts of the plant die back. You may leave them on the ground for a few more weeks but make sure that the ground is dry.
To harvest potatoes, seek the help of a shovel. You may also do the harvest by hand. Turn over the soil and look for the ones you can harvest. One thing to note when harvesting is that the tubers may branch out.
Dig in using a fork so you can stab at least one potato. Also, note that even the damaged ones that you harvested are edible. However, expect them to be incapable of lasting that long.
After you harvest potatoes in raised beds, containers, or any other form of gardens, you should make it a point to store them properly to retain their freshness. Examine them first for sprouts, mold, pest or shovel damage, and soft spots as those that are pest- and disease-free are the only ones perfect for long-term storage.
Store potatoes in a dark, cool, and humid place. There should also be proper ventilation when you store potatoes. You can provide that to the harvested potatoes by putting them in a paper or mesh bag, basket, or cardboard box.
Proper storage is also possible with these additional tips:
- For homegrown potatoes in raised beds and containers, let them cure before storage.
- Avoid washing them until ready for use.
- Ensure that potatoes are a few inches or feet apart from other produce. This helps in preventing premature ripening and flavor transfer.
- Choose potatoes recognized for storing well.
- Provide the potatoes with proper ventilation – Use mesh or paper bags and basket or cardboard box for this. Avoid plastic bags as they will make it hard for them to breathe, resulting in shortened shelf life. Take them out of plastic bags in case you store them in one.
Common Diseases and Pests
Despite being easy to grow and maintain, potatoes are still vulnerable to certain problems and issues. Among those that may negatively impact these plants are:
Beetles and Aphids
These pests have the tendency of defoliating the plants. Watch out for them during the early parts of the planting season. Examine the leaves’ undersides to see if there are larvae and eggs of the usual beetle pests, such as the Colorado potato beetle. It is possible to eliminate these pets manually.
Red and thin wireworms also tend to attack the potatoes underground. You can prevent them by rotating the places where you plant the potatoes annually.
Scab refers to a common disease affecting potato plants. It resembles corky and raised skin areas or sunken holes that you can find at the surface. To control the scab, ensure that the soil has a low pH level, and do not forget to put some peat moss in the area where you cultivated the plant.
This common disease will cause the foliage to turn black. You will also notice the foliage becoming moldy. In that case, it would be best to dispose of or burn the foliage.
Avoid composting it. Note that you can still harvest the potatoes, though, it would take around a few weeks of waiting time. You can also prevent late blight with the help of seed potatoes that are certified to be disease-resistant.
Reasons for Delayed Growth
Apart from the mentioned pests and diseases, it is also necessary to become familiar with the possible reasons why the growth of potatoes gets delayed. That way, you can take action immediately.
Too Cold, Dry, or Wet Soil
Note that the well-loved potatoes need a well-drained soil while also maintaining a temperature of over 40 degrees F. If it is already over 150 days and you notice that the potatoes are still not growing, then the problem could be in the soil. Improve the soil’s condition by mixing or adding organic matter before planting the potatoes.
Use of Seed Potatoes that are Freshly Cut
Initially, planting seed potatoes is necessary but you should avoid picking freshly cut varieties as much as possible. The reason is that the freshly cut ones may easily get dehydrated. They do not also heal right away, resulting in delayed growth.
Of course, the growth of your potato plants may also get affected by certain diseases and pests we have discussed earlier. Be extra observant and cautious of leafhoppers, aphids, scabs, bugs, and flea beetles. You can also solve such problems with the aid of natural insecticides.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What month do you plant potatoes?
If you are living in a frost-free area, the best month to plant potatoes would be from August to June the next year. In case frost is prevalent in your area, you can plant them from the months of August to December. You can also make the planting session reach up to early January.
How long does it take to grow potatoes?
The length of time it takes to grow potatoes vary based on their type. In most cases, though, they grow from around 70 to 120 days. Look for signs that the crop is already ready for harvest.
Look for new potatoes several weeks after they stopped flowering. You will also notice that the potatoes are almost ready if the foliage starts yellowing and dying back. In this case, stop watering the crop and wait for the tops to die completely as this is the perfect time to start harvesting potatoes.
Can you grow potatoes from potatoes?
Yes, you can. The only things that you need would be a sunny spot and a constant supply of water. You also need seed potatoes. These refer to the plant’s sprouted portions that you have planted on the ground.
How late can you plant potatoes in Ontario?
If you are in Ontario, then the ideal time to begin planting and growing potatoes is during the early spring. It is also advisable to plant them around 2-3 weeks prior to the last frost date as such can produce the best results.
How to hill potatoes?
The most effective method of hilling potatoes is by using compost, soil, or any mulch material, like straw or shredded leaves. If you use light materials, like straw, ensure that no sunlight penetrates; otherwise, potatoes may become toxic and turn green.
Mulches are beneficial as they can conserve moisture while retaining the coolness of soil during hot temperatures. This promotes ease of potato harvest. However, they may also attract slugs.
If possible, put at least a layer of soil or compost every now and then when hilling potatoes with light materials. That way, you can block full sunlight and nourish the plants.
How far should the planted potatoes be apart?
Whether the plant potato is in a raised bed garden or any other type of garden, expect it to grow bigger if there is more space. If you are satisfied with harvesting plenty of smaller-sized potatoes, then spacing them by around 9 to 12 inches apart would be enough.
Just ensure that there the soil is fertile with great growing conditions. If you prefer larger ones, then provide the plants with a minimum space of one square foot each. For a potato growing in a raised bed garden or rows, leaving a space of around 18 to 36 inches apart is ideal.
Can potatoes grow in the shade?
Most raised bed gardeners and other garden-type experts say that a minimum of 6-hour full sunlight is what the potatoes need for productive growth. Some potatoes grow even if there is only partial shade, around 4 to 5 hours of sunlight daily. However, since there is less light, the harvest can be slightly delayed.
Now that we have covered most aspects of growing potatoes, it is time to make them a part of your garden or grow them in containers. If you love potatoes, then you will surely love the fact that you have these plants at home as you can always use freshly harvested ones guaranteed to be healthy and disease-free.