Potatoes can grow in most soil types, provided they’re in a sunny spot. You can grow them in your garden, of course, or if you don’t have an open ground area, you can also grow them in brown bags or pots on your patio. Caring for potatoes is also relatively painless, making them the ideal vegetables for an amateur gardener to grow. So, when and how do you plant potatoes?
The best time to plant potatoes is in spring when the soil is warm. Dig trenches about 3 feet apart, put seed potatoes in each, and cover them with 3-4 inches of soil. Add soil again 12-16 days after planting, just when the sprouts appear but leave the plants exposed a bit, then mulch between rows.
There’s a huge variety of potatoes that you can plant, ranging from the fast-growing kinds to those that take much longer to yield. With proper planning and knowledge, you’ll be harvesting and enjoying potatoes in no time. Let’s get into the details, so that you can get started right away.
When’s the Best Time to Plant Potatoes?
As with most plants, determining when to plant potatoes depends on your soil conditions, the climate, and the approximate date of the last frosts in your area. Potatoes aren’t particularly hardy, so most gardeners usually plant them in spring from mid-March to late April. Then they harvest them anywhere between June and October.
Spring is the best time to plant potatoes in most climates because it provides the plants with suitable soil and air temperatures and sufficient frost-free days for the tubers to develop. Gardening experts recommend planting seed potatoes (on Amazon) 2-4 weeks after the last spring frost, when soil temperatures have warmed to around 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit.
In northern climates, some gardeners plant early-bearing potato varieties before the last spring frost, when the soil is warm enough, and they cover the plants on nights when frost is forecast.
If you missed the spring planting season and you’re wondering if you can still plant the potatoes in the fall, the good news is that you can. In southern climates, you can plant seed potatoes from September until February as long as the soil is warm and reasonably dry.
If you live in mild climates, you can also plant seed potatoes in the summer for an autumn crop. Plant them approximately 110 days before the first autumn frost.
Different Types of Potatoes
There are several primary groups of potatoes, each with their own varieties. Those include:
- Russets have thick brown skin and are often used for baking, frying and mashing. Russets contain a little moisture and tend to get dry when cooked, so most people add milk or butter on top. Varieties are Russet Burbank and German Butterball.
- Yellow potatoes are all-purpose potatoes. You can mash, boil, steam, bake, fry or roast them. Varieties are Inca Gold, Yukon Gold, Mountain Rose, and Yellow Finn.
- Red Potatoes are firm, making them an excellent choice for potato salads and soups. You can also boil, steam and roast them. Varieties include Klondike Rose, Mountain Rose, Norland, Cranberry Red, and Red Pontiac.
- White Potatoes are low in starch and great for boiling, mashing, roasting, steaming and making potato salads and au gratin. Varieties are Cal White and White Rose.
- Blue Potatoes are native to South America. They’re high in antioxidants, have medium starch, and are good for baking, steaming and boiling. Varieties are All Blue, Russian Blue, Purple Majesty, and Peruvian.
- Finger Potatoes are the size and shape of a finger, hence the name. Their small size and sometimes different colored flesh makes them good side dishes. Most have a somewhat nutty but mild flavor that you’ll best enjoy when you roast, bake or boil the potatoes. Varieties include French Fingerling, Russian Banana, and Austrian Crescent.
- New Potatoes are any basically potatoes that you can harvest while they’re still small, before they fully convert their sugars to starch, and their skins are still thin. You can use them for boiling, roasting, steaming or in soups — but not for baking.
How to Plant Potatoes
Planting potatoes is a straightforward procedure. Here’s what to do:
- A day or two before planting, use a clean, sharp paring knife to cut large potatoes into tiny pieces (golf-ball size) with one or two eyes each. The time frame allows the pieces to heal and form a protective layer over the cut surface, improving both moisture retention and rot resistance.
- Dig trench rows about six inches wide and eight inches deep using a hoe or a round-pointed shovel. This step is crucial as potatoes grow best in rows about three feet apart.
- Now, narrow the bottom of the each trench to about three inches wide, then spread and mix in compost, aged manure, and leaves.
- Place a cut seed potato piece in each trench and cover with 3-4 inches of soil.
- Around 12-16 days after planting, the sprouts will appear. Use a hoe to gently fill the trenches with another 3-4 inches of soil, but leave a few inches of the plants exposed. Repeat this after some weeks as they grow until the trench is at ground level.
- Mulch between rows to preserve moisture, cool the soil, and control weeds. Piling soil, mulching, or adding heavy layers of straw around the lower stems also helps the potatoes grow in total darkness. If the potatoes are exposed to sunlight, they turn green and taste bitter.
- Add the mulch or straw every 1-2 weeks until the plants have at least six inches of lower stem buried.
To ensure your potatoes grow well, you’ll need to maintain moisture, especially after the flowers bloom. Water them regularly but not too much since they’re just beginning to form, and excess water could make them lose shape. It’s best to stop watering when the foliage starts turning yellow and dies off.
How to Harvest Potatoes
To harvest potatoes, you’ll need a shovel or a spading fork (on Amazon). Harvest them on dry days when the soil isn’t compacted and digging is easy. Drive your shovel or fork into the soil near the plant’s edges and remove the potatoes. Potato skins are soft, so dig up gently and carefully to avoid cutting or puncturing the tubers.
Damaged potatoes will rot during storage, so eat them as soon as possible. It’s best if you also cure the potatoes after harvesting them. Put them in a place with temperatures of 45-60 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks. During this period, their skins will harden, and minor injuries will seal.
Remember to store the cured potatoes in a dark place to prevent sunlight from turning them green and bitter.
Here are a few extra tips that may be of help when harvesting potatoes:
- If you’ve harvested the potatoes while the soil is very wet, let them air-dry as much as possible, then put them in bags or baskets.
- Before harvesting, reduce how much you water the potatoes after mid-August to toughen them up for storage.
- Before harvesting, dig up a test hill to see how mature your potatoes are. Mature potatoes have thick skins that are firmly attached to the flesh. If the skins are thin and peel off easily, your potatoes are still underdeveloped, and you should leave them in the ground for a few more days.
- After cutting down the brown foliage, leave the potatoes for 10-14 more days before harvesting them. This gives them time to form thicker skin. Don’t wait for too long though, or they’ll rot.