Whether you like them fried, baked, roasted, or mashed, there’s no vegetable that’s quite as versatile as the humble spud.
Potatoes can be planted very early in the gardening season, allowing you to get a jumpstart on the growing season. If you’re curious about how to grow potatoes at home, you’ve come to the right place.
Trust us, once you learn how to do it, you’ll be a potato peddling master in no time!
How to Plant Potatoes
Plant your potatoes early, ideally as soon as the frost has left the soil and it is workable. There is all kinds of folklore surrounding the ideal timing of potato planting. Christians, for example, believe that Good Friday is the best day to plant potatoes as the devil will have no power over them at that time!
Ultimately, though, know that potatoes prefer cold weather. They can be planted about six to eight weeks before the last expected frost date. The only thing you need to watch out for is frost - if you have any foliage and a frost appears, you may want to cover the sprouts with mulch or some old sheet.
Otherwise, potatoes grow best in loose, well-aerated soil. Soil that is too rocky or compacted will yield potatoes that are too small or misshapen (and they often don’t hold up well in storage, either). You will want a spot that gets full sun (ideally six hours per day) and is well-draining. Potatoes that remain waterlogged often rot before you get the chance to harvest them.
Ready to plant? You’ll need to start with seed potatoes. Do not try to plant potatoes that you buy at the grocery store. Although these sometimes can sprout potatoes, you need seed potatoes that are designed specifically for planting. They’ll have protruding buds, also known as “eyes.”
Plant your potatoes in a trench. Each trench should be about three feet apart from the next and about six inches wide. It should be eight inches deep.Spread In some compost before you plant. Then, put a piece of cut seed potato (make sure each has an eye) every foot or so in the trench. Cover it with three inches of soil.
You read that right - you aren't going to totally fill in the planting hole with the soil you removed. That’s because, as your potatoes grow, you are going to need to mound soil up over the roots. This is called “hilling” - a process we’ll cover later in this article.
Caring for Potato Plants
About two weeks after you plant your seed potatoes, you need to gently fill in the trench with another couple to three inches of soil. Do this every few weeks, mounding the soil up to about four inches above ground level. This supports the roots of the plant as they develop strong, healthy tubers.
Once your plants emerge, you can also add mulch between the rows. This will help control weeds and retain moisture. It can prevent your soil both from becoming too waterlogged as well as too dry. When you use a light-colored mulch like straw, it can also cool the soil - a major plus for cold-loving plants like potatoes.
Water your potatoes regularly, providing at least an inch of water per week. You should try to water in the morning (as well as do any necessary hilling then) to prevent your plants from becoming too wet. This can cause rot issues to develop. After mid-August, you don’t need hot water much - this will harden your plants up for storage.
As your potatoes grow, watch out for common pests and diseases like potato scab and Colorado potato beetles.
Your potatoes are ready for harvest about two to three weeks after the plant’s foliage dies back. Allow the tops of the plants to die completely before you start to harvest (often, about two weeks after the foliage has died). This will help the potatoes develop the thick skins they need to hold up in storage.
To know for sure whether your potatoes are ready for harvest, dig up a hill. Mature potatoes will have thick, firmly attached skins. If the skins are thin and rub right off, you need to leave the potatoes in the ground for a few days.
Frost on the way? Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but if a hard freeze is expected, you may need to harvest your potatoes early.
Try to harvest on a dry day and dig gently. Avoid cutting the skin, as potatoes that suffer damages will not hold up well in storage. Do not brush the dirt off - instead, allow the potatoes to air dry. Don’t leave them in the sun, though, or the potatoes can turn green as they develop solanine (this compound can be toxic).
Let your potatoes dry in a cool location for two weeks. The skins will cure and you will be able to store your potatoes for several months when provided with good ventilation.
Growing potatoes is easy - and since they store for quite some time without needing to be canned, frozen, or processed in any other way, there’s no reason not to grow a huge crop in your garden. You’ll be able to feed your family for the entire year!