Growing Potatoes, Everything You Need to Know

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Spring time is here! The temperatures are perfect for planting early spring vegetables. Today we’ll talk about planting and growing potatoes and everything you need to know to be successful.

Of course, if you are growing potatoes, you will also need to know how to harvest and store them, so we will talk about too.  Let’s get busy!

Chitted potatoes and full grown potatoes in a basket. How to Grow Potatoes. Hidden Springs Homestead

Imagine, an unending supply of fresh potatoes stored in the root cellar or basement to eat on the whole winter. 

Fresh Dug Potatoes in a cardboard box  Hidden Springs Homestead

I can remember when I was a little girl, my granny would always send me down into the root cellar to bring up potatoes that she would cook for dinner. 

The cellar was underground, had a dirt floor and walls were made of stacked rock and potatoes would be laid out all over the floor.

Today, at our house, potatoes are a staple too.  Since you can prepare them in so many ways, we never get tired of them. 

Dishes such as potato soup, stewed, garlic mashed potatoes, baked, loaded, hash browns, fried and even wedges. I could just go on and on.  Enough about the wonderful ways you can cook them, let’s learn how to plant, grow, harvest and even store potatoes.

Different Types of Potatoes

There are actually over 200 different varieties of potatoes sold throughout the United States and they fall into three basic categories that will affect the outcome of your dish.

Starchy Potatoes: 

This potato is great for frying, baking, boiling and smashing.  Since they are so high in starch, they don’t hold their shape well.  The classic Russet or Idaho potato are two of the most common potatoes in the starchy category. 

Other starchy potato types are the Jewel Yam, Hanna Sweet, & Japanese Sweet  just to name a few.

Waxy Potatoes

A couple examples of waxy potatoes are the Red Potato, New Potato and the Yukon Gold Potato. 

Waxy potatoes are great in stews, soups, potato salad and even scalloped.  They are smooth and hold their shape well when cooked. 

More waxy potatoes are the Red Thumb, French Fingerling, LeRette, Rose Finn Apple and a Russian Banana.  Many more exist, but you get the idea.

All-purpose Potatoes:  

These potatoes have less starch in them but do hold their shape well when cooked. 

A great example of the all-purpose potato is the Red Gold. This is the little red potato that is often found in the supermarket. 

A few more all-purpose potatoes are the Purple Majesty, Norland Red, and the Kennebec (which is what I grow in my garden).

Secrets to Growing Potatoes

1) How to sprout or “Chit” Potatoes

In order to grow potatoes, you will need to plant them from what is known as “seed potatoes.”  Though the term can be a bit misleading because potatoes do not grow true to seed,  you have to plant an actual piece of a potato that has sprouted wit what is known as “eyes.”

The potato must be a non-GMO  (so they will reproduce themselves) or that haven’t been treated with a non-growth enzyme.  This article about seed packets will help you to better understand non-GMO.    The sprouted eye is what is known as chitting a potato.

Some refer to it as “planting potatoes with long sprouts.” Either way, you wish to call it, potatoes need eyes or sprouts in order to be planted and grow.

Chitted potatoes in a red basket ready to plant  Hidden Springs Homestead
Chitted Potatoes ready for Planting

The awesome thing about seed potatoes is once you buy them, you can save them from year to year and never have to buy them again! 

This makes growing potatoes even better, it doesn’t cost over and over again for seed. So it a great way to frugally save on the homestead.

RELATED: Take the guesswork out! Use the easy formula worksheets in The Canning Garden Workbook (printable) to figure out how much to plant, for canning, to feed your family for a full year!

2) How to prepare Seed potatoes to plant

To prepare the seed potato for planting, I cut the potato into pieces. Each piece should have sprouted eyes on it.  You can plant whole potatoes as well but a rule of thumb is:

  • More eyes per piece = more potatoes,  but smaller
  • One to two eyes per piece  = less potatoes, but larger

So you need to decide whether you would like larger or smaller potatoes.  I cut mine to have 2-3 chits or sprouts on each potato piece.

If you do decide to cut them, they should left in a container for 2-3 days afterwards. This will allow the fresh cut to “heal over” and seal itself to prevent rot and disease once the potato is placed underground.

4 sliced Chitted potatoes on a table getting ready to plant potatoes  Hidden Springs Homestead
Sliced Chitted Potatoes

What month do you plant potatoes?

Potatoes can be planted in early spring after the soil temperatures reach at least 45 – 50 degrees.  Any cooler than this, and the potato seed may not sprout and rot in the ground. 

A collage of the pages from the eBook The Canning Garden Workbook  with text overlay that reads - No More Guessing-Grow Enough Food For a Full Year! Canning Garden Workbook with and red Instant Download button.

3 Tips To Grow Bigger Potatoes

1) Potatoes prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.6- 7.0.  They will also need to be planted in full sun. 

2) For best results, keep the potato patch free of weeds so the potato plant is able to take in all the nutrients in the soil and not competing with weeds.

3) The plants can also tolerate frost but if you are expecting a late season freeze, cover your plants if they have sprouted out of the soil.

How to Grow Potatoes in Raised Beds

I grow potatoes in rows in my raised beds.  There are several different ways that potatoes can be planted such as in buckets or container and even in straw. But today will will talk mainly about planting directly in the rich garden soil. 

3 rows dug into the soil for planting potatoes   Hidden Springs Homestead
Rows ready for Planting

Planting Seed Potatoes

Begin by laying off a straight row in the soil that is about 4 inches deep about 12 at least inches apart.

2 rows of chitted potatoes in the ground   Hidden Springs Homestead
Potatoes Planted in the Ground

Place your potatoes, sprouted eyes up, (cut side down)  about 10 inches apart in the rows. 

Cover the potato back over with the soil. Mounding the soil, do not press down, simply pile the soil on your potato.  (Potato should end up about 6 inches deep in the soil).

Mulching Potatoes

Cover area with straw or mulch to help keep the soil moist to allow potato to continue to sprout. 

They will grow and find their way up through the soil. How long does it take to grow potatoes?

They should emerge from the soil in about 2 weeks.  It’s exciting when you see them beginning to poke up through the soil and mulch. Gorgeous green leaves reaching up for the sun.

A tiny green potato growing  out of the soil  Hidden Springs Homestead
Newly Planted Potato Poking from the Soil

Expecting a late freeze? Here’s what you do!

We had a “hard freeze” this week and the tips of the potatoes leaves was bitten by frost (black tips).  This is ok, they were covered with the straw and only the tips were affected. 

They will continue to grow and not be bothered with the frost.  Had they been larger, I would have needed to cover them to protect them.   

But whether you are expecting a freeze or not, here is a another secret to growing potatoes

How to Increase Yields as potatoes grow

Potatoes really don’t enjoy being bothered. They are happy in the slightly acidic soil with good organic amendments in it. 

I will admit, when I see the sprout peeking out of the mound center, using my finger, I gently break up the soil, to allow the potato sprout to push on through to the light it is reaching for.

Another secret to growing potatoes

Let these cute little leaves grow for a couple of weeks and then cover them again with garden soil to about 4-6 inches deep. This will not hurt them.

This will force the roots to grow even deeper and reach for the sun again. Resulting in increasing your potato crop yields.

Let them grow this time for about 3 weeks and then start gently pulling soil up and around the stems. Don’t cover the leaves though. This will continue to keep the stems under the soil, forcing a larger yield crop.

How do you water potatoes?

Potatoes do depend on regular amounts of water. They need at least 1 inch of water per week in order to grow.

Keeping the potatoes well watered throughout the summer is important especially when the vines are beginning to flower.  When they are flowering, it is triggering the root system (tubers) to grow. 

Keeping a potato vines watered with 1-2 inches of water per week is crucial to the potato producing a good crop for harvesting.

A good rule of thumb:    In a raised bed size 4×12 feet,  a 50 gallon drum of water will give that bed 2 inches of water. Think about this, it gives you an idea of how much water your plants need.

Can Potatoes get too much water? Consistency is the key to a successful potato crop. As long as the crop is kept moist, they will be happy and produce.

But if they are starved for water, this forces them to grow ears, noses and split as well. This normally occurs when they have been allowed to dry out too much and then receive a good deep watering or thorough soaking.

When to Harvest Potatoes

When Can You Pick New Potatoes?

If you prefer to have “new potatoes” or baby potatoes, they can be harvested as soon as the vine begins to bloom. 

Wait for the bud to bloom and drop and then new potatoes are ready to be harvest. They will be about the size of an egg.

Gently dig deep into the soil to find small “baby” potatoes that have not yet finished growing. These can be prepared for cooking with no problems at all. 

New or baby potatoes cannot be stored.  They should be cooked and eaten immediately.

Harvesting Mature Potatoes

If you plan to store the potatoes over winter, they should be left in the soil to continue growing.  Once the vine dies back and turns brown remove it from the bed leaving your potatoes in the soil.   

They can actually be left in the ground and only removed right before frost.  They do need to be removed from the soil before the first frost though.

The best way to harvest potatoes is to use a potato fork and gently dig deep into the soil.  Being careful when you dig, not to injure them.

Unfortunately there are times when a potato is gouged with the fork or something.  If so, simply cook that potato for a meal. 

Do not store potatoes that have been cut or scared, they will rot and cause the others to rot a well.

For a more information in depth for harvesting potatoes, go to Storing Potatoes For Winter. You’ll find step by step how to store potatoes.

Storing Newly Harvested Potatoes

Do not wash your potatoes after they are harvest.  Leave sitting out for a few day to allow the soil on them to dry completely. This also gives the newly exposed peel time to mature and prepare for storage.

Don’t expose them to direct sun though. They should be kept in the shade or somewhere under cover.

Store potatoes in a cool, dark area with a consistent temperature of about 40 degrees is ideal.  A well house, root cellar, or basement is perfect!  Don’t place them on a cold concrete floor.  A couple of ways they can be are stored are:

  • Left out lying flat on the floor.  Using a piece of cardboard, lay them out single layer.
  • If you don’t have space to lay them out flat, I like to place them into a cardboard box and layer them between layers of newspapers. 
  • Put a layer on the bottom, lay a couple sheets of news paper on them, and then place another layer of potatoes. Do this for no more than 4 layers of potatoes deep.  Use multiple boxes if needed.

If the potatoes are kept at a consistent cool temperature, they can last until the next summer.

Disease and Pests

A way to help control pests in the garden is to rotate your crops from year to year.  Do not grow potatoes in the same location two years in a row. A good rotation will not grow “root vegetables” in the same area, two years in a row.

In other words, where you planted potatoes this year, a root crop should not be planted in this area next year.  Skip 1-2 years before putting a root crop back in the space.

Potatoes are susceptible to disease such as:

  • Voles – these are tiny little creatures, very much like a mouse, that burrows under the soil.  They can chew on the potato while it is deep in the soil.
  • Aphids – these can be blasted with a water hose to removed them
  • Flea beetles – they like to hide in the weeds so be sure to keep your potatoes weed free.  Keep the area around your plants spread thickly with crushed egg shells.  This will cut the beetles as they land on the egg shells helping to control them.
  • Leaf Hoppers – they too can be blasted with a water hose
  • Blight – rotating your crop year to year will help to control this
  • Potato Beetle – these will need to be hand picked from your potatoes.  Remove any eggs you may find as well by hand.   (During the growing season, I keep a 5-gallon bucket filled about 6 inches deep with water and Dawn Dish Soap.  When I pick off the beetles, I toss them into the water solution. The Dawn soap is toxic to them and they drown in the water.  (Do not “smash” the beetle. Other beetles will smell the odor and be attracted to your garden).  

How to Save Seed Potatoes

You can save potatoes from year to year and allow them to sprout for planting.  The potatoes I planted this year were left over from last year. 

They were pretty well sprouted when I planted them.

Sprouted potatoes laying out on newspaper getting ready to plant  Hidden Springs Homestead
Last Year’s Sprouted Potatoes

At times, after a couple of years saving from year to year, you may find that the size of the mature potato is decreasing. If so, start over with newly purchased seed potatoes.

I realized we talked about about lot today. But just know that growing potatoes is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.

Will you be growing potatoes in your backyard garden this year?

More Gardening Tips

Chitted potatoes in a basket. How to Grow Potatoes. Hidden Springs Homestead

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27 thoughts on “Growing Potatoes, Everything You Need to Know”

  1. My grandmother loved to let an eyed potato sit in the windowsill over the kitchen sink! I don’t think she ever produced actual potatoes, or even planted them for that matter.
    After her passing in 2020, I have a soft spot in my heart for the eyed potato out of the bunch. Needless to say I have a red potato and a regular potato that began sprouting ON TOP OF the pineapple plant I have on my kitchen table. The vines are about 2 1/2 ft and not at all leafy at all like the ones I’ve seen pictured.
    Should I pull up the potatoes and replant?

    1. Hi Harley,

      I have never seen a red or regular potato grown as a house plant as I think you are describing. Now a sweet potato will produce a lovely green lush vine, which is attractive. Maybe this may have been what your grandmother grew on her windowsill, maybe? I’ve done this with sweet potatoes in a mason jar of water to get them rooted and then transplanted into a large pot. The vines are gorgeous. A regular potato will grow green leaves but not a vine, so this may be what you are experiencing.

      For your question, to pull it up and replant, I’d give it a try in a larger pot or even a 5-gallon bucket. If the chits are too long, you might cut them shorter and see what happens. It could make for an exciting experiment.

      1. Dianne, thank you for your sharing your experience and skills. I am so excited to plant my first potato eyes in a big pot in Japan. I would not have known the first thing to do if not for generous people like you!

    1. Hi Jack,

      Wow, great question! I’ll be honest, you may or may not like it, and I don’t mean that to be rude at all. I know in “today’s” society or agriculture training, there is a lot of talk about fertilizers. And I don’t use any synthetic (manufactured ones) at all. These are why we grow 65% of our food. So I’ll do my best to answer in a way that makes sense.

      When I initially plant, I will do a “light” spread of this. And by light, just a dusting, and then after the planting, I do no other type of fertilizing. Rather, my focus is ALWAYS on soil quality and structure. Since we built raised beds, I had total control over what went into them, but that does not always mean the garden soil we purchase from the landscape companies is the best choice. These two posts will shed some light on what I’m saying. Soil Structure, Why I’t’s Important and Healthy Soil is Necessary.

      We just moved to a new farm, and I am starting all over with in-ground beds, and I’m sacrificing year one of having a garden. I’m am currently hauling in woodchips, leaves, and cardboard to “build” up the soil with organic amendments. And another thing I do is rather than have a compost pile I bury foods and such that would go into the pile in my garden. So I’m consistently feeding my soil with organic foods and amendments. I’d be glad to help you with instructions and a guide if you are interested. No cost, I want you to succeed. I hope this helps.

  2. Hi there, I am wondering why my potatoes plants grow so tall! Despite the fact I plant them in rows, about 4 inches deep and follow the rule of thumb to cover them, the plants grow so tall and end up falling over. Is there a way to stop this? The seedling is about 2 feet underground by this time. I am in the Pacific Northwest ( Vancouver, Canada).

    1. Hi Andrea,

      You are doing great! This is normal, my potato plants fall over as well. The continue to grow and produce after they fall. I’ve not conquered those gorgeous rows of potatoes that stand straight up either. Just continue to pull soil up around them as they grow all slumped over. Once they die back, they are ready to harvest.

  3. Hello Dianne,

    Coming to you from central Ohio. Thank you for your concise and straight forward approach to sharing your potato knowledge. I’m keeping this “pinned” for future reference – going outside now to test the soil temperature! Here we go!

  4. Hi Debbi,
    I am a first year gardener in Colorado. I have a raised bed for potatoes because the soul here is so bad . Very sandy and hard pan about 6-8 inches down. My potatoes looked pretty healthy at first but now (about 10 inches up) some are getting a leaf curl on the tops. Looks bad but I dont know what it is or what to do. Help!

    1. Hi Sharon

      Leaf curl on potatoes can be caused from a few different things. I can throw several ideas/questions at you and you can at least have some homework to do.

      You said that you have a raised bed, do you know anything about the soil you filled it with? Did you do a soil test? This could be helpful in diagnosing if they are lacking some nutrient. Another cause could be that the plants are stressed. Such as high temperatures, not enough water, soil nutrient needs, etc.

      Or have you noticed any insects on theme? If so, what do these look like? Aphids are often the problem. They become infected with a Luteovirus and then inject this into the plant when they eat on it. This will suck the life out of leaves and cause curl and then stink bugs can cause this too.

      These ideas will give you a starting point to “pin down” the cause. And then once you figure out which it is, I can help you to treat it naturally or organic without chemicals or pesticides.

      Keep me posted,
      Dianne

        1. Hi Deanna,

          Sorry for the delay in response. We have been moving. But to answer your question, sure you can do that. Mine are sometimes a foot long or so. And, if the potato has other sprouts on it, you can just remove the super long ones by just pulling it off.

  5. Hi, I cut potatoes got a moldy. I tossed the ones that were completely covered in mold but planted some that had just a little mold. Is this OK? I got a little scared after I did it because my husband is allergic to penicillin which can be found in mold and wondered if my crop would have it in It since my seeds do?

    1. Hi there,

      I’m glad to say that you are ok. No worries. The eyes will sprout and your potatoes will be safe to eat.

      Happy Gardening,
      Dianne

  6. I read where you can leave the potatoes in the ground until it frosts. Can you leave them in a raised bed in a green house until you get ready to use them?

    1. Hi Jojanna,

      Great question! And the answer is YES! I actually did this last year by accident and it worked wonderfully. My raised beds got out of control, that’s another story, but I failed to dig up a whole row. Come spring, they started sprouting and I got to digging around and discovered them. I dug them up, cooked and eat them. They were perfectly fine. Just a note, don’t let the soil get to shallow on them if you leave them. They need to be completely and well covered to keep from freezing.

      Happy Gardening,
      Dianne

  7. Hi Diane,
    This is my first year to have a garden and first attempt at growing potatoes. I am happy to report the leaves have popped up! It was so exciting to see them. I was told by someone at IFA that once the leaves come up you can dig them up and re-bury the leaves in the soil to get more potatoes. Do you know and trust this technique? I would love a bigger harvest but obviously don’t want to mess up the growth. I am in SLC Utah. Thanks for any input!

    1. Hi Kim, That is a great question. You can help your plants to create more potatoes but not by “digging them up.” What you want to do, is once the leaves have popped up through the soil, let them continue to grow and reach for light for about 2 weeks and then put about 4-6 inches of good rich soil on top of them. This should “cover them completely.”

      But in a few days, they will quickly pop back up through the soil again. The tubers (potatoes) actually grow off the mini stems off the main stem so covering it will promote more potatoes. Once they have popped through a second time, let them grow for about 3 weeks and then it’s time to start pulling soil up around them, but NOT covering them.

      Just use your hands or a hoe and gently pull up some rich soil or place some good rich compost around them keeping them in sort of a “mound” of soil. If you don’t have enough soil, you can use homemade or purchased compost or soil. Just don’t use fresh manure compost, it should be at least a year old. This will keep them from getting “scab” which is a disease caused from fresh manure. They would still be edible with scab but just real ugly.

      Be sure to keep soil pulled up around any actual potatoes you see peaking out of the soil, because exposure to sunlight will cause them to turn “green” and then you should not eat them.

      Hope this helps. If you have more questions, please feel free to ask.

      Happy Gardening,
      Dianne

    1. Hi Linda,
      My answer to the question is yes. I’m sure others may tell you no. The reason for this – they will require extra watering and care and a lot of people don’t have the time to do extra manual watering. If you have an irrigation system, you’ll do great, if not, maybe pick up a “soaker hose” and water them often. Our summers tend to be dry, as right now, we are on day 15 with no rain and mine are fine – but I irrigate about every 3 days. Especially this time of year. So if you are willing, it may be a bit more work, labor wise, they should do fine with enough water.

      I have some out here in a box that have chitted and I’m thinking when I pull beets this week to can them, I am going to go back with the potatoes in that bed.

      The heat will not hurt them, it’s the lack of water this time of year. They still have plenty of time to bloom before fall and threat of frost.

      I hope this helps, if something isn’t clear, feel free to reach back out.

  8. Hi Dianne,
    Enjoyed your article. I live in upstate NY and have been growing potatoes for 10 years. I just dig a hole, throw them in, cover with soil and hay. It’s my greatest joy to Scoop them out of the earth in early fall and weigh my crop! I get 200-300 hundred pounds. The taste of organically home grown potatoes surpasses anything store bought. I have never rotated my crop though. I have millions of huge earth worms that enrich and aerate the soil. I also rarely water them after they have sprouted since our climate is quite different than yours and get plenty of rain. I am envious of your much longer growing season, we even had snow today. I look forward to your other articles.

    1. Hi Debbi,
      Thank you for commenting. Upstate-NY! I’ve never gotten to visit but I’ve heard it is gorgeous. My dear friend is actually from there so I hear lots of stories. Potatoes are so funny to me! They just want to grow and willing to do it most anywhere. I love the idea of digging a hole and throwing them in. 200-300 hundred pounds-wow! That’s a lot. If we did a hole here in the south, about 6 inches down we hit super-hard-red clay or chirt and nothing, but weeds, will grow in it. Since we have only a couple acres, don’t own a tractor, and it’s for sure not level, I’ve opted to go all raised beds. I garden in 25 of them. We do have a long growing season, but remember it gets really hot and extremely humid. We go for 3-6 weeks without rain. At times in the summer, the humidity actually makes it hard to breath outside because of the pressure. SNOW! Around here if we get 1/2 of snow it shuts the schools, gov offices, etc. We don’t do well in the snow. Tennessee is beautiful, but like NY, it has it’s weather issues as well. I’m so glad you enjoyed my article, and thank you so much for your comments. I enjoy hearing how others garden.

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