Growing potatoes is surprisingly easy—but you’ve got to know what you’re doing:
How Do Potatoes Grow?
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Unlike many vegetables, potatoes thrive in darkness—that’s why they grow underground.
The potatoes themselves are called “tubers” and they grow on a stem called a “stolon.” The main stems, which grow above ground (that’s how gardeners can easily find their potato plants), are bright green and produce non-edible flowers.
What’s the Best Climate for Growing Potatoes—And When Should You Plant Them?
Potatoes can grow well in all sorts of climates. It’s important to note, however, that potatoes prefer cool (but not frosty) weather.
The best time to plant your potatoes depends on where you live.
“In Southern regions, potatoes can be grown as a winter crop and planting times range from September to February,” according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Where winters are relatively mild, you can plant a fall crop in September. In central Florida, gardeners plant potatoes in January; and in Georgia they plant in February.”
Gardeners who live in colder climates, meanwhile, should plant 0 to 2 weeks after their last spring frost.
The most important thing to consider when choosing a planting time is the temperature and texture of the soil, not the season.
The ideal soil temperature for planting potatoes is at least 50°F (10°C).
“The soil should also not be so wet that it sticks together and is hard to work,” the Almanac advises. “Let it dry out a bit first. Like other seeds, potato seed pieces will rot if planted in ground that’s too wet.”
How Long Does It Take to Grow Potatoes?
Depending on the potato variety you’re growing, they’ll be ready to harvest anywhere from 70 to 100 days.
How to Grow Potatoes
When was the last time you saw potato seeds for sale? Probably never (though it is possible). Most potatoes are produced by vegetative propagation, which means a new plant grows from a fragment of an old plant (farmers replant potato pieces and new potatoes grow from those pieces).
This doesn’t mean you can use any old grocery store potato, though. Often, those potatoes have been treated with growth inhibitors to keep them fresh for longer. Organic potatoes may not work either, as any diseases from the previous year will carry over into this year.
Your best bet for a successful potato crop is using certified seed potatoes, which means they’ve been declared disease-free by a government authority. You can get seed potatoes at your local gardening center.
Once you have your seeds potatoes, you can cut them into smaller pieces—just make sure each piece has at least one “eye,” or bud.
Do this a couple days before you plant. Letting the cut pieces sit for a while can help them seal, which can prevent rotting and disease.
Potatoes grow best in rows in a garden, but you can also grow them in containers. Pick an area that gets at least six hours of full sunlight every day.
Related: Are Potatoes Healthy?
To plant potatoes in a garden:
- Dig trenches that are about eight inches deep. Keep the rows about three feet apart.
- In the trenches, plant a seed potato every 12 inches or so. The “eye” should be facing upward. Cover each potato with about three inches of soil.
- After a few weeks, the potato plants will begin to sprout. Then you can gently fill the trench with another few inches of soil, leaving the top of the plant exposed. This is called “hilling” and it protects the potatoes from the sun, as well as supports the plant.
- Hill the potatoes every 1-2 weeks. Maintain even moisture throughout the growing process—1-2 inches of water per week is ideal.
How to Harvest Potatoes
When your potatoes are ready to harvest depends on the variety you’re growing.
To harvest potatoes:
- Dig them up gently on a dry day.
- Remove only the biggest potatoes and leave the smaller ones alone so they can continue to grow.
- Don’t leave harvested potatoes in the sun too long, as too much sunlight can turn them green and toxic.
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