Enjoy a delicious homegrown crop when you plant potatoes. This guide shows you how!
If you’re wondering when to plant potatoes, how to grow them, and which potatoes to try, we can help. We’ve got everything covered in this article for you — from planting potatoes in the garden to the best way to grow them in containers. Why you need to buy seed potatoes, and which types of different potatoes you can get. Plus we’ve got step-by-step guides to help you grow a bumper crop.
Potatoes are one of the easiest crops you can grow at home. What’s more, they are an important staple food and so versatile in cooking. Once you try your own homegrown potatoes you probably won’t want to buy them from supermarkets ever again.
When to Plant Potatoes
The best time to plant potatoes depends on where you live. Generally, growers wait until about two weeks after the last spring frost. This is particularly important if you are growing potatoes in your garden because it takes a while for garden soil to warm up in the spring – and late frosts have a habit of turning up when you least expect them.
With containers you can control the temperature of the soil a little better, and container soil warms up more quickly than garden soil. We’ll talk more about how to grow potatoes in containers below.
Growers often plant potatoes in March, April and May. In the warmest parts of the world, it’s possible to grow potatoes in September and through the winter. Some growers living in the southern US plant potatoes in January and February. So it varies.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to avoid the frost. If your soil is still cold, wet and prone to frost it’s best not to plant. Wait until the weather warms up a bit and the soil gets easier to dig.
When to Plant Potatoes: The Folklore
There are quite a few well-known potato planting dates around the world. St Patrick’s Day (17 March) is one, and another popular day to plant potatoes is Good Friday.
It was thought that planting on Good Friday was a top idea because it was believed the devil held no power over Christians on this date. We rather like the custom in New England of planting potatoes only once dandelions start to flower in the fields.
Choosing when to plant potatoes all depends on what your local conditions are like. Once your soil temperature is 10֯ C and there is no risk of frost you are good to go. Potatoes prefer to grow in cooler climates, so snaps of bad weather won’t necessarily damage them.
Why do you need to buy seed potatoes?
It is possible to grow potatoes from the ones you find on supermarket shelves, but the problem is you might not get a great crop.
Potatoes grown for supermarkets are sometimes treated with chemicals to stop them sprouting. There is also the risk of introducing disease to your soil, because these potatoes are designed to be eaten, not planted, and may contain viruses.
If you have organic potatoes that are sprouting you can try to grow new potatoes from them. At least they won’t have been treated with anything.
It is far better to buy certified seed potatoes which are designed to be planted. These potatoes – also known as tubers – are virus-free and will produce a reliable crop. They shouldn’t be any more expensive than your usual potatoes.
You should see them available to buy in supermarkets, garden centers and online seed outlets as early as January. Despite the name they don’t look like seeds as you might imagine, but just like normal small potatoes. If possible, choose organic seed potatoes.
Let your Seed Potatoes Sprout
It helps to see a few shoots on your potatoes before you plant them out. The best way to encourage this is to put them in trays or egg boxes with the ends that have the most ‘eyes’ facing upwards to the light.
Keep them in a cool, light place until you have shoots about an inch long. This is known as ‘chitting’. Now they are ready to plant, with the shoots facing upwards.
What’s the difference between early and late potatoes?
You can get different types of potatoes.
Early potatoes – often known as ‘new’ or salad potatoes, designed to be eaten small. Usually planted earlier in the year. Good in containers. Some great choices for grow bags are Yukon Gold, Yukon Gem, Huckleberry Gold, Charlotte and Red Pontiac.
Later, maincrop or storage potatoes take longer to grow and need a bit more space, so they are usually the ones that you grow in your garden, not in pots. Some good mid- to late-season varieties are Desiree, Inca Gold and Russet Burbank. Viking Red is excellent for hot climates.
How to Grow Potatoes in the Garden
Once the weather is just right, when the risk of frost has passed and your soil temperature is up to about 10֯ C, plant your potatoes in the garden.
Follow our easy guide to garden potatoes:
- Dig straight, shallow trenches about 5 inches deep, with 2ft between trenches.
- Dig in some compost if the soil is poor and remove any weeds.
- Place your seed potatoes 12 inches apart in the trench and cover the trench back over with at least 3 inches of soil.
- When the shoots get to about 1ft tall, use a spade to heap soil around the base of each plant, burying the stems halfway up – this is known as ‘earthing up’.
- Keep earthing up as required, to keep your potatoes covered. If they see daylight they will start to turn green, which makes them inedible. Water well in dry spells and keep weeding.
- When your early potatoes flower they are ready to dig out. For later maincrop/storage potatoes harvest two weeks after the plants have died off.
- Cut the plants down and carefully dig the potatoes out of the earth with a fork.
- Enjoy! You can leave potatoes in the ground for a few weeks until you need them if the weather is good. If it gets wet and cold dig them up and store them, to avoid rot. Read on for more about storing potatoes.
How to Plant Potatoes in Containers
Potatoes are surprisingly easy to grow in deep containers. You can use an old plastic dustbin or large pot, as long as you make drainage holes in the bottom. Or you can buy grow bags. Use a minimum size of 10 gallons per 3 potatoes to give them enough room to grow.
Fabric grow bags are great for keeping roots well-aired and compost moist. There are also grow bags designed especially for potatoes with little doors. These bags allow you to harvest ‘new’ potatoes from the bottom of the bag while the others carry on growing. It’s great fun!
You don’t need many plants, so even if you only have a small space it’s worth giving it a go. New potatoes can be ready in as little as 8 weeks.
Follow our easy guide to perfect container potatoes:
- Fill your chosen pot or grow bag with 6 inches of multi-purpose compost.
- For a 10 gallon bag or pot, place 3 seed potatoes on the compost.
- Cover the potatoes with 3 inches of compost.
- Water well and keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged.
- As the plants emerge, mound more compost up around the stems.
- Keep earthing up around the stems until you reach the top of the container.
- When your potato plants flower, they are ready! Each will be about the size of an egg.
- If you have a grow bag with a door, dig out a handful of potatoes and leave the others until you need them. Or tip the plant out of its pot and harvest the whole crop.
You don’t need to worry about eating your harvested potatoes all at once, because you can store potatoes for months in the right conditions. The main things to remember are:
- Don’t wash them, leave the dirt on
- Let them dry out before storing – dampness will cause rot
- Store in a hessian or strong paper sack in a cool, dark place
- Make sure there is no light whatsoever getting into your sack
- Check your store occasionally and remove any rotten potatoes.