How to Grow Potatoes in the Home Garden
How to Grow Potatoes
Growing potatoes is a very rewarding activity for the home gardener. While potatoes have very specific soil requirements, if given what they need they will product abundant harvests. The information on how to grow potatoes for your local area varies, so please check with your local County Cooperative Extension Office for specific information regarding when to plant potatoes, varieties of potatoes that thrive in your area and gardening zone, and other local information to help you grow great potatoes.
General Growing Potatoes Instructions
Potatoes are grown from pieces of larger, mature potatoes called "seeds" (seed potatoes.). Each seed potato piece must have an 'eye' - the dimple or depression that indicates a space where a sprout will form. If you've ever left potatoes in your refrigerator or in storage too long, you've probably noticed new shoots emerging from the potato. The shoots emerge from the eye. Each piece that you plant in the ground must have at least one eye in order for the new potato to form.
Where can you obtain seed potatoes? Your best source is a good garden center or garden supply catalog. Potatoes from the grocery store are often treated to prevent sprouting, and using them for your home garden to grow potatoes isn't recommended. It is best to start with disease-free commercial seed potatoes for your first potato planting experiment. You can save small potatoes from your own garden to plant again next year as long as you can store them in a cool, dark place.
Soil Requirements for Potatoes
Like many root crops, potatoes require sandy loam soil. You should have your soil tested by your local County Cooperative Extension office before planting potatoes (or any other crops, for that matter.) Soil tests cost a few dollars, but the information you learn from the soil test and the recommendations for improving your soil are priceless.
Potatoes prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of about 5.5 - 6.5, although you may see recommendations for soil pH anywhere from 5.0 - 6.5. Plant seed potatoes as soon as the soil is workable and warm in the springtime.
Potatoes require full sun, which means they need direct sunlight for at least 8 hours per day. When you've selected the site for your potato bed, work the soil so that it is ready for planting. Have the soil tested before you add any amendments to it, and follow the recommendations for improving the soil based on the test results. You can add compost to the soil to improve soil fertility and provide extra nutrients for the potatoes.
Dig a trench just about 3" deep and place each piece of potato into the trench, leaving just about a foot apart between the potato piece. It's going to look like a lot of space, but potatoes grow quickly and need room to spread out.
Once you place the pieces into the soil, cover them with more soil. Provide regular watering if rainfall is inadequate. Some people prefer to place mulch or straw over the potato bed to reduce weeds, but that's not necessary. Remove any weeds by hand. As the potatoes emerge, push more soil up and around the plants to prevent the tubers growing underground from being exposed to light. Potato tubers exposed to light turn green, and should not be eaten.
How do you know when your potatoes are ready for harvest? The potatoes themselves will tell you. In about three months or so, depending upon the variety, the greenery begins to die back. Don't panic. This is natural and a sign that the potatoes are just about ready for harvest. Start counting. About two weeks after the greenery dies back completely, you can begin digging the potatoes.
Digging potatoes can be tricky. Be very careful not to bruise the potatoes or pierce the skin. Digging by hand, gently lifting out the potatoes and separating them from the stems, is ideal. Leave the potatoes out to dry for an hour or two if the temperatures are cool. If not, just let them dry for an hour or two before storing them in a cool dark location. You can brush the dirt off of them but do not wash them - you want them nice and dry for storage.
Storing Potatoes Successfully
Most homeowners do not have a cool cellar or a root cellar and must make do storing potatoes in the refrigerator or in a cooler location such as a basement. Keep them as cool and in the dark as possible. If they begin sprouting, pick the sprouts off by hand, and discard any green or mushy potatoes. The links at the end of this article provide more information on storing potatoes successfully.
More Information on Growing Potatoes
Gardening activities are dictated by the local conditions. Your gardening zone, or the location of your garden, influences the recommendations for your particular garden needs. For more information on growing potatoes successfully in your area, check with your local County Cooperative Extension office or search online for information. Local information will help you choose the best varieties for your area, and help guide planting times as well as help you identify potential insect pests, problems and other things to watch for in your garden.
Growing potatoes is fun and rewarding. One small bag of seed potatoes purchased from the local garden center can yield dozens of potatoes. If your home garden has enough room to add potatoes and you enjoy eating them, they can be an excellent and inexpensive vegetable to grow in the organic home garden.
More Information on Growing Potatoes
- Growing Potatoes in Minnesota Home Gardens - University of Minnesota Extension
How to grow potatoes, specific to Minnesota gardens.
- Potato - Vegetable Directory - Watch Your Garden Grow - University of Illinois Extension
- Growing Potatoes In The Home Garden, HYG-1619-92
The potato has specific soil requirements, and thorough insect and disease control is necessary. Soil Requirements A well-drained, fine sandy loam soi