Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Potatoes
Our Potato Growing Guide covers planting, growing, and harvesting one of our favorite vegetables! Also, see tips on how to store potatoes to keep them fresh—and some homemade potato recipes.
“What I say is that if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
–A. A. Milne, English writer (1882–1956)
Potatoes like cool weather and well-drained, loose soil that is about 45 to 55°F (7 to 13°C). In warmer climates, potatoes can be grown as a winter crop.
Folklore offers many “best days” for planting potatoes:
- Old-timers in New England planted their potato crops when they saw dandelions blooming in the open fields.
- The Pennsylvania Dutch considered St. Gertrude’s Day (March 17, aka St. Patrick’s Day) to be their official potato-planting day.
- Many Christians believed that Good Friday was the best day to plant potatoes because the devil holds no power over them at this time.
All of these “best days” suggest an early spring planting! (See more about planting below.)
When to Plant Potatoes
- Potatoes can be started 0 to 2 weeks after last spring frost. You may plant earlier, as soon as soil can be worked, but be aware that some crops may be ruined by a frost or wet soil. Find your local frost dates here.
- However, if have a “late” spring, it’s not too late to plant potatoes through April (depending on where you’re located). Some folks even plant through June, especially in containers or potato towers.
How to Plant Potatoes
- With a hoe or round-point shovel, dig a trench about 6 inches wide and 8 inches deep, tapering the bottom to about 3 inches wide.
- Potatoes are best grown in rows. Space rows about 3 feet apart.
- Spread and mix in rotted manure or organic compost in the bottom of the trench before planting. (Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.)
- In the trench, place a seed potato piece, cut side down, every 12 to 14 inches and cover with 3 to 4 inches of soil.
- The best starters are seed potatoes from which eyes (buds) protrude. (Do not confuse seed potatoes with potato seeds or grocery produce.) Use a clean, sharp paring knife to cut large potatoes into pieces that are roughly the size of a golf ball, making sure that there are at least 2 eyes on each piece. (Potatoes that are smaller than a hen’s egg should be planted whole.)
- If you are cutting up potato pieces for planting, do so 1 to 2 days ahead of planting. This will give them the chance to “heal” and form a protective layer over the cut surface, improving both moisture retention and rot resistance.
- 12 to 16 days after planting, when sprouts appear, use a hoe to gently fill in the trench with another 3 to 4 inches of soil, leaving a few inches of the plants exposed. Repeat in several weeks, leaving the soil mounded up 4 to 5 inches above ground level (this is called “hilling”).
- After the potato plants have emerged, add organic mulch between the rows to conserve moisture, help with weed control, and cool the soil.
How to Grow Potatoes
- Do not allow sunlight to fall on the tubers, which develop under the surface of the soil, or they will turn green.
- Do the hilling in the morning, when plants are at their tallest. During the heat of the day, plants start drooping.
- Maintain even moisture, especially from the time when sprouts appear until several weeks after they blossom. The plants need 1 to 2 inches of water per week. If you water too much right after planting and not enough as the potatoes begin to form, the tubers can become misshapen.
- The last hilling should be done before the potato plants bloom, when the plant is about 6 inches tall. Hoe the dirt up around the base of the plant in order to cover the tubers as well as to support the plant.
- Hilling keeps the potatoes from getting sunburned, which can cause them to turn green and produce a chemical called solanine. Solanine gives off a bitter taste and is toxic.
- Potato Scab: Most likely caused by a high soil pH. Remember: Potatoes like acidic soil (do not plant in soil with a pH higher than 5.2). Dust seed potatoes with sulfur before planting. Some readers suggest adding pine straw on top of the potatoes when planting for natural anti-bacterial elements.
- Colorado potato beetles need to be hand-picked and predatory birds will often eat them. While they’re in the nymph state, they can be controlled with Diatomaceous Earth (food grade) which is a non-toxic way to control pests in the garden. If they continue to be a problem, a few sprays of Spinosad, an organic pesticide, will get rid of the beetles. Always use products at dawn or dusk to avoid harming beneficial insects.
- Flea Beetles
- Early/Late Blight
When to Harvest Potatoes
- “New potatoes,” which are potatoes that are purposefully harvested early for their smaller size and tender skin, will be ready for harvest 2 to 3 weeks after the plants stop flowering. New potatoes should not be cured and should be eaten within a few days of harvest, as they will not keep for much longer.
- For mature potatoes, wait 2 to 3 weeks after the plant’s foliage has died back. The tops of the vines need to have completely died before you begin harvesting. Cut browning foliage to the ground and wait 10 to 14 days before harvesting to allow the potatoes to develop a thick enough skin. Don’t wait too long, though, or the potatoes may rot.
- Toughen up potatoes for storage before harvest by not watering them much after mid-August.
- Dig up a test hill to see how mature the potatoes are. The skins of mature potatoes are thick and firmly attached to the flesh. If the skins are thin and rub off easily, your potatoes are still too new and should be left in the ground for a few more days.
- Potatoes can tolerate light frost, but when the first hard frost is expected, it’s time to get out the shovels and start digging potatoes.
How to Harvest Potatoes
- Dig potatoes on a dry day. Dig up gently, being careful not to puncture the tubers. Avoid cutting or bruising potato skin. Damaged potatoes will rot during storage and should be used as soon as possible. The soil should not be compact, so digging should be easy.
- If the soil is very wet, let the potatoes air-dry as much as possible before putting them in bags or baskets.
- Don’t leave the potatoes that you have dug in the sun for long after they have been dug up from your garden, otherwise your potatoes may turn green. Green potatoes have a bitter taste and if enough is eaten can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Small spots can be trimmed off, but if there is significant greening, throw the potato out.
- Allow freshly dug potatoes to sit in a dry, cool place (45–60°F/7–15°C) for up to two weeks. This allows their skins to cure, which will help them keep for longer.
- After curing, make sure you brush off any soil clinging to the potatoes, then store potatoes in a cool, dark place, preferably 45 to 50 °F, with good ventilation. When properly stored, potatoes will remain fresh for up to a month. Throw away potatoes that are shriveled, green or have many sprouts.
- Do not store potatoes with apples; the apples’ ethylene gas will cause potatoes to spoil. Never store potatoes in the refrigerator.
- Whether you dig your own potatoes or buy them at a store, don’t wash them until right before you use them. Washing potatoes shortens their storage life.
- Find more tips on getting potatoes ready for the root cellar.
The fruit (metaphorically speaking) of a very happy potato plant!
There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes. Tan-skinned and red-skinned varieties with white flesh are the most common in home gardens.
- ‘Irish Cobbler’: tan skin, irregular shape
- ‘Norland’: red skin, resistant to potato scab
- ‘Mountain Rose’: red skin and pink flesh, resistant to some viruses
- ‘Red Pontiac’: red skin, deep eyes
- ‘Viking’: red skin, very productive
- ‘Chieftan’: red skin, resistant to potato scab, stores well
- ‘Katahdin’: tan skin, resistant to some viruses
- ‘Kennebec’: tan skin, resistant to some viruses and late blight
- ‘Elba’: tan skin, large round tubers, resistant to blight and potato scab
We also love All Blue Potatoes! They’re delicious and, well, they’re truly blue!
See our page on how to choose the best potatoes to grow in your garden for more info!
Wit & Wisdom
- If your garden soil is very rocky, put the seed potato pieces directly on the ground. Sprinkle with a mix of soil and compost. Cover them with straw or leaves, hilling the material up as the potatoes grow.
- Practice yearly crop rotation.
- See our video on how to grow potatoes in a trash can, the easiest-ever container garden!
- Before planning your garden, take a look at our plant companions chart to see which veggies are most compatible with potatoes.
- Did you know: Potato promoter Antoine Parmentier convinced Marie Antoinette to wear potato blossoms in her hair.
- Grated potatoes are said to soothe sunburnt skin.