As long as you have the right conditions, potatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow. Still, a lot of people are hesitant about starting a garden with any edible plants — the whole process can seem quite intimidating.
The good news is, growing your own potatoes isn't nearly as complex as you think. Scour our FAQ for answers to all your questions about prepping, planting, and harvesting this tasty root veggie. You'll be gardening like a pro in no time!
Frequently Asked Questions
Experts disagree about planting store-bought potatoes. Some are on board with it while others don't advocate this practice.
True potato seeds are sold in stores, so you can go this route if you want. Overall though, most would agree that it's best to leave these for people looking to create hybrids (an advanced process, for sure). Using seed potatoes is your easiest option. Whether you take one from your grocery aisle or purchase them from specialist merchants is up to you. Just note that seed potatoes ordered from a garden center are usually guaranteed disease-free, while those from the grocery store are not.
Theoretically, planting potatoes is a year-round endeavor if you're doing it inside. If you're limited to the outdoors, then this answer depends on your location and type of potato.
With some spuds, you can start planting at the onset of spring, then plant other types further on toward summer. Colder zones should wait till about mid-April — in these locales, varieties geared toward midsummer planting will likely mature before the first frost. Regions with mild winters can continue planting till late summer.
Potatoes prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.0 to 7.0. Stay away from any sod or green compost, but other compost, manure, and mulch are okay to begin with and add throughout the season.
Regular fertilization is critical. A potato crop will eat up soil nutrients, especially nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
Hilling is the process of piling a mound of soil, mulch, or another organic medium around an exposed potato plant. Doing this a few times throughout the growing season helps keep weeds to a minimum and allows for better drainage.
By hilling, you ensure that the potatoes won't be exposed to light, which causes them to photosynthesize and become inedible. But the main benefit of hilling is creating additional crops. Some above-ground stems get covered in the process, directing them downward to produce tuber stems, netting you more potatoes at harvest.
The actual potato portion of the plant, called tubers, shouldn't see the light of day until harvest. That means the leaves need to make up for this by taking in a lot of sunlight. Full sun throughout the day will get you the best results.
Around eight hours is ideal as long as the plant doesn't get too hot.
The right amount of water for potatoes depends on the stage of growth.
During the first quarter of your plant's life, it doesn't require too much water. Once it's established, these needs change. Water is critical for foliage, tuber formation, and plant development. In the final part of the potato's growth cycle, the leaves will start to turn yellow, then die. At this stage, the plant requires only average watering.
One of the worst potato plant enemies is the Colorado potato beetle. In its larval stage, it feeds on leaves, which will kill the plants. Pick off the larva you see and destroy them. Check under the foliage for eggs, crushing any you find. If the infestation is bad, use an organic insecticide — Spinosad is the go-to option.
The click beetle's relationship with your plants is a bit more complicated. The adult insects help by eating aphids, another offender, but their larvae, the wireworm, will decimate your crop. This nasty bug lives underground, feeding on seed potatoes and their stems. Eliminating wireworms is difficult, so prevention is key. Tilling and rotating crops yearly seems to be the best way to keep them healthy.
Potatoes typically take 70 to 140 days from planting to harvesting. This all depends on the variety you've selected, and the internet is an invaluable resource for all these specifics. As you become more experienced, you may want to experiment with different categories or growth times.
First earlies are the initial spring crop. They only take around 10 weeks to fully mature. Next come the second earlies. Planted shortly after the first earlies, they need around 13 weeks to produce the perfect spuds. The later maincrop potatoes require the most grow time, averaging 15 to 20 weeks.
Check out our article on different kinds of potatoes to find out which ones will work best for you!
Be aware of the estimated days to maturity (DTM) of your specific spud varieties. Do the math, and you'll be able to predict their DTM and be ready to harvest when the time comes.
If you're the curious type, it's safe to dig around just a bit to see their progress. Even if the leaves aren't in their final stage, it's okay to pick a few potatoes to eat that haven't reached their DTM. But leave the majority alone till they're fully developed so you get the most out of your delicious crop.
After digging up your potatoes, let them air-dry in the sun for about 30 minutes. As the skins are fragile at this point, only lightly dust off loose soil. Place the potatoes directly into the storage container you've reserved for them; any extra handling can cause damage.
Keep your harvest stored in a cool, dark, and dry area, removing only those you plan to eat that day or the next. Eat the small potatoes first because they dehydrate quickly.
Always remember to throw out any potatoes that are green, as they are toxic!