How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Potatoes in Your Garden

Potatoes are a staple vegetable for many families across the world. They are also some of the most widely grown. But growing potatoes successfully is almost an art, rather than a science. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines each step you should take when you plant, grow, and care for potatoes in your garden.

Grow Potatoes

Plain old potatoes may not seem like the most exciting crop to grow in your garden. After all, they are cheap to buy and relatively bland in the kitchen. But there is a lot more to the humble potato than meets the eye.

The advantages of growing your own potatoes include:

  • Reduced pesticide exposure (if you are growing an organic garden)
  • Incredibly abundant yields
  • Connection with your food
  • More nutrient dense and flavorful tubers
  • Access to an amazing diversity of colors, flavors, and textures that you can’t find in store
  • Up to 6 months of storage

Potatoes have been around for almost 10,000 years and continue to be a staple food for cultures across the world. They store for up to 6 months for tasty nourishment all winter long. Whether you roast ‘em, mash ‘em, fry them, or shred them in a hash, potatoes can compliment any meal with a hefty serving of starchy-filling goodness.

Growing potatoes also happens to be super easy. Reconnecting to this ancient crop is exciting for children and adults alike. Once you dig up your first potato plant and see all those glowing tubers dangling from the roots, you’ll be hooked.

Let’s dig into how to plant, grow, and care for potatoes unlike any you’ve ever tasted!

Potato Plant Overview

Gardener Holding Tubers

Plant Type

Annual Root Crop

Family

Solanaceae

Genus

Solanum

Species

Solanum tuberosum

Hardiness Zone

USDA 3-10

Planting Season

Spring in North; Fall/Winter in South

Maintenance

Low to Moderate, Hilling Required

Plant Height

About 24 inches

Fertility Needs

Heavy Feeder

Temperature

50 to 70°F is Ideal

Plant With

Beans, Cabbage, Corn, Yarrow, Basil

Soil Type

Fertile, Well-draining, Slightly Acidic

Plant Spacing

8-12 inch plants, 24-36 inch Rows

Watering Needs

Consistent Moisture

Sun Exposure

Full Sun

Days to Maturity

60-120 days

Pests

Potato Beetle, Potato Leafhopper

Diseases

Early Blight, Late Blight

History and Cultivation

Potatoes may not be the sexiest vegetable around. As superfoods like kale and spinach take the mainstage of modern gardens, this humble tuber is often still considered a lowly food of little culinary or health value. 

But potatoes have arguably changed the world as we know it and proved indispensable for the evolution of countless cultures. To this day, they are a staple daily food source for some 1 billion people worldwide.

It is the third most important food crop behind rice and wheat. But that doesn’t mean they should only be grown on a mass industrial scale.

Garden-grown potatoes can be surprisingly rich in nutrition and flavor that you can’t find in grocery stores. Though they may be starchy and unassuming, there is more to the potato than meets the eye.  

What are Potatoes?

Tubers Close Up
These starchy root vegetables and annual plants in the nightshade family are known as potatoes.

Potatoes are starchy tuberous root vegetables. They are members of the Solanaceae, or nightshade family. Their scientific name Solanum tuberosum L. comes from the Latin word solamen meaning “comfort” or “consolation” and tuberum meaning bump or truffle.

They have evidently been a comfort food for as long as humans have had a name for them. This connotation is also linked back to the mildly sedative and even medicinal properties of the potato plant.

Potatoes are a herbaceous perennial vegetable crop that is cultivated as an annual species for tuber harvests every year. In spite of their fairly shallow root systems, potato plants can grow about 24-30” tall above ground. The leafy green compound leaf foliage is reminiscent of tomato leaves.

Potatoes send out fuchsia star-shaped flowers in the summer. Their flowers can give way to green drupe nightshade fruits that look like tiny green tomato-berries. However, these fruits don’t always form and are definitely not the edible portions of the plants.

The real gold is hidden underground, where the central stems spring from the original “mother” tuber that you planted. This mother gives way to lateral stolons that each grow a new tuber (potato) on the end. You can think of each stolon as a sort of “umbilical cord” going from the mother tuber to all the little babies.

Mixed in are lots of roots and lateral stems that make up the entire below-ground portion of a potato plant. At the time of harvest, the entire plant is dug or pulled up. Then, the harvestable potatoes are removed from their stolons, cured, and stored.

What Vegetables are Part of the Same Family?
Nightshade Plants at a Market
Along with potatoes, eggplant and peppers are also a part of the nightshade family.

Potatoes are very closely related to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. In fact, they all reside in the same genus: Solanum. The Solanaceae or Nightshade family includes potatoes and their relatives of more than 3,000 species around the world.

Same family vegetables and flowers include:

  • Eggplant
  • Tomato
  • Ground cherry
  • Bell pepper
  • Chili pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Petunia
  • Tobacco
  • Sacred Datura
  • Jimsonweed
  • Angel’s trumpet
Are Sweet Potatoes in the Same Family?
Sweet Potatoes in a Garden
Sweet potatoes are in an entirely different family, despite their name.

Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are not at all related to sweet potatoes (Ipomea batatas). Sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory or Convolvulaceae family. Whereas potatoes belong to the nightshade or Solanaceae family.

The confusion between these tuberous plants has woven through many languages and time periods. The native Caribbean Taíno word for sweet potato was for “batata.” This quickly became confused with the Italian word for potato “patata,” as well as the Quechua word “papa,” which was used to describe the classic Solanaceous potato.

Spanish speakers adopted the terms “papa” (Mexico and Latin America) and “patata” (Spain). The English term “potato” likely evolved from some combination of these influences as this infamous staple root crop made its way to North America.

Where Do Potatoes Originate?

Gardener Holding Freshly Harvested Tubers
South America is home to these starchy tubers.

Potatoes are native to South America, specifically the highland Andean mountains from Colombia to Chile. More than 200 wild nightshade ancestors continue to grow in this region. Most of the diversity is concentrated around the Titicaca Lake region in southern Peru.

Upon their arrival in Colombia in the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors discovered the root vegetable for the first time. They first thought that potatoes were “truffles” and transported them across the Atlantic for more research and development.

At first, Europeans were actually afraid of potatoes and only cultivated them as ornamental plants. They didn’t become a food crop until around 1570 when the Spanish introduced them as a food for sailors and patients in hospitals.

Potatoes in America

Russet Tubers Close Up
The russet is still one of the most commonly grown varieties today.

By the 1700s, potatoes made their way to America. Scottish and Irish immigrants in New England began successfully cultivating the Russet potato and established it as an integral winter storage crop for the region. Since then, potato breeding efforts have yielded a large variety of skin colors, shapes, and textures. However, yellow potatoes like Yukon Gold and Russet remain the most common in commercial production.

Today, they are grown in nearly every state in the United States. These easy-to-grow and widely adapted tubers can be successfully harvested from California to Idaho, Washington to North Dakota, Minnesota to Maine, Louisiana to Florida, and everywhere in between.

How Were They Domesticated?

Domesticated Tubers in a Garden
It took several years of trial and error to domesticate potatoes.

Potatoes were domesticated from these wild nightshades around 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. They were bred over time to have reduced levels of toxic alkaloids such as solanine. Solanine can cause nervous system issues when consumed in large amounts. This compound, as well as enzyme inhibitors and other mildly toxic substances, are also key adaptations the plants use to protect themselves from fungi and insects.

Through trial (and surely tribulation), ancient farmers uncovered the secrets to growing safe potatoes that wouldn’t poison them like their wild counterparts. The shift from wild to tame potatoes can give us lots of clues as to how to safely grow and tend these tubers in our modern gardens:

Keep them buried

There are high levels of solanine in green skins, which form when tubers are exposed to sunlight. These roots really want to develop in darkness. Potatoes need to be “hilled” to keep them underground and prevent greening of the skin.

Don’t eat them raw

Cooking significantly reduces alkaloids and enzyme inhibitors found in potatoes. Most are not “thermostable”, meaning they will be destroyed by cooking. A raw potato probably isn’t very appetizing anyhow.

Don’t panic, potatoes are necessarily poisonous, but these toxic compounds were a key reason why this crop didn’t initially catch on as a food crop in Europe. People were initially a bit scared of the nightshade family as a whole. Throughout history, the potato (and tomato) have been shrouded in mystery.

A Rainbow of Biodiversity 

Rainbow Tubers Close Up
There are thousands of varieties of potatoes that come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.

Small subsistence farmers were the original cultivators of these round soil-dwelling jewels. The carb and mineral-rich tubers nourished ancient civilizations and continue to fuel indigenous diets.

Peasant farmers have cultivated potatoes for millennia on the terraced hillside slopes of the Andes. Thousands of different varieties (a handful of which we’ll explore below) were specifically acclimated to the drastic differences in altitude over spans of just a few miles.

Some varieties of potatoes can grow at altitudes over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters)! Mountain gardeners, take note!

Today, scientists have identified more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes. They are long and pink, slender and purple, crinkly and yellow, golden, rose-colored, red, starchy, fingerling, blue, petite, large, and so much more.

In the U.S., we barely scratch the surface of diversity. Still, there are about 200 cultivars of potatoes available for planting in your garden. We’ll explore our favorites below!

Propagation

Potatoes are vegetatively (asexually) propagated. This means they are grown using pieces of the tuber itself, rather than from true seeds. The actual seeds from potato flowers are not used in gardening. This is because they take much longer to grow and don’t yield true-to-type potatoes.

This can be confusing because when you buy planting materials. They are often sold as “seed potatoes.” In reality, “seed potatoes” aren’t seeds; they are potatoes that have been grown specifically for the purpose to be replanted.

The new plants will be genetically identical to the original. Essentially, they are cloned over and over to produce new tubers.

This means you could hypothetically plant sprouts from your kitchen straight into the garden! However, for the best crop possible, I recommend buying quality disease-free seed potatoes from a reliable source. 

Buying Seed Potatoes

Seed Tuber With Roots Sprouting
Disease-free seed potatoes can be purchased from a seed company or garden store.

When buying seed potatoes, it’s important that they are disease-free and in good condition, otherwise they may just rot in the ground, or worse, spread a nightshade pathogen throughout your garden.

Certified seed potatoes from a seed company or garden store are the most reliable planting material for your first potato garden. “Certified Disease Free” potatoes are actually tested for diseases and receive a government-issued certificate. 

Avoid Treated Potatoes

If you are growing an organic garden, be sure that your seed potatoes have not been fumigated or treated with a chemical sprout-inhibitor (we’ll explain below why those from the grocery store are sometimes dangerous or impossible to plant as seed potatoes).

Certified organic planting material is usually best. After your initial crop, you have the option to save your own tubers for replanting the following year.

Checking Seed Potatoes For Mold or Rotting

Tuber With Mold
Mold or other fungal growth can appear on your seed potatoes, but they should be thrown out and not planted.

When you receive seed potatoes in the mail or purchase them from the garden store, you should open them up and inspect them as soon as possible. Check for any signs of mold, rotting, or fungal growth and discard damaged potatoes immediately. Plants showing early signs of decomposition are not usually ideal candidates for planting.

Reserving your seed potatoes in advance will ensure that your seed company ships them to you at the proper planting time for your growing zone.

Cold Storage for Seed Potatoes

Chitting Tubers in a Pink Tray
You can keep your seed potatoes in a cool, dry place until they are ready to plant.

Seed potatoes are typically kept in a cool, dry place around 40°F until the time of chitting or planting. A root cellar, refrigerator, or cooler will do as long as they do not freeze. A paper bag, perforated bag, or open container is typically fine as long as they don’t dry out and shrivel. Ideally, they should be planted as soon as possible.

Propagation

Sprouting Tuber in Soil
Potatoes can be propagated using bits of the tuber itself.

Propagating potatoes begins with understanding their anatomy. Each potato is its own tuber. This tuber is a nutrient storage house that contains all the things a plant needs to regrow from that root base.

Tubers can come in a range of different shapes and sizes. Ideally, they have been sorted and graded into similar sizes before you bought them. If not, you can simply cut them into similar sizes.

What is the Eye of a Potato?
Eye of Tuber
The little buds on the skin of the potatoes that seem to be looking at you are called the eyes.

Potato “eyes” are the buds on the surface that sprout when exposed to light or planted. On each tuber, there can be 2-10 buds that are usually arranged in a sort of spiral pattern around the tuber. Before sprouting, they look like little dimples on the skin. These “eyes” of the potato are where the new shoots will grow to form a plant.

Chitting Potatoes for a Head Start
Sprouting Tubers in Soil
To jumpstart your potato growth, you can chit the seed potatoes until they have a small sprout on them.

Chitting is another word for “pre-sprouting” or “green sprouting” your seed potatoes to give them a head start before you put them in the ground. You break the dormancy to encourage earlier plant emergence.

If you’re an impatient gardener, chitting your seed potatoes is perfect for you! This can jumpstart your harvest by up to 2 weeks. It can also reduce the risk of rotting in the ground.

This step is optional, but definitely beneficial. Sometimes the seed potatoes will arrive with some buds, but oftentimes they haven’t yet begun to sprout. You can sprout your potatoes before or after cutting them. I’ve found that it’s easier to recognize the eyes after they have started to sprout.

Start the chitting process about 1 to 3 weeks before your planting date. If you are growing early, mid-season, and/or late potatoes, you can chit them all at the same time (just be sure to keep them labeled and separated).

Equipment Needed To Get Started:

  • Light
  • Heat
  • Old Trays or Egg Cartons
  • Newspaper

However, if using trays, crumple old newspaper in the bottom and lay your potatoes out in an even single layer. With egg cartons, simply remove the tops and place one in each hole. Keep the sides with the most eyes facing upward.

Put them in a light area that is around 60 to 70°F. A windowsill, porch, or greenhouse will work great. Leave the potatoes to work their magic. They will start to sprout while exposed to the light and warmth.

Ideally, the shoots are deep green (or purple in the case of colored varieties) about ½ to 1” long before planting. If the sprouts are white and lanky, there isn’t enough light and you should move them to a lighter location.

Once they have been successfully “chitted,” be very gentle during handling so you don’t break off a bunch of sprouts before they get planted in the ground. 

Cutting Seed Potatoes Before Planting
Gardener Cutting Seed Tubers for Planting
You may have to cut the potato down in size before planting it into the ground.

Seed potatoes are often cut to maximize your crop. If they are already small (like fingerlings or butterballs), it’s best to plant them as is. But medium and large seed potatoes can be cut to increase your yields. Like chitting, cutting seed potatoes is optional but recommended for most gardeners.

About 2-3 days before planting, you can prepare your seed potatoes by cutting them and allowing them to callous over a bit while exposed to the air. This “mini-curing” process allows the sliced part to develop a protective coating so it’s less likely to rot in the moist soil.

Whole seed potatoes are usually cut into blocky pieces with 2-3 eyes per block.

If you plant a chunk of a seed potato without any eyes, it will not grow into a plant. So it is very important to pay attention to the location of the eyes.

Whether whole or cut into chunks, each seed potato should be at least the size of a golf ball. Anything smaller is going to have a hard time growing into a plant size plant. On the other hand, planting oversized seed potatoes can also lead to plants that bear tons of tiny potatoes.

Growing Them From Store Bought Potatoes

Tuber Growing From Store Bought Origins
It is possible to grow your own potatoes from the one you purchased at the store, but it is not recommended.

You might have heard of growing potatoes from those in your kitchen. Grocery store potatoes can appear identical to seed potatoes in many ways (and often much cheaper). However, they aren’t always the best option for planting in your garden.

If you want to grow from store bought potatoes, first check the following:

  1. The potatoes need to be USDA Certified Organic, otherwise they were probably treated with potentially toxic fungicides and sprout inhibitors
  2. Make sure they haven’t be treated with sprout inhibitors (including ChloroIsopropyl-N PhenylCarbamate (CIPC), Carvone and Maleic Hydrazide), which will prevent the potatoes from “chitting” and growing shoots when put in the ground
  3. They are free of disease (this is very difficult to find out unless you order Certified Disease Free seed potatoes)

If you have organic potatoes from the grocery store or farmer’s market that have already sprouted after being exposed to light in the kitchen, then you can be fairly sure that the first two issues are taken care of. They’re technically already “chitted” and ready to plant!

All this being said, there isn’t really an advantage to planting store bought potatoes. Perhaps you want to toss some sprouts in the garden to see what happens. However, a dedicated gardener is better off purchasing seed potatoes of a specific variety for a more reliable crop.

Planting

Seed potato preparation can be the most daunting part of growing potatoes, but planting is almost as simple as throwing them in the ground.

Remember that you can skip the chitting and cutting process altogether if you want to keep things simple (after all, there aren’t any steadfast rules to gardening; these rugged tubers have been sporadically tossed in the ground for centuries)! The only reason those steps were added was to help accelerate and standardize the growing process.

But once it’s time to plant, things get really easy. Prepare your beds, make furrows, lay down the potatoes, and hill ‘em up! Let’s explore the details.

When to Plant

Planting Sprouting Tubers in Soil
Planting potatoes should take place about four weeks before the last frost.

Potatoes are typically planted in the spring in northern climates and in the fall in southern climates. Seed potatoes can go in the ground as soon as 4 weeks before your last frost date.

Check that the soil is fairly dry and above 50°F before planting. While cool weather isn’t usually a huge issue, ultra wet springs are more likely to delay the planting process because you risk them rotting in the ground. For this reason, many northern growers plant chitted (green sprouted) potatoes around late spring or even early summer once the soil is dryer.

In the south, they are often planted in the fall or even the winter. Check for specific varietal preferences from a regional seed grower to understand the best time for your growing zone and cultivar.

If you were storing seed potatoes in cold storage, bring them to room temperature a few days before planting.

Soil Preparation

Gardener Planting Tubers With Proper Spacing
Amend the soil with compost and measure out the garden before adding the potatoes to the ground.

Prepare your garden beds with a generous helping of quality finished compost lightly worked into the soil surface. You should also apply any slow-release fertilizers you plan to use at this time.

Rake the bed clean and use the back of a garden tool to mark rows 24-36” apart. Optionally, you can make 2-4” deep furrows that will aid in the hilling of your potatoes. Lay out a tape measure along each furrow to help mark your spacing as you plant.

How to Plant Potatoes

Garden of Tubers on a Bright Day
Putting the potatoes in the ground is a fairly simple process.

Bring your calloused cut potatoes (optionally sprouted) out to the garden and get ready to plant! Be extra careful when handling chitted potatoes– you don’t want to break off the sprouts or buds.

Plant each golf-sized seed chunk with the eyes facing up 2-3” deep in the soil. Once you have finished planting a row, use a rake or your hands to cover the potatoes with soil and water thoroughly.

Spacing
Gardener Preparing Soil for Planting Tubers
Make sure your plants have enough room for airflow.

Most varieties can be planted 12” apart in rows 24-36” apart. Varieties that yield extra large potatoes can be spaced up to 18”. Smaller types, including fingerlings, or those you want to harvest as “new” potatoes, can be spaced as close as 8” between plants. 

Potato Size
Space Between Plants
Small (French, Fingerling, Petite, New Potatoes)
8”
Medium (Yukons, Norlands, Butterball, Huckleberry Gold)
12”
Large (Russets, Gold Rush, high yielders)
18”

How to Grow Potatoes

Growing potatoes is surprisingly simple and straightforward. These tubers are easy to please and eager to yield loads of starchy round roots. Beginner gardeners will be pleasantly surprised by how quickly they can grow and how abundantly they can yield with little effort.

Light

Tuber Plants Growing on a Sunny Day
At least 6-8 hours of full sunlight is required for them to thrive in the garden.

Potatoes require full sunlight to thrive. Choose an area of the garden that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sun every day. Avoid anywhere that gets shaded out by trees, shrubs, or buildings.

The lush top growth of the plant is important for harnessing solar energy and sending it down to the tubers you want to harvest. If they don’t get enough sun, their foliage will be weaker, in turn yielding smaller potatoes.

Water

Tuber Plants With Drip Irrigation System
Using a drip irrigation system is best for watering potatoes to avoid any fungal diseases.

Potatoes generally need 1 to 2” of water per week. Whether through rainfall or added irrigation, be sure that they don’t dry out. The soil should always be moderately damp. Because they are typically planted in the spring, potatoes often don’t need irrigation until later in the summer.

However, balance is key. Too much moisture can result in premature rotting. But dry soil can lead to wilted foliage and shriveled tubers. I prefer to use soaker hoses or drip lines beneath a thick layer of chipped leaf mulch to hold in moisture on my potato hills.

Soil

Garden With Organic Soil Growing Tubers
Soil that is rich in nutrients and well-draining is best for growing.

Like many of our garden vegetables, potatoes love fertile, well-drained loamy soil. A slightly acidic pH (6.0 to 7.0) is best and can be achieved with additions of quality compost, leaf litter,

Remember that drainage is very important for this starchy root crop. Nobody wants rotten potatoes! A sandier soil is more ideal than clay. If you have a lot of clay-rich soil, add a generous amount of compost or peat moss to help loosen it up.

Prepare beds with a broadfork to thoroughly loosen the top 12” of soil before planting. Remember that they have shallow root systems, but they need plenty of space and aeration to spread out their stolons and tubers. The most uniform potatoes will come from soil that is well-drained, loose, and free of large rocks.

Climate and Temperature

Gold Tubers in a Garden
Because there are so many varieties, you can find one that will grow in your region.

Potatoes can grow in virtually any climate in the United States. If they have been planted at 13,000 feet in the Andes mountains, surely you can grow them in your garden! These resilient tubers are a cool-weather crop that tolerates summer heat.

The ideal soil temperature is 45 to 55°F and the ideal ambient temperature is around 60 to 70°F. Ultra hot temperatures above 90°F can put a lot of strain on potatoes. Gardeners in areas with hot summers often opt for early spring or fall planted varieties.

However, if you use deep mulch (like chipped leaf litter or straw) to keep the tubers in the ground cool, potato foliage can be quite resilient in the heat. Productivity will only decrease if the roots warm up too much.

Are They Frost Tolerant?

Like their cousins, tomatoes and peppers, potatoes are not very frost tolerant. However, they can handle small amounts of frost down to about 28°F. The use of cloches or row cover will help with cold protection in the event of a sudden cold snap.

Seed potatoes planted in early spring are typically protected by the insulation of the soil. Small amounts of cold-damaged foliage are usually tolerable if the below-ground tubers remain frost-free.

Fertilizing

Tubers Planted With Ash Fertilizer to Avoid Rot
Using rich organic matter and slow-releasing fertilizer will help boost the growth of your potatoes.

Potatoes are fairly heavy feeding crops. They do best when planted in a rich compost-amended soil that is fertilized a few times during the growing season. At the time of planting, you can amend with an all-purpose organic granular fertilizer or a bit of feather meal. After plants are established, I prefer to do a foliar application of diluted fish emulsion every 3-4 weeks. Be sure to only apply fish emulsion fertilizer in the morning to avoid burning the foliage.

Maintenance

Gardener Pruning Flowers From Plant
Thankfully, potato plants do not need any maintenance with the foliage, and hilling is the only real maintenance they need.

Mounding or hilling potatoes is the only laborious maintenance required for this crop. They absolutely need to stay underground to prevent the formation of green skins with higher levels of solanine. These sun-exposed potatoes will taste bitter and could be toxic if consumed in large amounts.

Once foliage has reached 6-8” tall, it’s time for the first hilling. To hill your potatoes, use a hoe or rake to mound soil from the aisles up along the plant bases. The initial mounds should be about 4” up the plant base. Broad, widened hills are typically better than narrow or high hills.

Hilling should be repeated every few weeks until the mounds are 10-12” tall. This will protect from greening and also keep the tubers cool. A mulch of chipped leaves, straw, or hay can be applied once the hills are formed to help keep weeds down and conserve moisture.

Harvest

Freshly Harvested Tubers in a Garden
There are a few different ways to tell when potatoes are ready for harvest.

Potatoes typically take 60 to 120 days to mature, depending on the size and variety. But how do you know when potatoes are ready to harvest?

First, determine what kind of potatoes you are growing:

New Potatoes

Small, thin-skinned tubers that are harvested 50 to 60 days from planting. These spring potatoes are tender and delicious for eating from June through August. Their skins are very fragile and will easily scrape off, so they typically don’t store for very long. Any variety can be harvested “new”.

Midseason Potatoes

Medium, moderately-skinned potatoes that aren’t babies, but aren’t fully mature either. These are often the potatoes you find in the summer at farmer’s markets.

Storage ‘Maincrop’ Potatoes

Full size potatoes are harvested after a much longer growing window, typically in the fall between September and November. They have thick skins and can be cured in the ground after cutting back the foliage, or in a root cellar. When properly cured, storage potatoes can hold for up to 6 months under proper conditions.

Then, start checking your potatoes to see if they are ready:

Count Your Calendar

Start from the day you planted and try digging up a plant about 60-70 days afterwards to check on the potato size. If they are still small, leave the others in the ground for a few more weeks before trying again.

Flowers Can Be a Sign

They will be 2-3” in diameter and very tender. Once your potatoes begin to flower, dig up a few plants to enjoy as tender spring potatoes. These can be washed and stored in a cooler for summer treats. I prefer to stagger my new potato harvest as I eat them.

Wait Until Above Ground Foliage Yellows (Main Crop Only)

For storage potatoes, wait until the above-ground foliage has started to dry or yellow in the fall. Oftentimes, you can wait until a bit of light frost damage occurs (not a hard frost!) to indicate that they are mature. To promote the thickening of storage potatoes’ skins, mow or cut back the foliage a week or two before harvest. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, simply pull the plants and cure them in a root cellar.

Regardless of which method you use to check the maturity, when it comes time to harvest, all you need is a digging fork and a crate. First, push aside any extra mulch on top of the mounds. Dig the garden fork about a foot away from the base of the plant to gently lift the roots without stabbing the potatoes.

Loosen the soil beneath them and try your best to uproot the whole plant from the base. Use your hands to rip each spud from its stolon (the “umbilical cord”).

In the center of the plant, you will see the mushy “mother” seed potato that you originally planted. This is obviously discarded, but it can be a fun icky thing to poke and prod with kids so they can understand how much energy went into growing the rest.

Don’t forget to search through the remaining mound for any potatoes you might have missed. If you do accidentally leave some in the ground, be on the lookout for their sprouts the following year!

Curing and Storage

Russet Vegetable in a Pantry
Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dry place where they can last for about six months.

Curing helps thicken the skins and slow the respiration rate of the tubers so they can be kept for storage through the winter. It can also improve the flavor.

Storage or maincrop potatoes should not be cleaned or washed after harvest. Instead, leave the soil intact and let them dry outdoors. If you mowed back the foliage to allow the skins to thicken in the soil, you can put them directly into a root cellar or cooler for long-term storage.

If the potatoes still need to be cured, place them in a dark, well-ventilated area around 50 or 60°F. An autumn garage will often do. Spread them out in crates or on newspaper for maximum air flow. Be sure that it stays dark so they don’t start turning green.

After 1-2 weeks, the skins should be tough enough to pile them in a container and move to long-term storage in your pantry or refrigerator. 

Varieties

With so many varieties of potatoes to choose from, it can be hard to settle on just one. I recommend planting 3-5 types of potatoes in your garden so you can experiment with plant performance, flavor, and yield quantities.

Choosing an early, midseason, and maincrop variety also helps stagger your harvest for more potato enjoyment all season long. Because they are a vegetatively propagated tuber, you don’t have to worry about cross pollination. So plant as many types as you’d like!

Best Early Potatoes

Yukon Gold Early Potatoes
Early potatoes can be harvested earlier in the season and have thinner skin.
  • ‘Caribe’: Purple skins with white flesh, great for new potatoes
  • ‘Dark Red Norland’: Red skins with white middles, prefect for roasting
  • ‘Red Gold’: Blush red skin with yellow centers, rounded shape, delicious boiled or roasted
  • ‘Belmonda’: Yellow skin and interior, oval shape, excellent as new potatoes or for storage
  • ‘Yukon Gold’: The classic buff skinned buttery potato with light yellow flesh, all-purpose in the kitchen
  • ‘Adirondack Blue’: A gorgeous purplish blue skin with deep purple interior, oblong shape, great for chips, roasting, or baking

Best Midseason Potatoes

Russet Midseason Potatoes
Potatoes that are harvested midseason, such as russet potatoes, have thicker skin.
  • ‘Caribou Russet’: Dark brown russet skins with white flesh, perfect for mashing and baking
  • ‘Gold Rush’: Another classic russet-skin, white starchy interior, oblong potato bred for frying
  • ‘Kennebec’: Buff skins, white starchy flesh, all-purpose
  • ‘Satina’: Yellow or tan skins with yellow buttery flesh, delicious for mashing
  • ‘Strawberry Paw’: Beautiful red skin, white interior, nice round shape for roasting or baking

Best Main Season/Storage Potatoes

French Fingerling Main Season Potatoes
The potatoes that store the longest have the thickest skin, such as fingerling potatoes.
  • ‘Elba’: Buff skins, white flesh, rounded shape, excellent storability
  • ‘Pinto Gold’: Multi-colored marbled pink and yellow skins with yellow flesh, oval or fingerling shape, exceptional for storage, delicious roasted
  • ‘French Fingerling’: Coveted French culinary variety, elongated nobby shape with blush pink skins and yellow flesh, store well, exceptional flavor
  • ‘Magic Molly’: Purple outside and in, beautiful small fingerling shape perfect for roasting whole
  • ‘Russian Banana’: Nobby yellow fingerling with pale yellow skin, buttery flavor, great for storage

Pests and Diseases

Potatoes are prone to the same pests and diseases as their tomato cousins. Fortunately, the plants are quite resilient and there are plenty of organic control options for keeping your plants healthy and pest-free.

Colorado Potato Beetle

Colorado Potato Beetle Eating Leaves
These little pests can do some damage to the foliage of your potato plants.

Colorado Potato Beetles can do some major damage when feeding on potato foliage. Luckily, however, they are easy to spot and very slow moving. These striped or spotted fat beetles are easy to grab by hand and kill.

You will start to notice their orange heads and yellow or orange, black, and white striped bodies hanging around your potato patch in late spring. Scout for yellow-orange potato beetle eggs beginning in early summer. You can easily remove them manually and drown them in soapy water or crush them.

Using row cover after young potatoes emerge is one simple way to keep the beetles at bay. However, once warm weather hits, scouting and manual removal are the best approaches. Some people even use a handheld vacuum to sweep up the pesky bugs straight from the potato plants.

Diluted neem oil is another great way to kill existing bugs and repel future infestations. Natural predators such as birds, ducks, and chickens are usually glad to pluck the chunky beetles straight off the leaves!

Aphids and Leafhoppers

Aphids on a Leaf Close up
Seemingly every plant in the garden is subject to aphid infestation, and potatoes are unfortunately no different.

These tiny sap-sucking insects can be white, green, or even pale red. You’ll notice them crawling on the undersides of leaves, leaving behind a sticky sap and causing yellowing or browning of the leaf.

Potato Leafhoppers are larger sap-suckin insects that cause similar issues as aphids. They also hang out on the undersides of leaves. The additional problem posed by leafhoppers is that they have a toxic saliva that can damage leaf tissue and cause chlorosis (yellowing), and “cupping” of the upper leaves.

Control both of these insects by practicing good garden cleanup (removing crop debris), sprinkling diatomaceous earth around and on plants during dry periods, using floating row cover, monitoring with sticky traps, spraying with diluted neem solution, or attracting beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings to keep populations in check.

Potato Blights

Early Blight Attacking Plant
Blight is one of the most deadly diseases for potato plants.

The dreaded, yet infamous Late Potato Blight wreaked havoc on Ireland during the mid-1800s and was a key cause of the Irish Potato Famine. This same fungus-like organism (an oomycete called Phytophthora infestans) can attack your garden potatoes and tomatoes.

Early potato blight (caused by a fungus called Alternaria solani) looks like yellow or brown leaf spots, blackening or dying foliage, and purplish-black fuzzy growths on the leaves.

Late blight (caused by P. infestans) has similar effects, but with larger lesions that get a more papery pale brown and leathery in appearance as they age. Either way, potato blights are extremely damaging and spread very quickly. The pathogens both thrive in high humidity and hot temperatures.

To prevent potato blight, be sure to purchase Certified Disease Free seed potatoes and fully remove crop residue each year. Old potato or tomato residues from the previous year can be a key breeding ground for these diseases.

The best disease preventions are crop rotation of all Solanaceae-family crops, maintaining biologically-rich fertile soil, and keeping plants consistently moist (at the soil surface, not with overhead irrigation). Drought stress can make them more susceptible to blight.

Plant Uses

Person Chopping Root Vegetable
Whether you boil ’em, mash ’em, or stick them in a stew, potatoes have countless culinary uses.

Tubers are the only edible part of the plant. They should always be consumed when cooked. Foliage is not edible and should be avoided.

Frequently Asked Questions

What month do you plant potatoes?

Potatoes are typically planted in the spring around March through May. In warm growing zones, fall potatoes are planted September through November.

How many potatoes can you get from one plant?

The average yield of garden-grown potatoes is about 2 pounds. You can get 5 to 10 medium or large potatoes per plant. Smaller potatoes and fingerlings may yield up to 15 or 20 small potatoes. The harvest size will depend on variety, fertility, irrigation, and the quality of the soil.

Can you grow them from a single potato?

Most potatoes are grown from “seed potatoes” rather than true seeds from a flower. You can plant sprouted store-bought potatoes and grow a new plant as long as the original potato was not treated with any sprout-inhibiting chemicals.

How long does it take to grow potatoes from potatoes?

After planting a seed potato, it typically takes 60 to 90 days to yield new potatoes. Larger varieties and storage potatoes will take longer to mature.

Final Thoughts

Potatoes are a joy to grow and a joy to eat. These nourishing carb-rich tubers have sustained humans for centuries through cold winters and tough times. Potatoes are the quintessential “comfort food” and enjoying them from your own garden makes them even more special.

SHARE THIS POST
Tomatillo Growing Companion Plants

Vegetables

Tomatillo Companion Plants: 11 Plants To Plant With Tomatillo

Looking to add a few companion plants to your tomatillos in your garden? Companion planting can be tricky, as you want to only plant the right plants that will be beneficial for your garden. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey walks through the best plants to companion plant with your tomatillos in your garden!

Grow Eggplant

Vegetables

How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Eggplant in Your Garden

Eggplant is a very common vegetable that's part of the nightshade family. These easy to grow veggies are quite popular in many gardens around the world. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey takes you through each step you'll need to follow to successfully plant, grow, and care for eggplant in your garden.

Healthy Collard with Dew

Vegetables

How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Collards in Your Garden

Collards are a staple vegetable for many families across the world. They have many uses, and are especially popular in the kitchen. But growing them can be a little tricky without the right information. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey walks through every step you'll need to follow in order to plant, grow, and care for collards.

Grow Carrots

Vegetables

How To Plant, Grow, and Care For Carrots in Your Garden

Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables in gardens around the world. But to get the perfect harvest, you need the perfect formula of soil conditions, climate, watering schedule, and more. In this article, gardening expert and farm owner Taylor Sievers examines how to plant, grow, and care for carrots in your garden.