The Ultimate Potato Growing Guide

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Potatoes are one of the most versatile and beloved vegetables, finding their way into dishes all around the world. Whether mashed, roasted, or fried, there’s no denying the appeal of homegrown spuds. But to cultivate a successful potato crop, you need more than just a patch of soil and some seeds.

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In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of potato cultivation, covering everything from the different types of potatoes to the ideal growing conditions.

how do you grow a potato from a potato

Understanding Potato Growth

Potatoes, like many root vegetables, grow underground, where they develop from the eyes or buds of seed potatoes. Understanding how potatoes grow in the soil is crucial for successful cultivation, especially when differentiating between indeterminate and determinate varieties.

Check out our 8 Best Tips For Growing Potatoes!

Indeterminate Potato Growth

Indeterminate potatoes continue to produce tubers as long as growing conditions remain favorable. When planted, the seed potatoes sprout and develop into plants with sprawling foliage above ground. As the plants grow, they produce stolons, which are horizontal stems that run along the soil surface. These stolons eventually develop into tubers, which form at the tips and along the length of the stolon.

Because indeterminate potatoes produce tubers continuously throughout the growing season, they require a longer period in the ground to reach their full potential. Gardeners who choose indeterminate varieties can expect a longer harvest window, with new potatoes forming at various stages of growth.

Determinate Potato Growth

In contrast, determinate potatoes produce all of their tubers at once within a relatively short period. Once planted and given the right conditions, determinate varieties grow quickly and set their tubers within a defined timeframe. The plants typically have a more compact growth habit and produce a concentrated crop of tubers at the base of the plant.

Determinate potatoes are favored by gardeners seeking an early harvest or those with limited space. With determinate varieties, the entire crop can be harvested at once, making them ideal for gardeners who want to maximize their yields in a shorter timeframe.

We have even more determinate and indeterminate details over on our post Indeterminate Vs. Determinate post!

Why Potatoes are Grown from Spuds, Not Seed

Potatoes are typically grown from seed potatoes rather than true seeds, and there are several reasons for this:

  1. Genetic Consistency: Potatoes grown from seed potatoes maintain the genetic characteristics of the parent plant. This ensures consistency in traits such as flavor, texture, and disease resistance, which may vary when grown from true seeds.
  2. Propagation Method: Potatoes are propagated vegetatively, meaning that new plants are grown from parts of the parent plant rather than from seeds. Seed potatoes are essentially sections of potato tubers that contain dormant buds or eyes. When planted, these eyes sprout and develop into new potato plants.
  3. Disease Management: Growing potatoes from seed potatoes helps prevent the spread of diseases and pests. True potato seeds can carry diseases, whereas seed potatoes are typically certified disease-free. Additionally, planting from seed potatoes reduces the risk of introducing new pathogens into the soil.
  4. Yield and Performance: Using seed potatoes allows growers to select varieties known for their productivity, flavor, and suitability to local growing conditions. By planting certified seed potatoes, growers can optimize their yields and ensure the best possible performance from their potato crop.
how to plant and grow potatoes

Ideal Soil Conditions

Potato plants prefer well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH (between 5.5 and 6.5). The pH of your soil is important for the health of your potato crop. If the pH is not optimal, the plants will not be able to uptake the phosphorous and other micronutrients in the soil, no matter how much fertilizer you add, and they will be more susceptible to disease such as common scab.

You can test your soil before planting, either with an at home meter or sending in a sample for a professional soil test. If you find that your soil pH is too high (alkaline), sulfur is one option to add to help lower it and feed the potatoes. If the soil pH is too low (acidic), then adding lime can help raise the pH. Allow the soil to rest for at least 4 to 6 weeks after amending and before planting the potatoes in order for the soil pH to adjust properly.

Potatoes need a well-draining, loose soil in order to produce large tubers and prevent disease. If your soil is too compact or heavy, the tubers will become stunted or will begin to rot if water is not able to drain properly. You can improve soil drainage by adding organic matter, such as compost or peat moss. Planting in raised beds, containers, or mounds can help improve soil drainage, prevent waterlogging, and give you more control of how loose the soil is around the plants.

The Perfect Location

how to plant potatoes

When picking the perfect spot for your potato harvest, be sure to avoid planting them in soil that has been used to grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, or any other members of the nightshade family in the past few years. This is because these particular plants can carry diseases that can infect potato plants and cause significant crop loss.

The green parts of the potato plant need 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day in order to thrive and supply enough energy for large tuber formation. However, the tubers (the parts we actually eat) need to be kept away from the sun at all times by being covered with soil or mulch. When exposed to the sun, the tubers produce a toxic level of alkaloid solanine and begin to turn green. All potato tubers contain some amount of solanine, along with the leaves, stems and small green fruits that form. When the tubers are cooked, the alkaloid is rendered harmless and they become safe for consumption. This is not the case when the levels become too high, as in the case of green potatoes, so these are best disposed of or at least have the green parts cut off.

Ensure that the area has good drainage to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to rot and disease. Avoid planting potatoes in low-lying areas where water tends to collect.

Nutrients

Potato plants need a variety of nutrients to grow healthy and strong, and produce high-quality tubers. Here are some of the key nutrients that potato plants need and how they can be provided.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for potato plants as it helps them to produce foliage and stems, while providing overall plant growth. Foliage growth is important in order to give the plant enough energy to produce a large harvest. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers, such as ammonium nitrate, urea, or blood meal can be applied to the soil at planting time, and then again when the plants are about 4 to 6 inches tall. Compost, green manure or animal manure are also great sources of nitrogen. These sources do require some aging so it’s best to plan ahead if using these as a nitrogen source.

how to grow potatoes

Phosphorus is another important nutrient for potato plants as it supports the development of strong roots and tubers. Phosphorus-rich fertilizers, such as superphosphate or bone meal, can be applied to the soil at planting time, or as a side-dressing when the plants are about 4 to 6 inches tall. Compost and green manure can also offer a great source of phosphorus as well as fish meal for a quick source.

Potassium is a vital nutrient for potato plants, as it helps to regulate water balance, promotes strong stem growth and improves disease resistance. Potassium-rich fertilizers, such as potassium sulfate, potash or potassium chloride, can be applied to the soil at planting time, or as a side-dressing when the plants are about 4 to 6 inches tall. Wood ash, greensand, and banana peels are a great natural source for potassium. Compost and manure are also a good source after having some time to age.

Calcium is a critical nutrient for potato plants, as it helps to regulate strong cell wall growth and development, as well as root growth. Calcium-rich fertilizers, such as calcium nitrate or calcium carbonate, can be applied to the soil as a side-dressing when the plants are about 4 to 6 inches tall. Some organic sources of calcium include eggshells crushed into a fine powder, dolomitic lime, oyster shell flour, compost, and bone meal. They should be applied to the soil before planting for a long-term source of calcium for potato plants.

Magnesium is another important nutrient for potato plants as it helps to produce strong stems, adequate chlorophyll production and healthy foliage. Magnesium-rich fertilizers, such as magnesium sulfate, Epsom salt, dolomitic lime, seaweed and compost can be applied at planting or as a side-dressing after some growth.

Sulfur is an essential nutrient for potato plants. It helps to regulate the metabolism of other nutrients, promote strong stem growth, supports chlorophyll production and overall plant growth. Sulfur-rich fertilizers, such as sulfur powder, elemental sulfur, Epsom salt, alfalfa meal and compost can be applied at planting and during growth.

Iron is a critical nutrient for potato plants, as it helps to produce healthy foliage and prevent yellowing, or chlorosis. Iron-rich fertilizers, such as iron sulfate, iron chelate, greensand and alfalfa meal, can be applied to the soil as a foliar spray when the plants are about 4 to 6 inches tall.

By providing your potato plants with the right nutrients at the right time, you can help them to grow healthy and strong, and produce high-quality tubers. However, it is important to be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can cause stunted growth or other problems.

Adirondack Blue Seed Potato

Large, oblong tubers feature lovely deep purplish-blue skin and flesh. Color may leach when boiled, but remains when baked or microwaved. Matures in 80-90 days.

Caribou Russet Seed Potato

The very best baking potato! Developed by the University of Maine, Caribou Russet is a mid-season potato with real flavor and good keeping ability. Medium yields of good-looking, oval russeted tubers love cold climates

Dark Red Norland Seed Potato

Widely adapted! Plant has a spreading habit and purple blooms. Smooth, oblong tubers are slightly flattened with shallow eyes. Good for boiling, baking and frying. Matures in 65 days. 

Keuka Gold Seed Potato

High yields of uniformly-sized potatoes. A boon for organic gardeners, as this variety is comparable to Yukon Gold (though not quite as early) but far easier to grow organically. The brawny vine produces very pretty white flowers and wheat-colored potatoes with pale yellow flesh. Use as you would Yukon Gold, especially for mashing. Mid-season. Resistant to scab and golden nematode.

Yukon Gold Seed Potato

Superior taste. Slightly oval tubers have a yellow skin and flesh. Good for all cooking types, especially frying. Retains yellow flesh color when cooked. Matures in 65-70 days.

Watering

Keeping the proper moisture level of your potato crop doesn’t take much work to get right but it is an important aspect of growing a good harvest. Overwatering the potatoes will put them at risk of premature rotting in the soil and make them more susceptible to disease. Not supplying enough water will cause the soil to dry out and become compact, preventing good tuber growth.

How often you water will depend greatly on how you’re growing your potatoes. If you are growing in containers, the plants will need more frequent water. However, a raised bed or in ground potato crop will not require as much water. It is always best to do a quick moisture test by sticking a finger into the soil by the base of the plant. If the soil is dry at least 2 inches deep, it’s time to water.

Potatoes love to have 1-2 inches of water a week, including rain fall. However, containers will most likely require more as they tend to dry out quicker. A container grown crop would benefit from being watered, until it seeps out the bottom, every 3-4 days.

Check out how to harvest, cure and store your potatoes!

Potatoes make a great backyard garden and self-sufficiency crop because they are easy to grow, produce a large amount of nutrient rich food, do great in storage, and are very versatile in the kitchen. By following these guidelines for location, soil preparation, nutrients, and water, you’ll be well on your way to growing a bountiful potato harvest. Whether you’re cultivating indeterminate or determinate varieties, the key is to provide the optimal growing conditions and care throughout the season. With a little effort and attention to detail, you’ll soon be enjoying the fruits (or rather, tubers) of your labor straight from the garden to the table. Happy potato growing!

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