Is there anything as perfect as a potato? Mash 'em, bake 'em, fry 'em, there are simple potato recipes for every occasion. They're incredibly versatile, and they're not as difficult to grow as you might think. Potatoes thrive in ground or in containers, so they're a fun edible to grow for beginners and experienced gardeners alike. They have a few pests, such as the Colorado potato beetle, which can decimate your crop almost overnight, so you will need to keep an eye out and inspect your plants every few days. Otherwise, they'll surprise you with how quickly they take off! If you're looking for another crop to grow alongside the best perennial herbs and pumpkins in your garden this year, try potatoes!
Here's how to grow spuds in your own back yard:
- Exposure: Full sun (6 or more hours per day)
- When to plant: Early spring to early summer (although sowing on March 17 is a planting tradition)
- Pests and diseases to watch out for: Flea beetles, Colorado potato beetles, scab
- Recommended varieties: Purple Viking, Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold
How to Plant Potatoes
Plant small whole potatoes or cut large ones into golf-ball or egg-size pieces. Each chunk should have one to two “eyes” or buds. Dig holes 8 inches deep and a foot apart. Place each piece in a hole with the eye facing up. Cover the piece, filling the hole with half the soil you removed. Add the remaining four inches of soil later when the vines have grown up about six to eight inches.
How to Care for Potatoes
Fertilize your potatoes with a basic balanced fertilizer or compost at planting time. Keep plants consistently moist, especially when they're flowering, because this is when the tubers form. If any potatoes pop out of the ground when growing, cover them up with soil or they’ll turn green and bitter.
What happens if I plant a potato from my kitchen?
Sometimes potatoes are treated with chemicals to inhibit sprouting. But we've all been there with a potato or two that's started to grow in the bin! Most of the time, they’ll do fine if you plant them. But because potatoes are disease-prone, it’s generally better to stick with certified disease-free “seed potatoes” to protect your garden. It's also best to rotate your crops and grow them in a different part of your garden or yard next year to prevent diseases and pests from overwintering.
How long does it take potatoes to grow?
They’re a quick crop, maturing about three to four months after planting. Different types have different maturity times, so read the description so you'll have some idea about when your crop will be ready.
When should I lift my potatoes?
Use a small digging fork or spade and gently lift up and under the foliage at the edges of the plant. You can harvest some as tender “new” potatoes about 60 days after the plants emerge. But leave the rest of the potatoes in ground for about two more weeks to cure (the skin toughens up a bit, so they’ll keep longer). Then harvest everything when the vines have turned yellow and died back. Any potatoes you bruise with your shovel when digging should be eaten right away because they'll spoil fast.
How do you plant potatoes in a container?
Bigger is better, so use the largest container you have. At minimum, containers should be at least 2 feet deep. Place about four to six inches of soil in the bottom of the container (don't fill it all the way), then the potato, then about four more inches of soil. When the stems emerge, cover all but the tip of the plant with soil, repeating the process each time new growth emerges until you reach the top of the container. The cool thing is that the more of the stem you bury as it grows, the more tubers you’ll get at harvest. Container potatoes generally will be smaller and the yield slightly less than when planted in the ground.
What kinds of pests affect potatoes?
Colorado potato beetles are your biggest enemy, emerging in late spring and early summer to munch on foliage. They are yellow-ish with black stripes, and the larvae, which are dark red or orange with black spots, also eat the potato foliage. Look on the underside of leaves, too, for their clusters of bright orange eggs. Flea beetles are minuscule black or brown bugs about the size of a sesame seed. They chew tiny holes in plant leaves and can kill young plants. Read the label of any pesticides you're considering to ensure they're safe on potato plants. It's also recommended to rotate the types of products used to prevent pesticide resistance, which is common with these tenacious insects. For flea beetles, prevention is key: Use fabric row covers to protect young plants. Mature plants are less susceptible to their damage.
“Planting in hills or long trenches and scooping soil on top in stages as they grow yields more potatoes,” says Colin McCrate, founder of Seattle Urban Farm Company, author of Food Grown Right in Your Own Backyard and High-Yield Vegetable Gardening, and producer of the Encyclopedia Botanica podcast. “Some people use straw instead of soil to top the plants as they grow. Tubers still set but they’re easier and cleaner to harvest.”
You Might Also Like