Growing Potatoes from Planting to Harvest

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Potato tubers

Potatoes are one of the most satisfying vegetables to grow. And harvesting time is what makes the potato really special, when those delicious tubers are finally lifted up from the soil like buried nuggets of gold. Garden-grown potatoes are really something else! So if you’ve never tried growing them before, make this the year you do.

Here, then, is our planting to harvest guide to potatoes...

Types of Potato

Before you plant you need to decide what type of potato you need. There are two main types of potato: maincrops and earlies.

Maincrop varieties are usually bulkier and give a bigger harvest, and many can be stored for winter use. Maincrops are typically harvested in late summer or autumn.

Early varieties are ready from early to midsummer and are further divided into first earlies and second earlies. First early varieties are first to crop, while second earlies follow on a few weeks later. Early potatoes tend to be smaller than maincrop types, but they have arguably the best flavor and often have a smoother, waxier texture that makes them perfect in salads. They’re also sublime when served steaming hot, finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of herbs.

Check variety descriptions for potatoes suited to different uses, whether baked, boiled, sautéed or cut up into wedges – or even a combination of these. Some varieties offer good resistance to common diseases including blight, which can ruin a crop in warm, wet summers. Or grow first earlies, which are usually harvested before the main blight risk.

“Chitting
Chitting your seed potatoes can help you get ahead

Preparing and Chitting Potatoes

To plant a crop of potatoes you’ll need to get hold of some seed or sprouting potatoes, also sold as simply ‘tubers’. Large seed potatoes can be cut into smaller pieces to make them go further. Make sure each piece has at least two ‘eyes’ and allow the cut to air dry for a day before planting.

In regions where spring’s arrival is a little slower to arrive it’s worth sprouting or ‘chitting’ your seed potatoes. Do this up to six weeks ahead of planting, to give your crop a head start. Lay them out in a single layer, so the ends with most eyes – that’s the dimples where the shoots will sprout from – face up. Place them into trays or old egg cartons, which hold the potatoes steady. Keep them in a cool, bright place to sprout thick, sturdy shoots.

“Planting
Potatoes can be planted in traditional trenches or individual planting holes

Planting Potatoes

Potatoes love rich, moist soil that’s been gradually improved with organic matter such as well-rotted compost or manure. Avoid poorly draining soil to prevent tubers from rotting. A sunny spot on the plot will encourage the strong growth you’re after.

Plant first earlies once the soil has begun to warm up in early spring. Second earlies are planted a few weeks later, while maincrops follow on a couple of weeks later still, in mid-spring. You can use our Garden Planner to check the best times to plant in your area, based on data from your local nearest weather station. The Planner’s also a great resource for browsing variety descriptions and, of course, to lay out potatoes on your plan so you’ll know exactly how many seed potatoes you’ll need to fill the area you have.

Plant seed potatoes into dug trenches or individual planting holes. Plant your tubers around six inches (15cm) deep, and space them a foot (30cm) apart along the row. Additional rows of early varieties should be spaced at least 18 inches (45cm) apart, while maincrops need a minimum of 30 inches (75cm) left between rows.

“Hilling
Hilling soil around potatoes increases yields and prevents tubers going green

Growing Potatoes

Shoots should poke above ground within about two to three weeks. They’ll tolerate very light frosts but are best covered over with row cover if something colder is forecast.

Once they reach six inches (15cm) tall begin hilling up your potatoes. Hilling mounds up the soil along the row to encourage more tubers to grow and to reduce the risk of light exposure, which turns them green. Use a hoe to draw up the surrounding soil around the shoots, leaving the very tops exposed. Hill in stages like this each time the foliage reaches a similar height above soil level, and continue till the mounds are either a foot tall or the foliage above has closed over.

Remove weeds early on, but fast-growing potatoes soon crowd out any competition. Potatoes need ample moisture for all that growth though. Water thoroughly in dry weather to enable tubers to grow to their full potential, free of any cracks or hollows.

“Harvesting
Harvest maincrop potatoes after the foliage has died back

Harvesting Potatoes

You can harvest tubers small as ‘new’ potatoes as soon as the plants begin to flower a couple of months after planting. Continue harvesting early varieties in stages from this point on, leaving the remaining plants to grow on until needed. This staggered approach to harvesting allows you to enjoy potatoes at their freshest and tastiest.

Maincrop potatoes are usually harvested towards the end of summer or in early autumn once the foliage has died back. Leave the tubers underground for a further two weeks then, on a dry day, lift them up with a fork, taking care not to accidentally pierce any of the tubers. Brush off excess soil, let the potatoes air dry for a few hours then store out of the light in a cool but frost-free place.

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Comments

 
"I'm getting ready to start my potatoes. It's one of the best veggies to plant since they keep for a long time!"
Mr. M on Sunday 17 March 2019
"it would be helpful if you added a topic on using potato bags - some of us don't have large gardens and would appreciate this information. Thank you!"
Alexis on Thursday 4 April 2019
"it would be helpful if you added a topic on using potato bags - some of us don't have large gardens and would appreciate this information. Thank you!"
Alexis on Thursday 4 April 2019
"We have some tips on growing in potato sacks in our video ‘Planting tips for a better potato harvest’. "
Ben Vanheems on Friday 5 April 2019
"i am a beginner to growing potatoes. what i decided to to do( because my garden is quite small ) is plant tubers in large pots using three different types of compost mixed, I now have lots of green foliage and some pretty flowers coming through. now i need to know when to harvest. Lots of different advice out there but don,t want to get it wrong."
Ron on Monday 27 May 2019
"It depends on what you are growing. If they are early potatoes (rather than larger maincrop potatoes) then you could probably start harvesting from now. I would advise checking by simply plunging your hand down into the potting mix to feel for the tubers below. You can harvest some now, then leave the remainders to grow on. For maincrops it's best to wait until the foliage starts to die down towards the end of summer. But again, there's no reason you can't harvest some of tubers now, leaving the remainder to grow on. To do this, carefully detach a few tubers at a time, so as not to damage the rest of the root system. Or you could simply tip up and empty out one pot, harvest and enjoy, then leave the other two to grow on a bit more. If in doubt, just leave them to grow on for a few more weeks."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 30 May 2019
"Can I get any information on the types and quantities of fertilisers required and the stages at which the fertiliser is applied. Information on common diseases and their remedy could also help. Thank you in advance for availing this valuable information. "
Kuda on Wednesday 29 January 2020
"Hi Kuda. We tend to recommend an organic approach to growing here - so no synthetic/artificial fertilisers, just lots of good, wholesome, well-rotted organic matter such as compost or manure. There are organic potato fertilisers on the market, which are typically applied around planting time, though to be honest if your soil is in good fettle this shouldn't be necessary. For information on diseases and pests of potatoes, click on the pests tab at the top of this page, where you can search for common problems (and solutions!) of potatoes."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 30 January 2020
"Last year, some underground varmint at a ton of the bottoms of my biggest potatoes. Any advice on keeping them at bay? I have mole sound thing in the ground."
Lark on Saturday 21 March 2020
"Hi Lark. That's a tricky one - have never experienced anything like that before. Could it be slug damage do you think? Are there lots of gouges in the potatoes, or have they been nibbled more intensely by a bigger animal?"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 23 March 2020
"Ben, we have plenty of tunnels in our lawn, and holes about the size of a quarter throughout lawn and garden. It could be moles, voles or gophers, as all live around here. Sometimes there might be a nibble on a potato. Last year was my first year growing them and I was so excited at harvest to see unblemished potatoes, until I dug them out. The bottoms of many, especially the biggest were eaten. I did manage to harvest quite a few though."
Lark on Monday 23 March 2020
"Ah, that must have been so disappointing. Coincidentally, we have had a post today from a Madeline on our 'Growing Potatoes the No Dig Way' guide, as follows, which may be help: "In 2015 I asked if growing in straw would deter Voles. In May of 2018 I responded to a suggestion to use Garlic and Onions to deter Volves and that the critters loved them too. I am not certain that the animals are actually Voles, or rats, or chipmunks but they wiped out all root crops in 2018. In 2019, I bought a Solar Powered Sonic Spike sold to deter Moles and Gophers. It costs about $20.00 US [I'm in New Jersey USA] Believe me I was very skeptical. I'm a believer now. My carrots and beets and yes, my potatoes were unharmed. The spikes are sold by Sweeney's and Victor. All of my garden is mulched with shredded leaves and grow beautifully without chemicals, or any fertilizer at all." "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 23 March 2020
"I decided to grow my purple potatoes in grow bags in early may. The plants have started to flower now but should I wait to harvest them after they flower, after they die back, or before they flower? I have seen many different answers to this question so I am a bit confused. This is my first time growing potatoes so I honestly don't want to do the wrong thing and then something bad happens. Help please?"
Aaliyah Demas on Thursday 18 June 2020
"Hi Aaliyah. Early varieties of potatoes can be harvested small as ‘new’ potatoes as soon as the plants begin to flower, then continue harvesting in stages from this point on, leaving the remaining plants to grow on until needed. This staggered approach to harvesting allows you to enjoy potatoes at their freshest and tastiest. Maincrop potatoes are harvested towards the end of summer once the foliage has died back."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 June 2020
"I have planted potatoes after the stock i bought drom shops wents either a bit green and they had started shouting I have now 4 generations of potatoes Plants ( today i planted baby potatoes) in big pots, but i have no clue what other types I planted! It was random. And i even tried to cut,then let healing process , then sow 3 X 1/3 of potatoes! Anything was a “try”, and it seems to work , 2/4 have not yet flowered( i am in Wales, GB) and the weather March April May was really good and hot but not it is miserable as usual here! What should i do, do i wait ALL the way until the leaves become yellow, i am scared of messing around...it is the first time i am experimenting with vegs! Thanks for telling me....."
Pascale on Monday 29 June 2020
"I would say that once the plants have flowered, dig down a bit and feel for the size of the tubers. If they are a good size, they're good to go! If not, just let them grow on a bit longer. Or dig up a corner of the plant - one side of it, carefully and from the side, until you get to the tubers. With care you can then push back the soil and allow the plant to grow on."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 6 July 2020

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