How to Grow Potatoes That Will Thrive in a Sunny Spot in Your Yard
Whether you want to plant a big crop of spuds or just a few in a container, these tips and tricks will help you raise a healthy potato harvest.
You name it, a potato can do it: Mashed, fried, baked, boiled, hashed and more. So it should come as no surprise that it's just as easy to skip the produce section and start growing potatoes in your own yard. All you need is a sunny space to grow them, a steady supply of water, and seed potatoes (the sprouted portion of a potato that you plant in the ground). So, yes, it's true: you can grow potatoes from potatoes! Take your pick from russet, Yukon, fingerling, and more varieties, and get your potato patch started so you can enjoy all their starchy goodness fresh from your garden.
How to Plant Potatoes
Potatoes love the sun, so plant your potato patch in a spot with full sun (where the plants will get at least six hours of sunlight each day) for the best results. Potatoes are planted with pieces of tubers called seed potatoes. Plant seed potatoes in spring around the time of the last expected frost.
Small potatoes can be planted whole, but larger potatoes (bigger than a golf ball) should be quartered with a clean knife ($50, Williams Sonoma) before planting. Make sure each piece includes an eye or bud. To prevent rot, let the pieces dry for a couple of days before planting. Plant the seed potatoes a few inches deep in loose, well-drained soil and spaced 12-15 inches in rows.
How to Grow Potatoes
After planting, potatoes will start flowering and forming tubers. Once the tubers are formed, your potatoes will need to be heavily watered to grow properly. If the foliage turns yellow and begins to die back, stop watering to prepare for harvest time.
In a few weeks, the shoots will emerge from the soil. Once the shoots are 8 to 10 inches tall, mound several inches of soil around the stem. This is called "earthing up" or "hilling," and it helps produce a bigger potato crop.
Growing Potatoes from Potatoes
It's best to grow potatoes from specially grown seed potatoes from a garden supply store that is certified disease-free. The potatoes you buy in the grocery store may have been treated with a sprout inhibitor to prevent them from sprouting in your pantry. However, if you have some potatoes that are beginning to sprout (the "eyes" have swollen, whitish shoots beginning to develop), simply plant a piece of the sprouting potato in the ground or in a roomy pot ($3, Lowe's) covered with 3 inches of soil. Within 2 weeks, green shoots should emerge. These will grow into bushy plants, and after 3 months or so, new spuds will develop below ground.
Growing Potatoes in Containers
If you don't have the space to grow potatoes in your yard, you can grow them on your deck or patio. Start with a large, deep pot with ample drainage. Fill one-third of the container with potting soil, then place your seed potatoes in the pot. Cover with a layer of potting soil. Keep the pot in the sun and well-watered. Hill the potted potatoes when they show about 6 inches of growth and repeat until the pot is full.
Your potatoes are ready to harvest when the plants begin to turn yellow and die back, typically 18 to 20 weeks after planting. Most potatoes sprout quickly in spring when kept at room temperature, but the type of potato makes a difference if you want to harvest good tubers.
The small red potatoes often sold as "new" potatoes are fast and fun to grow. Large baking potato plants take much longer to mature and often produce poorly in areas with hot summer weather.
If you want to eat your potatoes fresh, only dig up what you want for immediate eating. If you plan on storing your potatoes, don't dig them up until 2 or 3 weeks after the foliage dies back. Dig potatoes up with a spading fork ($38, The Home Depot), being careful not to pierce the tubers. Leave the potatoes on the ground for a few hours to dry and cure. Brush off loose soil and store in a cool dry place until you're ready to use them.