How to Grow Potatoes in Your Own Backyard

Whether you want to plant a big crop of spuds or just a few in a container, these tips will help you achieve a healthy potato harvest.

You name it, a potato can do it: Mash, fry, bake, boil, hash, and more. It should come as no surprise, then, that it's just as easy to skip the produce section and start growing potatoes in your own backyard. 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). Yes, it's true—you can grow potatoes from potatoes! Take your pick from russet, Yukon, fingerling, and more varieties, then get your potato patch started so you can enjoy all their starchy goodness fresh from your garden.

potatoes in wheelbarrow
Marty Baldwin

How to Plant Potatoes

Potatoes love the sun, so plant your patch in a spot that gets a lot of natural light, where the plants will get at least six hours of sun each day. Potatoes are planted with pieces of tubers called seed potatoes and should be placed in the ground in the spring, around the time of the last expected frost.

Small potatoes can be planted whole, but larger potatoes (anything bigger than a golf ball) should be quartered with a clean knife before planting. Make sure each piece planted includes an eye or bud, which is where the new crop will spring from. To prevent rot, let the potato pieces dry out for a couple of days before planting. The seed potatoes should be planted a few inches deep in loose, well-drained soil and spaced 12 to 15 inches apart in rows.

How to Grow Potatoes

In a few weeks, shoots will emerge from the potatoes and through 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.

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.

How to Grow Potatoes from Potatoes

It's best to grow potatoes from specially grown disease-free seed potatoes you purchase from a garden supply store. 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 and whitish shoots are beginning to develop), you can simply plant a piece of the sprouting potato in the ground or in a roomy pot covered with 3 inches of soil. Within two weeks, green shoots should emerge. These will grow into bushy plants, and after three months or so, new spuds will develop below ground.

How to Grow 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 and fill one-third of the container with potting soil. Place your seed potatoes in the pot and cover them with a layer of potting soil. Keep the pot in the sun and well-watered, and hill the potted potatoes when they show about 6 inches of growth, repeating until the pot is full.

potato varieties in baskets
Marty Baldwin

How to Harvest Potatoes

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 from your crop. The small red potatoes often sold as "new" potatoes are fast and fun to grow, while 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, being careful not to pierce the tubers. Leave the potatoes on the ground for a few hours to dry and cure, then brush off any loose soil and store them in a cool, dry place until you're ready to use them.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I grow sweet potatoes like regular potatoes?

    Sweet potatoes don't grow the same way regular potatoes do. To grow sweet potatoes, you'll need to remove the slips (stems and foliage that sprout from a grown sweet potato) and root them in water. Once rooted, you can then plant them in the soil.

  • What month should I plant my potatoes?

    The exactly month in which you plant your potatoes (and any crop) depends on the growing zone you live in. As a rule of thumb, you can plant potatoes around the time of the last spring frost, which typically falls in March, April, or May, depending on the climate you live in.

  • How long can I store potatoes for?

    Potatoes should be stored in an open air basket or bowl to help prevent the accumulation of moisture. For the maximum shelf life, store your potatoes in a cool dry basement or garage for up to three or four months. If stored in a more traditional spot like a kitchen cabinet, they'll last between three weeks and a month.

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