Home fries, potato chips, hash browns, and potato salad… does any of that sound good to you?
Potatoes are a staple food for many Americans. They practically go with every meal. There’s nothing wrong with a store-bought spud, but there’s nothing better than an uncommon variety pulled fresh from the dirt.
Don’t be intimidated: growing potatoes is totally worth the effort and gives you so many more options than just the baked Idaho. Nothing against Idaho, but there are a lot more options out there. Let’s get started.
Best Potato Varieties
Potatoes come in several colors, shapes, and sizes. They are typically divided by length of growing time – so early, midseason and late types.
Early Season Potatoes
Early season potatoes mature in 65-80 days. Notable varieties include:
- Red Gold: An early potato with red skin and yellow flesh. Excellent taste but doesn’t store well. It stands up to wet, cold springs to produce yummy potatoes in July. I have had consistent good yields with this variety no matter what spring throws my way.
- Yukon Gold: This potato has become a popular grocery store variety and for good reason: it’s delicious. However, homegrown tastes even better. Yukon Golds are susceptible to late blight and have a lower yield. Tip: Don’t cut them into bits to plant them. Put whole potatoes in the ground to give them a better start.
Midseason potatoes mature in approximately 80-90 days. Varieties include:
- Adirondack Red: This potato is blue through and through. It makes a wonderful July 4th salad when combined with its sister Adirondack Red and a classic white and even maintains its color after cooking! Bred in 2003 at Cornell University, it has an abundance of anthocyanins. These are powerful antioxidants that are healthy for your heart.
- Carola: This is my favorite potato. It has a wonderful creamy flavor but is nice and firm so holds up in cooking. They’re great in stews and on the grill. Carola’s have yellow skin and flesh, are resistant to scab, and have better yields compared to other potatoes I grow.
- Kennebec: The classic Maine potato. Great for baking, it stores extremely well. They’re hardy and resist late blight, verticillium wilt, and insect pests. Kennebec’s are high yielding and adapt well to various soils.
Late Season Potatoes
These potatoes take longer than 90 days to mature and are usually good for storing in a root cellar or other cool location.
- German Butterball: German Butterball is large, yellow-fleshed, and on the dry side. Great for baking and roasting, it’s known for its high yields and excellent storage qualities.
- Katahdin: Considered the best storage potato, Katahdin has white waxy flesh, and is adaptable and high yielding.
You can also categorize potatoes by type. Here are the six most common:
Russet potatoes are some of the more common, larger potatoes. They’re great for baking and making French fries, hash browns, or latkes (aka potato cakes). It’s one of the most popular types to make mashed potatoes with.
These are medium-sized potatoes that have a smooth flesh. They’re ideal for frying, boiling, steaming, and using in salads. They have a low sugar content with a mild sweet flavor.
Waxy potatoes are potatoes like Yukon Gold and Red Potatoes. They hold their shape well, so they’re good for boiling, using in chowder, potato salad, and scalloped potatoes too.
These are less common potatoes and that not everyone i as familiar with. They have a bluish outer skin and purplish inside and are filled with different vitamins in comparison to other potatoes.
Check out: All-blue, purple Peruvian, and Congo
Fingerling potatoes are a favorite around our household. I use them in potato salad since they hold their shape pretty well.
Fingerling potatoes are small, narrow potatoes that resemble fat fingers. They are popular with chefs because they’re sweet and buttery.
Fingerlings are very prolific and disease-resistant. They are considered late potatoes.
Some varieties to try are Austrian Crescent, Banana, and Rose Finn.
New potatoes are basically baby potatoes that are harvested in the spring. They’re popular for boiling and using as a side dish because they’re tender and great tasting.
What’s fun about spuds? There are many ways to grow them. You should be forewarned that this approaches a competitive sport for some gardeners!
Potatoes do best in USDA zones 1-7.
Potatoes need full sun, at least 6 or more hours a day.
Potatoes need loose, sandy, well-draining soil. They want full sun and a slightly acid pH between 5.4 to 5.9.
Planting Potato “Seeds”
You don’t need seeds to plant potatoes. You just need another potato, so long as it hasn’t been chemically treated. You’ll begin by placing an ample amount of compost and manure in the area where you plan to plant.
Next, you’ll need to cut up a potato with eyes on it. Slice them up at least a day or two in advance so the potato has a chance to develop a protective coating. This coating helps retain moisture while also protecting the potato from rot.
Be sure each piece of the potato you’re planting has at least two eyes on it. Be sure that you plant the potato with the eyes pointing up.
Some farmers just bury the whole potato rather than chopping it up because they feel it gives the plant more energy to get off to a strong start. I plant this way because I often have issues with cold rains and rot in the spring and this gives my potatoes the best chance to thrive.
Methods for Planting Potatoes
There are numerous ways to plant your potatoes:
The traditional way to plant potatoes seeds is to dig a long trench. The trench should be about eight inches deep and six inches wide. Trenches should be three feet apart.
Place the seeds in the trench 12 inches apart. Cover them with three inches of soil. When the plants reach eight inches tall you will fill in with another four inches of soil.
The advantages of this method are that the potatoes make good contact with the soil, are more drought-resistant, and have good root contact to gather nutrients.
Disadvantages are that early varieties may rot in spring rains, they are more prone to soil diseases, and they are harder to harvest. You need to use a fork or garden spade and dig them out.
Just because you don’t have a large garden area, don’t let that deter you from raising potatoes. Build a few garden beds and begin growing your own potatoes.
In a Compost Bed with Straw
If you’ve never thought of growing plants directly in your compost, now’s the time. The straw mulch helps to protect the potatoes and the ground is loose enough to allow the veggies to develop fully while making harvest a cinch.
Straw mulch also makes them less prone to pests and diseases like the dreaded Colorado potato beetle.
Set the potatoes right in the compost 12 inches apart. Cover them with straw. Add more layers of straw as they grow.
The disadvantages of this method are the need for frequent watering and lower yields. Also, the roots may not get good soil contact and are not able to draw up as many nutrients.
This is my way and I think it combines the best of both worlds. Dig a shallow trench about three inches deep. Place the potatoes seed in the trench and cover them with soil.
As they grow I then cover the plants with straw.
This gives the plants good contact with the soil’s nutrients and moisture. It also means they are easy to monitor and to harvest.
In a Bag Full of Dirt or a Wood Box
I love this method. It is as simple as using a large outdoor trash bag, layering it with dirt and potatoes, and watching them grow.
Some people prefer to plant in a wood box full of dirt because it helps keep your potatoes organized. You plant everything in a pretty wooden box filled with soil and then let your potatoes do their thing.
In a Container
If you live in an area without much yard space, then you probably try to grow a lot of your food in containers. I like container gardening because it is condensed and organized.
Pick a container that’s at least 24-inches round and 24-inches deep for each plant.
Drill holes in the base of your container. Place three inches of potting soil at the bottom. Place in two or three seeds. Next cover with an additional three inches of soil.
As they grow add straw or soil around the plants. Harvesting is easy: just dump them out!
When To Plant
There is some farmer’s lore about potatoes. Many say to plant when the dandelions start to bloom. Others have the tradition of planting on March 17. That’s me, I shoot for St. Paddy’s day!
You want to aim for six to eight weeks before your last frost date for early varieties. Mid-season plants go in the ground about a month before the last frost date. Late potatoes typically should be planted around your last frost date.
This will give you a full season of fresh eating potatoes and plenty to can or store for winter.
Caring for Potatoes
Potatoes need the usual care: fertilizer and water. But they also need hilling if you want a healthy crop.
The purpose of hilling is to make sure the growing potato spuds are always covered up with dirt or straw.
Tubers that are exposed to the sun will turn green and produce solanine. Solanine is toxic and makes them taste bitter. The chemical can cause you to feel nauseated.
When your potato plants are about 6 inches tall (but before they bloom) begin making hills of dirt around the tubers in order to protect them. You will need to do this every few weeks as the plant grows.
Potatoes need one to two inches of water per week. They prefer to have consistent water versus all at once. Water from the ground with a soaker hose or drip irrigation to help avoid disease.
Apply well-rotted compost manure when planting, side dress with a balanced fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks after the first hilling.
Common Issues And Solutions to Growing Potatoes
The hardest part of growing potatoes is dealing with the numerous pests that attack the plants.
Late blight is a fungus. It strikes when your potatoes were planted during an unusually wet period and when the temperatures are still cold.
There are both early and late blights. Both cause the plant to lose its leaves. In some cases, they cause lesions on the potato.
Then, the disease progresses as the temperatures heat up. You’ll know you have it when your leaves begin to turn black and brown and the plants begin to die off.
To avoid it, don’t water potatoes from overhead. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation. Serenade or copper-based fungicides can also be used for prevention.
If you have this disease in your garden, all you can do is pull up all infected plants and remove them from the garden. This will help to keep the fungus from spreading to other plants.
The mosaic virus causes potato plant leaves to curl and have splotchy green spots on the leaves. The good news is this virus will not kill your potato plant. However, it will seriously stunt your harvest.
You can avoid this disease mainly by choosing plant varieties that are resistant to it. Plus, you can use insecticides to help keep this virus under control as well.
Potato Yellow Dwarf Virus
This disease is spread by nasty little bugs called leafhoppers. Potato yellow dwarf causes your plants to be stunted and the plant’s leaves to curl and turn yellow. Then, the tubers will crack and lose their shape.
Pick varieties of potatoes that are resistant to this disease. However, if you develop this disease in your crop of potatoes you’ll need to get rid of all infected plants. Don’t compost infected plants because the disease will spread.
You’ll usually encounter this disease during a rainy period. The leaves will turn yellow and light green, while the stems turn dark brown and black right at the soil level. This disease will probably kill your plants, and the tubers will rot either before or after harvest.
The easiest way to avoid contracting this disease is to plant your potatoes in well-drained soil. Don’t plant your potatoes during an extremely wet period.
You can contract this disease through the soil because it’s a bacteria that is cultivated within the soil itself. There are many types of scab, but all of them cause dark spots to develop on the tubers. Depending on the type it may be just on the surface or going into the flesh.
The best way to deter this disease is to use slightly acidic soil when planting your potatoes. This will help ensure that this disease doesn’t have the right breeding ground to form and take over your potatoes.
Bacterial Ring Rot
This disease causes your potato leaves will curl and turn yellow. Then the stem will be filled with white goo and will rot on the inside. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
If you realize that your potato plant has contracted this disease, you’ll need to get rid of every part of the plant. Do not compost infected plants to ensure that the disease won’t spread via your compost the following year.
Then, you’ll need to make sure that you are rotating your crops each year to keep from cultivating more disease in the same area.
Colorado Potato Beetle
This is a notorious pest that also bothers many other crops besides potatoes. The larvae feed on the leaves of plants. Larvae have a soft body and can be controlled with diatomaceous earth.
Fall cleanup is important as they will overwinter in your soil. You can also handpick them or use neem oil.
White grubs live in the soil and eat the roots of grasses. They will also chew on roots and growing potatoes. One prevention option is growing potatoes in straw. Another is fall tilling and letting your chickens forage in the garden.
Potato leafhoppers are tiny, active green insects. They suck on the underside of the leaf to remove sap. These insects can fly and are very mobile.
The telltale sign is a triangular brown spot on the tip of the leaf. They spread the potato yellow dwarf virus.
You’ll need to keep a close eye on your plants to see if you have any of these pests hanging around them.
You can use mulch to protect the plants from pests. Keeping soil off of your potato leaves is always a good idea because it helps to keep pests and disease at bay.
You can use insecticidal soaps to keep pests off of your plants as well.
Companion Planting for Potatoes
If you’re wanting to try the ‘buddy system’ in your garden, then try growing your potatoes with:
The worst companion plants for potatoes include:
You probably notice that some of these items are vines. They’ll choke potatoes out. Others block sunlight and attract certain pests that will kill your potato crop.
How to Harvest and Store Your Potato Crop
Potatoes are actually fairly easy to harvest. Stop watering your crop for a few weeks before you are planning on harvesting. This helps the plant dry up.
Then you’ll want to make sure that the plant is completely dead. Look for dried leaves and the vines to be completely dried out all the way to the base of the plant. When you see this, then you know that the potatoes have reached full maturity.
Unsure? Check out our guide on when to harvest potatoes.
Your next step is to dig the potatoes out of the ground. You can usually do this by hand or using a tool like a spade or fork. Be careful not to damage the skin. If you accidentally nick or cut one in half, put it aside to eat first.
Finally, you’ll bring the harvested crop inside to prepare it for storage. You’ll want to clean the potatoes off with a cloth or soft brush. Don’t use water.
Next, put the potatoes in a dark cool location for a couple of weeks. Store potatoes in a root cellar, basement or another dark area that stays around 40°F and no higher than 65°F. You want an area with 90% humidity, ideally.
Keep them away from apples.
How to Use Your Potato Crop
Depending upon the size of your crop, you might be eating a lot of potatoes over the next few months. So we wanted to provide you with a few delicious recipes to help you to use them.
I love potatoes, but I love recipes that allow me to not waste my leftover mashed potatoes (because you know every time I make them, I make enough to feed a small army.) This cheesy leftover mashed potato cakes recipe does just that.
This loaded baked potato salad recipe looks so good! I am actually not a huge fan of regular potato salad, but this recipe, I could eat.
You can’t grow potatoes and not have mashed potatoes. I am a mashed potato girl, and I’ll be honest, when I cook them I add enough butter that I’d probably put Paula Deen to shame!
To me, potato soup is a tricky thing. Either it is creamy, rich, and loaded with lots of great flavors. Or it is basically cream and potatoes and tastes like blah. This recipe seems to hit all of the right notes of flavor.
Anything that involves both cheese and potatoes sounds wonderful to me. However, I’m kind of a snob about my scalloped potatoes. This recipe tastes as good as my mom’s.
Get Growing Your Potatoes
We’d love to hear your thoughts on growing potatoes. Do you have a specific trick or tip that boosts your potato crop each year? Do you grow your potatoes with a specific method (wood box, trash bag, etc.) and you’d like to share your experience and how you made it work well for you?