Potatoes Are a Versatile Garden Staple but How Do I Plant Them?
Planting potatoes actually begins a few weeks before you put them in the ground. To give your crop a happy start, you want to ensure your seed potatoes are sprouted prior to planting. Seed potatoes are available at any of your local garden supply or hardware store and can be found in pre-weighted bags or purchased in bulk. Once you have your seedlings home, place them in a sunny spot with temperatures consistently in the 60-70 degree F range.
Knowing what not to plant near your potatoes is certainly important, however knowing the comprehensive list of what does work well nearby, opens up a myriad of planting options for your garden. Potatoes are deep-rooting plants, thus many gardeners prefer to pair them with plants that will not interfere with their root system. Excellent choices in that vein would include:
Within a week to three, you will begin to notice sprouts on the seedlings, indicating they are ready to be planted. If your seedlings are larger than 2 inches around and have more than one sprout on them, you can cut them into smaller sections, just make sure each seedling you plant has at least one or two sprouts. A seedling two inches or smaller should not be cut, rather plant the whole. If you do cut any of your seedlings, give them a day or two to form a nice callous over the cut to prevent rotting.
I Have my Sprouted Seedlings, when Should I Plant Them?
Like many hardier plants, potatoes can go in the ground as soon as you are able to work it up, however, they will not begin to grow until your soil has reached at least 45 degrees F and is moist, but not drenched. If your garden is still waterlogged from spring thaws or rains, give the soil time to drain for a few days. Very wet soil will often rot an early potato crop.
While potatoes are somewhat frost hardy, it is a good idea to provide frost protection (simple burlap covers or even old bedsheets will suffice) if you suffer a late hard frost. Lastly, when it comes to timing your potato planting, consider splitting your crop in half, which will extend your over-winter storage time. In other words, plant half of your crop when the soil and conditions are first ready, then plant the second half two to three weeks later.
What are the Optimal Planting Approaches for Potatoes?
Whether planting directly in a field or raised beds, planting potatoes in rows allows you to manage the crop better, then follow these steps:
- Dig a trench/trenches approximately 8 inches deep
- If you are digging multiple rows, ensure they are at least 3 feet apart
- Place each seedling (if you are planting cut seedlings, make sure the cut side is down) 12 inches apart, sprout side up
- Cover each trench halfway (about 4 inches of soil)
- Once plants begin to grow/poke through, fill the trenches to level. At this time it is also good to mix in an application of a dry blend granular organic fertilizer. Make sure to mix or “scratch” the granular fertilizer into the soil to it doesn’t get washed away with your next watering.
- Re-apply granular fertilizer every 5-6 weeks during the growing season to provide a long-term nutrient release. Supplement your granular organic fertilizer with a liquid organic fertilizer every 2-3 weeks with your regular watering routine for quick release nutrients.
- Some gardeners prefer to continue mounding the soil around the plants as they continue to grow.
Now that my Potatoes are Planted, how do I help them Thrive?
- While your potatoes are flowering, watering your potato vines is especially crucial. While we can not see what is going on underground, flowering vines mean the tubers are busy growing down below and the need water to thrive.
- Potatoes like 1-2 inches of rain/water per week. If you live in a wet climate you likely won’t need to water your potatoes. The exception to this would be if you have particularly sandy soil, which drains quickly. If your soil content doesn’t retain moisture well, check your plants and make sure to water them if the top soil is dry and crumbly. Moderate to dry climates will almost always have to supplement the lack of sufficient rain by watering their plants.
Preventing Pests and Disease
- Preventing disease in a potato crop is often as simple as maintaining a proper pH level. Potatoes don’t like a pH much lower than 5.5/5.4. If you are unsure of your pH level, you can purchase a soil sample and test your soil. If you find you need to raise your pH level, consider applying lime to your soil.
- Rotate your potato crop each year to prevent disease and increase the success rate of your crop.
- Preventing pests can often be managed during planting by ensuring proper soil composition and crop rotation, but if you find yourself battling pests, an organic spray or dust repellent should help you overcome the invasion. Common pests include:
- Potato Beetles
- Flea Beetles
Digging the fruits (or in this case vegetables) of your labor out of the ground is a satisfying celebration of your efforts, but how do we know when the time is right if we can’t see the actual crop because it is under the dirt? The flowers on potato vines are our above the soil sign that our potatoes are ready for harvesting.
Two to three weeks after the vines have stopped flowering begin harvesting by carefully digging around the base of the plant and pulling only the larger potatoes, leaving the smaller ones to continue growing.
If you plan to store all or part of your crop through the winter, do not harvest until two or three weeks after your vines die back. Some gardeners prefer to then dig the potatoes and leave them in the garden to dry or “cure” for a couple of days to mature the skin, allowing for longer storage. Other people prefer to store them in a cool dry place uncured. This is largely a matter of experimentation and preference, depending on your storage climate. Ideally, storing your potatoes in a cool (35-40 degrees F) dry place will keep your harvested crop viable all winter.