Potatoes are a staple of the spring garden. Homegrown potatoes are far superior in taste and texture when compared to store bought ones. But before you can get started, there are some things to learn about so you can have a successful crop. That’s exactly what you’ll learn here. This guide covers all aspects of growing potatoes, from the popular varieties to growing requirements, common problems and how to store or use your harvest. Let’s get started.
1. Varieties of Potatoes
There are hundreds of unique varieties to grow. They vary in taste, texture, color and growing days. Based on the texture and taste, different varieties are preferred for different uses. Most of the supermarket spuds are russet potatoes. Based on their growing time, potato cultivars fall into the following three categories:
- Early Season Potatoes
Early season potatoes mature in under 90 days. While you don’t have to wait much to harvest the spuds, the downside is that they don’t store as well as the other varieties. You’ll need to use them within a few weeks of harvesting the potatoes, or they’ll start to go bad. The moist flesh and thin skin makes them a favorite choice in many recipes.
Masquerade is a popular early season variety with purple and white striped skin and moist flesh. They only take 2 months to reach maturity from planting the seed potatoes.
Irish Cobbler is another favorite in the category. It gives irregular tubers with light brown skin and creamy flesh.
High-yielding Red Norland is another early-maturing potato with a beautiful, smooth red skin and white flesh. It takes 70 to 90 days to reach maturity, and is resistant to scab. Norland works perfectly for salads and frying.
King Harry, Caribe, Rio Grande Russet, and Bintje are also excellent choices if you wish to grow early season potatoes.
- Mid-Season Potatoes
Mid-season potatoes take more time to grow as compared to the ‘earlies’. However, you’ll be able to harvest them much sooner than the late-season varieties. Mid-season potatoes mature in around 100 days. With mid-season potatoes, you can enjoy a bit of both, the storage benefits of late season potatoes and the soft, moist flesh of early-season potatoes. Though they won’t store as long as the late-season varieties, if you store mid-season potatoes properly, they’ll stay fresh for over a month.
Yukon Gold is a popular mid-season potato. This yellow-fleshed variety matures in about 95 days, producing moist tubers with a buttery flesh.
Red LaSoda is another mid-season potato with rosy red skin and white flesh. The cultivar matures in 81 to 115 days, performing as an early season or mid season depending on the growing climate.
Princess Larette is a mid-season fingerling potato, with a mild nutty flavor and matures in around 90 to 110 days.
Russet Burbank, the one you usually find in supermarkets, is also a mid-season potato. It takes around 100 to 120 days to grow, producing a hefty yield.
Other mid-season cultivars include All Blue, Gold Rush, French Fingerling, Strawberry Paw, Ida Rose, Purple Viking, Kennebec and Red Pontiac.
- Late Season Potatoes
The potato varieties that take 110 or more days to mature are categorized under late season potatoes. Though they take a longer time to mature, they produce a heavy crop that stores better than both, mid season and early season varieties. You can keep them for 2 to 3 months in storage.
Katahdin is a late season potato that produces large, round spuds, excellent for storage. It’s a high-yielding, drought resistant variety that’s easy to grow in a variety of conditions. The soft texture makes it ideal for boiling, mashing and baking.
Butte, a classic baking potato, matures in about 100 to 120 days, and is tolerant to scab and late blight. The crop produces long, oval tubers with a brown-red skin and white flesh.
There is a wide variety of options to grow in this category, including Elba, Desiree, Snowden, Green Mountain, Carola, Fingerling Salad, and Pink fir Apple.
2. Best time To Grow Potatoes
When growing potatoes, it’s important to know exactly when to plant the seed potatoes. Planting at the right time allows the crop to grow in the ideal temperatures and produce optimal harvests. Potatoes are cool weather vegetables. They prefer growing in soil temperatures within the range 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, when the weather is cool.
The ideal time to plant your potato crop is in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. However, make sure the ground is not too wet from the winter frost at the time that you plant the spuds. Just like other seeds, seed potatoes can also rot if the soil is wet. In case the ground is still wet, wait a few days until it’s a bit dry before planting potatoes.
Planting Time in Northern Areas
In northern areas, gardeners will start planting the first crop of early potatoes around late April to May. This is typically 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost date. Potato plants sprout typically two weeks after planting the seed potatoes.
Though potatoes can survive some cold, frost is still a threat to the crop. If a frost is expected at night, cover any sprouted seedlings with old sheets or frost protection fabric to keep out the cold. Remember to remove the cover in the morning so the seedlings can bathe in the warm sunlight.
Alternatively, you can continue ‘earthing up’ the seedlings until all threats of frost have passed. Earthing up involves mounding the plants with soil until it’s completely covered, leaving only the tips exposed. Other than protecting the plants from frost, earthing up also encourages root growth and promotes a bigger harvest.
Planting Time In Southern Areas
In southern zones, potatoes can be planted much earlier, around mid to late February. In Florida, gardeners set the spuds in the ground as early as January. If winters are mild, you can even plant potatoes as a winter crop in the south, starting the crop anywhere between September to February.
Planting Time in Temperate Zones
March to April is the ideal time to plant a potato crop if you’re living in a temperate zone. Early season potatoes should go in the ground between mid to late March and are ready for harvest around June to July.
Mid season potatoes are typically planted around mid to late April and harvested around August. Late season potatoes go in the ground at the same time as the mid-season variety, i.e April, and are ready to lift around September to October for storage.
3. Soil Requirements/Nutrients Needed
Though potatoes are easy to grow, there are some specific soil and nutrient requirements that you should know about. Giving them the best conditions will pay off with beautiful harvests.
Potatoes grow best in light, well-drained loamy soil. Clayey soil drains slowly and compacts when dry. It obstructs the development of tubers, thus you won’t find a big harvest if potatoes are grown in this type of soil. Fertile, loamy soil produces big, uniform shaped potatoes as long as the crop is offered consistent irrigation.
To improve the soil condition and make it favorable for potato growth, gardeners prepare the ground well in advance, at least two months before planting the seed potatoes. For most climates, you can prepare the soil in December if you plan on planting in March.
Till the ground to a depth of 12 inches, removing any weeds, rocks, and hard substances that you find in the way. Incorporate well-rotted compost and organic matter into the soil and mix it evenly in the top layer. Depending on the condition of the soil, you may have to plow the land multiple times before it’s ready for planting.
Potatoes prefer slightly acidic soil, with pH between 6 to 6.5. They can tolerate acidic soil with pH up to 5. It’s a good idea to have the soil tested before planting and adjust the pH and nutrients as needed. Potatoes growing in soil with a higher pH are at a higher risk of developing scab. If your soil has a higher pH than the ideal range, choose scab resistant potato varieties.
You can also apply elemental sulfur to the soil to lower the pH. This should be done in advance since it can take over a month to produce results. If the soil pH is lower than ideal, mixing in wood ash can help raise the pH to the recommended levels before planting the potato crop.
Potato Nutrient Requirements
Potato nutrient requirements depend on the growing stage that the crop is in. Nitrogen and potassium are the most important elements for the early growth stage. Magnesium helps plant development. Phosphate is required in the later stages to promote the growth of more tubers. Zinc and manganese help control common and powdery scab. Calcium helps in the development of smooth skin of the tuber.
A soil test will tell you which nutrients are deficient in the soil and need to be incorporated before planting. If you don’t have the results of a soil test, you may apply a well-balanced fertilizer to nourish the soil with all the nutrients required for potato growing. A 10-10-10 formula is a good choice in this case.
Most gardeners apply a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or 15-15-15) at the time of planting, especially if the soil is deprived of nutrients or has been growing vegetables during the last 6 months.
Start fertilizing by side dressing with granular potassium-rich fertilizer (e.g. 14-7-21) from 4 weeks after planting. Fertilize the crop every two weeks throughout the growing season. During the later stages of growth, foliar fertilizer applications can be made if micronutrient deficiencies are seen.
4. Companion Planting
There are several plants that grow well with potatoes. At the same time, you should also know about the plants that shouldn’t be planted anywhere near your potato crop. Strategic companion planting can help you maximize the health and harvest of your potato crop and the other plants that you grow with it, while limiting the use of pesticides in your garden. Here are the good and bad companions of potatoes you should know about.
Good Companions For Potatoes
Different types of plants offer different types of benefits to potatoes. Depending on which types of benefits you prefer most in your garden, you can choose which good companions you want to grow alongside your potato crop.
Plants That Support Potato’s Growth Habit
Potatoes grow deep into the ground, developing tubers along the length of the underground stem. Shallow rooted vegetables will grow best in its vicinity since they won’t interfere with the potatoes’ deep root system. Lettuce, spinach, kale, collard greens, cauliflower and broccoli are all excellent choices for growing near potatoes. These early season vegetables will be harvested much sooner than you have to dig up the ground to harvest your potatoes.
Corn is another crop that has the opposite growth habit as compared to potatoes. While potatoes prefer growing deep into the soil, corn grows tall above the ground and has shallow roots.
Planting potatoes with such crops allows you to efficiently use the space while maximizing productivity. These crops won’t compete with potatoes for space or nutrients in the soil.
Plants That Enhance the Flavors
Certain plants enhance the flavors of your potato tubers when planted nearby. These include chamomile, basil, parsley, thyme and yarrow. These plants release certain chemicals to speed up growth and bring more taste to the harvest. Not only do these herbs enhance the flavors of your harvest, but they also invite beneficial insects to the garden to keep the pest population down. In addition, corn, beans and cabbage also help its growth and promote tastier tubers.
Plants That Attract Beneficial Insects
Beneficial insects are an important asset in vegetable gardens. They eat away the pests, preventing infestations and diseases in crops. At the same time, beneficial insects also act as pollinators, encouraging pollination and improving yield.
Herbs, including parsley, thyme and chamomile give off bright flowers that attract more beneficial insects to your vegetable garden. These plants attract a host of good insects, such as hoverflies, ladybugs and wasps.
Chives are also an effective addition to the plot in which you plant potatoes for the same purpose. The bright purple flowers will attract the good bugs, while the herb pairs perfectly with many potato dishes, including baked potatoes and potato salad.
Plants That Deter Pests
Pests, including Colorado potato beetle, wireworms and potato leafhopper are a common problem in potatoes. By growing specific plants that deter these pests, you can prevent the problem from occurring and incurring heavy damages to the yield.
Garlic and onion are old favorites when it comes to keeping bad bugs out of the garden. They give off a pungent aroma that keeps the insects at bay. Other than that, lamium is a flowering plant of the mint family that also keeps out harmful insects. In addition, it creates a ground cover, acting as a living mulch, keeping the soil cooler and preserving moisture for longer.
Coriander, catmint, tansy and nasturtium are good neighbors to grow with potatoes if you want to keep potato beetles away. Green beans also keep potato beetles out of the garden in addition to adding nitrogen to the soil for better plant development. Potatoes return the favor by keeping Mexican beetles away from the green beans.
Marigolds also deter bad bugs, while adding aesthetic appeal to the garden at the same time. If flea beetles are a persistent problem in your potato garden, try growing sage in the vicinity.