Growing New Potatoes

Many gardeners harvest a few small, immature potato tubers early in the season, because they are extra tender and sweet.
Related To:

How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

Joe Lamp'l shows how to plant, grow and harvest potatoes.

Irish potato plants begin producing edible tubers within about three months of planting. While most gardeners wait another month or so to dig the entire plants to harvest mature, larger potatoes, many prefer to harvest a few very early in the season while they are still small, calling them new potatoes.

On top of being early to harvest, which brings their own bragging rights to proud gardeners, and usually relatively small in size, the tubers of many early potatoes are a little sweeter than larger “main crop” varieties because all their natural sugars have not had time to turn to starch. Plus, they can be grown easily in containers, and harvested before common diseases start to appear.

Growing New Potatoes

All potatoes are planted about the same, whether in garden rows, low mounds, raised beds, or containers. Start with mature tubers cut into small, egg-size pieces each with one or two “eyes” which are actually stem buds. To avoid rotting in cold, wet soils, let them dry a few days until the cut areas heal over, then dust with garden sulfur (available at garden centers) to further reduce diseases.

Potatoes require full sun and very well drained soils, and about three or four months of cool weather – neither freezing nor remaining above the mid-80s. This means planting early potatoes in late February, March, or early April in most areas, or planting in the late summer or fall, at least three months before winter’s first anticipated freeze.

Adding compost to the soil helps with drainage. A small amount of all-purpose fertilizer at planting time is generally enough to get things going, with a small extra helping a month or so after planting. As plants grow, it is very important to “hill” them – pile soil or mulch around the bases to keep lower stems completely covered. This reduces “greening” of tubers, which turns them bitter and can lead to a buildup of poisonous plant alkaloid called solanine which makes the tubers dangerous to eat.   

Harvesting New Potatoes

About two and half months after planting, generally around flowering time, you can gently sift through the soil at the base of each stem to feel for the right size potatoes, leaving smaller ones to continue enlarging. New potatoes can be left in the ground for a month or more, but those that are harvested tend to be more tender and generally do not store very well. Once harvested they should be eaten within a week or two before they shrivel or begin to decay.

A Few Good Varieties

Though any potato can be harvested early, some varieties have been bred to produce a very early crop of small, somewhat sweet early new potatoes. They are marketed as such, and include a few very well-known varieties.

Yukon Gold is a widely-available yellow fleshed variety with a buttery flavor; its small plant size allows for closer spacing and better harvests. Irish cobbler is an irregularly shaped light brown variety ideally suited for early planting. Some of the best red-skin varieties with white flesh include Norland, Colorado Rose, and Rio Colorado. Red Gold has red skin and a golden yellow flesh.

In Britain, where new potatoes are prized and generally very expensive, home gardeners grow the ultra-early, high-yielding Lady Christi, Home Guard (which is the traditional first early potato grown in Ireland), and Red Duke of York.

There are many others, of course, but these are great starters. Look for and purchase seed potatoes for these very early because the more popular ones usually sell out quickly. Irish potato plants begin producing edible tubers within about three months of planting. While most gardeners wait another month or so to dig the entire plants to harvest mature, larger potatoes, many prefer to harvest a few very early in the season while they are still small, calling them new potatoes.

On top of being early to harvest, which brings their own bragging rights to proud gardeners, and usually relatively small in size, the tubers of many early potatoes are a little sweeter than larger “main crop” varieties because all their natural sugars have not had time to turn to starch. Plus, they can be grown easily in containers, and harvested before common diseases start to appear.

Growing New Potatoes

All potatoes are planted about the same, whether in garden rows, low mounds, raised beds, or containers. Start with mature tubers cut into small, egg-size pieces each with one or two “eyes” which are actually stem buds. To avoid rotting in cold, wet soils, let them dry a few days until the cut areas heal over, then dust with garden sulfur (available at garden centers) to further reduce diseases.

Potatoes require full sun and very well drained soils, and about three or four months of cool weather – neither freezing nor remaining above the mid-80s. This means planting early potatoes in late February, March, or early April in most areas, or planting in the late summer or fall, at least three months before winter’s first anticipated freeze.

Adding compost to the soil helps with drainage. A small amount of all-purpose fertilizer at planting time is generally enough to get things going, with a small extra helping a month or so after planting. As plants grow, it is very important to “hill” them – pile soil or mulch around the bases to keep lower stems completely covered. This reduces “greening” of tubers, which turns them bitter and can lead to a buildup of poisonous plant alkaloid called solanine which makes the tubers dangerous to eat.   

Harvesting New Potatoes

About two and half months after planting, generally around flowering time, you can gently sift through the soil at the base of each stem to feel for the right size potatoes, leaving smaller ones to continue enlarging. New potatoes can be left in the ground for a month or more, but those that are harvested tend to be more tender and generally do not store very well. Once harvested they should be eaten within a week or two before they shrivel or begin to decay.

A Few Good Varieties

Though any potato can be harvested early, some varieties have been bred to produce a very early crop of small, somewhat sweet early new potatoes. They are marketed as such, and include a few very well-known varieties.

Yukon Gold is a widely-available yellow fleshed variety with a buttery flavor; its small plant size allows for closer spacing and better harvests. Irish cobbler is an irregularly shaped light brown variety ideally suited for early planting. Some of the best red-skin varieties with white flesh include Norland, Colorado Rose, and Rio Colorado. Red Gold has red skin and a golden yellow flesh.

In Britain, where new potatoes are prized and generally very expensive, home gardeners grow the ultra-early, high-yielding Lady Christi, Home Guard (which is the traditional first early potato grown in Ireland), and Red Duke of York.

There are many others, of course, but these are great starters. Look for and purchase seed potatoes for these very early because the more popular ones usually sell out quickly.

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