Growing Russet Potatoes

Russet potatoes are classic big, brown cut-and-fry or baking potatoes – large, uniform, and dependable producers in the home garden.
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How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

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

One of the definitions of russet refers to a coarse reddish-brown homespun cloth worn in centuries past, which perfectly describes the russet potato’s patchy brown skin and rough textured flesh. Because of their uniform large size, oblong shape, and flesh texture, regardless of where they are grown, russet potatoes are ideal for chopping and frying, making them very popular with commercial processors; in fact, most the French fries sold in fast food restaurants are made from russet potatoes. They are also great for boiling, roasting, mashing, and making hash browns and home fries.

Russet Potato Varieties

While russet potatoes are commonly called Idaho potatoes, only those labeled with the registered Idaho® trademark are true Idaho-grown potatoes. 

Most of the russets in America are Russet Burbank, created by horticulturalist Luther Burbank in the 1870s. At the time the oblong tubers with white flesh were easier to grow, more resistant to diseases, and had better taste than other potatoes. It is known as the Idaho potato because so many are grown in Idaho.

Goldrush is similar to Burbank but has a somewhat higher yield when watered during later stages of growth. Norkotah is an early to medium producer with very uniform, lighter brown tubers, while Norgold is one of the earliest varieties, very important in areas with fairly short cool seasons.

Growing Russet Potatoes

Potato plants need three or four months of cool weather – neither freezing nor consistently above the mid-80s – to produce well. They require at least six or eight hours of direct sunshine and moist, well-drained soils.

Note: Because russets, like other large potatoes, tend to form hollow spots in large tubers, they require more attention to watering, especially during and after flowering when tubers begin to form. 

Supermarket spuds may be treated to reduce sprouting; look for certified disease-free “seed” potatoes in area garden centers or online. Cut seed potatoes into small pieces, each with one or two small leaf bud “eyes” and allow the cut pieces to dry a few days before planting. Dust with sulfur to reduce disease problems.

Plant three inches deep and a foot or so apart in rows, hills, raised beds, or containers. Work in an all-purpose fertilizer before planting and add an extra bit around the sides of plants a month after plants start growing.

Potato tubers grow on short stolons on lower stems, which can turn green if exposed to sunlight. Avoid this and its bitter flavors and the buildup of a poisonous plant alkaloid called solanine by piling soil thick mulch around small plants, repeating as needed until six or eight inches of lower stems are buried.

Harvesting Potatoes

Harvest when plants begin to turn yellow, or after about four months cut the plants down and allow the tubers to dry a few days before digging. While digging, avoid cuts and bruises, and only gently brush off soil instead of washing which can lead to decay during storage.

Store mature russet potato tubers in a cool, dry, dark area for up to four or five months or longer, checking regularly for shriveling and decay. 

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