Potato planting is done using small pieces of mature “seed potato” tubers during the cool season when the soil is above freezing and with enough time to harvest before temperatures get above 90 or so.
Before finding out how to plant a potato for fun or feed a family on the nutritious spuds, you must find a well-drained garden spot that gets at least 7 or 8 hours of sunlight, or grow in a sunny raised bed or large container. This must be done while temperatures are cool, not freezing or broiling hot.
Few people who wonder how do you plant potatoes realize that the tubers actually form on lower stems, not on roots of potato plants. For the ‘taters to grow, you have to pile soil up on the stems as the plants grow.
Grocery store potatoes often fail to produce well in home gardens. Instead, visit local garden centers for the best varieties for your part of the country, or shop online to find more interesting varieties, early enough to beat the rush. Buy only fresh, disease-free “certified” seed potatoes.
A few days before planting, cut potatoes into pieces about the size of large eggs, each with one or two “eye” buds on them. Dry them indoors for a day or two to let cuts heal which reduces rotting in cold, wet soils. Dusting with agricultural sulfur can protect against fungal diseases.
The best way to grow potatoes is in rows or hills, but they do well in raised beds and even containers. Bury seed pieces two or three inches deep, about a foot apart, cut side down. Water deeply to start them sprouting.
Potato tubers sprout on stems above the original seed pieces. Those growing too shallow will get sunburned and turn green and bitter - and can actually become poisonous. When small plants get a few inches tall, pile soil, straw or hay over them until with just a few leaves left showing. Repeat every couple of weeks until there are at least six or eight inches of soil covering the lower stems so that new tubers are never exposed to direct sun.
Though too much water can cause root and stem rot, and dark or hollow spots in the tubers, plants need a good soaking during dry spells, especially when flowering, to form uniform tubers. Weeds, insects and diseases weaken plants; for good local information on potato pest control, contact your county Extension Service office.
Dig small “new” potatoes within about three months, but for larger mature potatoes wait until plants begin to yellow. If they remain green for four months or more, cut the plants down and let tubers dry in place a few days. Avoid cuts and punctures as you dig; do not wash, but gently dust off excess dirt. Those you don’t use quickly can be stored in a cool, dry, dark place for several months, with regular checking for shriveling or decay.