Planting Seed Potatoes

Potatoes make seeds - but they are not what you plant. Potato seed is what gardeners call small pieces of cut-up whole potato tubers, each with a growing bud that will form a new potato plant.
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How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

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

If you ask a horticulturist “do potatoes have seeds” the technical answer will be yes, because potato plants form flowers and small fruits which contain potato seeds. But those are not what you plant to grow more potatoes. Potato seed is what gardeners call small pieces of cut-up whole potato tubers, each with a growing bud that will form a new potato plant. And by the way, it is potato seed, not potatoe seed with an extra “e.”

Where to Get Seed Potatoes

For the best chance at success when planting seed potatoes, start with recommended varieties for your climate. Grocery store spuds are often not the best varieties for growing at home, or have been treated to reduce sprouting in stores. So for planting seed potatoes look for fresh “certified” disease-free tubers at area garden centers, or through specialty online sites which often carry unusual varieties, ordering early to ensure your selection will be available.  

Getting Ready to Plant

Prepare a bed that gets 6 to 8 or more hours of direct sunshine daily, ahead of time if late rains in your area will likely make digging difficult. Work in a little all-purpose or good organic fertilizer, plus enough compost to loosen your soil.   

Before planting, cut whole seed potatoes into pieces a little larger than a large egg, each with one or two “eye” buds on them. If possible, spread them out to dry indoors for a day or two to let the cut areas heal over to prevent rotting in cold, wet soils.

How to Plant Seed Potatoes

Potato tubers grow on the buried lower stems of plants grown in well-drained soil and cool temperatures.

Plant potato pieces in rows or hills, raised beds, and even containers. Place seed pieces about a foot apart and two or three inches deep, cut side down, and water deeply to start their sprouting.

Because young tubers exposed to direct sunlight can sunburn or turn green and bitter (and potentially poisonous), pile dirt or mulch around the plants as they grow; this needs doing every week or two until at least six or eight inches of stem are buried.

Though plants need a good soaking during dry spells and especially when flowering and forming tubers, too much water can rot roots and stems, and cause dark or hollow spots in the tubers. And there are a few insects and diseases which can affect potato harvest; for dependable information on potato pest control, contact your county Extension Service office.

Harvest and Store Potatoes

Within about three months you can dig small or “new” potatoes, but for large tubers leave the plants alone until they turn yellow. Where the season is long, after about four months you may cut the plants down and leave the tubers in the soil a few days so their skin can harden a little. Do not wash potatoes after you dig, just shake off excess dirt.

Store what potatoes you don’t use quickly in a cool, dark, dry place, checking every few days for decay or shriveling.

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