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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When Do You Plant Potatoes?

From planting to digging, depending on variety and weather, Irish potatoes take about three or four months to mature, with some early varieties and immature or “new” potatoes harvested a little earlier.

Harvesting Potatoes

Harvesting potatoes is the fun part of growing your own; here are a few tricks to get the most out of your efforts.

Growing Yellow Potatoes

Easy-to-grow yellow flesh potatoes are a bit sweeter and have more antioxidants than America’s more popular white fleshed potatoes.

Growing White Potatoes

White potatoes are classics with light tan skin and pure white flesh, and are indispensable for using in nearly any recipe but are superb when boiled or fried.

Growing Small Potatoes

Many gardeners love hand-harvesting small, immature potato tubers early in the season from beneath still-growing plants. They tend to be extra sweet and tender.

Growing Waxy Potatoes

Waxy potatoes can be any shape, size, or color, but tend to be relatively low in starch, which causes them to retain their shape when cooked, making them ideal for boiling and chopping, not for mashing or baking.

What Are Irish Potatoes?

Irish potatoes are not Irish – they are a type of white potato from South American which are forever associated with an infamous potato-disease famine in Ireland.

Growing New Potatoes

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

Are Potatoes Poisonous?

Are green potatoes safe to eat? In a nutshell, no. But there are some ways you can reduce the likelihood of problems.

Types of Potatoes

Growing your own potatoes? You should know that a ‘tater isn’t just a spud – there are several different types of potatoes, each with predictable characteristics, plus many varieties of each.

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