Potato Plant Basics

Potato plants are attractive vegetables that grow in cool weather. Though all above-ground parts are poisonous, they form perfectly safe, delicious, highly-nutritious edible tubers on the lower stems.

How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

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

Potato plants are attractive perennials grown as garden annuals in cool weather in all parts of the country. All above-ground parts of this close relative of the deadly nightshade plant are poisonous, but the starchy tubers that form on the lower stems are perfectly safe and nutritious to eat.

Potato Plant Basics

The deep green, leafy potato plants form multiple-stem shrubs topped late in the season with beautiful small purple and yellow flowers and small tomato-like fruits late in the season. Each new potato plant is grown from a piece of mature tuber planted in the ground. As plants grow, gardeners pile soil or mulch up around the lower few inches of stems so the newly-forming tubers are never exposed to direct sunlight, which can turn them green and bitter tasting.

By the way, the plural of potato is potatoes; drop the “e” from potatoe plant. 

Where to Get Potato Tubers

Grocery store potatoes often fail to sprout or produce, so look for fresh, “certified” disease-free tubers at local garden centers, which carry them in the right season for planting. If you go online looking for unusual varieties, be sure to order early before the best selections are sold out.

Planting Potatoes

A few days before planting, cut the whole tubers into large egg-size pieces, each with one or two buds (called “eyes”) which will sprout into plants. It is a good idea to let the pieces dry a couple of days to prevent rotting later in cold, wet soils.

Plant potato seed pieces in rows, individual hills, raised beds, or containers, along with a little good quality garden or organic fertilizer, in a spot where they can get at least 6 or 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Water deeply, especially during flowering, but never keep the drought-hardy plants wet or they may rot.

As the young plants grow, pile fresh soil or thick layers of hay or other mulch up around the plants to keep the stems in total darkness. This is where the new potatoes will form, and it is important to not let them be exposed to direct sunlight. 

Store Potatoes Properly

Small “new” potatoes can be carefully dug from beneath growing plants and eaten within two or three months, but for larger mature potatoes leave the plants alone until they turn yellow or cut down about four months after planting. Store the tubers dry in a cool, dark area, and check every few days for any shriveling or decay.

If you want to plant your own home-grown potatoes the next year, choose a different area of the garden to avoid pest or disease buildup.

Next Up

Is a Potato a Vegetable?

Gardeners sometimes get needlessly fussy over technical issues, such as is a potato is a vegetable. The short answer is yes! But even though it grows underground, it is not a root.

What are Potato Eyes?

Feel a little creepy in the garden, like something is watching you? It may be the potato eyes! But don’t worry, eyes on potatoes are simply the growing points with little stem buds.

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.

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.

Block Planting Vegetables in Beds

An easy way to grow crops is in beds, where the gardener can focus on improving the soil, removing weeds and planting dense blocks of vegetables in a manageable, defined area.

Growing Blue Potatoes

Blue potatoes are not just fun-to-grow, interestingly-colored for cooking, but also often have subtle flavors and are very high in antioxidants, making them extra nutritious.

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 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 Organic Potatoes

Growing organic potatoes requires careful attention to soil preparation, choosing early-producing disease-resistant potato varieties, and following good cultural practices, and using natural fertilizers, crop rotation, row covers, and if necessary, the careful application of organic pesticides.

Growing Fingerling Potatoes

A fingerling potato is grown to maturity like most other potatoes, but comes from a special variety known to produce unusual tubers which are small and long, shaped much like fingers.

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