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.
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How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

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

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

Potatoes grow on the lower stems of attractive, dark green leafy garden annuals. Planted in full sun in cool weather, the plants live for four months or so before the underground tubers can toughen up before being dug and eaten or stored.

What are Eyes on Potatoes?

When you buy a mature potato tuber, look closely at the small indentations in the skin, and you will see a small bump in each one. This is actually a stem bud from which a new plant can sprout. When these buds are exposed to warmth and moisture, they begin to swell and soon sprout into entire stems with roots growing from their bases and leaves at the tops.

By the way, grocery store potatoes sometimes fail to grow because they are often treated to prevent the eyes from sprouting on the shelf. For this reason, if you want to plant your own potatoes, it is important to look for fresh, “certified” disease-free “seed potatoes” at local garden centers, or online if you want some really unusual shaped or colorful varieties to try.

Planting Potatoes

Gardeners usually cut large potatoes into smaller chunks, each about the size of a large egg and with at least one or two eye buds. Once these “seed pieces” are allowed to dry for a day or two, they are planted, eye side up, in rows, individual hills, or containers. Each is covered with two or three inches of soil, and allowed to sprout into plants.

As the plants grow, it is important to keep piling fresh soil, mulch, or hay around them to keep the lower six or eight inches of stem in total darkness. New tubers are formed there, and if any are exposed to direct sunshine they can sunburn or turn green and bitter, and can actually be poisonous. 

Once the plants are about four months old, many will flower and start to turn yellow and die. This is when tubers are harvested. Just don’t leave them lying around for too long – or their eyes may start to sprout. Keep stored tubers in a cool, dark, dry place to retard the growth of the bud and help them last longer before sprouting or shriveling and decaying. 

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