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 and nutritious edible tubers on the lower stems.

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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.

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