My Master Gardener Mama (a.k.a Motherhen) is here to share some great tips for planting potatoes. Not only is she a certified Master Gardener, she is also a seasoned potato planting veteran and has years of personal gardening experience.
Potatoes are an easy crop to grow and are one the the first things that can be planted in your garden. They can be planted at least a couple of weeks before the average last frost in your area and even earlier if you mulch with straw to protect tender shoots. A common misconception is that potatoes are a root crop. Actually the part that we eat is called a tuber, which is a swelling on an underground stem called a stolon. The tuber is an energy storage organ for the plant. Your best bet is to purchase “seed” potatoes that are certified. If you plant last years crop you may be planting last year’s disease problems. Ordinary grocery potatoes are sprayed with sprout inhibitors so they may not grow or be slow to sprout. Choose potatoes that appear healthy and firm.
Potatoes are in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family and are related to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Since they are related, they can share some of the same diseases and pests as their cousins. A good practice is to plant members of this family a distance from one another and also avoid planting them in soil that was used the previous year or two from another family member.
Very small potatoes can be planted whole, but larger ones should be cut into pieces with 2-3 eyes on them. An eye is a small depression that will produce the shoots.
Any potatoes with obvious disease issues when cut open should be discarded. Cut pieces should be allowed to air dry 24-48 hours prior to planting in order to “heal” the surface. This practice reduces the likelihood that bacteria and fungus in the soil will infect the potato.
Potatoes should be planted 3-5 inches deep (I prefer about 5″) and can be planted in a row or in a grouping.
If planting in rows they can be spaced about 12 inches apart and rows at least 24 inches apart, if in a grid or grouping about 20 inches apart is better to allow room for tuber formation. In loosened soil, dig a trench or holes and mix in some compost, blood meal, or bone meal. After incorporating your fertilizer, drop in your potato pieces (cut side down), cover with soil, and water moderately.
Once the sprouts are about 6-12 inches high you can begin hilling up (mounding soil around the plant) so the tubers will have room to grow and not be exposed to sunlight which can cause the tuber to form alkaloids, a mild toxin. Hill 3-4 inches of soil around the stem 2-3 times during the season.
Not many things can compare to that first meal of new potatoes from your garden. Boil them until tender, slather on a little butter, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and you are in potato heaven.