• How and When to Plant Potatoes

    by  • March 24, 2011 • Gardening & Pets • 11 Comments

    seed potatoes for columbus ohioI just finished sorting bulk seed potatos into smaller portions for the group buy. Thirty nine pounds of organic seed potatoes are making their way to gardens around central Ohio!

    A few weeks ago I shared how NOT to grow potatoes. Most of those who ordered with me would rather know the best practices for success, not failure.

    Here’s what I can gather from personal experience, the Ohio Extension fact sheet, and a most helpful guide from Dayton Nursery.

    When to Plant

    Guides vary widely about when to plant. Some say to wait until a week before the frost free date (May 15 in Columbus, Ohio). Others advise planting as soon as the ground is workable.

    Everyone agrees that gardeners should allow the seed tubers to begin sprouting indoors. Simply place them in a single layer in a sunny place until sprouts appear in one to two weeks.

    If seed potatoes are large with many sprouts, cut them into pieces for additional plants. Do this a few days before you wish to plant, leaving the pieces again in a sunny place inside to dry.

    My plan is to spread the seed potatoes in a single layer in a sunny place soon, wait two weeks, and plant in early April, weather permitting.

    How to Plant

    Potatoes like well-drained loose soil. If yours is heavy with clay or full of clods, break these up and enrich with compost or composted manure. You can also add thin layers of broken straw pieces.

    Plant potatoes in a 3-4 inch deep furrow or trench. Space them 9-12 inches apart. Rows for commercial production are recommended to be space 24-36 inches apart. For the backyard gardener, this can be reduced to 12-24 inches.

    If planting in a bucket, select 2-3 tubers per five gallon bucket laced with holes.

    When potatoes sprout their beautiful leaves, allow to grow to 8-12 inches high. Then, hill up around the stem with additional soil or a mix of soil and straw. These hills are where many of the potatoes will grow. Hills also cover the potatoes so they do not turn green and develop the toxic alkaloid solanine.

    Potato plants are susceptible to frost. If you plant before the frost free date, as I plan to, watch for frost warnings and cover your rows with a sheet or tarp if necessary.

    When to Harvest

    Potato plants will mature into tall leafy things. In July or August, they will send out interesting spiky flowers. Most gardeners pick these flowers to encourage the plant to put energy into the spuds, not flowers.

    If you do not pick the flowers and the potatoes set fruit, know that the berries are poisonous like many other fruits of the deadly nightshade family. We had no idea potatoes would grow berries! After a little research, we decided to pick ours and throw them in the trash lest we contaminate our compost bin.

    When the leaves die back in September, allow them to lay fallow for two weeks. This waiting time allows the potatoes to set their skin.

    Carefully dig up the potatoes. Wipe off dirt but do not wash until you intend to eat them. Potatoes will keep in a dark cool place for 4-6 weeks, if they aren’t eaten before then!

    Ohio State University extension recommends curing potatoes for storage in a dark 60-65 deg. F place at 80 percent humidity for 10 days before placing in a dark 40-45 deg. F high humidity for permanent storage.

    Do you have any potato growing tips or tricks? Share in the comments!

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    I live to eat and eat to live, planning every meal to include as much local and seasonal abundance as possible. I often wear purple and never refuse a drink.


    11 Responses to How and When to Plant Potatoes

    1. March 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm

      I can. not. wait. to grow potatoes again this year!
      We experimented last year with half of our potatoes planted in layered soil and straw and the other half in soil only (well, we added peat and compost to all of the soil used for both halves). And we had the most disgustingly huge slugs inhabit ONLY the straw half of the potato experiment,
      These slugs were larger than a golf ball.
      I thought one was a potato and picked it up.
      The potatoes themselves were comparable on both sides. I will avoid using much straw this year just to prevent coming into contact with mutant slugs, though.

    2. Katie
      March 25, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      How much spreading should I expect each plant to do? I want to be sure I am not planting them too close to other types of plants. I have made that mistake with squash and watermelons.

    3. March 26, 2011 at 11:50 am

      Ew! I hate slugs!

    4. March 26, 2011 at 11:53 am

      Potatoes grow up, not out like squash and watermelons. Each plant will have 5-8 stems about 2.5 feet tall by the end of the season with 1-2 foot spread total. You can tuck them in next to other things, though the leaves can shade smaller plants. I like putting them on borders of beds.

    5. Barbie Burroughs
      April 30, 2011 at 6:46 am

      I often wondered why Dad had to replant potatoes–I soon learned he didn’t plant according to ‘moon signs’. It’s especially helpful for spuds, as they do so well when planted AND harvested after full moon. The proof can be seen during harvesting as one will see the original potato piece that was planted, because it does NOT rot. They also keep very well thru the winter because of no rot.

    6. Chris
      April 16, 2013 at 7:51 pm

      Where in Columbus is a good place to purchase seed potatoes.?



    7. Mary
      May 23, 2015 at 9:27 pm

      I grew up in northern Ohio. My father grew enough potatoes to last all winter thru early spring. He always planted them on Good Friday,this probably had something to do with the moon, as that is how the date of Easter is figured each year. After they were up, in early summer, we always hilled, or mounded earth around individual plants – this is to keep sunshine off the potato because it can cause them to turn green. In the fall, we would dig and sort according to size. The potatoes would be kept in a bin. This was a platform raised about 2 feet off the floor with wood slats for side walls, in a dark corner of a cool basement.. Each spring, the bin would be emptied of any remaining potatoes to be used as seed. Rotten ones would be discarded. We would spread a tarp outside and cut the potatoes in quarters(as long as there Is an eye in each piece it will grow). These were then spread out on the tarp to dry so they would not rot when planted. I was one of 9 children, and we always had enough to last the winter. The main problems in growing them were pests such as potato bugs. Dad always read the Ohio Farmer magazine and knew what to do about them. He made it look easy, but he would always do soil tests and head to Anderson’s (gardening store) for the right fertilizers or pest control when necessary. Good luck with your potatoes!

    8. March 14, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      se plant potatoes every year on or after full moon. My dad always did this way. always have a nice crop.can’t wait to plant this year.we always use kennaback seed potatoes best ever!!

    9. Donna
      April 28, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      Rachel, This website was well written and loaded with very good information. I think you covered every point on how to grow potatoes. I’ve been growing them for a few years with great success in potato bags. In the Cleveland area you can buy bulk seed potatoes different varieties by the pounds at Maria’s Garden in Strongsville Ohio on route 82.

    10. July 8, 2016 at 8:34 am

      An urban gardener for many years, I have to say that potatoes are some of the easiest, most dependable crops for a kitchen garden. We don’t do anything special…just plant deeply in a raised bed. That being said, sweet potatoes give more production in a limited space. Place your best sweet potato from last year in water to sprout. Then either root your sprouts in water before planting or place directly in the ground like the Japanese do. Let grow as long as you can (these babies vine along the ground), pull up and have yourself a feast. You can also eat the leaves as a green so there’s no waste. You can also put a few sprouts in your bigger decorative pots. Works like a charm.

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