How to Plant Potatoes

Published by: Nancy Meissner

How to plant potatoes

Potatoes are one of the very first crops that can be planted in early spring. It’s best to plant seed potatoes 2-3 weeks before the typical last frost date in your area. 

Potatoes are one of the most valuable and versatile veggies you can grow. Each potato piece that you plant can produce many new potatoes. Homegrown potatoes taste awesome and they store extremely well—if stored properly. 

Potatoes can be baked, cooked, fried, made into casseroles and soups, and on and on. You can truly make a meal from just a few potatoes!

Where to Find Seed Potatoes

Regular seed potatoes can usually be purchased from local co-ops or garden supply stores. For organic seed potatoes, we sometimes make an early spring day trip to a local farm to get our seed potatoes.

You may have a local farmers market, but often the markets don’t open til later on in the spring. During the early part of the pandemic, when our local places were sold out of seed potatoes, I was told by a local nursery that I could just go to a grocery store and purchase organic potatoes. Organic potatoes aren't chemically treated to keep them from sprouting. So if you get your seed potatoes from a grocery store, be sure to get the organic ones because when planting potatoes, we need them to sprout!!!

So that’s exactly what I did that year. I went to a local grocery and bought several bags of organic yellow and red potatoes. I planted them just as I normally plant seed potatoes and they did great. Just something to tuck away for future reference. 

Potatoes growing in our garden

Best kind of Soil for Potatoes

When growing potatoes it’s important to test the pH of your soil before planting. It can make a big difference in the way crops grow and thrive. Here are some planting tips for potatoes: 

  • Potatoes prefer somewhat acidic soil, usually between 6 and 6.5, but they will grow in soil with a pH as low as 5. You can test your soil using a meter like this one here
  • Add manure or compost to increase micronutrients and organic matter in the soil. 
  • Place fertilizer alongside the row about four weeks after planting.
  • Add about 0.15 pounds of nitrogen for every 50 feet when you hill up soil around the potato plants.
  • Two weeks after, add more fertilizer and repeat hilling. 

How to Plant the Potatoes

  • Some seed potatoes are smaller. If your potato is 1" or 1¼ inches in diameter or smaller, you do not need to divide them. Just plant them into the ground as they are.
  • If your seed potatoes are larger than 1¼-inches, then cut them into smaller chunks.
  • Every chunk needs to have at least one “eye." That's the indention that will sprout. Having more than one per chunk is even better.
  • Be sure to use a clean knife on a clean cutting board when you cut the potatoes into smaller chunks.
  • Put the cut chunks on a cookie sheet at room temperature for a few days until the cut surface has dried out a bit.
  • Once the skin has dried out, be careful not to knock off any sprouts while you are planting them.

Planting Potato Seed Cuttings

  • Plant potatoes as soon as the soil warms. Check your area to find out when most others are planting their potatoes. 
  • Plant cut chunks with the cut side down, about 10 to 12 inches apart and three to five inches deep, in rows that are about 30" to 36" apart.
  • If you have smaller potatoes, you can plant them closer. But plant the larger chunks or potatoes farther apart.
  • Cover the potatoes with four inches of soil or compost.

How to Hill the Potatoes

Once the potato plants start to come up, pile up the soil into a hill around the row. When you hill up the soil around the stems of the potato plant, it will encourage the thin stems (called stolons) to form off of the main stems, and that is where the potatoes start to grow. The more of the stem you can bury, the more of those stolons will grow, and the more potatoes you'll get in the end. Hilling up the soil around the plants can also protect the potatoes from exposure to sunlight which causes them to turn green.

Start hilling the potatoes when the stems are about a foot tall. Repeat hilling the soil every two weeks one or two more times after that. After you've piled up the soil throughout the growing season, you should have an extra 6-8" of soil on your row. You can dig a deeper trench and start that process deeper so that when you are finished the soil is level with the rest of the garden rows.

Hilled potatoes in our garden

Properly Watering Potatoes is Essential

  • While your potatoes are growing, be sure to water them regularly or you will end up with knobby or hollow potatoes. Or the plant will just not grow very many potatoes. Soak the soil well, once or twice a week.
  • Soil that is loose and drains well (such as sand) is the best for growing large, smooth potatoes, just make sure it doesn't get too dry!
  • To properly soak the soil, you need about an inch of water to wet sandy soil ten inches deep. If you have heavier clay soil, 1" will wet it to 6" deep. If your soil is really sandy, then be sure to water more than once a week.
  • Dig down into the soil to see how deeply the water has soaked. If it's only down an inch or two, then keep watering!

1 Comment

  1. Alicia

    Thanks Nick- question? Do i grow sweet potatoes in similar fashion?


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