For many gardeners, achieving homegrown potato success brings great satisfaction, from first chitted sprouts to filling harvest buckets. However, achieving potato success relies on getting the basics right – understanding seed selection, ideal planting times, providing consistent care, and proper harvesting techniques. This gardening guide is a helpful resource for successfully learning how to plant potatoes and grow them from seed potatoes until harvest.
Potatoes grow from potatoes called “seed potatoes”. Seed potatoes are a common source of confusion for beginner gardeners. When we think of “seeds,” we usually picture small, dry pellets that sprout into plants. However, the seed potatoes used to grow potato crops are actually small whole potatoes or pieces of potatoes – not traditional seeds at all!
In this complete potato gardening guide, you’ll learn insider tips and best practices for selecting and planting seed potatoes, growing vigorous plants, troubleshooting issues, gathering a robust harvest, and saving the best seed potatoes for your next planting season. Let’s start!
Table of Contents
Planting Seed Potatoes vs. Sprouted Seed Potatoes (Chitted Potatoes)
“Chitting” is yet another term in potato growing that can throw beginner gardeners for a loop. While it may sound complex, chitting potatoes is actually a straightforward technique used to give seed tubers a head start.
The process of sprouting or chitting potatoes means allowing seed potatoes to sprout before planting them. It is a gentle wake-up call for dormant spuds before their main growing season begins.
Do potatoes need to sprout before planting? No, not necessarily, but under certain conditions, it may be needed.
The key to successfully planting potatoes is to understand in advance if pre-sprouting through chitting works for your schedule or if direct planting unsprouted works better. How do we determine this? Let’s see.
Consider Chitting If:
- You want to harvest small, early potatoes about 1-2 weeks sooner
- You can maintain cool temperatures (50-60°F) and humid conditions and provide low light for 4-6 weeks before your last expected frost date
- You don’t mind carefully handling delicate sprouts when planting
- Your growing season is relatively short
Direct Planting May Work Better If:
- You don’t need super early potatoes
- You lack the space/conditions for properly chitting potatoes before planting out
- You prefer skipping the extra step of chitting tubers indoors pre-season
- You don’t want to fuss with fragile sprouts at planting time
- Your growing season is long enough to produce good yields without hitting
Is Chitting Potatoes Necessary?
Chitting potatoes may not be necessary, but as shown in the previous section, they may be needed under certain weather conditions in your area, especially when the growing season is short, or potatoes are planted later.
The choice comes down to your motivation for growing potatoes (earliest possible or standard timing), your capability to set up chitting conditions, and your desired simplicity. If squeezing out a slightly earlier harvest matter most, invest the effort into chitting. If not, direct planting into warm spring soil is an easy path to success.
Overall, chitting can be beneficial for certain varieties and planting conditions. However, it’s not necessary for all potatoes and can be time-consuming. Consider the pros and cons before deciding whether or not to chit your seed potatoes.
Here is a table summarizing the pros and cons of chitting seed potatoes before planting:
|Reasons for Chitting Potatoes
|Reasons Against Chitting Seed Potatoes
|Can be time-consuming
|Provides earlier harvest
|Can lead to weaker sprouts
|Helps identify diseased potatoes
|Not necessary for all varieties
|Can help potatoes adjust to soil conditions
|Can be challenging to store chitted potatoes
|Gets a head start on sprout development (shaves off 1-2 weeks after planting)
|Requires 4-8 weeks prep to have proper temperature, humidity, light
|Hardens off sprouts to reduce the chance of rotting in cool soil
|Must handle fragile sprouts gently when planting to avoid breakage
|Can be planted earlier since sprouts are sturdy
|Needs well-prepared beds ready as soon as sprouts emerge
|Earlier harvesting of small new potatoes
|Still possible to have erratic germination of some potato pieces
|More uniform emergence as sprouts develop evenly
|Leaving too long before planting invites a risk of disease or runty sprouts
When and How to Chit Potatoes Before Planting
Suppose you decide to plant sprouted seed potatoes. In that case, you need to calculate in advance when to plant potatoes in your area and have the seed potatoes about 8 weeks in advance. Let’s elaborate more on that in the section “Timeline for Preparing Chitted Potatoes Before Planting“.
Step 1: Determine When Is the Right Time to Plant Potatoes In Your Area
The ideal time to plant potatoes can vary depending on your region, but here are some tips for determining when it’s right to plant potatoes in your area:
- Check your local frost dates. Generally, you’ll want to plant potatoes about 2-3 weeks after your last spring frost date, when soil temperatures reach at least 45°F.
- Tip for Planting Chitted Seed Potatoes: Finding your average last frost date for your area will give you a target date for planting, and then calculate about 8 weeks in advance to start sprouting the seed potatoes.
- Pay attention to short-term forecasts. Make sure no cold snaps or freezing temperatures are expected right after your planned planting date, which could damage sprouts.
- Monitor soil temperature at planting depth. About a week or so before your target planting date, start taking temperature readings using a soil thermometer at the 4-inch depth where you will plant seed potatoes; consistently over 45°F means planting time.
- If chitting potatoes, target the earlier side of the range. Sprouted potatoes can withstand slightly cooler soil better than unsprouted tubers.
Step 2: Select Seed Potatoes
Choosing the correct seed potatoes is essential for a prosperous potato harvest. The three main things you need to consider are:
|Certified Disease-Free Potatoes
|Types of Potatoes (Harvest Time)
|Seed Potato Sizes for Successful Harvest
Where to Find Organic Seed Potatoes and Heirloom?
Getting certified organic, heirloom seed potatoes from reputable sources ensures your garden gets off to the healthiest, most vibrant start possible. When selecting seed potatoes, especially heirloom and organic varieties, here are some tips:
- Local garden stores or nurseries: ask if they have certified organic and heirloom potato varieties in stock
- Specialty mail-order catalogs from reputable companies like Irish Eyes Garden Seeds and Wood Prairie Farm offer heirloom and certified organic seed potato varieties.
- Farmer’s markets, as some vendors usually sell heirloom or organic spring seed potatoes.
- Contact local growers or potato farmers focused on heirlooms and organics. This way, you can test the potato variety you are interested in beforehand and easily make sure of the origin of the seed potatoes.
What to Look For:
- Verified organic – Should state “Certified Organic” on the label or have the USDA organic logo.
- Interesting heirloom varieties – Types you can’t find in stores like Russian Banana, Purple Peruvian, Yellow Finn potato, etc.
- Healthy, blemish-free tubers – No signs of rot, significant wrinkling, or green spots indicating sunlight exposure.
- Good size – Select smaller potatoes around 1-3 inches in diameter that will sprout well.
- Sprouting eyes/buds – Indicates the potato tuber is ready to sprout when planted.
Step 3: Cut Seed Potatoes (Unsprouted Planting)
If you decide not to chit potatoes, you can plant the seed potato entire or cut it in pieces. Cutting seed potatoes helps to increase the number of plants you can grow and ensures that each plant has enough nutrients to thrive.
After selecting the right seed potatoes, I recommend disinfecting the knife with alcohol or bleach solution and cutting them into pieces that are about 2 inches in size. Be sure that each piece has at least one “eye” or bud. If two eyes, even better. This will ensure that each piece of your seed potato can grow into a new plant after planting. After cutting, I like to let them dry in a cool place for a few days before planting to be sure they are not rotted. If, after a few days, the cuttings look rotten, dismiss those pieces and do not plant them.
Can You Plant Seed Potatoes Without Eyes?
While it is possible to plant seed potatoes without eyes, I do not recommend it. The eyes are where the sprouts will grow from, and without them, the potatoes may not grow properly.
Step 4: Chit Seed Potatoes (Encourage Sprouting)
If, on the other hand, you prefer to plant sprouted seed potatoes, you should encourage growing the sprouts from the seed potatoes’ eyes. Let’s see how to chit potatoes, step by step.
The essential conditions to target when sprouting seed potatoes include cool temperatures, high humidity, ample light or indirect sunlight, using young seed tubers, loosening soil, gentle airflow, and maintaining this environment for 2-8 weeks.
Do not place seed potatoes in the dark if you want to chit them.
Humidity, light, and warmth are crucial to encouraging the chitting process and sprouting faster. The table below summarizes the conditions to encourage chitting potatoes and tips for fastening the sprout development.
|Tips for Faster Potato Chitting
|Recommended Levels and Details
|45°F – 60°F
Ideal temperature: 60-70°F When sprouted: 65-70°F for faster growing
|85% – 95%
Constant High Humidity
Sprout in humid space or tent Cover trays with plastic Keep soil slightly moist
|Indirect / Filtered
Hours of Light
14-16 hours/day fluorescent or LED light (Grow light if needed)
|< 1 year old
|Golf ball to egg size
Prepare smaller seed pieces
Cut potatoes to golf ball size 2 eyes per piece minimum
|Use fresh seed potatoes
|Newly harvested sprout fastest (from previous year, not older) Use Certified Seed potatoes
|Soak Seed Potatoes
|Soak for a few hours before place for sprouting
|Open trays or boxes
|0.5 – 1 inches
Reduce Light Exposure and Temperature to 45°F
1-2 weeks before planting to avoid overgrowth when sprouts are 1 inch longer.
Although it is tempting to get potatoes to sprout eyes faster, I recommend keeping an eye on the timeline to match the sprout development and the proper planting time. Long sprouts are not better, so it’s recommended to avoid overgrowth.
Can You Plant Seed Potatoes With Long Sprouts?
It is possible to plant seed potatoes with long sprouts, but it is not recommended as you need to be more careful. One or two weeks before planting sprouted seed potatoes, I recommend reducing the hours of light exposure and the temperature to 45°F to prevent overgrowth. Long sprouts can be fragile and may break off during planting, which can damage the potato. Additionally, long sprouts may be more susceptible to damage and disease, which can affect the growth of the potato.
|Sprouted Seed Potatoes (chitted)
|Faster growth, higher yield
|Unsprouted Seed Potatoes (entire or cut it in pieces)
|Good option for stored potatoes from the last harvest
|Seed Potatoes without Eyes
|Seed Potatoes with Long Sprouts
|Not recommended, but possible. You just need to be more careful.
Timeline for Preparing Chitted Potatoes Before Planting
Here is a typical timeline for chitting or sprouting seed potatoes for planting:
Planting, Growing, and Caring Tips for Potatoes
When it comes to planting potatoes, there are a few techniques that you can use to ensure a successful harvest. Whether to plant sprouted or unsprouted potatoes depends on your individual needs and preferences. Both methods can yield a good crop, so choose the method that works best for you. Let’s see some planting tips to keep in mind.
Choosing the Right Seed Potatoes (Sprouted or Not)
Before you plant your potatoes, it’s important to choose the right seed potatoes. Look for seed potatoes that are certified disease-free or that you have stored from your previous harvest.
If you decide to plant sprouted seed potatoes, sprouts should be 1/2 to 1 inch long. You can also cut larger seed potatoes into smaller pieces for more plants, making sure that each piece has at least one sprout or at least 2 eyes are present per piece.
Preparing Soil in a Sunny Location
Potatoes thrive in soil that is loose, well-draining, and enriched with organic matter with a pH between 4.6 and 7.0. It’s also essential to ensure that the soil is free of rocks or other obstructions that may hinder tuber growth, and you select a sunny location.
Before planting potatoes, remove any weeds or debris from the planting area. Use a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches (20 cm). Then, amend the soil with compost or other organic matter, such as manure, to improve soil structure and fertility. Make sure the soil is moist but never soggy.
Raised Beds, Containers or In-Ground
Potatoes can be grown in raised beds, in-ground gardens, and containers or plastic/fabric bags. The best place to plant potatoes depends on your specific circumstances and preferences. The planting method selected can have a significant impact on crop yields, as each technique has unique pros and cons that influence plant growth and development.
Therefore, if you have limited space and want to grow potatoes on a patio or balcony, using bags or containers is a great choice. Still, you will sacrifice an abundant harvest compared with in-ground potato growing.
Raised garden beds can offer a compromise between ground planting and containers. However, the initial setup of garden beds may require more effort and resources. The success of the bed depends on the quality of the soil mix used.
Raised beds offer better drainage and can be filled with a custom soil mix, while in-ground gardens provide more space for larger potato yields.
Basically, there are no significant differences in the gardening tips for planting potatoes using these different planting methods. Selecting one method or the other should be based on your personal preferences, the space available for growing, and the quality of soil you have.
Orienting Cut Side Up or Down?
When planting potato pieces, properly orient the cut side downwards in the soil indentation (with the plant sprouted side up). This directionality ensures sprouts grow upwards toward the soil surface and plants establish in straight rows. Facing the cut side upwards risks downward sprout growth, making emergence difficult.
Spacing and Depth Differences When Planting Potatoes
A couple of things to keep in mind when planting potatoes. The sprouts on chitted potatoes are sturdy but fragile, so remember to handle sprouts gently. Orienting seed potato pieces with the cut side facing down can stimulate more root sprouting.
The following table summarizes the critical spacing and depth differences to follow when planting unsprouted seed potatoes vs. sprouted/chitted potatoes. Maintaining proper spacing either way allows for maximum sunlight and room for tubers to size up.
|Between Potatoes (Inches)
|Between Rows (Feet)
|Seed Potatoes (Unsprouted)
|Sprouted Potatoes (Chitted)
After planting at the recommended depth, cover planted potatoes with 4 inches of soil and lightly tamp them down. As sprouts emerge, add more soil to help tubers grow (this technique is known as “hilling”).
As your potato plants grow, they will start to produce new tubers underground. To keep these tubers from getting sunburned and turning green, you’ll need to “hill” your plants. This involves mounding soil up around the base of the plants, covering the lower stems and any exposed tubers.
Wait until the potato plants are about 6 inches tall before you start hilling them. This will give them enough time to establish a robust root system, which will help them to withstand the pressure of the soil. Hilling also helps to control weeds and conserve moisture.
To hill your potatoes, simply use a hoe or shovel to mound soil around the base of the plant, covering the lower leaves but leaving the top leaves exposed. Repeat the process every few weeks. It is important to note that hilling should be done carefully and not excessively, as too much soil can smother the plant and prevent proper growth.
By the end of the growing season, the soil around the plant should form a small hill or mound.
Additionally, hilling should be stopped once the plant begins to flower, as excessive hilling at this point can damage the tubers.
When it comes to watering potatoes, they need consistent moisture to grow well, but it’s important to keep in mind the growth stage of the plant. The table below summarizes the watering frequency and soil saturation needed for each potato growth stage.
|Once a week
|Twice a week
|Three times a week
|Once a week
Early stage, water weekly to moisten the top 6-8 inches of soil. During main leaf growth and tuber initiation, water 2-3 times weekly to saturate the top 10-12 inches of soil. Ensure sufficient but not excessive moisture. At the final stage, reduce the watering frequency to once per week to harden tubers, wetting the top 6-8 inches again. Over or under-watering causes issues, so monitor the soil.
If you want to learn the growing potatoes stages day by day, from seed potatoes to harvest, be sure to check out my insightful post that outlines the entire process.
Mulching around your potato plants can help retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds. It may be needed if you live in a warm area. Use a layer of straw, leaves, or grass clippings to cover the soil around your plants.
As a potato plant grows, it requires a variety of nutrients to ensure healthy growth and a bountiful harvest. However, sometimes soil conditions may not provide the necessary nutrients, leading to nutrient deficiencies in potato plants.
You can also fertilize your potato plants with a balanced fertilizer every 4-6 weeks to encourage healthy growth. If planting organic seed potatoes, use organic methods such as compost or manure.
Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies on Potato Plants
As explained before, potatoes are heavy feeders and require plenty of nutrients to grow. Suppose the fertilization scheme is not correct or in place. In that case, the potato plant development and leaves will show signs of nutrient deficiencies, such as leaves turning yellow, dropping, black or brown spots, small plants, etc.
Here is a table summarizing critical nutrient deficiencies in potato plants and how to treat them.
|– Yellowing leaves
– Stunted growth
|– Blood meal
– Fish emulsion
|– Weak stems
– Poor tuber development
|– Wood ash
– Kelp meal
|– Stunted growth
– Poor tuber development
|– Bone meal
– Rock phosphate
Pest and Disease Control
As a potato farmer, I have learned that pest and disease prevention is crucial to ensure a healthy harvest. Keep an eye out for common potato pests, such as Colorado potato beetles and aphids, as well as diseases like blight and scab.
Here are some tips on how to prevent pests and diseases from harming your potato plants:
- Rotate your crops: Planting potatoes in the same spot year after year can lead to a buildup of pests and diseases in the soil. To prevent this, rotate your crops every year, planting potatoes in a different spot each time.
- Practice good sanitation: Keep your potato patch clean by removing any dead or diseased plants, as well as any weeds that may be growing nearby.
- Choose resistant varieties: Some potato varieties are more resistant to pests and diseases than others. When selecting your seed potatoes, choose varieties that are known to be resistant to common potato pests and diseases.
- Use natural pest control methods: Instead of using chemical pesticides, try using natural pest control methods such as companion planting, crop rotation, and beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings.
When growing organic potatoes, it is critical to only use organic methods such as neem oil or insecticidal soap to control pests and rotate your crops each year to prevent disease buildup in the soil.
Protecting Your Potato Crop From Wild Animals
In potato crops, several types of wild animals can pose a threat. Here are some of the most common ones that can affect our crops and a possible solution to prevent their damage.
- Mice and Rats: Implement rodent control measures such as setting up traps or using rodenticides in a controlled manner to minimize damage.
- Moles: Use mole traps or deterrents to prevent moles from tunneling in the potato fields.
- Rabbits: Install fencing around the potato crop area to keep rabbits out. Consider using rabbit repellents or deterrents.
- Deer and other large herbivores: Erect fencing tall enough to deter deer and other large herbivores from entering the potato fields. Also, consider using odor or taste deterrents. If deer is one of your problems, I recommend reading our post about Do Deer Eat Potato Plants? Yes! Learn How to Keep Deer Away.
- Birds: Use bird netting or install scare devices such as reflective materials or scarecrows to prevent birds from damaging the potato plants.
- Insects: Implement integrated pest management (IPM) strategies, including the use of natural predators, insect-repelling plants, and environmentally friendly insecticides to control insect infestations in potato crops.
A combination of approaches might be necessary for comprehensive pest and wildlife management in potato fields.
For new or baby potatoes, harvest small young spuds around 60-70 days after plant emergence. For full-size mature potatoes, wait until leaves have turned mostly yellow/brown and died back. I strongly suggest reading our post that clarifies the most common question about harvesting: What do potato plants look like when they are ready for harvest?
One week before the main harvest, you can test digging around plants to check size and maturity. Mature potatoes should have thick, tough skins that don’t scrape off easily.
For harvest, dig carefully with a garden fork inserted about 6 inches away from the plant to lift and locate potatoes lightly. Carefully dig out the potatoes by hand once spotted, trying not to spear or slice tubers. After harvesting, brush off excess soil, but don’t wash potatoes!
Allow freshly dug potatoes to sit in a dark, dry spot for 1-2 weeks to cure. Curing helps thicken skins for winter storage.
Storing Cured Potatoes
Store cured potatoes in a cool (40-50°F), dark place for 3-6 months. Check periodically for any rotten potatoes to discard. Cure harvested potatoes in a dark place for 2 weeks before long-term storage.
Save Seed Potatoes for Planting the Next Season
The potato harvest is the best time to select and save seed potatoes to use for planting the following growing season. Here are some tips:
- As you harvest, choose your best, healthiest potatoes – medium-sized, smooth, and free of blemishes, pitting, and disease.
- Select potatoes from your most vigorous, productive plants to continue those genetics.
- Make sure to cure the selected seed potatoes properly after digging them up.
- Cure them in a dark, cool (40-60°F), dry place for 1-2 weeks after harvesting to thicken the skins.
- Store the cured seed potatoes over winter, similar to eating potatoes – dark, cool conditions around 40°F.
- Periodically check on them, removing any that are shriveling or sprouting while in storage.
- In spring, “chit” sprout your seed potatoes just before planting again.
Basically, set aside your best homegrown specimens for replanting as you are clearing and processing your general potato harvest. This allows you to perpetuate the most robust plants suited to your garden!
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