Grow Your Own Potatoes this Spring!
By: Charlotte Glen, Horticulture Agent – Pender County Cooperative Extension
Irish potatoes are an easy and interesting vegetable crop to grow in the home garden. Plus, home grown potatoes often have much better flavor than those sold in grocery stores. If you would like to try your hand at growing your own potatoes this year, now is the time to get started. Before you begin though, there are a few things you need to know to ensure a successful harvest.
First, potatoes need to grow in cool weather and should be planted in February and March in southeastern NC, to be harvested in late spring and early summer. Earlier planted potatoes are generally more productive because they have longer to grow and produce. Traditionally potatoes are grown in long mounded rows in the vegetable garden, where they are quite productive – a 100’ row can yield between 150 and 300 pounds of spuds. That does not mean you cannot grow them if you have limited space. Potatoes grow quite well in large containers and can be grown this way on a patio or deck.
Potatoes need to be planted in well drained soil. Wet soils often result in disease problems and crop failure. Potatoes also need consistent moisture and prefer rich soils that have been well amended with organic matter such as rotted horse manure or compost. If growing potatoes in containers, fill them with potting soil rather than soil from the garden and make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Wherever you plant them, potatoes need to grow in full sun to be productive.
For best results, plant only certified seed potatoes, which can be purchased from garden centers and seed supply stores at this time of year. Certified seed potatoes are small potatoes that have been grown under special conditions to ensure they are free of diseases. Starting with potatoes purchased from the grocery store is not recommended, since this increases chances of disease problems. Also, some potatoes have been treated with sprout inhibitors that will prevent them from growing properly. Potato varieties that do well in our area and are commonly available locally include ‘Yukon Gold’, a gold flesh potato, ‘Kennebec’, a white potato, and ‘Red Pontiac’, which has red skin and white flesh.
For a quicker start, you can presprout seed potatoes before planting. To do this, spread them in a single layer in a warm (60 to 65 degrees) brightly lit area, out of direct sunlight. Leave them there until stocky green shoots start to emerge from the eyes. This may take one to two weeks. Presprouting is not necessary, but is often done to reduce production time by a few weeks.
Whether they have been presprouted or not, seed potatoes need to be sliced into smaller pieces before planting. To slice seed potatoes, look for the eyes, which are the dimple like indentations on the tuber from which shoots will grow. Slice each seed potato into two to four pieces, making sure each piece has at least one eye and is about the size of an egg. Freshly sliced seed pieces can be planted right away, though allowing the cuts to heal before planting will reduce the risk of rotting. To heal cuts, store the cut seed pieces in a warm (60 to 65 degrees), dark, humid place for a couple of days before planting.
Once your soil is well prepared and the seed pieces are ready, plant then 4” to 6” deep, 10” apart within rows, with 3’ spacing between rows. Do not plant potatoes in the same area year after year as this leads to an increase in disease and insect problems. Also, avoid planting potatoes in the same area where tomatoes, peppers or eggplants were grown in the previous year since these vegetables are closely related and susceptible to many of the same diseases.
Potatoes are quite heavy feeders. Proper fertilization will increase yields and reduce disease problems. The best fertilizer recommendations will come from soil test results submitted to the NC Department of Agriculture through your local Extension office. At this time of year though, soil samples often take several weeks to be analyzed so if you have not already taken your samples you will have to rely on general recommendations. The general recommendation for potatoes is to mix in one tablespoon of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 10’ of row at planting time. An additional application is made 4 to 5 weeks after planting. Hilling, a process of throwing more soil onto the rows, is also done 4 to 5 weeks after planting. This is done to prevent keep the growing potatoes from being exposed to sunlight, which will cause them to turn green.
Small, new potatoes can usually be harvested 50 to 60 days after planting by digging into the side of the row. If you plan to store potatoes, allow them to reach full maturity before harvesting. This usually takes 80 to 100 days. Potatoes are mature once the foliage has died down naturally. Problems you may encounter while growing potatoes include Colorado potato beetle and blight diseases. Contact your local Extension office to find out more about how to control these problems.
Other vegetables that can be planted in early spring include cabbage, onions, carrots, radish, lettuce, spinach, turnips, mustard, garden peas, beets, broccoli and cauliflower. If you have questions about growing these or other vegetables, contact Pender County Cooperative Extension by calling 259-1235 or email the Pender County Horticulture Agent at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about growing potatoes and other vegetables from these great links!
Home Vegetable Gardening: NC Extension
Growing Potatoes: Florida Extension
Growing Potatoes: Clemson Extension
Growing Potatoes: Georgia Extension