Potato plant

The humble potato is one of the World’s favourite and most versatile vegetables. The potato can be sauteed, fried, boiled, roasted, mashed and they make the perfect vegetable to grow at home in the garden or down at the allotment.

I have often been asked how to grow potatoes from a potato I thought that I would put together this how-to guide so that you are able to grow your own too.

Potatoes are perennials that grow to around 60cm in height with a similar spread of tubers (potatoes) underground. The part of the potato that we eat is called a tuber and it grows to store the energy and water for the plant above.

The potato grows throughout the spring and into the autumn and is a great accompaniment for many things from salads all the way through to the British favourite; the Sunday Roast. Keep reading if you want to learn how to grow potatoes from a potato.

How to prepare Seed Potatoes

To grow a crop of potatoes, you will need to prepare your tubers for seeding, and this is known as chitting. You can buy small tubers that have been specifically bred to be disease-free and ready to be used as seed potatoes.

Seed potatoes are usually chitted indoors around 6 weeks before they are ready to be planted. It is best to place your tubers in a tray in a single layer with the end of the tuber that has the most eyes (this is where the shoots will grow) facing upward.

You then need to store each tray in a light and dry place that is well ventilated and let the potato begin to grow shoots. Once the small shoots are 2 to 3 cm in length, the potatoes are ready to be planted.

When to Plant Potatoes

There are 3 main crop varieties for you to grow and they are known as the first-early, the second-early and the main crop.

First earlies are planted in mid-March for use as new potatoes in June and July. Second earlies are planted in early April and harvested from July to September to supply a continuing crop of fresh potatoes. Maincrop varieties, which take much longer to mature are planted in late April and harvested in September or early October to be stored for winter.

Planting Guide
VarietyWhen to PlantWhen to Harvest
First EarliesMid-MarchJune/ July
Second EarliesEarly AprilMid-July/ September
Main CropLate AprilSeptember/ Early October

How to plant potatoes

There are various ways to plant your potatoes, they can be grown in the ground, in containers, bags or even in our personal favourite; raised beds. If you want to learn how to build raised beds you can read that here.

Wherever you choose to plant your potatoes, you will want to grow your crop in an area with plenty of light as shaded areas encourage tall-top growth but little in the way of what we are looking for underground.

Growing a potato crop in the ground can take up a lot of space – approximately 10m x 4.5m will give you 8 rows with a yield of around 225kg. If you do not have enough space, you may want to grow a small crop of early (new) potatoes.

Step 1

To plant your potatoes, you will want to dig some small trenches across the width of the plot around 15 cm deep (these are known as drills). If you are planting multiple drills, keep them 60 cm apart.

Step 2

Then you will want to place your tubers with the shoots facing upward approximately 30 cm apart ensuring that each tuber only has a maximum of 3 shoots, if there is more than 3 just gently rub the additional ones off with your thumb.

Step 3

Next you will want to loosely cover the tubers and ensure that they have at least 3cm of soil over the top of them.

Step 4

Once covered, water them well.

How to Grow Potatoes

The potato is not the hardiest of plants and neither the top shoots themselves nor the tubers will cope with the frost. If you have planted first earlies in mid-March and still experiencing frosts, you should protect the shoots by continuing to cover them as they grow with around 3cm of soil.

Once leaves have begun to grow you should no longer cover the whole plant but you can use a layer of straw at night to protect from frost.

Once the frosts have gone and it begins to get a little warmer you will need to ensure that you keep your potatoes fed and watered, you can use some of your homemade compost or buy some specialist fertilizer that will promote growth.

In dry conditions, it is advisable to water the plants every 10 days or so.

When the shoots are approximately 15cm above the ground, you will need to begin a process called earthing up.

Earthing up

Earthing up should be done whichever method of planting that you have chosen. The purpose of this is to increase the depth of the soil around the base of the plant which encourages the roots to spread and grow tubers.

Earthing up also reduces the risk of the tubers reaching the surface as direct light will turn your fresh potatoes hard and green and you will not be able to eat them.

You should start the earthing up the process when the shoots reach about 18cm in height. If you are growing a large crop with multiple rows, you should start by breaking up the soil in between the rows making a ridge around the stem of the plant.

You want the ridge to be around 30cm around the base of the plant with steep sides. Continue to do this each week until your plant is 25cm tall. In total, the ridge that you have created by earthing up should be 12cm tall.

To prevent the need for earthing up, you could grow your potatoes under polythene sheeting.

Growing Potatoes using Polythene

There are a few benefits of using polythene sheeting to grow your potatoes although this is not recommended for the maincrop variety as watering is extremely difficult. Using plastic sheeting keeps the soil weed-free and makes earthing up unnecessary as the sheets protect the crop from the light.

The other benefit is when it comes to harvesting there is no digging required as like magic; all the tubers will be at the surface when you remove the plastic!

Harvesting your crop

Your first early potatoes should be ready in June, as; or just after the flowers first open. The best way to inspect your first early crop is to remove a little soil from the side of the ridge with your fingers until you get to the tubers.

The largest of your potatoes at this time will be the size of a large chicken egg. You can harvest all your new potatoes or you can harvest only what you need for a dish and then let the remainder mature and get bigger for another few weeks.

To lift your fresh potatoes, remove the top growth leaving around 10cm and put your fork into the ground well-clear of the plant. Gently bring the handle of the fork towards you thus lifting the potatoes and throwing the plant between rows in one clean motion. Ensure that you thoroughly dry off any potatoes that are not going straight to the pot and store them in complete darkness.

For your maincrop potatoes, the best indication that they are ready for harvest is when the main plant begins to wither and die off.

For a more in-depth look at when to harvest potatoes, click here

What can go wrong?

Potatoes are susceptible to numerous diseases that can cause real disappointment and ruin whole crops. One of the worst among them is Wireworm but there are also other things to look out for such as Potato Blight, Common Scab and Potato Cyst Eelworms.

Wireworm

Beware the Wireworm! Wireworms are one critter that you will want to avoid. These little critters are the offspring of the click Beetle and they make tiny holes in the tubers and usually have their little yellow head poking out.

There is no real cure for these except thorough and continued cultivation of the soil. Bromophos or BHC can be used to disinfect the soil although BHC may taint your crop.

Potato Blight

Potato blight is a serious fungal infection. In dry weather it causes yellow and brown patches to form on the leaves and in wetter weather it presents itself under the leaves as a mass of white threads. This infection will spread to the tubers causing a reddish-brown discolouration under the skin.

Potato Cyst Eelworms

As their name would suggest, these Eelworms cause small yellow cysts to develop on the roots of the plant, therefore, interrupting the water and nutrient intake making the plant wilt and die.

The cyst is actually the mature female eelworm swelling their body with up to 500 eggs which eventually burst through and destroys the root walls. If you get Potato Cyst Eelworms you will need to look at growing resistant varieties as the eggs can remain in the soil for many years.

Common Scab

Common scab is caused by a fungus that thrives in sandy and lime heavy soil. Potato plants prefer a ph. of between 5 and 6 for optimum growth. The scab is formed on the skin of the potato but does not affect the flesh. If you have no control over the acidity of your soil, you can grow scab resistant varieties.

Good Practice

It is good practice to rotate where you are growing your potatoes to prevent any buildup of any of the critters or diseases that may want your vegetables for themselves. If you are not able to rotate and are using sacks or raised beds, be sure to renew your soil regularly.

Summary

Now you know how to grow potatoes from a potato! 

Potatoes are a great vegetable to grow and especially good to teach children about plants in your garden. If you are new to growing potatoes, you should really buy some certified disease-resistant tubers that are ready for hitting.

If you have a big enough garden, you could grow a nice big crop that will get you through the winter or, if you are limited on space, maybe you could just grow a small crop in a hydroponics bag and also grow something else like tomatoes. If you want to know how to grow tomatoes, you can check out our handy guide.

Garden Doctor Tips

Garden Doctor Trev

“Use an egg box to chit your potatoes!”

“Lay straw over the fresh shoots at night to protect from an unexpected frost!”

“Only Harvest what you need, let the rest continue grow!”

“If growing under plastic, ensure you put down some slug pellets – these critters can destroy all your hard work!”

“If you get potato blight, lift the affected area and burn it. Do not put it in your compost bin!”

“In dry weather, keep a little indent at the top of the ridge to hold more water, in wetter weather, ensure that the ridge has more of a mound shape for the water to run off!”

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you Grow Potatoes in Winter?

Unfortunately, Not if you are in the UK. Neither the potato plant nor its tubers (potatoes) will tolerate winter or a heavy frost. It is best to plant your early potatoes Mid-March after the last frost and harvest your main crop at the end of September or beginning of October when the plant begins to wither and die before the first frost. If you plant your potatoes before the winter is over, you risk killing the plant, so it is advisable to keep the shoots well covered with soil.

Can you Grow Potatoes in Pots?

Yes, potato plants are often grown in pots. To maximise your yield, you will want to use the biggest pot you can find. An old 40 litre pot should do fine. Add around 20cm of compost to the bottom of the pot and place 4 or 5 chitted potatoes around 15cm apart. Cover with another 10cm of compost and water well. When your plants are around 10cm tall, add another 10cm of compost and continue to do this until the pot is full. Remember to water your potatoes and when the plant has begun to wither and die, your fresh potatoes are ready. Just empty the pot to harvest.

Can you grow potatoes in a bucket?

Yes, potatoes can be grown in a bucket, but you must ensure that the bucket is an adequate size and has plenty of drainage, so you do not drown your tubers. You will want to aim for a 40-litre bucket so there is enough room for you to grow a decent sized crop.

Can I grow Potatoes in a container?

Yes, you can grow potatoes in a container. You must ensure that the container is not transparent so that your fresh tubers are not subjected to any direct light. Direct light will turn the tubers green and hard making them inedible.

Can you grow potatoes in a greenhouse?

Yes, potatoes can be grown in a greenhouse. There are all sorts of ways to grow potatoes in a greenhouse. You can grow your potatoes in bags, pots, buckets, or any old container if its big enough.

Can you grow potatoes from a potato?

Yes, potatoes are grown from small chitted seed potatoes. Given the right conditions, seed potatoes will grow shoots which go on to form the potato plant. The tubers or the potato as it is known (the part we eat) grows underground and is part of the plants root & stem structure that is used to store energy for the plant above.

Can you grow potatoes from store bought potatoes?

Yes, store bought potatoes can be chitted in the same way as specially bought seed potatoes although results of how they yield may vary. If the chitted potato is too big, it can be cut in half. If both halves have shoots, both halves can be planted as individual seeds. If you do cut a potato in half with the intention of planting, ensure that you wait a day or so for the cut side to dry out to minimise the risk of rotting underground.

Can you grow potatoes in compost?

Yes, potatoes can be grown in compost. We advise that you use a good a high-quality compost like John Innes to give your plant all the nutrients it needs. It is also a good idea to add some well-rotted farm manure or you can even use your own home-made compost. The organic material really promotes healthy plant growth and improves your yield.

Can you grow potatoes in the same place each year?

It is not advised to keep growing potatoes in the same spot year after year. Growing potatoes in the same spot each year allows for a higher concentration of critters and fungi that can feed off the plants and destroy your crop. It is good practice to keep vegetable families together and have some form of rotation and moving your crops every 3 to 5 years.

Can I grow Potatoes in a bag?

Yes, potatoes are often grown in bags. We think that flexible bags are great for growing potatoes as they let the crop grow naturally without pressing against a hard surface that has the potential to damage the crop. If you plan to plant single tubers, one-gallon bags will suffice. We prefer to use 40-litre bags and plant 4 or 5 chitted potatoes giving us a great yield.

What month do I plant Potatoes?

In the UK it is best to plant your potatoes after the last frost. This is usually around mid-march.

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