How to Care for Your Potatoes in 5 Easy Steps
1. Choose the Right Potato Variety
When selecting potato varieties to grow, consider factors like your climate, the season you want to grow them in, and how you plan to use the potatoes. Some good all-purpose varieties include:
- Russet potatoes – Fluffy, light texture. Great for baking, mashing, and fries. Do well in most climates.
- Yukon Gold – Buttery, creamy texture. Can substitute for russets. Good for any cooking method.
- Red Potatoes – Firm, waxy texture. Holds shape when boiled or roasted. Good for salads.
- Fingerling Potatoes – Small, elongated shape. Creamy texture. Great for roasting and salads.
For my climate here in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve had great success growing Russet Burbanks for baking and mashing. For salads and roasting, I like to grow colorful fingerlings like French, Russian Banana, and Rose Finn Apple varieties.
2. Pick the Right Planting Site
Potatoes need loose, fertile soil that drains well. I like to rotate where I plant my potatoes each year to avoid disease. Full sun is ideal, at least 6-8 hours per day. Here are some other tips for planting site:
- Avoid areas where potatoes or related plants (tomatoes, peppers) grew recently
- Pick a spot with slightly acidic soil (pH around 5.0-6.5)
- Prepare soil by mixing in compost or other organic material
- Ideal soil temperature for planting is 45-60°F
Last year, I planted in an area near my compost bin that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. I mixed compost into the top 6 inches of soil before planting. This provided excellent growing conditions!
3. Plant Seed Potatoes Properly
It’s important to start with certified disease-free seed potatoes. Cut larger tubers into smaller chunks, ensuring each piece has at least one eye. Plant the seed potatoes 4-6 inches deep, 12 inches apart in all directions. Here are some key planting tips:
- Allow cut seed pieces to dry out for 1-2 days before planting
- Plant with the eyes/sprouts facing up
- Space rows 2-3 feet apart
- Plant tubers no deeper than 6 inches
- Cover planted tubers with 4 inches of soil initially
I like to cut my seed potatoes a few days before planting. Last season, I made sure each chunk I planted was around 2 inches square with at least one good eye. This helped maximize the number of plants I could grow from my seed potatoes.
4. Hill Soil Around Plants as They Grow
As potato plants grow, it’s important to hill more soil around the base. This protects the developing potatoes from sunlight, preventing greening. It also encourages more tubers to form along the planted stems. Here’s my process:
- When plants are 6 inches tall, hill around base to cover 2/3 of stem
- After another 6 inches of growth, hill again leaving just 3-4 inches of plant exposed
- Stop hilling once plants begin flowering
Last year, I used a rake to gently pull soil up around the base of my plants once they were about a foot tall. This helped produce a bountiful crop of tasty potatoes!
5. Harvest at the Right Time
New potatoes can be dug as soon as the plants begin flowering. For bigger, mature potatoes allow 2-3 weeks after the plants die back completely. Here are some harvesting tips:
- Use a digging fork to carefully unearth the potatoes
- Rub off excess dirt, handle gently to avoid bruising
- Cure potatoes in a dark, dry place for 1-2 weeks before storage
- Check regularly for any rotting potatoes or disease issues
Timing is everything when it comes to harvesting. Last year I waited too long and a few of my potatoes were oversized and split. This season I plan to begin gently digging once the potato plant leaves start yellowing and dying back.
By selecting the right varieties, planting in optimal soil, hilling as the plants grow, and harvesting at the perfect time, I’ve been able to get a bountiful potato crop each season. Let me know if you have any other potato growing tips!