Potatoes are a way of life for many gardeners. Nothing beats the taste of fresh, succulent young potatoes with garden-grown parsley, slathered in butter. Achieving the perfect potato dish starts with perfectly grown and harvested potatoes. Harvesting a potato when it’s at the height of flavor and texture can be tricky, but once you’ve figured it out, it’s incredibly rewarding.
To grow baby potatoes, cut mature tubers into 1-inch pieces. Choose soil that's loose, well drained, acidic, and in full sun. Water potatoes 1-2 inches per week--more often during foliage growth. Harvest potatoes 2 weeks after foliage stops growing. Don't wash potatoes prior to storage.
Potatoes are interesting & a little different from most garden vegetables, because you don't start them from seeds, and you can't see the thing you're growing, since it's underground. But when you harvest baby potatoes, it's like opening a present--without the wrapping paper. Plus, they're actually easy to grow.
Potatoes - A Brief History
OK, nod to Stephen Hawking here & his Brief History of Time (one of my favorite books).
But fear not, potatoes are far simpler than black holes or the space-time fabric of the universe.
Besides, you can eat them.
Potatoes have been farmed for centuries. Potatoes are a hardy and easy crop to grow and can be grown in most climates.
Originally, potatoes originated in South America, in the region of present-day Peru, and once explorers tasted the starchy vegetables, they quickly brought them back to Europe. Along with gold, silver, slaves, and bringing smallpox in return--but that's another story.
Since potatoes' introduction to modern farming, they've become a huge crop, following only wheat, corn, and rice for amount produced.
Where Do Potatoes Grow Best?
Potatoes grow anywhere there is well-drained soil and sun. Pretty simple--that's why they're such a widely-grown crop around the planet.
They're a hardy crop, and many varieties can withstand a light frost.
Although they were first commercially grown in Europe, Idaho is now the largest producer of potatoes.
Potatoes began to take over other crops in Europe, since they grow so easily in most climates.
Potatoes also contain a lot of health benefits. For instance, a potato contains nearly double the potassium of a banana.
Potatoes are also a filling crop and it doesn’t take many potatoes to sustain a person. The complexity of the carbohydrate is difficult for the human body to break down and this provides energy for a sustained period of time.
“I don’t eat carbs” is a proclamation I hear altogether too often. Not only are carbs scientifically proven to make us happier, carbohydrates in moderation are a vital part of a healthy diet!
Potatoes are a complex carbohydrate, which means they're made up of strings of sugar molecules. The way the molecules are strung together provides the starchy flavor that potato-lovers crave and fills your belly.
All potatoes have vitamins C and B, as well as potassium and antioxidants. Although any potato can be part of a healthy diet, research does appear to support the claim that sweet potatoes are probably the healthiest.
However, purple potatoes contain more antioxidants than any other potato. Colored skin potatoes are less starchy than white-skinned potatoes, which means they are easier for our bodies to break down.
There are many different varieties of potatoes. When planting them, try to choose a variety that has a track record of success in your climate. Here's a summary of where different potato varieties grow best:
USDA Plant Zone
Minimum Temperature (F)
-60 to -50
Red Pontiac, Red Norland, Russet Burbank
-50 to -40
Yukon Gold, Hililte Russet, Cherry Red
-40 to -30
Russet Burbank, Yukon Gold, Shepody
-30 to -20
Russet Burbank, Prospect, Umatilla
-20 to -10
Red Norland, Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac
-10 to 0
Superior, Red Norland
0 to 10
German Butterball, Pontiac, Green Mountain
8 and above
10 to 20 +
Sweet potatoes, Red Norland, Yukon Gold
Soil and where to plant
As you can see from the above table, there's a ton of overlap in varieties of potatoes and their hardiness zones.
The more important factor is the soil quality. Potatoes don't grow well in clay. Since potatoes are a root vegetable, they require proper drainage. If potatoes are not allowed to drain, they'll rot.
Potatoes can be grown in containers, but thrive better if planted directly in the ground. If you're choosing to plant potatoes in containers, choose a container that'll allow you to “hill” your potatoes and easily harvest without upsetting the rest of the potatoes.
All potatoes should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place. When exposed to light and warmth, potatoes will begin to sprout. This affects their taste and leads to rot.
Where to start
The following section will teach anyone to grow potatoes. While we can’t control the weather and guarantee your potatoes, if you follow the steps as closely as possible, you're far more likely to be successful.
- If you've never planted potatoes before, simply choose an area that gets full sun. If you've planted potatoes in the past, choose a different location: potatoes are a crop that should be rotated yearly--this'll lead to better yields.
- Prepare the soil. Soil should be loose, well-drained, and slightly acidic. You can purchase a pH testing kit to determine the acidity of your soil. Potatoes grow best in trenches. These should be dug to a depth of approximately 6-8 inches. I like to dig my trenches early in the season. This allows the soil to dry out, and spreads out the work of planting over several days.
- Choose the variety/varieties of potato(es) you want to plant. There are tons of varieties to choose from, and the varieties can mostly be grouped into broader categories. Here's a summary table to help you choose potato varieties for different uses:
Russet (a.k.a. Baking Potato)
Mashing; Baking; Roasting
Russet Burbank; Ranger Russet
Mashing; Steaming; Frying
Soups, Stews, and Salads; Roasting
Norland; Red Pontiac
Grilling; Roasting; Salads
Yukon Gold; Mont Blanc
Baking; Grilling; Roasting
Purple Peruvian; Purple Majesty
Frying; Roasting; Grilling
Russian Banana Fingerling; Ruby Crescent Fingerling
Whether to grow baby potatoes or grow to full maturity?
Any of the above potato varieties can be grown as baby potatoes.
Baby potatoes are characterized by their petite stature. Because they are harvested young, baby potatoes are succulent and flavorful.
We already know how healthy potato skins are, but we are generally inclined to remove the peel prior to indulging in a delicious potato dish. However, even the tough skin of a russet potato can be left on the tuber if the potato is harvested young enough.
If you're planning to allow some potatoes to achieve full maturity, choose a potato that will fulfill your needs past the young stage. If you're intending to harvest all your potatoes as babies--yeah that sounds kinda creepy--choose a variety that's attractive. Generally a mixture of yellow, red, and purple potatoes looks the most beautiful in dishes.
Preparing seed potatoes
It's preferable to buy seed potatoes from a garden store. Potatoes from a grocery store might not sprout--some are chemically treated so they won't sprout. Also, with grocery store potatoes, you don't necessary know what variety you're getting.
Generally, the seed potatoes a garden center will have are ones that are known to thrive in the hardiness zone that they are sold in.
Seed potatoes should not be planted directly from their packaging. Potatoes will produce the best produce if the seed potatoes are exposed to some light and air--this actually stimulates sprouting. Placing the seed potatoes on a sunny window sill for a week or two will dry them out sufficiently.
Larger potatoes should be cut into approximately golf ball-sized portions. Each potato should have at least two eyes. These potatoes should also be left to dry out. If you plant freshly cut potatoes, they may rot before they have time to sprout.
Smaller potatoes (tubers that are already golf ball-sized) should be punctured with a knife or fork to allow air to get into the seed. If you’ve ever baked a potato in the microwave, you know how to puncture it. Just take a metal fork and jab at it a few times!
Planting baby potatoes
Finally, you’ve reached the planting stage. Your trenches have been dug in a sunny space, and your seed potatoes are sufficiently dried out. Your seed potatoes may even have some sprouts by now! This is okay!
Treat those teeny sprouts with care, since they can break off easily.
Spacing (in general)
Spacing is important with every plant. However, I’ve found that a lot of gardeners don’t pay attention to spacing. I’m guilty of this too.
Seeds are so small and it’s difficult to picture the large plant that will fill the space. Plus, not every seed will grow into a plant, so you plant extra seeds. Then when you've a plethora of sprouts, you’re hesitant to thin your crop, since they’re already growing.
It’s an issue that most amateur gardeners will face, and the best way to avoid the heartache of thinning out already living plants is to not have the issue in the first place.
This means that you need to be more meticulous when planting and pay closer attention to spacing.
In that respect, potatoes make it easy to have good spacing, since seed potatoes are way bigger than the seeds you're used to planting.
Spacing, planting, and hilling for potatoes
If you're going to grow potatoes to full maturity, space them around 12-15 inches per seed potato.
To grow only baby potatoes, you can decrease this spacing to around 8 inches.
When you’re placing your seed potatoes, take care to plant them cut side down.
Start filling your trenches back in, but don’t replace all the soil. Only cover your tubers with approximately 4 inches of soil.
Once you start seeing the tiny sprouts, it’s time to cover them again. This is called “hilling.”
Hilling forces the roots to go deeper, allowing your plants to absorb more water. This leads to a better yield of potatoes with better flavor.
You should try to hill your potatoes at least twice in the early stages of growth. The trenches will end up as literal hills, as the dirt you place back on top of the potatoes should be above the ground level of your garden.
Water your potatoes immediately after planting. The potatoes need to properly drain, but should always be kept damp. Once your plants are growing, you should water your plants 1-2 inches per week and avoid watering the leaves (which can cause mold & disease).
When your plants start to flower, they'll require more water.
Common potato pests & diseases
Despite your careful planting, your meticulous hilling, and dedicated watering, chances are, your potatoes will still get potato beetles.
Unless your tubers are inside a greenhouse, the orange-and-black striped bugs are often unavoidable.
Potato beetles are a difficult garden pest and begin within the soil. Females lay eggs on the undersides of leaves and they hatch within 2 weeks.
However, if you can introduce ladybugs, lacewings, or spined soldier bugs, they'll feed on the larvae of the potato bugs.
You can also plant seed potatoes that are produced to be as disease-resistant as possible and can help control the potato beetle problem. Mulching your garden as plants begin to sprout can also help control the beetles.
How to get rid of potato beetles
Once you start to see potato bugs, it’s time to take action.
Potato beetles can wipe out your potato crop if left to feed on the leaves. Adult potato bugs can be killed by shaking the plants every morning and placing the beetles in soapy water.
There are pesticides that will kill the bugs, but many gardeners are resistant to use chemicals on their precious plants.
Diatomaceous earth is an option for chemical-free gardeners. Brushed it onto each plant. It won't immediately kill the bugs, but it'll do the job. Basically, diatomaceous earth is like dusting the insects with nano-scale broken glass that cuts through the insect's exoskeleton and dries them out.
Not a pretty way to go, but hey, we like our potatoes, right?
At the end of the growing season, remove any garden waste, and compost it. This'll force the beetles to leave, since they'll have no food source. Turning over the soil also disturbs them and helps force them out. The fewer bugs that find a place to nest in winter, the less you'll have in the spring.
Potatoes are obviously a root vegetable. This means that the portion that we harvest grows underground. This can be a little frustrating for impatient people (like me!) who enjoy watching their plants grow.
If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to fall victim to a ruined tomato crop from blight, you’ll feel even worse if you start to dig up your potatoes, only to find that they're all rotten.
Essentially, this is the same rot that causes blight in tomatoes and peppers. It can wipe out an entire potato crop. Potato blight likely led to the deaths of nearly 1 million Irish in the mid-1800's.
Blight on potatoes (and tomatoes) is characterized by white mildew-like spots on the underside of leaves. It also presents as grey concentric circles on the surface of the leaves. These circles are initially wet and eventually dry out.
Generally, if one of your potato (or tomato) plants has blight, they all have it, and your entire crop is unusable.
Blight is a fungus that invades your plants and destroys every single one, turning your prized garden into a huge disappointment.
How to prevent potato blight
Keep in mind that potato blight isn't the same as blossom end rot, which is caused by a lack of calcium in your soil. Blossom end rot affects all vegetables that grow from blossoms (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.), and is characterized by a soft black spot where the blossom grows into the vegetable.
Like most fungi, blight thrives in a damp environment. Ireland, remember?
It initially grows within the soil, and quickly spreads to the plants. So, avoid watering the leaves of garden plants. Leaves don’t require water, and the drier they are, the less likely they are to attract pests.
Potatoes need well-drained soil. In fact, that holds true for all root vegetables. When you’re eating a plant that grows underground, you want soil that drains. You wouldn’t want to sit in stagnant, rotting water, and your food shouldn’t either.
Yeah, this might be the problem with teens who spend too much time on video games & social media.
But for your potatoes, soft rot is serious business.
Soft rot is a bacterial infection, and generally occurs when harvested tubers are improperly stored, but can also occur underground.
Soft rot is easily recognizable. It'l appear as a soft spot on the tuber, and will be a lighter color than the rest of the peel.
If soft rot is left, it'll affect the entire potato, and will spread to other tubers as well.
This is particularly important to note when storing potatoes. You need to inspect each potato because if one is infected with soft rot, you could lose all your potatoes to it.
To avoid this, don’t store potatoes that have been punctured together with intact potatoes. Make sure your harvested potatoes are dry. Inspect each potato and any that have soft rot should either be discarded or eaten immediately (with the rot cut off).
When to harvest baby potatoes
Finally, the moment you’ve waited the entire season for!
After all the care you’ve given your plants, it’s time to be rewarded. If you've been diligently removing potato beetles, checking for blight, and watering your potatoes properly, you should have some delicious, succulent young tubers.
They'll make the most fantastic potato salad or look beautiful in a roasted potato dish!
Baby potatoes are ready to harvest roughly 2 weeks after the foliage stops growing. The foliage should still be alive, though! Try to pick a harvest day when the ground is dry.
If you're harvesting all your potatoes as babies (yeah, harvesting babies just sounds creepy--but man, those potatoes are yummy...), gently dig up the plants with a pitchfork.
If you're going to let some of your potatoes grow to full maturity, only take the babies that you need for one dish.
Baby potatoes become less tender immediately after harvest, so only take what you need for one meal, unless you want to store your baby potatoes.
Potatoes allowed to reach full maturity will be ready for harvest once the foliage is dried up and dead. They should also be dug out carefully with a pitchfork.
To store your potatoes, let them dry out in the sun. If this isn’t an option, due to the ground being wet or a forecast of rain, dry them out indoors. Never wash potatoes prior to storage. You can brush the dirt off of them, but don’t wash them, since the water can lead to rot.
Wash potatoes before cooking them. If any potatoes get punctured by the fork during harvest, separate them from the rest of your harvest; punctured potatoes should be eaten quickly after harvest.
After your potatoes have been properly stored, turn over your garden and get rid of any garden waste. This will help to ensure healthy soil for next year!
How long does it take to grow baby potatoes?
Baby potatoes should be ready for harvest roughly 3 months after planting. You can harvest young potatoes while still waiting for mature ones to grow.
What month do you plant potatoes?
When to plant potatoes depends on your hardiness zone and the type of potato you're planting. First crop planting is from April-end of May. Second crop planting is from June-beginning of July. Most potatoes can withstand some frost (except for sweet potatoes), so they can be planted early. In some zones, you can get two crops, if frost is late.
Can you plant a potato from the grocery store?
Yes. Potatoes from the grocery store will grow into new potato plants. However, certified seed potatoes will be more resistant to diseases and will likely produce higher yields of healthier potatoes.