Learning how to grow potatoes is one of the easiest kitchen gardening skill you can acquire. They make a great, staple crop in even small back yards, and they require very little looking after. They look great in vegetable patches and borders and, better still, once harvested, they can be transformed into a myriad of delectable dishes.
There are a huge variety of potatoes to choose from, such as the traditional ‘Maris Piper’, perfect for garnishing a Sunday roast. Or why not get creative and grow ‘salad blue’ potatoes. Rarely found in the supermarket, they will make a splash on the dinner table.
Use this simple guide to grow potatoes effortlessly – and discover all our advice and ideas on our gardens page.
How to grow potatoes
Whether you choose to grow potatoes in a bag, a pot, in borders or in a dedicated kitchen garden, here is all you need to know.
1. Choose your variety of potato
The type of potato you choose to grow will not only affect when you need to plant it, but also how long it will take to grow. It is best to always purchase seed potatoes from the garden centre to grow.
‘Don’t be tempted to use the spidery ones from the back of your kitchen cupboard as these won’t produce a reliable crop,’ warns Kate Turner, Gardening Guru at Miracle-Gro.
2. Chit your potatoes
‘Chtting is a method of preparing tubers for planting which breaks their dormancy artificially and initiates growth,’ explains Francesco Ponziani, Horticulturist at RHS Garden Harlow Carr. ‘Reducing the time in which potatoes are ready to harvest.’
Chit your potatoes by placing them in an egg box or tray. Position them in a cool light place, ideally a windowsill without any direct sunlight. Leave them for about six weeks, until they begin to produce shoots.
Francesco recommends allowing only four to five of the sturdiest shoots to grow. When these shoots are around 2.5 cm they are ready to plant out.
3. Plant the potatoes
Potatoes grow in most soil conditions, as long as it is not too soggy or compact. However, the richer the soil the better the crop, so it is a good idea to prepare the soil by incorporating a good quality compost into it.
Choose somewhere that is sunny and frost-free. ‘Try to avoid growing them in soil where potatoes have grown for two years previously in succession, otherwise this will increase the risk of disease,’ adds Francesco.
The traditional planting method is to dig a trench and plant the potatoes 10 to 12 cm deep and between 30 to 37.5 cm apart depending on the variety you are planting, with the shoots pointing upwards. Add compost so that the potatoes are covered. Keep the compost well-watered in dry weather until the tubers start to form.
However, small varieties of potatoes can be grown in a container. Just make sure the potatoes have enough space to grow upwards as well as downwards.
4. Earth up your potatoes
When the green shoots reach between 20 to 30 cm tall add extra soil around the stems to stop any light reaching any potatoes that are growing closer to the surface. This process is called earthing-up and prevents your potato crop turning green. You will need to continue doing this as your potatoes grow.
However, you can skip this step by growing the potatoes under black polythene. This is a low maintenance planting method as you won’t need to earth up, and there is no digging involved in harvesting the potatoes from just below the soil level.
5. Harvest the potatoes
Dig up the whole plant with a fork or spade, being careful not to spear any potatoes as you go. ‘Make sure that you reject any green potatoes as these can be poisonous,’ advises Kate.
- See more: How to grow tomatoes - the best ways to grow your own tomato plants
How long does it take to grow a potato?
The length of time it takes to grow a potato will depend on the variety you have chosen. Potatoes are categorised into three groups: first earlies, second earlies and maincrop.
First earlies are your new potatoes, these are the quickest to grow and will be ready 10 weeks after planting. ‘Because of the small size of first early potatoes, these potatoes grow well in containers or potato sacks,’ points out Francesco.
Second earlies include slightly larger and more interesting tasting potatoes such as ‘Jazzy’, ‘Kestrel’ and ‘Ratte’. These will be ready 13 weeks after planting.
Maincrop potatoes include potato staples such as ‘Maris Piper’ and ‘Desiree’ perfect for roasting, baking and mashing. These will be ready 20 weeks after planting.
What month do you plant potatoes?
The ideal month for planting potatoes is between March and May. First early potatoes should be planted in early spring. Second early potatoes are best planted in mid-April. While maincrop potatoes should be planted in late April.
- See more: How to grow garlic – a step by step guide to growing from cloves
How do I know when my potatoes are ready to harvest?
If you have planted an early potato variety, you can tell that your potatoes are ready to harvest when the flowers open or the buds drop. This will usually be around June.
Maincrop potatoes are usually ready to harvest between August and October. The RHS advice is to wait until the foliage turns yellow, before cutting it off and waiting ten days before harvesting.
If you are planning to store your maincrop potatoes, leave them a few hours to dry out before storing.
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