A Beginners Guide to Planting Potatoes


Spring is practically here in most of the United States. It is hard for me to believe that it is already March! I feel as though I can barely keep up with the annual gardening chores that are listed in my daily planner. One of the first chores I give myself each season is preparing my garden (and wallet) for the first major crop planting of the year, potatoes. I will start out by saying that I am by no means a master when it comes to growing potatoes, it is only my second year doing so, but during the previous growing season I learned a lot from my mistakes and am certain that I can improve my yield and potentially yours as well!

Potatoes are often regarded as a “survival crop” amongst the homesteading and prepping communities. They are even glorified in their prolific nature in the famous novel/film, The Martian by Andy Weir as the protagonist is required to survive on Mars using potatoes as his major food source. In the real world, potatoes have been domesticated for thousands of years, originating in what is now Southern Peru and Northwestern Bolivia some 8000 years ago (approximately). They were eventually brought over to Europe around the time the Spaniards came in the 1500’s. Potatoes then spread rapidly across Europe due to the development of new varieties better suited for the climate of the Old World.

Potatoes are also known to be highly nutritious and contain a high concentration of the required dietary vitamins except vitamin D and A. Due to the combination of their highly prolific nature and nutritional ratings; it makes sense as to why people rely on the potato during hard times such as war and famine. Growing space allocated to a potato variety or two should be a part of everyone’s gardening plan and for good reason. Not only are they a fun, easy crop to grow, but add more flavor and personal satisfaction to each meal that you use them in.  Below, I will teach you the basic thought process and procedures that will help ensure you a good yield of potatoes, such as picking potato variety, different ways to plant seed potatoes, the basic requirements, things to watch out for (pests/diseases), and when/how to harvest and store potatoes.

1. Picking a Variety

Now that the potato has been adapted for the climate(s) north of the hemisphere it is fairly easy to grow potatoes nearly anywhere in the world. Typically here in the states you will see common seed potatoes at local hardware stores, or big box stores like Lowes/Home Depot and even Walmart. Often these varieties will be Yukon Gold, Pontiac Red, Kennebec, Fingerlings, and Russet to name a few. Each variety has its own perks/drawbacks in regards to how they grow (determinate vs indeterminate), drought/sun tolerance, best uses, as well as how well they can store in proper root-cellar like conditions. These are all important things to consider depending on what you want/need from a potato crop.

There is a wide diversity of potato varieties out there, many of which are considered gourmet or not commonly found at local grocery stores and supermarkets. This is another incentive to do some more research yourself and pick a variety that will do best in your climate and for your needs as you may be able to grow a high quantity of gourmet level food for pretty cheap.

I am not going to go through each variety in this particular blog post. I want you to do the research yourself and decide on what you want to purchase. If you are in doubt and just want to buy something easy and common then please consider one of the varieties I mentioned above.  

Pontiac Seed Potatoes

2. Whole VS Cut Seed Potatoes

Now that you have a rough idea in how to differentiate and pick a potato variety that is best suited for you, I will now give you the information on how to plant your seed potatoes. While it is important to note that planting a potato is as simple as putting a potato in the ground and waiting for it to pop up, there are small details that can impact your overall yield. Many gardeners will argue and debate whether or not it is better to plant whole seed potatoes or to cut the seed potatoes in half (or into chunks with eyes). Each method has its own pro and con.

Planting whole seed potatoes tends to lead to a higher overall yield weight, though it is said that potatoes from whole potatoes are generally smaller though I don’t know how true this is. Many variables play a role in determining the size/yield so it important to note that correlation does not always imply causation. Typically speaking, the plant will initially rely on energy stored in the potato to produce its initial biomass. Planting potatoes too close together can increase the likelihood of producing smaller yielding plants, but as I mentioned this can be caused by other issues. It makes sense to try and plant only whole seed potatoes as to ensure that your plants will have the proper amount of energy to have a good, strong start of the season.

That being said, there is a time where cutting seed potatoes can actually save money and potentially increase your overall yield though there are some general rules of thumb. In a perfect world you plant whole seed potatoes that are about the size of a golf ball or lime. In the real world this is not always the case and you will sometimes receive seed potatoes that are quite large. In this case it is advisable to cut the potato in half or into sections similar to the golf ball or lime rule of thumb. Make sure that there are eyes on each chunk/section so that the plant can sprout. Each cut section is now considered to be a “new” seed potato. It is advisable to allow your cut sections to dry and “scab over” before planting as to help reduce the risk of infection or disease.

Everyone seems to have their own personal preference to how they like to plant their potatoes based on how their parents/ grandparents did it or based on their own life experiences. You will have to play around with it and experiment with your method to develop your own opinion on the matter. Typically if you follow a mix of whole vs cut seed potatoes you should have relatively little issues in regards to yield if all other variables are addressed correctly.

3. Understand the Requirements

Now that you have the whole seed potato debate settled it is time to think about actually planting your potatoes. It is important to understand what a potato needs before throwing it in the ground as there are many different varieties, some of which require different amounts of care. I will not cover the anomalies in care within this blog, but rather address the general rules of thumb for growing these delicious tubers.

For sunlight, potatoes prefer full sun. I learned this the hard way last year as I overcrowded my raised bed with potatoes and allowed a branch from a mulberry tree to grow which shaded out a portion of my raised bed. Once you find a good, sunny spot make sure your soil is loose, fertile, and loamy, not clay. The plant will benefit from easy to move soil as it will be able to expand its roots and produce more tubers.

Potatoes seem to grow best in slightly acidic soil (between 6-6.5 pH) so do consider this when growing even though it is a relatively small detail. Lastly, another crucial requirement is to not plant potatoes too close as this will restrict your yield. Generally, potatoes need to be planted 8-20 inches next to each other in a row (side by side), 24-36 inches between rows (in front or behind) and 3-6 inches deep (the deeper the better). Some people like to encourage “hilling” your potatoes though many argue this is an unnecessary step if you are able to bury your potatoes slightly deeper when initially planting. In my zone (6b) I like to plant potatoes around St. Patricks day (March 17th). when folliage develops I do cover the plants with a blanket or towel if I am under a frost advisory. 

4. Things to Watch Out For

Now that I have given you the proper tools to go out and become a small scale potato farmer I will list some common issues that you may run into and how to avoid/cure them. One of the main issues being foliage damage from the infamous Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) as these bugs will gladly eat as much plant foliage as is possible. Many gardeners will spray their plants with organic or non-organic pesticides, or hand pick bugs off of plants, but I feel that it is better to plant fragrant flowers or herbs around crops susceptible to insect damage as it helps mask the scent of the plant, plus it promotes biodiversity and attracts pollinators for other plants.

Gardeners also struggle with various plant diseases such as early blight (typically known for causing dead, rotting, watery leaves and rotten potatoes) which is caused by a fungus-like organism known as Phytophthora infestans. Other common diseases such as potato scab cause issues with potatoes and can impact other root vegetables. Both of these issues are random, though they can be prevented by alternating crops/variety/growing beds and letting areas rest from a specific family of plant or vegetable type.

Crowded Potato Plants

5. Harvesting and Storage

Now that I have scared you, here comes the fun part, harvesting and storage. Depending on your variety your potatoes will either be ready early-mid summer or later. You will know when your potatoes are done growing as their foliage will die back or fall over and sometimes expose bulges of potatoes that lie beneath the soil, sometimes a potato will be visible from the surface (the potato may have some green to its color, if it is mild you can cut this portion off). You can now either cut off the tops of the potatoes or pull up the plant using the dead stems/leaves. Many gardeners prefer to use their hands or a trowel to help sift for potatoes and to prevent stabbing into the soft skin of the new potatoes.

Once you have harvested your potatoes, do be sure to remove any potatoes that may have been damaged during harvest as these potatoes should be eaten quickly because they will not store long due to their injury. Next, it is important to bring the new potatoes from the field and into a cool, dry, dark place for about 1.5-2 weeks. DO NOT WASH THE DIRT OFF OF THE POTATOES AS THIS WILL REDUCE THE SHELF LIFE. This process is known a curing and helps thicken/toughen skin, heal minor cuts on the skin, as well as bruises. Proper curing in a ventilated space is crucial to being able to store your potatoes long-term.

After the curing process, it is ideal to store your potatoes in a root cellar or root cellar like environment like a basement with good ventilation as rotting potatoes can emit solanine gas which is noxious to humans. Continue to keep potatoes out of the light and with plenty of air flow to reach them within a container. Shelf life of a potato will vary given the conditions and variety of the potato.


There you have it! A simple growing guide to planting potatoes which covered many of the most common questions that I had when starting to grow my own potatoes. Growing potatoes does not need to be overly complex and should be a fun and rewarding experience for the backyard gardener. It is my own opinion that every gardener should learn to grow their own potatoes as to increase one’s personal food security and overall self-sufficiency. You now have the potential to grow hundreds of pounds of potatoes in a relatively small chunk of land if done correctly.

Even if you can only grow a plant or two in a few 5 gallon buckets/fabric pots I still believe that the experience is worth it as you will get a more realistic idea of what it is like to grow potatoes and be amazed at how many potatoes a single plant can produce. Now that I have covered the difference in varieties, preparing your seed potatoes for plating, explained growing requirements, introduced information about common pests, and taught you about proper harvesting and storage I believe you are set. You now have all the information to try it out yourself!

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