Gardening Vegetables

6 Steps to Growing Great Potatoes

The following article appears on the Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes website and is reused with permission from the author, John Mills. 

Often you will purchase your seed potatoes long before your garden is ready or the soil is warm enough to plant.

We recommend waiting until the soil reaches 10 °C (50 °F). If it’s any colder, the potatoes will sit in the ground until the ground warms.

Step #1 Open the Bag

Remove your potatoes from the bag they were shipped in. If you leave them in the bag, they may produce long white fragile sprouts.

Step #2 Green Sprouting

Skip this step if your garden is ready for planting.

Green-sprouted potatoes. Photo: ehowgarden,

Place your potatoes in a well-lit area, but not full sun. Instead of growing long white sprouts (as often happens in your pantry), the potatoes will grow a small rosette of leaves not much bigger than a quarter. When your soil warms up, plant the potatoes as you normally would.

Green-sprouted potatoes can sometimes be ready for harvest up to 10 days earlier than non-sprouted potatoes.

Twenty-one days of green sprouting is the recommended time. We have, however, sprouted potatoes nearly 6 weeks before planting with no negative effects on the tubers.

Step #3 Fertilize

Nutrition is key to a healthy potato plant and a fantastic harvest of potatoes.

Nutrition can be applied in spring, fall & through the growing season and can come from incorporating a cover crop grown the previous year, adding compost or through organic or non-organic fertilizers.

Adding too much compost can cause your potatoes to become scabby and too much readily available nitrogen can result in potato plants that are all leaves and no potatoes.

We have had great success with incorporating cover crops combined with organic fertilizers that are applied at the time of planting.

Step #4 Planting

When growing in a garden, we recommend allowing for 2–3 square feet (0.2-0.3 m2) per plant.

Dig a hole only 3 inches (7.5 cm) deep, place the potato in the hole and cover with only 1 inch (2.5 cm) of soil. You want the potatoes leaves to reach the surface as soon as possible.

Once the leaves are 3–5 inches (7.5 to 12 cm) above the ground, you can start to hill up dirt around the stem. It’s OK to cover the leaves in dirt; they will push through the soil again. Continue to mound the dirt up as the potatoes grow until your mound is 6–10 inches (15–25 cm) tall and 12–18 inches (30–45 cm) wide.

This mound of dirt will be where your potatoes will form.

Step #5 Water and Monitor

Field of healthy potatoes. Photo: Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes.

Potatoes produce many leaves and require lots of water. You don’t want soggy wet soil, however, yet if you let the ground dry out completely, your harvest may be less than expected. Dry soil may also stress your potato plants, causing their natural defenses to weaken, allowing bacteria such as scab or rhizoctonia to latch onto the skin. A healthy potato plant can fight off most insects and diseases that can cause harm to your crop.

Step #6 Harvest

Potato harvest. Photo:

There are many rules of thumb which may or may not work, such as “wait until the potato has flowered before harvesting.” Unfortunately, not all potato varieties will flower. We recommend digging in the side of your potato hill with your hand periodically to see how large the potatoes are getting. If you like big potatoes, leave them until the first frost. If you like small potatoes, keep a close eye on them, as potatoes can double in size each week.

There you go! Advice from an expert on how to grow the best potatoes possible!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

3 comments on “6 Steps to Growing Great Potatoes

  1. Margaret Schucker

    That explains why I have lush potatoe vines growing out of my compost but no potatoes! On the subject of compost, I just dumped all the potting soil from last year’s container garden into my compost pile. Does that make up for the shredded leaves I don’t put in there.? I just let my leaves rot in place.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: