Gardening Plant diseases Vegetables

Should You Really Start Potatoes From Sprouts?

Potatoes with sprouts, one cut in half.

By starting potatoes from sprouts, you may facilitate the spread of late blight disease. Photo: ZooFari, Wikimedia Commons

I have a long history of starting new potato plants from potato tubers that start to sprout in my kitchen cupboard. After all, it certainly is easy enough to do: you just cut the tuber into sections, each one with at least one eye (sprout) and drop it into the ground when the soil starts to warm up in the spring. Dig, drop, done!

But I just read a warning that certainly made me stop and think.

Here’s what I saw on the web site of the Toronto Master Gardeners:

The Ontario Ministry of Food and Agriculture (OMFRA) has some cautions about growing potatoes in urban home gardens.

Their web site explains: “Late blight caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans is a devastating potato disease. Spores in the late blight fungus are spread by the wind and can travel long distances. Urban gardeners cannot access commercial crop protection materials that provide good control of this disease. Potatoes grown in urban areas are sources of late blight inoculum that can infect potato fields located as far as 200 km away.”

For this reason, they strongly recommend NOT using saved potatoes or purchased eating potatoes. Instead, OMAFRA recommends only planting certified disease-free potato seed from a reputable garden centre.

Well, that was a surprise! I had no idea of the consequences of a simple act of “plant recycling”! My nonchalant attitude towards potato starts may have been seriously harming potato farmers in my area … and there is a major potato-growing area well within the 200 km (125 miles) of my garden.

Bags of certified seed potatoes in a potato field with a garden fork.
Certified seed potato is widely available and quite inexpensive. Photo:

So … this year, I’ll be buying certified disease-free potato seed, which indeed, I can readily find in my local garden centre. And maybe you should do so as well!

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.

5 comments on “Should You Really Start Potatoes From Sprouts?

  1. Well, it won’t stop me from growing potatoes from old potatoes. Potatoes are not commercially grown near here that I am aware of. For a while, I have been bringing surplus produce to work for others to take what they want from. Leftover potatoes often remain unclaimed. It is easy to dig a trench, dump them in, and let them grow for the following year, even if I do not know what they are are how to grow them most efficiently.

  2. Suzy Forbes

    I’m trying potatoes from seeds this year. The clancy pelleted from West Coast seeds. They have a 110 day from transplant maturity. Here’s hoping!!

  3. It works fine. The tubers are a bit variable, but growing from seed saves money, so…

  4. I’ll always buy new certified however the chances of blight being either on your own stored or supermarket bought potatoes is fairly slim, its more likely to overwinter on volunteer potatoes or poorly.composted foliage of tomatoes or potatoes and it is so rife here that it makes no difference. However I buy in as you get far more interesting varieties and you know that they are free from virus which are quite uncommon here and don’t want them to take hold. Still dealing with with white rot brought on to the plot by duff onion sets over 10 years ago.

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