Most home gardeners agree that growing potatoes is worth the effort. Homegrown produce always tastes better and has a higher nutritional value than what you’ll find at the grocery store. In this article, you’ll learn all you need to know about how to sprout potatoes and grow the best possible crop of delicious spuds.
In general, potatoes are an easy crop to grow. Have you ever asked, “How long does it take for potatoes to sprout?”
Although the exact time depends on growing conditions like temperature and moisture levels, potatoes generally take about three or four weeks to begin sprouting.
It’s possible to speed up this process by chitting your seed potatoes, which means sprouting them indoors before planting them in your garden.
By doing so, you’ll be able to harvest your potato crop up to three weeks earlier than if you planted the seed pieces directly in the ground.
- How to Get Potatoes to Sprout
- Preparing Potatoes for Planting
- How to Sprout Potatoes using the Hilling Method
- Planting Sprouted Potatoes in Containers
- How to Plant Sprouted Potatoes in Straw Bales
- Ideal Growing Conditions for Potato Plants
- Best Soil and Fertilizer for Growing Potatoes
- Harvesting Potatoes
- Common Pest and Disease Problems for Potatoes
How to Get Potatoes to Sprout
Timing is imperative when it comes to growing potatoes. It doesn’t really matter which potato types and uses you plan for the tuber later. If they get planted too early, there’s a risk of the new growth dying in a late frost. However, it’s also critical not to plant potatoes too late in the season.
Their productivity drops significantly at temperatures over 90℉, and hotter temperatures might be fatal. When it comes to how to get potatoes to sprout, chitting potatoes is an excellent way to get a leg up on the gardening season.
When seed potatoes sprout ahead of planting in early spring, they’re ready to harvest up to two weeks sooner, reducing the risk of damage by pests or disease.
Always purchase disease-free certified seed potatoes from a reputable seller. Although it’s possible to sprout potatoes from the grocery store, you may inadvertently introduce plant diseases into your garden.
Some of the most common fungal and viral diseases that affect potatoes, like blight and scab, persist in the soil for years. In addition, many commercially grown potatoes are treated with chemical sprout inhibitors to prevent the eyes from developing.
How do you know when potatoes are bad and cannot be planted? Discard potatoes that smell, are wrinkled, or soft.
Preparing Potatoes for Planting
Before planting them, preserve fresh potatoes the right way. Store seed potatoes in a cool, dark location with temperatures consistently below 40℉. Most potato varieties require a dormancy period of several months before they sprout.
Seed potatoes need to spend several weeks in warm temperatures with medium light levels to break out of dormancy.
The ideal temperature for sprouting potatoes is between 70-75℉. The light helps the sprouts grow thicker and shorter, so they’re not as fragile.
However, it’s best to keep them in indirect light. Use an egg carton as a potato holder while the sprouts are developing to prevent accidental breakage.
After about one week, new sprouts begin forming from the potatoes’ eyes. They’re typically ready to plant after three or four weeks, once the sprouts are at least a half-inch long.
You may notice the seed potatoes greening a bit while they sprout. This results from an increase in solanine, a naturally occurring chemical found in all members of the nightshade family.
It’s part of the plant’s natural defense system to protect itself during reproduction and is toxic to humans and animals in large quantities.
Potatoes are tubers, meaning that individual plants can be grown from pieces of the mother plant’s root system. If your seed potatoes are relatively small, no larger than a chicken egg, it’s fine to plant them whole.
It’s also quite easy to grow sweet potatoes in water until they sprout. After the potatoes have several true leaves, you can transplant them in some soil.
For larger seed potatoes, cut them into two- to three-inch pieces with at least three eyes. Allow the pieces to cure for a day or two so that a protective callus forms over the cut side to reduce the risk of rot and fungal disease.
How to Sprout Potatoes using the Hilling Method
When planting sprouted potatoes, the traditional technique involves planting the seed pieces in a shallow trench and hilling more soil up around the plant as it grows.
Plant seed potatoes with the sprouts facing upward. The planting depth for sprouted potatoes is three inches below soil and compost. When considering how to plant sprouted potatoes, soil temperature is one of the most critical factors.
Ensure that the soil temperature is at least 50℉ before planting sprouted potatoes. It’s beneficial to cover the garden soil with a layer of dark-colored mulch, compost, or black plastic one week before planting to warm the soil.
Once the plants reach six to eight inches tall, bury the stems with a mixture of compost, peat moss, and garden soil so that just the top leaves are sticking out. Repeat the process three or four times throughout the growing season.
This method works well for both traditional and raised bed gardens. Some growers reinforce the hills with wire mesh, bricks, or old tires to prevent them from eroding.
Planting Sprouted Potatoes in Containers
If you’re tight on garden space, don’t worry. It’s also possible to grow potatoes in grow bags or containers. To ensure that the plants have enough space to develop healthy tubers, use a container with at least a ten-gallon capacity or at least 16 inches tall and wide.
Dump several inches of soil in the bottom of the container, arrange four to six seed pieces at least six inches apart, and then cover them with another three inches of soil. As the plants grow, gradually fill it in with two to six inches of lightweight, organic material.
How to Plant Sprouted Potatoes in Straw Bales
Another popular method for planting potatoes uses straw bales instead of soil. This approach is less messy and more space-efficient. It also allows you to harvest new potatoes without damaging the root system.
Choose a spot for your straw bales that receives full sun and has adequate drainage when water runs through the straw. Before planting, a few preparatory steps are necessary.
For two or three days, saturate the straw bales with a hose sprayer once each morning. Sprinkle a cup of bone meal over top of the hay bales before soaking them. Repeat for the next few days, allowing the hay bale to sit in the sun all day after saturating it.
After seven to ten days, the hay bale will have started to compost itself inside, creating an ideal space for planting seed potatoes. To check whether the bales are ready for planting, pull apart the layers of straw and feel the center of the hay bale.
It heats up during the decomposition process but should begin cooling down after a week or so. If the inside still feels hot to the touch, wait a few more days for it to cool further.
Plant potatoes four to six inches deep inside the hay bale spaced six to ten inches apart. Usually, four potato plants fit per hay bale. Once all the seed pieces are in place, reclose the bale by replacing the straw over the top.
Keep the bales consistently watered, and avoid letting the center dry out. They also need frequent fertilization since they aren’t absorbing nutrients from the soil. Use a water-soluble fertilizer weekly.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Potato Plants
Potatoes are a cool-season crop that requires full sun and consistent moisture. On average, potato plants need one to two inches of water each week. Stop watering once you notice the foliage turning yellow to cure the potatoes before harvesting.
Potatoes grow best between 60-70℉. Above 80℉, the tubers may become discolored or woody. During particularly hot or dry periods, give your plants extra water to protect them from heat damage.
Best Soil and Fertilizer for Growing Potatoes
Potatoes need loose, well-draining soil to produce the best crop. In early spring, add several inches of organic compost to your garden soil. Ensure that the area is free from large rocks and other obstacles.
Potatoes favor slightly acidic soil, with a pH between 5.0 and 7.0. Adding bone meal, Epsom salt, garden lime, or rock phosphate to the soil before planting potatoes helps achieve the ideal pH and provides essential micronutrients.
Coffee grounds and wood ash are also excellent natural soil amendments that add nutrients and lower soil pH.
For growing potatoes in containers or grow bags, use a potting soil blend rich in organic matter. Or, try making a DIY growing medium.
Use a hand rake or trowel to combine the ingredients in a large bucket or wheelbarrow. It’s preferable to use all of your homemade potting soil right away. If not, store it in a cool, dry location in a sealed container.
In addition to providing nutrient-rich soil, fertilize your potato plants regularly. For potatoes planted in soil, apply an organic, all-purpose fertilizer once per month. It’s best to use a fertilizer with higher levels of phosphorus and potassium than nitrogen.
Some growers enjoy harvesting new potatoes, also called baby potatoes, before they’re fully mature. New potatoes have a higher moisture content, sweeter flavor, and tender skin.
Harvest new potatoes about a week after the first flowers appear. Carefully dig around the root area and only harvest the larger potatoes, leaving the smaller ones to continue growing.
For mature potatoes, wait to harvest until about two weeks after the foliage starts to die back. Check the recommendations for the specific potato varieties you’re growing to determine whether they’re early, mid, or late season potatoes.
Gently dig up your potatoes with a garden fork. If the weather is dry, cure them outdoors for two or three days. If you’re harvesting in wet weather, cure your potato harvest on a covered porch or in your garage.
For storing potatoes, leave most of the dirt on the outside. Scrubbing potatoes is not necessary for storage. Put them in a dark location with temperatures consistently below 40℉.
Keep in mind that some potato varieties store better than others. For example, russet and French fingerling potatoes keep for several months when stored properly, while it’s best to use heirloom Yukon Gold and other thin-skinned varieties right away in the fall.
Common Pest and Disease Problems for Potatoes
Although potatoes are generally easy to grow, there are a few pest and disease issues to monitor. Prevention is the best remedy, so ensure that your plants grow in nutrient-rich soil and get adequate amounts of sunlight and water.
Stressed plants are much more susceptible to attacks from pests and pathogens. Colorado potato beetles are among the most common insect pests that attack potato plants, and they’re present throughout North America.
Adults are yellow with black stripes, and larvae are orange with black spots. They feed on potato flowers and foliage during both stages and typically lay large clusters of orange eggs on the undersides of plants’ leaves. Take care of individuals quickly before they become a potato bug infestation that destroys your plants.
Other prevalent pests include aphids and flea beetles, which also feed on foliage and flowers. Treat all above-ground parts of the plant with horticultural oil, which is effective against eggs, larvae, and adults.
Crop rotation is one of the greatest preventative measures against plant diseases. Pathogens may persist in soil for several years, so it’s crucial to plant different types of crops that aren’t susceptible to the same diseases in each area of your garden every year.
Some of the most common plant diseases that affect potatoes include early and late blight, which are fungal diseases that kill off the plants’ foliage.
Mosaic virus, commonly spread by aphids, causes curling and discoloration of the plants’ leaves and a diminished harvest but doesn’t usually kill the entire plant.
Unfortunately, there are no treatments for these plant diseases, so it’s best to plant disease-resistant varieties.
Get a head start on growing spuds this year, and chit your seed potatoes four to six weeks before you’re ready to plant them outdoors.
Planting sprouted potatoes allows you to harvest them up to two weeks earlier and reduces the risk of pest and disease problems.
This technique also works well for growing sweet potatoes. When considering how to plant sprouted potatoes, take care not to break the delicate sprouts when transplanting.
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