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Let's Talk Taters - Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes

Published on
March 13, 2023 at 12:41:00 PM PDT March 13, 2023 at 12:41:00 PM PDTth, March 13, 2023 at 12:41:00 PM PDT

One of the most popular vegetables in the home garden is the potato. Potatoes purchased at supermarkets may have been treated to prevent sprouting. For quality, high yields and best results, use certified seed potatoes. 


Preparing Potatoes for Planting 

Cut whole potato into 3 or 4 chunks (making sure each chunck has a minium of 1-2 eyes) atleast 3-4 days prior to planting. Allow the cut to heal before planting. The healing-over discourages rotting in the cold, wet soil.

Planting Potatoes 

  • 1lb. of seed potatoes will plant an 8’ row. 
  • Plant as soon as ground can be worked in spring (March or early April in central Midwest) A week earlier to South and a week later to the North. 
  • Place chunk cut side down and 12“ apart in a furrow 4” deep in rows spaced 2-3’ apart.
  • Cover the potatoes with soil and as the plant grows, mound a hill of soil around the plant. The hill should eventually be 8-12” tall. 
  • Potatoes prefer loose, pliable soil that is well drained, fertile, and slightly acidic.

Digging “New Potatoes” 

Approximately 40-60 days after planting, the early potatoes will have blossomed. This may be a sign they are ready. Carefully poke into the hill by hand to see what you find. Harvest the entire plant from the end of a row for early digging of new potatoes.

Harvesting the Main Crop 

Drier soil is best when harvesting potatoes. For max yield, digging should not begin until the vines have begun to die. Heavy frost will kill the vines if they have not died prior to this time. Leave the tuber in the ground for two weeks after the vines are dead. The skins will cure or toughen, protecting the potato from bruising during harvest.

Allow the potatoes to dry three to four days in a warm, shady, and airy location before storing. Do not allow the potatoes to sit directly in the sun for any length of time after digging. After drying the potatoes, store in a cool, dry area. 

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes can be grown in any location that is frost free for 100 days. They are heat and drought tolerant and prefer light, sandy soil that is well drained.

Growing Tips 

  • Sweet potatoes should not be planted until all danger of frost is past and soil temperatures approach 70ºF 
  • Prepare the bed several weeks before the last frost date in your area in order to have loose soil 
  • Plant in hills 4-6” above the soil level. Plant 12-15” apart in the rows and the rows 3-4’ apart 
  • Water plants as soon as planted. Plants will usually wilt, but recover in few days. Sweet potato plants need 1-2” of water weekly 
  • Use pre-emergent garden weed preventer to keep weeds from growing 
  • Mulch is not recommended, because the roots need plenty of heat to stimulate the growth 

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes 

Harvest sweet potatoes just before or immediately following the first frost. The longer you leave the roots the larger your sweet potato will be at harvest.

For long term storage, sweet potatoes need to be cured. Place the potatoes in a warm (80-90ºF) location with high humidity for 5-7 days. After curing, store your sweet potatoes in a location with temperatures of 55 to 60ºF.

Note: Potatoes are susceptible to several diseases, so when selecting seed potatoes, it’s important that you choose certified, disease-free varieties from a reliable garden center. Homegrown potatoes saved from the previous year’s crop may be used but may carry undetectable diseases.