Learn How to Grow Potatoes and When to Harvest Them

Follow our guide on how to grow potatoes and discover how easy and satisfying it is to raise a homegrown crop, plus learn about the many types and varieties available for your garden.

how to grow potatoes of many colors


When you grow your own potatoes, you can try a wealth of colors, sizes and types that aren't readily available at grocery stores.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Olga Bondas

Shutterstock/Olga Bondas

When you grow your own potatoes, you can try a wealth of colors, sizes and types that aren't readily available at grocery stores.

Potatoes top the list for vegetables to grow at home. Homegrown potatoes taste a world better than store-bought, they're easy to grow, and they're especially fun to harvest — like digging for treasure!

Another reason to grow your own potatoes? Variety. Potatoes are cultivated and eaten all over the world, and there are more than 5,000 varieties and counting. Even the best gourmet grocery is only going to offer a handful of those options, but you can grow whatever you can find. Potatoes come in a rainbow of colors and can be white, yellow, blue, purple, pink or red.

The Origin of the Potato

While potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are often called "Irish" potatoes to distinguish them from sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) or yams (Dioscorea spp.), which are different plant species altogether, these tasty tubers actually originated in the Andean highlands of South America, not in Ireland (or in Idaho, for that matter). Potatoes are in the Solanaceae or Nightshade family of plants that also includes tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

Potatoes were brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s, introduced to Britain and Ireland soon after, and then crossed the Atlantic again to arrive in North America in the early 1700s. While potatoes are very popular now — it's estimated that Americans eat one a day — they were a tough sell for many people when first brought to Europe.

Planting Potatoes

Potatoes are planted in spring in all areas, and again in fall in mild climates, from small pieces of mature tubers, called "seed" potatoes, each with one or two buds. Buy seed potatoes from certified sources; many online seed companies also sell seed potatoes.

Plant as soon as soil can be dug in early spring; if the weather then is typically rainy, plan ahead by working up rows or hills in the fall. In freeze-free areas of the country, including the Southwest and along the Gulf Coast, potatoes can be planted in the fall or winter; however, it is usually difficult to find seed potatoes then, so they must be ordered and stored ahead of time.

how to plant potatoes


Seed potatoes can be planted whole, or they can be cut into sections, each containing at least one eye (also called a sprout), before planting.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Viktor Sergeevich

Shutterstock/Viktor Sergeevich

Seed potatoes can be planted whole, or they can be cut into sections, each containing at least one eye (also called a sprout), before planting.

Can you plant grocery store potatoes? While you can try planting from grocery store potatoes, these commercial potatoes may have been sprayed with chemicals to keep them from sprouting in storage, so growth may be stunted and your yields lower or dismal. Trust us: It's best to use seed potatoes.

When to Plant Potatoes

Potatoes require cool weather — not freezing, not hot — to survive and produce edible underground tubers. While healthy potato plants can tolerate light frosts, and may even recover from mild freeze damage, they cannot survive hard freezes. Plant potatoes after the danger of freezing is past, a few weeks before the last frost date, but well before hot weather sets in for the summer.

How to Plant Potatoes

Cut seed pieces two or three days ahead of time to allow cut surfaces to heal, which reduces rotting when they are planted in cold, wet soils. The pieces may also be allowed to sprout or "chit" several weeks before planting, which can be helpful in areas where the growing season is cold and short.

  • Sow seed potatoes, "eyes" (sprouts) up, two to three inches deep and about a foot apart.

  • For traditional row plantings, keep rows three to four feet apart.

  • Dig your planting furrow up to six inches deep, keeping extra soil from the furrow stacked alongside the planted row to use for hilling.

  • In beds using intensive planting methods, such as wooden raised beds, sow potatoes 12 inches apart in staggered rows.

  • In containers, you can plant potatoes more closely and your yield will just be smaller.
planting potatoes


A gardener cares for a large patch of potatoes, planted in deeply furrowed rows. Planting in furrows allows for hilling around the tubers as they form.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Dina V

Shutterstock/Dina V

A gardener cares for a large patch of potatoes, planted in deeply furrowed rows. Planting in furrows allows for hilling around the tubers as they form.

Tips on How to Grow Potatoes

  • In addition to cool weather, potatoes require at least 6 hours of sun, very well-drained soil, regular water and moderate fertilizer. For clay soils, add compost to improve drainage and prevent waterlogged soils, which rot potatoes.

  • Heaviest tuber formation occurs when soil temperatures are in the 60-70 degree range, and stops when soil temperatures reach 80 degrees or so.

  • Mulching soil with straw or other organic matter can help reduce soil temperature by as much as 10 degrees.

  • Water more often if growing in containers as they tend to dry out more quickly.

Hilling Potatoes

Once the seed potatoes are planted, they sprout quickly into lush, leafy, multiple-stem plants. As the plants grow, new tubers begin to form on short stolons that grow downward into the ground. Because potatoes exposed to sunlight turn green, which causes them to taste bitter, it is important to pile soil or heavy layers of straw or other mulch around the lower stems of the plant so the tubers are grown in complete darkness. This is called "hilling" potatoes.

Potato processing. Hilling and weeding.


Hill soil around the base of potato plants as they begin to grow, which will keep expanding tubers – which grow partially from the plant's lower stem – underground and away from sunlight.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Ilya_Kuznetsov


Hill soil around the base of potato plants as they begin to grow, which will keep expanding tubers – which grow partially from the plant's lower stem – underground and away from sunlight.

  • Start hilling potatoes when stems reach six to eight inches tall. Hill potatoes every week or two until the plants have at least six inches of lower stem buried.

  • Gather soil around stems, covering roughly 1/2 to 2/3 of the exposed stem and leaves. Most gardeners make one to two hillings, but you can continue to hill plants throughout the entire growing season.

  • To have enough soil on hand for hilling, remove the top 12 inches of soil prior to planting and stash it nearby. You can also hill using a blend of homegrown compost and bagged potting soil or topsoil. Or, save soil from container gardens at the end of the growing season to blend with compost for this purpose.

  • Simplify the hilling process by substituting straw for soil. Add straw frequently to maintain consistent levels. With this method, harvesting is a cinch — no digging is required. Simply pull straw away to reveal tubers.

  • Whether you use soil or straw, it's vital to keep potato roots moist from the time plants flower until roughly two weeks before harvest. Potatoes have shallow roots and are sensitive to fluctuating soil moisture.

  • When you're hilling with soil, it's a good idea to add a mulch layer. Mulch reduces evaporation and maintains lower soil temperature.
More Advice

Companion Planting for Potatoes

Discover best garden companions for potatoes, from beans to barley, to help boost the harvest and control pests.

Plant These Potato Companions

Growing Potatoes in Containers or Grow Bags

Potatoes will grow in all kinds of containers, from terra cotta pots to whiskey barrels or galvanized bins. Growing potatoes in containers makes harvesting simple — just dump out the contents to find your prize potatoes. You can also try special potato grow bags; some make harvesting easier with a lift-up flap that reveals the tubers growing beneath the soil. These are an excellent option for small-space or patio gardens.

How to Grow Purple Potatoes in Containers
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When to Harvest Potatoes

Depending on variety and local weather, the potato growing season is about three or four months from planting to digging, with some early varieties and immature or "new" potatoes harvested a little earlier. Most gardeners plant in March, April or May, and expect a harvest about four months later, starting to dig new potatoes about two to three weeks after plants flower.

Harvest "new" potatoes — any potato harvested while small before their sugars have fully converted to starch — a couple months after planting by pulling a plant or two, or by feeling around in soil or straw and pulling a few young spuds.

When plant tops start to die back, you'll know it's time for the main harvest. Or count the number of days your variety needs to mature after planting, and harvest then. Let soil dry a bit before harvesting so it isn't caked on tubers.

  • Don't wash newly dug potatoes. Instead, give them a simple brush with gloved hands.

  • Freshly harvested potatoes need time to cure and form dried skins before storing. Cure potatoes by arranging spuds in a single layer for about two weeks at room temperature in a covered area.

  • After curing, expect potatoes to store for up to a few months or more in a cool, dark place.

Types of Potatoes

While all true potatoes are grown basically the same way, there are variations in plant productivity and disease resistance, and the shape, size, color and cooking quality of the tubers.

There are six basic types of potatoes, each with many varieties. Each has certain characteristics that make them suitable for different cooking methods. The six types are categorized for cooking based on starch content: starchy, waxy and all-purpose or medium. Starchy potatoes are more mealy or floury and preferred for baking, mashing and making fries or chips. Waxy potatoes have less starch and are more firm, better for soups, potato salads and casseroles or gratins. All-purpose potatoes are in-between.

  • Russet (starchy)
  • Yellow (all-purpose)
  • Red (waxy)
  • White (waxy)
  • Blue (all-purpose)
  • Fingerling (waxy)

Among these types, there are countless dozens of heirloom varieties available to grow at home. Here's more info on each type plus favorite varieties to grow.


Russets are the classic "Idaho" potatoes with thick brown skin, often used for baking, frying, and mashing. Russets are low in moisture and tend to dry a bit when cooked, so most cooks add milk or butter when mashing.

Good varieties: Russet Burbank, German Butterball


Yellow potatoes are all-purpose potatoes perfect for mashing, steaming, boiling, baking, roasting, and frying.

Good varieties: Inca Gold, Mountain Rose, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn


Red potatoes are firm and excellent for potato salads and soups, and for steaming, boiling, roasting, making au gratin, scalloped, and salads.

Good varieties: Norland, Klondike Rose, Red Pontiac, Cranberry Red, Mountain Rose


White potatoes are low in starch and are excellent for boiling, potato salad, mashing, steaming, making au gratin and roasting.

Good varieties: White Rose, Cal White


Blue potatoes, also known as purple potatoes because of their high antioxidant which turns purplish when cooked, have medium starch and are great for steaming, baking and boiling.

Good varieties: Russian Blue, All Blue, Purple Cream of the Crop, Peruvian, Purple Majesty


"Finger potatoes" are typically the size and shape of a finger. Because of their small size and sometimes different colored skin and flesh colors, they are ideal as side dishes. Most have a mild, somewhat nutty flavor best enjoyed when baked or roasted, and even boiled — but they tend to fall apart in soups.

Good varieties: French Fingerling, Austrian Crescent, Russian Banana

Varieties by Time to Harvest

Potato varieties can also be classified by the time it takes from planting to harvest.

  • Early-season potato varieties are planted first in spring and are ready to harvest in 60-80 days. They can only be stored for a few weeks.

  • Mid-season varieties mature in 80-100 days. They typically will store for about a month.

  • Late-season potato varieties are ready to harvest in 100-130 days. They can store for a few months.

More Potato Facts

Who knew the potato could be so interesting? We did.

What are "new" potatoes?

New potatoes are any kind of potato harvested while still small. Their skins are still thin and their sugars haven't fully converted to starch. They are typically sweet, firm, creamy and very waxy. Use them for boiling, steaming, roasting or in soups, but not for baking.

Is a potato a vegetable?

The question of whether potatoes are a vegetable often comes up in both gardening and nutritional conversations. The long and short of it: yes.

Is a potato a root?

Potatoes, because they usually grow in the ground, are often thought of as roots. But as we noted earlier, they technically are starchy, enlarged modified stems called tubers, which grow on short branches called stolons from the lower parts of potato plants.

Do potato plants have flowers?

Yes! Potato plants produce small blooms. When the plants start flowering, it's a good sign to recommit to watering and fertilizing, as the plants are maturing. In cool climates, potato plants may also produce berries, which are toxic so just leave them be.

potato plants have flowers

The Lovely Potato Flower

Not all potato varieties produce flowers during the growing stage, but flowering is usually a positive sign that the underground tubers are healthy and growing into young potatoes.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Filaree Garlic Farm/Phoebe Webb Photography

Image courtesy of Filaree Garlic Farm/Phoebe Webb Photography

Not all potato varieties produce flowers during the growing stage, but flowering is usually a positive sign that the underground tubers are healthy and growing into young potatoes.

What part of potato plants are poisonous?

Though potato plants also flower and produce small, many-seeded berries like cherry tomatoes, all parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten, except for the tubers.

Are green potatoes poisonous?

Potatoes that have been exposed to a lot of light or stored too cool or too warm can develop a green color and taste bitter, which usually indicates a high content of "solanine" — a poisonous alkaloid. Avoid eating green potatoes, or at least peel away all the skin and green color, and especially any sprouted "eyes."

What are other household uses for potatoes?

Potatoes have a surprising number of uses, from making stamps to cleaning cast iron. Discover 10 uses for potatoes beyond eating.

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