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  1. Potatoes belong to the nightshade family and are related to tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. 
  2. Potatoes are vulnerable to a lot of soil-bourne diseases which is why growing them from locally grown certified seed is the best practice.
  3. These are new world plants, bred and cultivated for thousands of years in Peru by the Aztec people and brought to Europe by the Spaniards in the 1500's. 
  4. Potatoes are a cool season crop and grow well in the far north.
  5. Rotate potato crops every year so that you don't grow potatoes (or their relatives like tomato, eggplants or peppers) in the same spot for at least 3 years, to reduce or avoid the build up of insect and disease problems.

Potatoes are high in vitamin C, folate and potassium. Check here for detailed information from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

The Canadian Food Guide recommends that roughly half of the food on your plate should be fruits and vegetables.

Canada Food Guide: What's On Your Plate?

Growing outdoors

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Potatoes prefer sandy loam, loam or clay loam soils for good tuber production. Prepare the garden soil well in advance, adding organic matter and compost if needed.  Avoid adding manure which tends to be high in nitrogen and can encourage leafy growth at the expense of tuber development.

The soil should be of good tilth: soft, crumbly and easily worked. If your garden soil is clay or compacted, consider growing potatoes in raised beds.

They also do well in containers outdoors filled with soil-less potting mix provided they are adequately fertilized.

Potatoes need full sun for highest yields and are not suitable for partial shade or shady areas. If you have a partially shaded garden, you may be more successful if you grow them in a container in a sunnier spot. 

While potatoes can be grown indoors, they typically do best outdoors. 

Potatoes are not suited to hydroponic growing methods, but growing in a straw bale is feasible. See the article in the 'related articles' tab.

Potatoes are grown from seed potatoes (tubers) and not from seeds or transplants. Seed potatoes are simply small potatoes from last year’s crop.

Timing

  • The ideal soil temperature for planting seed potatoes is warmer than 7°C. To warm soil faster place a sheet of clear plastic on top of soil and anchor the edges a week or two before planting. Remove the plastic before planting. 
  • Potatoes can be planted around the third week of May when soils are warm.

Planting instructions

  • It is essential to rotate where you grow potatoes to reduce or prevent the build up of disease and insect problems. Do not plant potatoes in areas where potatoes or their relatives like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant have been grown for at least three years.
  • One way to get an early start on your potato crop is to ‘green sprout’ or ‘chit’ your potato seed about 4 weeks before planting. (See photo below) Place your seed at 20˚C in the dark until you see sprouts beginning to emerge – then move the tubers into a spot where they will receive 10+ hours of gentle light each day. After about 2 weeks of this treatment the seed tubers will form short, stubby green sprouts that will stay intact during planting. They will start to grow when planted in warm soil. You should get mature potatoes about 10 – 14 days earlier than those not green-sprouted or chitted first.
  • Planting whole small potato seed tuber is preferable to cutting tubers into smaller pieces. If you do cut them up, make sure that each portion has at least one live sprout. Allow the cut tubers to dry out for a couple of days before planting to discourage disease problems. When planting, set the potato pieces in the soil with the sprout pointing up,
  • Potatoes need room to grow, so space them out in the garden according to the directions on the potato seed package. The spacing can range from 30 - 90 cm (1' – 3’), depending on the variety. If you want only baby potatoes, space closer together and harvest early.
  • Hilling method:The most common way to plant potatoes is to “hill” plants to encourage tubers to develop along the underground portion of the shoot. Plant the seed potatoes 10 – 15 cm (4' – 6”) deep and then form a small hill of soil over the planting site.   When plants emerge, hoe up soil around the potato plant again being careful not to completely cover the emerging plant. Two to three weeks later, pull more soil from between the rows to expand the hill around the plant.  The potato plant should be growing in the lower centre of an ‘M’ shaped hill. Repeat again in late June and mid July.
  • Deep planting method without hilling: Another method is to simply plant the seed potatoes extra deep - at least 17 - 20 cm (7" - 8") and skip the hilling. This is a lower maintenance way of growing but is recommended only if your soil is light and friable. However, since the potatoes are not hilled, it takes more digging effort to harvest. 
  • Shallow planting method using deep mulch: Set seed potato pieces about half their depth into the soil - just enough to make good soil contact. Then cover the potatoes with a thick layer (at least 30 cm or 1') of mulch such as straw. The mulch must be thick enough prevent light from reaching the potatoes. Thick mulch will still permit the potato sprouts to grow through. Top with more mulch as needed to keep the potatoes dark. At harvest time simply pull back the mulch and harvest. This method produces surprisingly clean potatoes.

Trap cropping

If you had problems with Colorado Potato Beetle in the past, consider spring trap cropping.

  • The strategy is to do two plantings: a small early spring trap crop followed by a second main crop planting in early to mid-June. Over-wintering adults emerge in late May and early June. They mate and the females lay eggs in June to late July.
  • Plant a few potatoes in a new area as soon as the soil has thawed in spring, perhaps one row or about 10% -20% of the total you wish to grow. Use only certified new potato seed. Space these potatoes about 15 cm (6”) wider apart than you would normally. This makes it easier to scout for beetles.
  • Once the trap crop emerges, look at the plants daily to scout for potato beetles. Be sure to look under the leaves for clusters of yellow eggs. Squish the eggs by folding the leaf in half. Pick off adult potato beetles. No need to use insecticides – just crush them, place them in a bag or jar and dispose of in the garbage.
  • Plant your main crop in early to mid-June.
  • Continue to check all of your plants for potato beetles and for egg clusters in late June to late July. Remove and destroy. Be diligent: finding and destroy most of the potato beetles in the spring trap crop will interrupt their life cycle. 

Don't forget to label what you planted. It's also helpful to draw a map or take a photo of your vegetable garden to help you track planting locations and success each year. This information is critical if you're rotating your crops to help prevent insect and disease issues.

Chitting potatoes.
  • Seed potatoes can be planted in early to mid May as they can tolerate cooler soil temperatures.
    • However, cold temperatures in spring can increase the incidence of certain diseases like rhizoctonia.
    • Watch the weather forecast for extended periods of rain if planting early: cool soils that are wet can cause seed potatoes to rot. Delay planting if spring is cool and wet.
    • Early planting works well in raised beds which warm up faster in spring.
    • To warm soil faster, cover it with clear plastic and secure the edges after the snow melts. Studies show that clear plastic warms soil better than black plastic. Leave in place for two weeks. Remove the plastic when you are ready to plant.
  • Perforated clear plastic tunnels or covers are not recommended as temperatures can be extreme.     
  • Plant only certified potato seed, preferably from a local seed producer. 
  • Factors to consider when deciding what potato cultivar to grow include: taste, days to maturity, end use, type of potato, disease resistance and availability.
  • There are different types of potatoes, suited to culinary uses:
    • Boiling: Norland, Viking, Purple Viking, Caribe, Adora, Shepody
    • Baking: Russet Burbank (formerly Netted Gem), Russet Norkotah, Goldrush
    • French Fries: Shepody, Yukon Gold

Here are cultivar recommendations from the North Dakota State University Cultivar Trials, as they share a similar prairie climate and soils. You may download their list here: North Dakota State University Vegetable Cultivar Recommendations for 2021

  • Dark Red Norland, Kennebec, Peter Wilcox, Purple Viking, Red Gold, Satina, Superior, Yukon Gem, Yukon Gold. 

 

Potatoes benefit from a regular supply of soil moisture throughout the growing season. Periods of flooding or drought will affect potato quality and can cause growth cracks, hollow heart, knobby potatoes or interior rotting.

Actively growing potato plants need 2.5 cm water/week. They also benefit from mulch, in the garden or in a pot which helps to retain soil moisture.

Fertilize potato plants using a side dressing of compost. Another way is to use a granular fertilizer formulated for vegetables applied in spring according to the manufacturers instructions. Potatoes grown in containers in soil less potting mix need regular fertilizing with a water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer applied according to the manufacturers instructions - usually once or twice a week. 

Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers such as 32-0-0, which encourages leafy growth at the expense of tuber production. 

 

 

Potatoes are not suitable for fall seeding.

Coming soon

See our preservation section for more videos.

Growing in containers

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Potatoes can be grown in a container indoors or outdoors.

Plant seed potato in a large container with a hole in the bottom. The container should be at least 8 liters (2 gallons) or larger to allow space for a healthy root system. A 19 litre (5 gallon) pail or a half barrel is ideal. Space potato seed as you would in the garden.

See: Vegetable container gardening

Potatoes can be grown indoors but need supplemental lighting.

See our Growing indoors page for detailed growing advice.

Any potato you prefer would work in a container. Smaller types such as fingerling potatoes are also suitable.

 

 

Dehydrating potatoes

Saving seeds

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Potato seed tubers should be purchased fresh each year. Locally grown certified seed potatoes are the best choice because they are disease free. 

Using potatoes from the grocery store as seed potatoes is not recommended because there is no way of knowing if they are inadvertently carrying a disease. Another reason is that some grocery potatoes have been treated with a plant hormone to inhibit sprouting.

Occasionally potatoes produce flowers and small fruits containing seeds. The seeds produced will not be the same as the plant from which it came.

Harvest

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  • Potatoes can be harvested as soon as the tubers reach the desired size for eating. Baby potatoes can be harvested as early as mid-July. Either dig up an entire plant or two, or ‘rob’ a few potatoes from under each plant.
  • Later in the season, remove the potato tops at least one week prior to harvesting to encourage good skin set on the tubers.  Good skin set ensures that the tubers will resist dehydration and disease during storage.   If the tops have been frozen or have senesced (died) naturally prior to harvest there is no need to remove the tops prior to harvesting.
  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast. A frost up to -1°C will kill potato tops but should not freeze tubers.  Night temperatures below -3C may start to freeze potato tubers, which may lead to rot if the potatoes are put into long term storage later on. 
  • Dry freshly harvested potatoes to briefly in the field to make it easier to brush off soil from the tubers. However, extended exposure to sunlight is not recommended.  Light of any kind encourages the potato to turn green and produce glycoalkaloids which give the potato a bitter flavour and can make you sick.   

 

Use a garden fork to loosen the soil near the potatoes and then remove the potatoes from the loosened soil.  It may help to water two days before harvesting to soften firmer soil.

The skin of vegetables protects it from bacteria. If you intend to store your potatoes, store only the ones that have not been damaged during harvest. Use the ones that cut or heavily scuffed in the immediate future.

Once harvested, you can knock the soil off of your potatoes for long term storage. Don't scrub the potatoes as the soil will scratch the protective coating. For long term cold storage, you can store potatoes "dirty". If you want to store them in your kitchen for immediate use, soak your potatoes in the sink until you can gently rub off the dirt. Allow them to dry completely before storing to prevent bacterial and fungal problems.

Potatoes don't have a particularly high respiration rate. While it is important to keep them cool during harvest, as it is with most vegetables, it isn't critical.

It is however, important to keep potatoes in the dark, as sunlight can cause potatoes to become green. The green areas contain solanine which, if not removed, can make you sick.

Storage

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  • Ideal storage conditions for potatoes are about 4˚C and 90-95% humidity with good air circulation.
  • Black spots in the potato flesh indicate a lack of oxygen to the tuber tissues, resulting in cell death.  Tubers exposed to flooding during growth or insufficient air exchange/oxygen supply during storage commonly show this disorder. 
  • Do not store apples next to potatoes.  The ethylene from the apples will cause the potatoes to sprout
Dehydrating potatoes

Potatoes can be frozendehydrated, or sometimes canned .

Potatoes are a low acid food and must be processed using a high-pressure canner designed for canning to process the food to the temperature necessary to destroy botulism spores. Without the addition of an acid, high-pressure canning is the only way to guarantee safe canning. 

Potatoes can be kept in cool storage for an extended period of time. See: Cold storage of root crops

Cooking and preserving

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Dehydrating potatoes

Alternative ways to eat common vegetables

 

Troubleshooting

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Keeping potatoes evenly moist (but not sitting in water) results in good tubers and fewer potato disorders. Colorado potato beetle is the most common insect problem of potatoes. 

 

See the Common problems tab on this page for advice on other specific potato issues.

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Common questions

Potatoes tubers turn green after significant exposure to light which is why potatoes are hilled or mulched.  The green colour indicates chlorophyll synthesis.  The green colour indicates the presence of glycoalkaloids, but usually these glycoalkaloids are located just beneath the tuber skin. Glycoalkaloids can make you sick if you eat the green part of the potato.

The tuber is safe to eat if the green skin and underlying flesh is peeled or cut off.  Cooking at temperatures higher than 350˚F partly destroys glycoalkaloids. If the potatoes taste bitter, they may be high in glycoalkaloids. When in doubt – throw it out.

It is not uncommon find fruit that looks like a tomato growing on a potato plant. Potatoes and tomatoes are relatives – both belong to the nightshade family. As such they share many of the same qualities - and many of the same diseases too.

Potato plant flowers look like tomato flowers, except that potato flowers are lavender or bluish instead of yellow. When a tomato plant produces a fruit, it is highly prized because it is tasty, healthy and edible.

However, beware of fruits from a potato plant – these are very poisonous because they contain high amounts of solanine, which is toxic to mammals. Most people know not to eat green potatoes. Potatoes can become green if they are left out in the sun. These green areas also contain solanine.

Many people remove the flowers from potato plants to keep these bitter toxic fruits away from curious young children and pets.

Research and student activities

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The Ag Canada Fredericton Research and Development Centre does ongoing potato research.