How to plant, grow and harvest potatoes
What you need to know about potatoes:
Name: potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Foliage: dark green, divided into a number of unevenly sized leaflets.
Climate: varieties are available for all but arid zones. Grows best in warm seasons.
Soil: virtually any soil, provided drainage is good.
Position: full sun.
Flowering and fruiting: tubers are ready for harvest around 15–20 weeks after planting.
Feeding: none should be required post-planting in well-prepared soil.
Watering: keep moist during hot or dry periods, but do not overwater.
Appearance and characteristics of potatoes
The potato is a perennial that we treat as an annual root crop. The potato tuber is not actually a root, but rather, is a storage organ designed to help the plant survive and regenerate.
Growth above ground will be dense and moderately vigorous. Small white or mauve flowers will be produced, and depending on climate these may produce fruit. The fruit looks like a small, green cherry tomato. However, it is quite poisonous, so is best removed.
Uses for potatoes
Potato is grown purely as an edible crop, and makes a worthwhile addition to a larger veggie garden.
How to plant and grow potatoes
Potato is grown from seed potatoes, which aren’t in fact seeds at all—they are small, specially grown disease-free potatoes. Different varieties perform best in different climate zones. Your local Bunnings nursery will stock the right varieties for your region.
The key to growing potato is getting your timing right and ensuring the plant doesn't become too wet. Your potato will perform best in a spot with full sun and wind protection. Plant in a soil or potting mix that is free-draining.
When to plant potatoes
In tropical and sub-tropical regions, you can plant your potato year-round. However, avoid it being in the ground during the wet season. In cooler regions, plant from August onwards, after the risk of frost has passed.
Growing potatoes in the ground
Follow these tips when growing potato in the ground:
Prepare soil in advance of planting. Dig the area over to at least a spade’s depth, creating a mound or mounded row.
Blend in a quality, well-composted manure or compost at least a week before planting.
Place a controlled-release fertiliser in the bottom of the planting area then cover with a few centimetres of soil. Put seed potatoes at a depth of 10cm, about 30cm apart, before covering with soil.
As the plants grow you can push extra soil against the stems to encourage increased tuber production.
Growing potatoes in tyres, bags or tubs
Follow these steps when growing potato in tyres, bags or tubs:
Your tyre, bag or tub must have excellent drainage.
Put a layer of premium-quality potting mix at least 20cm deep in the base.
Place seed potatoes on this base layer and then cover with potting mix to a depth of around 10cm.
Spread controlled-release fertiliser and then mulch with lucerne or pea straw.
Once shoots reach around 5cm in height, add another layer of potting mix and mulch, leaving just the tips exposed.
Repeat until your tyre, tub or bag is full to the top.
Caring for potatoes
If the soil has been well prepared or you’ve used a quality potting mix, very little care will be required. Ensure a good supply of water, but do not allow the potato to become waterlogged.
Diseases and pests
The majority of problems that potato can suffer from relate to soil-borne pathogens, but these can be easily avoided. Use quality, fresh seed potatoes every season, and practise crop rotation. Potatoes should only be grown in the same bed once every three years.
Also note, overwatering can induce fungal problems.
When to harvest potatoes
You can start digging out small ‘new’ potatoes around four weeks after the plant has flowered, when the lower leaves start yellowing off. For larger potatoes, wait until the plant dies back.
How to harvest potatoes
To harvest potatoes grown in-ground, carefully turn out the tubers with a garden fork. If growing in a tyre, bag or tub, tip them over and knock out the mix to retrieve your crop.
Cutting potatoes for planting
Seed potatoes can be divided up to create multiple plants from each potato. Cut them into big chunks, with each segment having at least one ‘eye’—this is where a shoot will come from. Let cut pieces dry for around 24 hours before planting.
If your potatoes fruit and you allow the fruit to ripen you can harvest them for seed. Remove the seed from the fruit and spread in rows in a tray of seed-raising mix. Keep moist, but not wet, in a warm spot before planting out.
Potato can also be grown from shooting supermarket-bought tubers, however this can cause disease problems.
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