In every season, Texas gardeners plan their menus around certain reliable home-grown crops: lettuce in…
Every spring, home gardeners are eager to get their first crops on the ground, and late winter is the ideal time to get vegetable gardens started by planting potatoes. In north Texas, February is the traditional month to plant potatoes. They’re easy to grow and rewarding to harvest as early as May. Following these easy steps will get your potato crop off to a good start.
Assemble Basic Supplies
Compost mixed with soil will soften the soil and provide organic matter for healthy growth. Vital Earth Organic Compost is ideal to provide nutrients and soil aeration. Pine straw is an ideal mulch, providing lighter, slightly acidic qualities that potatoes require. Like most vegetables, potatoes are heavy feeders. A good organic fertilizer like Espoma’s Garden‐tone can be used on any crop to promote robust development. Potatoes also benefit from dusting sulfur, which will acidify the soil and help control rot.
Select Your Potatoes
Potatoes are most commonly planted by using a small ‘seed potato’, which can be purchased in bulk or in smaller individual packs. In the Dallas area, we can grow different varieties of red, yellow, or white-fleshed potatoes. Generally, red varieties store longer than whites, while most white varieties are used in a broader range of cooking.
Prepare the Site
Potatoes require full sun for a minimum of six hours per day, in an area with excellent air circulation. They must also have perfect drainage, along with slightly acidic soil. Potatoes can also be grown in larger containers that drain freely. Plastic nursery containers with multiple holes work well. Allow two gallons of container size for each seed potato. Note that typical potting soils are NOT recommended. These generally hold too much moisture and can induce rot.
Prepare the Potatoes for Planting
Seed potatoes should already have some ‘eyes’ sprouting on them. If they don’t, set them in a warm, moist place in your home for a few days until tiny sprouts begin to grow. Smaller seed potatoes – about the size of a golf ball – can be planted whole. Larger potatoes should be cut into small chunks with two or three ‘eyes’ (sprouts) per section. Lay these out on paper in a cool, dry place to allow the cuts to scab over for two or three days. Prior to planting, lightly dust all potatoes with dusting sulfur to help prevent rot.
Plant your Potatoes
In the garden, dig a trough 6”‐8” deep and about 4” wide in soil that has been richly amended with compost. Work the fertilizer into the soil and water it in. Plant the seed potatoes about 8”‐12” apart, making good contact with the loose soil. Cover the seed potatoes with about 4”‐6” of compost or a compost/ soil mix. Do not water again until sprouts begin to emerge, generally in a few weeks. If you’re planting in a container, begin by filling the container 1/3 full with a 50-50 mixture of pine straw and compost with fertilizer sprinkled in, then plant as directed above.
Nurture Your Crop
When the stems have emerged and grown to 6”‐8”, backfill the trough they were planted in with a 4” mixture of the amended soil and pine straw, creating a very loose mound over the trough. This trough is where the potatoes will begin to form. You’ll probably need to do this “hilling” procedure two or three more times, allowing the shoots to gain another 6”‐8” each time. Continue this process as stems lengthen and leaves grow. This mounded layer is where the potatoes will develop. When the stems have lengthened considerably and are leafy and well-established, fertilize once more by sprinkling an organic fertilizer over the mound and water it in. Moisture management is key to potato success in our area. Be careful not to overwater if good rainfall occurs in spring, and never let plants completely dry out or sit in standing water. Always water plants early in the day so moisture does not sit on the foliage overnight. If you see spots on the leaves forming, treat with an organic fungicide immediately. In a wetter spring, it may be necessary to follow up several times, treating at seven to ten day intervals.
Prepare to Harvest
When the plants begin to flower, the potatoes have begun to form. Begin to reduce watering, and as the plants turn yellow, stop all watering. ‘New’ potatoes are those harvested early, a week or so after flowering. These are thinner‐skinned and do not store well, so plan to use them soon after harvest. If you harvest early, be sure to replace the compost/pine straw backfill.
Small potatoes can be harvested about 2‐3 weeks after flowering, typically in May. For larger potatoes, harvest two‐three weeks after the foliage has completely died. Dig potatoes up carefully, starting 8”‐10” away from the plant. Handling them carefully, pull the potatoes from the plant, leaving any soil on them— do not wash. Store at 50°‐60° degrees in a dry place with good air circulation away from sunlight to allow them to cure.
Potatoes are a tasty and easy-to-grow crop for both beginning and skilled gardeners. Are you new to growing edibles? Or perhaps you want to take your garden patch to the next level. North Haven Garden’s “Garden Coach” program can give you new skills and increase your confidence in any aspect of growing, be it an edible garden, a pollinator flower bed, or a beautiful lawn. Learn more at https://www.nhg.com/garden-coach-program/.