How to grow potatoes
Find out all you need to know about growing potatoes, in our practical Grow Guide.
From earthy new potatoes and bite-sized salad varieties, to floury bakers and roasters, the humble potato remains the nation’s favourite vegetable. If you’re a potato aficionado, there's a huge number of exciting potato varieties you can grow that you’ll never see in the shops. You don't even need a garden to grow them – many grow very happily in large bags or pots on a balcony or patio.
There are three main types of potato to grow, named according to when you plant and harvest them.
First early or ‘new’ potatoes are the earliest to crop, in June and July. They don't store for long so are best eaten fresh.
Second earlies (also called ‘new’ potatoes) take a few more weeks to mature and are harvested in July and August. These also don't store for long, so are best eaten fresh. Salad potatoes have a firm, waxy texture and many have an intense, nutty flavour. They are usually first earlies or second earlies.
Maincrop potatoes take the longest to mature and are harvested from August to October. They are suitable for baking, roasting and mashing, and can be stored for a few months.
How to grow potatoes at home
Potatoes are easy to grow – one seed potato will produce many potatoes to harvest. Prepare the soil by digging and removing weeds, and then dig straight trenches 12cm deep and 60cm apart. In spring, plant seed potatoes 30cm apart and cover them with soil to fill the trench. When the shoots reach 20cm tall, use a rake, hoe or spade to mound soil up around the bases of the shoots, covering the stems half way. This is called earthing up. You can also grow first early and second early potatoes in a large bag on a patio or balcony, covering them with compost as they grow.
BBC Gardeners' World Magazine offer: Save over 50% on Potato Growing KitPay just £19.95 for a kit comprising:
- 3 x 30L heavy duty pots
- 18 x tubers (six each of 'Charlotte', 'Pentland Javelin' and 'Desiree')
- 1kg of organic potato fertiliser
- FREE pair of potato scrubbing gloves
More expert advice on growing potatoes:
- Potato types explained
- Grow great jacket potatoes
- 10 best salad potatoes to grow
- Maincrop potatoes to grow
- How to grow potatoes in a bag
Growing potatoes: jump links
- Planting potatoes
- Caring for potatoes
- Growing potatoes: problem-solving
- Harvesting potatoes
- Eating and storing potatoes
- Where to buy potatoes
- Potato varieties to grow
When to plant potatoes
First early potatoes can be planted from mid-March, while second earlies should be planted a couple of weeks later. Maincrop potatoes are usually planted in April and need to stay in the ground longer to produce a good crop. However, planting times vary across the country – planting in northerly areas should be delayed by a couple of weeks, depending on temperatures and risk of frost.
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In warmer regions it's possible to plant a second batch of maincrop potatoes in late summer, which will yield a crop of delicious potatoes for Christmas.
How to chit potatoes
Before planting, you need to 'chit' your potatoes. This involves letting the potatoes grow shoots, which will give you a bigger potato crop. Place seed potatoes in trays or egg cartons with the end that has the most eyes uppermost. Stand in a cool, light spot until 1-2cm long shoots have formed. This could take up to six weeks.
How to plant potatoes
You can grow your own potatoes by planting out 'seed potatoes', which are small potato tubers rather than actual seeds. You can buy seed potatoes from late winter. Don't be tempted to grow potatoes from old potatoes from the veg rack, as they won't produce reliable crops.
Home-grown potatoes do well in all types of soil, but the richer the better, so dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost. An open, sunny site is best.
While maincrop potatoes grow well in the ground, early or salad potatoes will also do well in large pots and bags. Polypropylene potato growing bags are designed especially for this purpose and are handy if you're short of space. However, you can also plant potatoes in an old compost bag, with similar results.
Here, Monty explains how to grow potatoes in a bag:
When growing potatoes in the ground, plant earlies and salad types 12cm deep and 30cm apart, with 60cm between rows. Maincrop potatoes require more space to produce a decent crop. Plant them 12cm deep and 38cm apart, with 75cm between rows. Plant potatoes with the shoots (or 'eyes') facing upwards.
Watch our No Fuss video guide to planting potatoes, with Alan Titchmarsh:
Growing potatoes in a raised bed? Monty shows you how:
Growing potatoes: caring for your crop
Water potatoes regularly, especially during warm, dry spells, and keep the soil weed free. As the potato plants grow, use a spade or hoe to cover the shoots with soil to stop the developing tubers becoming green and inedible. This is called ‘earthing up’. Leave the top few centimetres poking out the top. As plants continue to grow you will need to earth them up again.
Watch Monty explain how to earth up potatoes growing in a bag:
Growing potatoes: problem-solving
Slugs can be a problem, especially if growing potatoes under black plastic.
Potato blight is a fungal disease, which turns foliage yellow with dark patches and causes the tubers to rot. Grow a blight-resistant potato variety to avoid the problem. You can also cut the potato plants down at the first sign of infection, as the fungus will not have reached the tubers by that stage. Then harvest the tubers as soon as you can.
Never grow potatoes in the same soil year after year as this could lead to a build up of pests and diseases. These include potato eelworm, which causes stunted growth and poor cropping.
When to harvest potatoes
First early potatoes are harvested in June and July, when the plants are still flowering and the potatoes are about the size of a large hen’s egg (gently rummage around in the soil to check). Cut the potato plants (also known as haulms) to the ground, then gently prise the plants out of the ground with a fork. These potatoes don't store well, so dig up the potatoes as and when you want to eat them.
Second earlies are harvested in July and August, again when the plants are still flowering. Harvest in the same way as first earlies. Again, these potatoes don't store well, so dig up them as and when you want to eat them.
Maincrop potatoes are harvested from August to October, when the leaves on the plants have turned yellow and died down. Choose a dry day to dig up your crop so that they store better. Cut the plants to the ground and dig up your potatoes, discarding any that are bruised or have been attacked by pests.
Watch Monty Don's video guide to harvesting new potatoes:
To harvest potatoes grown in pots, simply tip out the contents and enjoy the rich – and easy – pickings.
Here Monty explains how to harvest potatoes grown in a bag:
Preparing and cooking potatoes
Wash and scrub potatoes before frying, boiling, baking, mashing, roasting or sautéeing – this has to be the most versatile vegetable!
Health note: never eat potatoes raw. Green potatoes contain a chemical called solanine, which they develop when exposed to light. It can cause severe stomach upsets.
Looking for inspiration on how to use your crop? Our friends at olive have curated a delicious collection of potato recipes, including their best-ever roast potatoes.
Home-grown potatoes, particularly maincrop potatoes, will store well for many months in a cool but frost-free place. Only store perfect tubers, removing any showing signs of damage, and don’t wash them before storage. All light must be excluded to avoid potatoes turning green and poisonous. Hessian or thick brown-paper sacks are available for the job. Check crops in store regularly, removing any rotten ones.
Watch Kevin Smith explain how to prevent stored potatoes from rotting, in our Quick Tips video:
Advice for buying potatoes
- Potatoes are available from a range of garden centres and nurseries, with many offering online sales. If you're a member of an allotment association, you may be able to buy potatoes direct from the 'allotment shop' at a reduced price
- Choose between first earlies, second earlies and maincrop potatoes, depending on when you want to to eat your potatoes and if you have a problem with blight (first and second earlies are usually harvested before blight hits)
- Check the seed potatoes thoroughly when they arrive/before you buy. Make sure they're firm and avoid any with very long roots or any with signs of mould
Where to buy seed potatoes online
Growing potatoes: potato varieties to grow
- 'Annabelle' - compact, small tubers with white skins and golden flesh. Disease resistant.
- 'Charlotte' - yellow skin and flesh, with a lovely flavour. Remains firm when cooked. Buy from Crocus, Thompson & Morgan and Suttons
- 'Cherie' - delicious red-skinned salad variety with waxy flesh
- 'Milva' - yellow flesh, perfect for boiling. Good yields
- 'Pink Fir Apple' - an odd shape, but good flavour. Buy from Crocus, Thompson & Morgan and Suttons
- 'Blue Danube' - with purple skin and white flesh, this new variety if resistant to blight
- 'Cara' - round, waxy and drought resistant, it bakes well. Buy from Crocus, Thompson & Morgan and Suttons
- 'Isle of Jura' - an excellent all-rounder, with large crops from late summer. Disease resistant
- 'Nicola' - yellow skin and flesh, small, oval tubers, sweet flavour. Buy from Crocus, Thompson & Morgan and Suttons
- 'Setanta' - drought tolerant and great for roasting and baking
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