How do you plant potatoes in a way that maximizes their production? Potatoes are a garden favorite that are easy to grow but require a little advance planning. But when you grow potatoes, spacing is key. Let’s talk about the best spacing for a bountiful harvest!
Potato Plant Growth
Despite growing underground, potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) aren’t root vegetables, they’re tubers – starchy, thick, underground stems. And unlike roots that burrow further into the soil, potato tubers grow up and out of the soil. This is why as your potato plants grow, you need to “hill” soil or organic material around their stems to keep the tubers covered as they grow and mature.
To reproduce, potatoes sprout eyes that then produce future potato tubers. Have you ever stashed a bag of organic potatoes in a kitchen drawer and then forgot about it? You probably returned to monstrous, sprouted tentacles. If planted, these are the beginnings of new potatoes. While planting potatoes from store-bought produce isn’t recommended due to their susceptibility to rot or disease, good seed potatoes are available from reliable companies.
Potato Varieties And Space
Potato spacing depends both on the potato variety you’ve chosen to grow and your garden set up. Generally, varieties that produce larger potatoes like russet require more space. Varieties that produce smaller potatoes like yukon gold require less space.
Even if you’re not certain of their size, potatoes plant development begins small. You can harvest your plant a bit early to get smaller potatoes if you don’t think there’s enough space for big ones. And as long as they’re fully covered by soil, late harvests are still an option once the foliage starts to dry.
How Far Apart Do You Plant Potatoes?
Spacing is crucial. After all, you’ll need room for your plants to develop. The question is how much space you have available. Whether your space is measured in inches or feet, potatoes can be grown. It’s just a matter of planning!
Square Foot Gardens
Is your growing area compact or do you have room for sprawling rows? If your space is limited and you’re maximizing using a square-foot garden set-up, try planting a fingerling variety that can more easily adapt to 12″ x 12″ spacing.
People who want to grow full-sized potatoes in a square foot garden should begin by making sure you have at least 10-12 inches of quality soil to fill the bed with. Then, remove all but an inch or two of the soil, reserving it for later. Evenly space your potatoes at a rate of one per square foot. A square foot grid can help with spacing.
Once you have your potatoes in place, cover with about another inch of soil. As the plants grow, you’ll be hilling up around them with your reserved soil. Make sure that the potatoes themselves are never exposed to direct sunlight, as this can cause the potato to develop a green splotch that will be inedible.
A 4’x4′ garden bed can house a total of 16 potato plants using this method. The potatoes may be a little smaller than if they were grown in a larger garden bed, but they’ll still be good to eat!
Start by digging a trench in the garden. Aim for one which is at least 6 inches wide and about 8 inches deep, as this allows you to amend. Apply a couple inches of compost to the base of the trench. Space your trenches 2-3 feet apart, as they’re easier to tend that way.
Make sure each seed potato has at least two eyes, as these eyes are where the plant will develop from. Large seed potatoes with lots of eyes can be cut into pieces. If you do slice them into smaller segments, wait a few days to let the cut sides dry to prevent rotting or possible disease susceptibility.
Once your seed potatoes are ready to plant, set one into the trench every 12 inches. Add enough compost to ensure that your seed potatoes are about 2-3 inches deep. Once planted, water and maintain the growing potatoes. As they develop, add more compost and soil to keep them covered.
Growing In Bags And Buckets
Really limited on space? Don’t panic. I’ve planted potatoes in grow bags or 5-gallon buckets in the past and still gotten a decent harvest. With these methods, you’ll want to be sure you’ve got good drainage. Then, add about 3″ of compost and soil in the bottom, and plant no more than 1-2 seed potatoes per container. Treat as you would other methods, adding more soil as necessary to keep the potatoes covered.
You may be able to use a sheet of cardboard to extend the height of your container if it just keeps producing. Going vertical with your potatoes can give you a much bigger potato harvest!
For pointers on how to properly store potatoes, check out the storing potatoes section of Harvesting Potatoes: How to Know When Your Potatoes Are Ready.
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