When Should You Plant Potatoes?

The best potato planting time depends on your climate and spud variety. Garden expert and former organic farmer Logan Hailey digs into when you should plant homegrown potatoes.

when plant potatoes. Close-up of a gardener's hands planting potatoes in the soil in a spring garden. Potato tubers have an oblong shape with a smooth skin. The gardener is wearing white and green gloves.

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Whether you like ‘em mashed, baked, fried, or roasted, spuds are a kitchen staple. Growing potatoes is exciting because you can plant pink, purple, and red varieties that aren’t often found in stores. Moreover, you can grow copious amounts of this famous tuber for very cheap. 

Homegrown potatoes tend to be a lot more flavorful and nutritious than their grocery store counterparts, but when exactly should you plant them? Let’s figure out the best timing for potato planting based on your region.

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The Short Answer

Potatoes are usually planted in fall in southern climates and in spring in northern climates. These nightshade-family crops are not frost tolerant. Therefore, your planting time depends on how cold your climate gets. In areas with cold winters, the best time to plant potatoes is about four weeks before your expected last spring frost date. Late March to early May is common in temperate zones, but far northern climates may need to wait until June. In southern zones with hot summers, it’s best to plant in autumn, around August or September, so the spuds can grow during the milder weather of fall and early winter.

The Long Answer

Potatoes are frost-sensitive annuals native to South America. They prefer to grow in soil temperatures around 45-55°F and mild air temperatures around 60-70°F. Established potato plants can handle mild frosts down to 28°F, but they require protection from extreme cold. 

Ultra-hot temperatures are also problematic because spuds tend to slow their growth and become vulnerable to pests when the weather heats above 90°F. To find the happy medium, you’ll want to plant potatoes during the mildest time of year for your climate. 

Potato Planting by Zone

Close-up of potatoes being planted in loose soil in the garden. Potato tubers are round in shape, with slightly wrinkled and thin skin that is light brown in color. Potato tubers with sprouted "eyes" exhibit distinct protrusions or growths from the surface, indicating the onset of new plant growth. These "eyes" appear as small purple buds emerging from the skin.
Plant potatoes based on your frost dates for optimal growth.

Generally, you should plant potatoes 2-4 weeks before your expected last spring frost or 8-10 weeks before the first fall frost. Here is a quick reference guide for determining the best potato planting date in your region:

  • Zones 2-4: Plant spuds in April or May
  • Zones 5-6: Plant potatoes in March and April
  • Zones 7-8: Plant in February and again in August or September
  • Zones 9-10: Plant in January and again in October or November
  • Zones 11-12a: Plant from December through February
  • Zones 12b-13: Generally considered too hot to grow potatoes

In many regions, potatoes can be grown in both shoulder seasons. A spring succession and a fall succession ensure an abundant supply of tubers for summer eating and winter storage.

Remember that you may need to adjust planting dates depending on each year’s unique weather and the microclimate of your garden soil. For example, metal raised beds warm up more quickly in spring, which means you can plant potatoes sooner. On the flip side, soil covered with straw mulch heats up more slowly, allowing southern growers to keep beds cooler in late spring. 

Potato Timing Depends on Your Climate

As a general rule of thumb, northern growers plant potatoes in spring, and southern growers plant potatoes in fall. This crop enjoys mild weather that isn’t too hot or too cold. However, climatic differences vary widely across gardens, and you can use several tricks to extend your planting window.

Potatoes can take 60 to 120 days to mature, depending on the variety and the tuber size you desire. Before planting, ensure you have a 2-3 month window of frost-free weather. If you live in an area with hot, dry summers, avoid growing potatoes when you anticipate temperatures may be above 90°F. 

Early Spring Planting

Close-up of potato planting in spring garden. A female gardener in white gloves with a pink floral print plants potatoe tubers in the soil. In one hand she holds a small wicker basket full of potato tubers with sprouted "eyes".
Plant potatoes in early spring, 2-4 weeks before the last frost.

The most common time to plant potatoes in zones 2-8 is in early spring, about 2-4 weeks before your expected last spring frost date. For central and northern growers, this usually falls sometime between March and May. The soil temperature should be at least 40°F, preferably closer to 55°F. 

Use a soil thermometer probe to check the temperature before planting. The soil must be workable and frost-free. If your region is prone to unexpected late frosts, check the frost protection section below to ensure the young plants don’t get too cold.

Late Winter Planting

Close-up of male hands in white and blue gloves planting potatoe sprouts in a soil trench. Potato tubers with sprouted "eyes" appear as round structures with varying sizes, covered in a thin, light brown skin. These sprouts are greenish in color.
Plant potatoes in late winter when temperatures are mild.

In warm climate zones 9-11, you can plant potatoes in late winter when the weather is the most mild. You can use a soil thermometer probe to check that the soil is between 45 and 50°F. 

The ideal planting dates often fall between December and February. However, it is important that the potatoes aren’t exposed to frost. Young plants are particularly vulnerable to cold damage, so be sure to protect them or wait until later in spring if the weather is unpredictable. 

Fall Planting

Close-up of female hands in white and green gloves planting potato tubers into a hole in the soil in a sunny garden. These potato tubers are oval shaped with smooth thin skin that is light brown and pinkish gray in color.
Plant fall potatoes 8-10 weeks before the first frost for storage.

Fall-planted potatoes need to be in the ground 8-10 weeks before your expected first fall frost. Because storage potatoes tend to be harvested larger and have longer days to maturity, you need to ensure they are ready to be picked before temperatures dip below 32°F. This ensures they have enough time to cure for winter storage. Frost-damaged potatoes will not last in storage.

For zones 6-8, you can usually grow two or even three crops of potatoes. A spring and a fall planting ensure several successions and the opportunity to grow different varieties. Be sure to select the right cultivar for your planting time.

For example, you can plant early potatoes like ‘Dark Red Norland’ or ‘Adirondack Blue’ in spring and harvest them “new” in early summer when the skins are very tender. In late summer or early fall, you can plant storage potatoes like ‘French Fingerling’ or ‘Pinto Gold’ to harvest around October. These potatoes can be cured for winter storage. 

If you live in a region with mild summers, a mid-season planting of ‘Gold Rush’ or ‘Caribou Russet’ offers more variety and harvests in early fall.

Chitting Seed Potatoes

Close-up of potato tubers in a wicker bowl in female hands against the backdrop of a sunny garden. The woman is wearing a multi-colored dress and white gloves with a floral print. Potato tubers with sprouted "eyes" have a rough, irregular surface with small protrusions where the sprouts emerge.
Chit potatoes indoors before planting for a head start.

If your planting is delayed because the soil is still too cold, you can always use that time to “chit” your potatoes indoors. Chitting gives you a headstart because it breaks the potatoes’ dormancy before planting. This involves pre-sprouting the “eyes” (buds) of the seed potatoes so they can take off more quickly in the ground. 

Start the chitting process 1-3 weeks before your planting date. The easiest way to chit potatoes is in a reused egg carton or a crate with a layer of newspaper on the bottom. Lay out the seed potatoes in a single layer, keeping the side with the most buds facing up.

Place them in an area with indirect light, such as your counter, windowsill, or greenhouse. The area should be warm, around 60-70°F. Leave the potatoes to sprout just like they do when you forget about them in the kitchen. The shoots are usually deep green or purple if you are growing a colored potato variety. 

Allow the sprouts to reach about 1” long before planting. Lanky, white sprouts mean there isn’t enough light, and you should move them to a brighter area. Handle the seed potatoes gently when planting so you don’t accidentally break off any sprouts. You will need to plant them with the sprout facing up.

Frost Protection

While mature potato plants can handle a light frost, it’s best to protect all of your spuds from cold weather. If you want to store potatoes for the winter, it is especially important to cover late-season potatoes or harvest them before frosty weather strikes. 

The best way to shield potato crops from cold weather is to use hilling, mulching, and row cover. All of these methods work symbiotically to increase soil temperatures and protect tubers from frigid weather above and below ground.

Hilling

hilling potatoes Close-up of a gardener with a hoe mound up soil over the plant bases. The potato plant has compound leaves with several leaflets arranged along a central stem.
Mound soil around potatoes to prevent sun exposure and toxicity.

You may have noticed that most potatoes are grown in a mound of soil. This method allows more sun to hit the soil to keep the plants insulated from excess cold or excess heat, and it also ensures that the tubers stay buried belowground. 

If you are growing potatoes in the ground or in a raised bed, they will need to be “hilled up” a few times during their growth cycle. Also known as mounding, this process is the most important maintenance for this crop. It ensures that the tubers stay underground so they aren’t exposed to the sun. Potatoes scalded by the sun may have a bitter taste and green skins. They can even be toxic if consumed in large amounts.

After potatoes are planted and the plants reach 6-8” tall, it’s time to do the first round of hilling. Use a rake or your hands to mound up soil over the plant bases. Just like their tomato cousins, potato plants can form roots all along their stems. You don’t have to worry about burying the growing tip because mounding actually promotes stronger tuber production. The mound should cover up to 4” of the plant base, leaving just 2-4” of leaves on top to continue proliferating.

Repeat the mounding process every 3-4 weeks until the mounds are 10-12” tall. For those growing in grow bags or large containers, the potato tubers usually stay buried below the ground. But if you notice any tubers peaking above the surface or turning green from sun exposure, immediately cover them with another 4-6” of soil!

Mulching

Close-up of young potato bushes with mulched soil in a sunny garden. Potato bushes have a compact and bushy appearance with lush green foliage consisting of compound leaves with multiple leaflets arranged along a central stem. The leaves are deeply lobed.
Mulch potatoes for weed control and temperature moderation.

Potatoes thrive when covered in a nice layer of straw or leaf mulch. Mulch suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, and buffers the soil against temperature extremes. In other words, mulch is a bit like a natural insulation. Mulch will keep the soil cooler by protecting it from the harsh sun rays in hot climates. In cold climates, mulch protects potatoes from chilly nights by moderating the warmth.

Apply 2-4” deep mulch once or twice throughout the crop lifecycle. Spread the mulch evenly over the mound and be sure that it hasn’t been treated with any herbicides or chemicals. Chipped deciduous leaves are my favorite mulch because I can rake the leaves from my property, run a lawn mower over them, and easily spread the mulch over potato beds. As it breaks down, it enriches the soil and suppresses weed growth.

Row Cover

Close-up of rows of potato bushes on a plantation under agrofibre. Potato bushes are characterized by dense foliage composed of compound leaves with multiple leaflets of bright green color with finely serrated edges.
Use row covers to protect potatoes from cold and frost.

Also known as frost blankets or row fabric, these agricultural covers can buffer potatoes from cold temperatures. Some row covers add 2-8°F of frost protection underneath them. You can “float” the row cover directly over your potato plants or use arched hoops to create a mini greenhouse.

Either way, be sure you run drip lines or soaker hoses under the row fabric (and under the mulch) to deliver water directly to the plant roots. Irrigation and rain can travel through the row cover, but it won’t provide even moisture to the crop. 

Variety Selection

Close-up of a wooden box full of potato tubers in the garden. These Potato tubers are oval shaped with smooth thin skin of light brown and pinkish brown color. Next to the box there is a large garden shovel and a garden hoe.
Choose from a vast array of potato varieties for diversity.

Potatoes come in a tremendous variety of shapes, colors, flavors, and textures that are far more interesting than plain old Russets found in grocery stores. Some sources estimate over 5,000 varieties of potatoes are cultivated worldwide. The tubers are the edible starchy root structures of these nightshade-family plants.

Unlike most garden vegetables, potatoes aren’t grown from “true seeds.” The “seed potatoes” are actually chunks of tubers that are replanted each year to sprout into new plants. This is a form of vegetative propagation or cloning. The tubers you plant will yield the exact same variety as the mother plant.

When choosing your seed potatoes, take into account the seasonality of the variety. Most potato cultivars fall into one of three planting categories:

Early-Season

These varieties are best planted in early spring and take just 60-80 days to harvest.

Mid-Season

Great for mild climates, these cultivars take 80-100 days to mature.

Late-Season

Also known as storage potatoes, these spuds take the longest to mature (100-130 days) and yield the largest tubers.

Match your potato variety with the right planting time for the most success. It is also helpful to source potatoes that have been bred and adapted to your specific region. For example, ‘Red Norland’ and ‘Yukon Gold’ are popular selections in the American South. ‘Dakota Rose, ‘Gold Rush,’ and ‘Kennebec’ are great varieties for the far North. Check with your local extension office for regionally-specific recommendations.

Final Thoughts

Potatoes grow best during the mild buffer seasons when the weather is frost-free but not too hot. For northern growers, plant potatoes in spring 2-4 weeks before your expected last frost. For southern growers, plant in fall 8-10 weeks before your expected first frost. 

In zones 6-8, you can often grow multiple successions of potatoes by planting spring, mid-season, and late-season storage varieties. Always check the estimated days to maturity of your cultivar and use protection methods like mulching or row cover to prevent the tubers from being exposed to frosty weather. 

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Sunlight bathes a verdant potato plant, its leafy emerald fronds reaching skyward from a burlap sack in a garden bed. Deep green hues and smooth edges tell a tale of health and vigor, promising a bounty of tubers beneath the soil.

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