Potato Plant Flowers: To Remove or Not to Remove?

Potato plants are a staple in many gardens and allotments. While tending to these plants, you may have come across the advice to remove the flowers in order to increase the yield of potatoes. But is there any truth to this claim, or is it simply another gardening myth? Let’s delve into the topic to find out.

Conducting My Own Experiment

Intrigued by this notion, I decided to run my own trial this year. I planted four rows of Charlotte potatoes in my allotment. Each row was sown side by side, receiving the same amount of manure, fertilizer, and water. I wanted to eliminate any environmental variables that could affect the results. I allowed four plants to grow flowers and removed the flowers from another set of four plants. After harvesting, here are the results:

  • Flowers removed: 37 potatoes weighing 3.83kg
  • Flowers left on: 40 potatoes weighing 4.12kg

At first glance, it seemed that removing the flowers didn’t make a significant difference in yield. However, there’s more to consider.

The Role of Flowering and Fruiting

Interestingly, my Charlotte plants rarely produced fruit even when the flowers were left on. Only one flower out of fourteen plants actually bore a tiny green fruit. This observation suggests that the energy expended on fruiting was minimal. In the case of early varieties like Charlotte, removing the flowers may not have a substantial impact on the yield. The slight 7.5% difference in weight is insignificant.

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Insights from the University of Minnesota

To gain more insight, let’s turn to the research conducted by the University of Minnesota – Agricultural Experiment Station in 1942. Their technical bulletin titled ‘Influence of Flowering and Fruiting Upon Vegetative Growth and Tuber Yield in the Potato’ sheds light on potato planting experiments across three different sites. The results consistently showed that fruiting potato plants yielded fewer potatoes compared to flowering plants. However, the highest yield was observed when the flowers were completely removed. The decrease in yield ranged from 12.77% to 27.24%.

The study also revealed that flowering and fruiting have a direct impact on tuber production. The more flowers and fruits a plant forms, the lower the yield. Thus, both the number and weight of marketable tubers decreased when flowering and fruiting occurred.

Environmental Factors at Play

Additional studies conducted after the 1940s reveal that the response to flower removal depends on various environmental conditions. Factors such as day length, soil and air temperature, rainfall or watering, solar radiance, and nutrient levels significantly affect potato yield. Nitrogen abundance, for instance, promotes leaf mass and vegetation, resulting in larger tubers. These factors, alongside the size of the seed potatoes, contribute to the growth and flowering patterns of the potato plants.

Should You Remove Potato Flowers?

Considering the evidence, it is advisable to remove the flowers from maincrop potato varieties, if time permits. While the impact on yield may vary based on environmental factors, removing the flowers either boosts the yield or, at the very least, doesn’t reduce it. It’s a low-risk strategy that ensures a bountiful harvest. Additionally, removing the flowers prevents the development of small, toxic, green potato berries that may pose a risk if consumed accidentally.

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In conclusion, the decision to remove or keep potato flowers depends on the variety you are growing and the specific environmental conditions in your garden or allotment. Experimentation with different varieties and observing the impact of flower removal can provide valuable insights for optimizing potato yield.

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References:

  1. Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 1990 THE EFFECT OF FLOWER REMOVAL ON POTATO TUBER YIELD
  2. Influence of Flowering and Fruiting Upon Vegetative Growth and Tuber Yield in the Potato University of Minnesota, Agricultural Experimental Station 1942
  3. Effects of seed tuber size on growth and yield performance of potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) varieties under field conditions African journal of agricultural research – September 2018
  4. Effect of Potato Microtuber Size on the Growth and Yield, Performance of Field Grown Plants Jackson Kawakami1 and Kazuto Iwama 2012
  5. Water relations and growth of potatoes P.J. Gregory and L.P. Simmonds 1992
  6. How to increase potato tuber size YARA UK