An Essential Guide to Growing Healthy Potato Plants

Potatoes are a versatile and beloved vegetable, but growing them successfully requires the right conditions and proper care. In this guide, we will explore the key factors for achieving potato-growing success. From planting to harvest, we’ll cover everything you need to know to grow healthy potato plants that yield bountiful harvests.

Planting for Success

To ensure your potato plants thrive, it’s important to choose the right planting location. Opt for well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Sandy loam with ample humus content is ideal. Additionally, potatoes prefer cool, moist conditions, so choose a spot that provides these conditions.

Plant your potatoes in early spring, after the threat of frost has passed. Use disease-free seed potatoes and cut them into pieces, ensuring each piece has two eyes. This will promote healthy shoot growth. Plant when the soil temperature reaches 45°F or higher, as this is the optimal temperature for potato growth.

Instead of relying on store-bought potatoes, which are often treated to prevent sprouting, opt for certified seed potatoes. Sprouts form naturally on these potatoes, making them an excellent choice for planting.

Overcoming Potential Setbacks

Even under ideal growing conditions, potatoes can still face challenges. Fortunately, there are solutions to the most common problems. Here’s a list of potential potato-growing problems and their respective treatments and controls:

Young plant problems

  • Plants do not emerge after planting seed pieces: To ensure successful sprouting, choose certified seed potatoes and plant them when the soil has warmed to at least 45°F.

  • Young plants are eaten or cut off near the soil level: Protect your plants from cutworms by placing a 3-inch paper collar around the stem. Keep the garden weed-free, sprinkle wood ash around the base of plants, and consider companion planting tansy between rows.

  • Young sprouts fail to grow or die back: Blackleg, black scurf, and frost damage are the likely causes. Remove infected plants and destroy infected tubers. Wait until after the last frost to plant.

Leaf problems

  • Large holes in leaves, leaves, and shoots are stripped: Combat Colorado potato beetles by handpicking them off plants, keeping the garden free of debris, and spraying a mixture of basil leaves and water. Companion planting with eggplant, flax, or green beans can also help.

  • Leaves are yellowish and slightly curled with small shiny specks: Control potato aphids by spraying them away with water and using insecticidal soap. Remove any black sooty mold that forms from their honeydew excrement.

  • Tiny shot-holes in leaves; small bumps or corky spots on tubers: Protect your plants from flea beetles by peeling away tuber damage, picking beetles off the plant, and spreading diatomaceous earth or wood ashes around seedlings. Cultivating the soil frequently can also disrupt their life cycle.

  • Leaves are chewed: Blister beetles are a common culprit. Remove them by handpicking them from leaves and destroying them.

  • Coarse white speckling or stippling on the upper surface of leaves; leaf margins turn brown; leaves appear scorched and wilted: Leafhoppers are responsible for this damage. Use insecticidal soap and cover plants with a floating row cover to exclude leafhoppers.

  • Leaves and stems have irregular grayish-brown water-soaked spots or rings; gray-white growth appears on the underside of leaves: Late blight is caused by a fungus. Keep the garden free of plant debris, avoid overhead irrigation, remove volunteer potatoes before planting, and choose resistant varieties.

  • Leaves curl upward: older leaves turn yellow, then brown; young leaves show purple margins: This is likely caused by potato psyllids. Control them using yellow sticky traps.

  • Leaves turn pale green, yellow, or brown; dusty silver webs on the undersides of leaves and between vines: Spider mites can cause this damage. Spray them away with water or use insecticidal soap or rotenone. Encouraging ladybugs and lacewings can also help control spider mites.

  • Leaves are mottled and become crinkled: The mosaic virus, transmitted by aphids, is likely responsible. Control aphids with pyrethrum or rotenone and plant disease-free seed potatoes.

  • Gray blotches on older leaves; tunneling in leaves: Potato tuberworms, the larvae of a moth, are the culprits here. Handpick and destroy them, and hill up soil over tubers to prevent access.

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Whole plant problems

  • Plants are green-topped, with no tubers: Inadequate tuber formation may be due to high temperatures. Potatoes require cool nights below around 55°F. Adjust planting times accordingly.

  • Spindly cylindrical stems: Witches bloom, a viral disease spread by leafhoppers, is likely to blame. Destroy infected plants and control leafhoppers.

  • Stems have irregular dead streaks: Manganese levels in acid soils may be high. Test the soil and apply lime if necessary. Grow resistant varieties.

  • Plants stunted; yellowish-black streaks inside stems: Fusarium wilt, a soil fungus, is the culprit here. Remove and destroy infected plants, rotate crops, and opt for disease-resistant varieties.

  • Leaves turn yellow and then brown from the bottom up; plants lose vigor; plants appear stunted; stems, roots, and tubers have tunnels: Wireworms are responsible for this damage. Check the soil before planting and flood it if wireworms are present. Remove infested plants and surrounding soil.

  • Leaves yellow between veins; leaf margins brown and curl upward; stem base becomes dark brown, black, and slimy; tubers become slimy brown-black at the stem end: This is likely caused by blackleg, a fungal disease. Improve soil drainage, add organic matter, and choose certified disease-free potato tubers.

  • Young leaves fail to enlarge, new leaflets roll upward and turn reddish-purple color, or the topmost leaves become yellow: Potato purple-top wilt, a viral disease spread by leafhoppers, is the likely cause. Plant certified disease-free seed potatoes, remove and destroy diseased plants, and control leafhoppers.

  • Lower leaves cup or roll, lose their dark green color and become streaked and leathery; brown speckling at the stem end of tubers: The potato leafroll virus, primarily transmitted by aphids, is responsible. Control aphids, remove diseased plants and weeds, and spray with pyrethrum or rotenone.

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Leaf and tuber problems

  • Leaves yellow and margin roll; plants are stunted and dwarfed; tuber is malformed and cracks: Potato yellow dwarf virus, transmitted by leafhoppers, is likely the cause. Destroy diseased plants and control leafhoppers.

  • Leaf tips and margins yellow, gradually brown, and die; tubers have irregular brown spots throughout the flesh: Lack of moisture or inconsistent watering during hot, dry weather can lead to this problem. Mulch and deep water plants to ensure consistent moisture levels.

  • Older leaves yellow and die; brown streaks on lower leaves; stems split lengthwise; stem end of tubers discolored around eyes: Verticillium wilt, a soilborne fungus, is the likely cause. Avoid planting potatoes where related crops have recently grown, and choose disease-resistant varieties.

  • Leaves turn light green, wilt, then dry; tubers turn watery and brown: This often occurs when plants and tubers are exposed to the hot sun and drying winds after cloudy weather. Protect your plants during extremely hot weather and avoid leaving tubers in direct sunlight.

  • Stems at soil level are covered with purplish, dirty grey fungus; foliage curls and turns pinkish to yellowish; dark brown or black masses on tubers: Black scurf or Rhizoctonia, a warm soil-loving fungus, is responsible. Remove infected plants and debris, rotate crops, and solarize the soil.

  • Irregular black and brown spots up to ½ inch in diameter appear on lower leaves and stem; leaves turn yellow to brown; tubers may have brown, corky, dry spots: Early blight, a fungal disease, can occur due to heavy rainfall and warm temperatures. Keep weeds down to avoid harboring fungal spores, destroy infected plants, and avoid overhead watering.

  • Leaves yellow between veins and leaves curl upward; shoot tips are stunted; cut stems reveal a white ooze; cut tubers reveal a yellow to light brown ring of decay: Bacterial ring rot is responsible for this symptom. Discard infected tubers and plants, use disease-free seed potatoes, practice crop rotation, and choose disease-resistant varieties.

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Potato Growing Success Tips

Planting

  • Choose a sunny location for your potato plants and prepare the soil with aged compost. If drainage is an issue, consider raised beds.

  • Plant certified disease-free seed potatoes that have sprouts formed naturally on them. Cut larger potatoes into pieces, ensuring each piece has two eyes.

  • Follow the recommended planting depth, either by burying seed potatoes in a trench or directly on the soil surface with mulch covering them.

Planting Time

  • The ideal time for planting potatoes varies depending on your region and climate. Choose the best planting time to avoid extreme temperatures and reduce disease and pest problems.

Care

  • Provide consistent, even watering to your potato plants throughout the growing season. Avoid letting the soil go completely dry.

  • Hill up loose soil around the plants as they grow, eventually mounding them. This will protect the tubers from exposure to light and temperature fluctuations.

  • Rotate your potato crops to minimize soilborne diseases and pests.

Harvest

  • Harvest “new potatoes” when the plants are blooming by lifting the entire plant and its tubers.

  • For mature potatoes, wait until the vines die back naturally. If the vines don’t die back, cut them at soil level two weeks before harvesting to allow the tubers to harden.

Growing healthy potato plants requires attention to detail and proper care, but the rewards are worth it. Follow these guidelines, overcome potential setbacks, and soon you’ll be enjoying a bountiful potato harvest. Visit Ames Farm Center for all your potato-growing needs and to explore a wide range of gardening products that can enhance your growing experience.

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