Yard and Garden: Planting Potatoes

AMES, Iowa – The potato is one off the most important vegetable crops in the world. Potato cultivars are available in many shapes, sizes, and colors. The edible part of the potato plant is the underground swollen stem known as a tuber. The leaves, stems, flowers and fruits of the potato plant contain poisonous compounds and should not be eaten. Gardeners with additional questions about raising potatoes can contact the horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach at hortline@iastate.edu or 515-294-3108.

When should I plant potatoes in the garden? 

Potatoes should be planted in early spring. Appropriate planting times are late March or early April in southern Iowa, early to mid-April in central Iowa and mid to late April in northern portions of the state. 

What are some good potato varieties for Iowa? 

Several potato varieties (cultivars) perform well in Iowa. A list of recommended potato cultivars (along with a brief description of each) is provided to help you choose the best cultivar for your garden.  

‘Red Norland’ is an early maturing red cultivar that produces oblong, smooth potatoes with shallow eyes. They are excellent boiled or mashed, but are only fair when baked.  

‘Russet Norkotah’ is an early season russet cultivar that produces blocky, oblong potatoes. It is an excellent baking potato.  

‘Yukon Gold’ is an early season yellow-fleshed cultivar. They are excellent baked, boiled or mashed. The potatoes also store well.  

‘Superior’ is an early to mid-season cultivar with round to oblong tubers and medium deep eyes.  The potatoes are very good baked, boiled or mashed. It is resistant to scab.  

‘Goldrush’ is a mid-season cultivar that produces oblong to oval tubers with a russet skin and white flesh. Baking quality is very good.

‘Katahdin’ is a late maturing white cultivar that produces smooth, round, shallow-eyed tubers. It is excellent for baking.  

‘Kennebec’ is a late maturing white cultivar with block-shaped tubers and shallow eyes. Cooking quality is excellent.  

‘Red Pontiac’ is a late maturing red cultivar. Potatoes are oblong with deep eyes. It produces high yields with many large tubers. Table quality is only fair. Storage quality is very good. 

When planting potatoes, do I need to purchase certified seed potatoes?  

Since potatoes are susceptible to several serious diseases, buy certified, disease-free potatoes at garden centers and mail-order nurseries. Potatoes that remain from last year's crop may carry undetectable diseases. Potatoes purchased at supermarkets (for table use) may have been treated to prevent sprouting. Best results (excellent quality and high yields) are obtained with certified seed potatoes.

How do I plant potatoes? 

Since potatoes are susceptible to several diseases, buy certified, disease-free potatoes at garden centers or mail-order nurseries. Gardeners can purchase seed pieces (tubers that have been cut into sections) or whole potatoes. Small potato tubers may be planted whole. Large potatoes should be cut into sections or pieces.  Each seed piece should have one or two “eyes” or buds and weigh approximately 1.5 to 2.0 ounces. After cutting the tubers into sections, place the freshly cut seed pieces in a humid, 60 to 70 F location for one or two days. A short “healing” period allows the cut surfaces to callus or heal over before the seed pieces are planted. Healing of the cut surfaces helps prevent the rotting of seed pieces when planted.  

Plant seed pieces (cut side down) and small whole potatoes 3 to 4 inches deep and 1 foot apart within the row. Rows should be spaced 2½ to 3 feet apart.  


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