Ask the ISU Extension Garden Experts About: Growing Potatoes

March 17, 2011, 12:29 pm |

When should I plant potatoes in Iowa? 

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. 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 2.5 to 3 feet apart. 

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. 

What are some good potato varieties for Iowa? 

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

  • ‘Red Norland’ is an early maturing red variety that produces oblong, smooth potatoes with shallow eyes. They are excellent boiled or mashed, but only fair when baked. 
  • ‘Russet Norkotah’ is an early season russet variety that produces blocky, oblong potatoes. It is an excellent baking potato. 
  • ‘Yukon Gold’ is an early season yellow-fleshed variety. They are excellent baked, boiled or mashed. The potatoes also store well. 
  • ‘Superior’ is an early to mid-season variety 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 variety that produces oblong to oval tubers with a russet skin and white flesh. Baking quality is very good. 
  • ‘Katahdin’ is a late maturing white variety that produces smooth, round, shallow-eyed tubers. It is excellent for baking. 
  • ‘Kennebec’ is a late maturing white variety with block-shaped tubers and shallow eyes. Cooking quality is excellent. 
  • ‘Red Pontiac’ is a late maturing red variety. Potatoes are oblong with deep eyes. It produces high yields with many large tubers. Table quality is only fair. Storage quality is very good. 

There are also varieties with unusual colors and shapes. ‘All Red,’ for example, is a mid-season variety that produces medium-sized tubers with red skin and pale pink flesh. ‘All Blue’ has deep blue skin and blue flesh. ‘Russian Banana’ produces small, banana-shaped tubers, which are excellent in salads. Heirloom and novelty varieties are tasty and fun additions to the vegetable garden.

When cutting potato tubers into pieces prior to planting, what is the proper size for the sections? 

Small potato tubers may be planted whole. Large potatoes should be cut into sections or pieces. Each seed piece should contain one or two “eyes” or buds and weigh approximately 1.5 to 2 ounces. After cutting the tubers into sections, place the freshly cut seed pieces in a humid, 60 to 70 degree Faheneheit location for one or two days. A short “healing” period allows the cut surfaces to callus or heal over. Callused seed pieces are less likely to rot in cool, wet soils.