Yard and Garden: Planting and Raising Potatoes In Iowa

March 16, 2016, 1:37 pm | Richard Jauron, Greg Wallace

AMES, Iowa - Spring’s arrival brings thoughts of green grass, flowering trees and – potatoes. Yes, potatoes. The starchy, tuberous crop is an integral, delicious part of many diets. In Iowa, optimal planting season is fast approaching. 

ISU Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help gardeners produce an ideal potato crop at home.

When should I plant potatoes? 

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

What would be a good planting site for potatoes?

Potatoes grow best in well-drained, fertile soils. The planting site should also receive at least six hours of direct sun each day.

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.

Potato Plant

Which potato varieties perform well in Iowa? 

Suggested potato cultivars for Iowa include:

  • ‘Red Norland’ is an early maturing red cultivar that produces oblong, smooth potatoes with shallow eyes. They are excellent boiled or mashed, but only fair when baked. 
  • ‘Red Gold’ is an early season cultivar with light red skin and yellow flesh. The tubers are excellent for baking and boiling. 
  • ‘Yukon Gold’ is an early season yellow-fleshed cultivar. They are excellent baked, boiled or mashed. The potatoes also store well.
  • ‘Russet Norkotah’ is an early season russet cultivar that produces blocky, oblong potatoes. It is an excellent baking potato.
  • ‘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. They are 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 cutting potato tubers, what is the appropriate size for the seed pieces? 

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 2.0 ounces. After cutting the tubers into sections, place the freshly cut seed pieces in a humid, 60 to 70 degree Fahrenheit 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.

What is the proper way to plant potatoes?

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

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