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Buying, Planting, and Growing Potatoes

Potatoes - the unassuming tuber that has grown its way into the hearts and bellies of more than a billion people world-wide. We believe that potatoes deserve a special place not only in our diets but also in our gardens. Potatoes are easy to grow for novices and experts alike, and one bite of these home-grown, delicious, earthy, starchy tubers will have you hooked on this simple yet delectable vegetable.

The Facts

  • Potatoes are scientifically known as Solanum tuberosum.

  • Potatoes are botanical cousins to peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.

  • The potato is native to the Peruvian-Bolivian Andes and was cultivated by the Incas as early as 1,800 years ago. The potato was introduced to Europe in the second half of the 16th century.

  • The edible part of the potato plant is the underground tuber, which serves as a storage organ for the plant, developing about 5 to 7 weeks after planting.

  • Potatoes are powerhouses of nutrition, providing large amounts of Vitamin C, Potassium, and other nutrients.

  • With over 100 varieties available, potatoes come in a range of colors, sizes, and textures.

  • Potatoes are classified into three distinct categories based on their growing season: early, mid, and late season.

Buying Seed Potatoes

When looking for potatoes to plant, don't look in the grocery store. Instead, look for certified disease-resistant varieties from your local garden center or nursery. These potatoes will produce buds (aka "eyes") from which the plant will sprout and grow: best to be sure that the seed potato you are buying as plenty of buds. Seed potatoes can be planted whole or cut into pieces, each piece with at least 2 or 3 buds. Seed potatoes can be found in bulk (sold by the pound) or sold as a predetermined amount in a box or bag.

Potato Varieties

The variety of seed potato that you buy will depend on your local climate and desired color, texture, taste, and use.

Listed below are the seed potatoes are for sale at Helms Garden Shop in 2024. Our seed potatoes are First Grade seed potatoes from Minnesota and Non-GMO seed potatoes from the Netherland Bulb Company.

Purple Majesty - sweet and buttery with wine-dark skin and violet flesh. High in antioxidants.

Kennebec - an all purpose potato with high yields. Buff skin and white flesh. Good for storage.

Yukon Gold - early potato with high yields. Thin, golden skin and sweet, buttery, yellow flesh. Good for storage.

Russet Burbank - Russet skin on long and large tubers. Late maturing. Good for frying, baking, and storing.

French Fingerling - pink skin with bi-colored, creamy yellow flesh. Gourmet flavor: best boiled or roasted. Larger than other fingerlings. Main season.

Huckleberry Gold - high in antioxidants and low glycemic index. Purple skin with buttery, golden-yellow flesh. Strong yielding. Good for storage.

Cal White - early potato with bright white skin and white flesh. Susceptible to "heat sprouting".

Planting Requirements

While potatoes are easy to grow, some forethought is required for the best possible result. The area you prepare for your potatoes should receive at least 6 hours of sunlight and have fertile, loose, well-drained soil. Potatoes are hungry growers, so amending your site with material rich in organic matter, such as compost, is highly recommended. An application in the fall and another application right before planting creates a humus rich soil that the potatoes will love. Ideally, the soil should be slightly acidic (5.8 to 6.5). We recommend testing your soil to check for acidity and nutrient levels. At planting time, the soil should be at least 45º to 55ºF and should not be overly wet.

Crop rotation is an important tool used to avoid the transmission of soil borne pathogens. Potatoes should not be planted in the same plot every year, nor should they be planted where members of their family (tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) have grown in the previous two years.

Potatoes can also be planted into large containers. A layer of potting soil or compost (about 4 inches) should be added to the container before planting the potato. Then continue to plant and care for the seed potato as you would in the ground.

Planting Potatoes

Once you have purchased your desired seed potatoes, it is time to chit them. Simply lay them in a single layer on a tray and place them somewhere sunny and frost-free. Chitting will cause the seed potato to sprout, giving your potatoes a head start on the growing process. It takes about a month to form the sprouts, and they should be stout, stocky, and green. Insufficient sunlight will cause long, leggy, and pale sprouts. Try to time your chitting process so that the seed potatoes are ready to be planted 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost date. If you didn't have time to chit your potatoes, that's okay! Continue to the next planting step.

At least two days before you plant your potatoes, inspect your spuds and decide if you want to plant them whole or cut them into smaller pieces. If your seed potatoes are large, cut them into pieces about the size of a hen's egg with 2 or 3 sprouts or buds per piece. Let the cut seed potatoes heal until the time comes to plant.

For each seed potato piece that you have, dig a hole about 6 inches deep or dig a trench at the same depth and add a layer of slow release fertilizer to the bottom. We recommend using Muriate of Potash; this will create healthy stems, roots, and tubers (remember, potatoes are a tuber!) Mix the fertilizer in with the loose soil at the bottom of the hole, and then place your potato in the hole. The side with the most sprouts should be facing up... these will grow and form the plant above ground. Cover the seed potato with soil. Depending on your variety, seed potatoes should be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.

Growing Potatoes

  • Water - potatoes are thirsty growers. Once planted, thoroughly water in your seed potatoes and then continue to provide 1 to 2 inches of water per week in order to maintain an even moisture level. Uneven moisture levels during the different growing processes can cause misshapen potatoes. Potatoes planted in containers may require more frequent watering than potatoes planted in the ground. It is also important to note that overhead watering should be avoided. If overhead watering is unavoidable, water only during the early morning hours so that the leaves have time to dry before night falls and that less water evaporates. Wet leaves can cause frustrating issues such as disease and rot, and excessive water evaporation is simply a waste of a precious natural resource. Once the foliage begins to turn yellow and dies off, stop watering the plants.

  • Hilling - an extremely beneficial practice when growing potatoes is called hilling. Hilling potatoes increases yield by increasing length of the stem underground. Hilling also is important for preventing the tops of the newly formed spuds from peeking up out of the ground. Potatoes that are exposed to sunlight turn green and toxic. It's easy to hill potatoes: in the morning when the stems are fully turgid, draw up the soil with a hoe every time the stems get to around 6 to 8 inches, leaving just the top stems poking out of the soil. Alternatively, add compost material to the area, covering the stems in the same way. Continue hoeing or adding material until you cannot draw up any more soil or until the foliage closes over in between rows.

  • Protect From Frost - potato plants can typically handle the late winter frosts that may occur, but it's better to protect them in some small measure if you know a frost is on its way. It's easy to cover the young plants with fleece or row cover fabric, cover shoot clusters with a pot, or draw up soil to bury the young shoots.

We hope this inspires and encourages you to start planting potatoes in your garden. Be on the lookout in the summer for our guide on how to harvest your potatoes!

For more information, give us a call at (580) 338-5020 or email us at

We are open at 124 North Quinn Street from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

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Happy Gardening!

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