Have you ever reached into a forgotten bag of potatoes and found them sprouting, with several “eyes” or buds on each one? Although you can cut these eyes away and safely eat the potatoes, I wondered if you could let them continue to grow instead.
So, can you plant a potato that has sprouted? You can plant a potato that has sprouted. With the proper care, it will grow into a full-fledged potato plant and produce many potatoes. There are also ways to improve the potato plant’s chance of survival and increase your yield.
Of course, it would be nice to know why potatoes sprout in the first place, so we’ll start there.
Then, we’ll get into how to plant sprouted potatoes and how to care for the plants as they grow. We’ll also talk about how to harvest and store potatoes from your plant, along with potential problems and how to avoid them.
Why Do Potatoes Sprout?
Potatoes, like all plants, have a goal to reproduce and create a new generation. Even in seemingly hostile conditions, they will attempt to do this.
Potatoes contain special cells in their buds, which specialize to become stems or roots. Potatoes also contain plenty of nutrients and starches in their flesh.
This gives them the resources they need to sprout and start growing into a new plant. As long as they are warm enough, potatoes will quickly begin to sprout.
A sprouting potato has “eyes” or buds, which are bulging sprouts. Each of these has the potential to grow into its own potato plant.
If you want to make your potatoes sprout, store them in a warm, damp, light environment.
On the other hand, if you are annoyed by sprouting potatoes, there are a few things you can do to prevent it from happening.
How To Prevent Potatoes From Sprouting
First, remember that potato varieties that mature faster will have a shorter dormancy period. (Dormancy period is the amount of time before a potato begins to sprout).
So, to prevent sprouting, choose potatoes that take longer to mature. Check the days to maturity in the catalog (print or online).
Also, make sure to “cure” your homegrown potatoes after harvest by leaving them out to dry. Once they are cured, store the potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place to slow down the sprouting process.
Finally, avoid storing potatoes together with onions – this seems to make them sprout faster!
Your potatoes may end up sprouting, despite your best efforts to prevent it. In that case, you can cut out the eyes and eat the potatoes, including the skins.
Just make sure that you don’t eat any green skin or flesh from the potatoes. When potatoes are exposed to sunlight, they often turn green, due to chlorophyll production.
In addition to chlorophyll, potatoes exposed to sunlight may also produce solanine. Solanine is a potato plant’s way of preventing animals from eating the tubers.
Solanine is poisonous, and it will make you sick if you eat too much of it!
How to Plant Sprouted Potatoes
There are a few things to keep in mind when you go to plant your sprouted potatoes. Follow these steps, and you should get healthier plants and more potatoes. Let’s take them in order.
1. Wait for the Right Weather Conditions (Cool – But Not Too Cold)
If you plant your potatoes too early, a late frost could kill them. You can use this tool from the Farmer’s Almanac to find the date of the last frost for your area.
Remember that these dates are estimates or averages, and a frost could occur slightly later. To be safe, you can certainly wait until a few weeks after this to plant.
If your potatoes are really sprouting quickly, you could put them in some potting soil in a bucket. Then, you could leave them under a grow light or near a window to transplant into the garden later.
In order to plant outside, the soil should be thawed (not frozen), but still cool (45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Generally, mid to late summer is the latest you will want to plant potatoes outside.
Otherwise, an early fall frost could kill the plants before they can produce a full harvest. Besides that, frozen ground would make the potatoes difficult to harvest.
2. Prepare Potatoes for Planting (Chitting and Cutting)
Now that you have an idea of when to plant, it’s time to prepare the seed potatoes themselves for planting. A seed potato is simply a potato (or a piece of a potato) that has a bud (eye) that can grow into a new plant.
You can plant potatoes before they have sprouted, but it is better to wait until their “eyes” have begun to sprout. “Chitting” is the process of encouraging seed potatoes to sprout, in order to prepare them for planting.
Once a potato sprouts, you know that it is ready to grow into a full-sized plant. You won’t have to wait to see if the potato will ever sprout, since it has already begun the process.
You can certainly plant an entire potato in the ground after it sprouts. However, there is another way to get more plants and more potatoes.
First, cut the potato into several smaller pieces. Try to leave one sprouted “eye” on each piece of potato.
That way, you can give each piece of sprouted potato enough space to grow. This will prevent competition among plants for water and nutrients in the soil.
Then, leave the potato pieces out for a few days, to give them a chance to dry out and “scab over”. This will help to prevent rot after you plant the potatoes.
While you are waiting for the cut potato pieces to dry out, you can take the next step, which is choosing and preparing a garden site.
3. Choose and Prepare a Garden Site for Planting Sprouted Potatoes
Potatoes are not too picky, but if you choose a good garden site to grow them, then the plants will thrive and produce more potatoes for you.
Here are a few steps to help you choose and prepare a good site for growing potatoes:
Choose A Sunny Spot
First, identify areas of your garden that get 6 to 8 hours of full fun per day, with partial shade during the rest of the day. Avoid areas with full shade, since this will inhibit the growth of potato plants or give you small potatoes.
Pay attention to where the trees are, especially ones that lose their leaves in winter. What looks like a bright spot in early spring may be partially or completely shaded by leaves in the summer!
Ensure Well Drained Soil
Next, make sure that the soil drains well. Potatoes don’t like soil that is too soggy.
To find out if your soil drains well, dig a hole, and pour some water in it. If the water drains down into the soil in 10 minutes or less, the soil is well-draining.
If your soil drains poorly, you can add compost or aged manure to your soil to supplement organic material (humus) and improve drainage. For more information, check out my article on how to make soil drain better.
On the other hand, if you have trouble with dry soil, check out my article on how to treat dry soil.
Keep in mind that potatoes and tomatoes should not be planted together. The reason is that they are in the same family and share some of the same diseases, such as early blight and late blight.
For more information, check out my article on why you should not plant tomatoes and potatoes together.
Adjust Soil pH and Nutrients (Do A Soil Test First)
Now it is time to check your garden soil pH & nutrient levels. You can use a home test kit, or you can send a sample to your local agricultural extension for testing.
To learn more, check out my article on how to test your soil.
According to Cornell University, potatoes like acidic soil, with a pH between 4.8 and 5.5. They can survive in soil with a higher pH, but there is more of a chance of scab, which is a disease that affects potatoes.
If your soil pH is too high, one way to lower it is to add elemental sulfur. For more information, check out my article on how to lower soil pH.
If the soil test reveals low nutrient levels, add soil amendments as needed. A standard 10-10-10 fertilizer will help with three important nutrients (nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, or N-P-K).
For more information, check out my article on the NPK ratio on bags of fertilizer.
Dig The Trenches For Planting Your Sprouted Potatoes (Or Choose The Right Container)
Finally, prepare spaces to plant your potatoes. There are two basic options:
- Dig holes 4 inches deep and 1 foot apart in a row.
- Dig a trench 4 inches deep along the entire row. If you want 10 potato plants, then make the trench 10 feet wide.
A trench might work better for potatoes that have formed long sprouts. This will give you plenty of space for planting without having to worry about breaking off or bending the sprouts.
No matter which method you choose, leave a space of 3 feet between rows of potatoes. This will leave room for watering, weeding, and hilling later in the season.
For more information on spacing, check out my article on how much depth and space potatoes need.
Since potatoes start off completely underground, you might want to use a marker (a stick, plastic label, etc.) to tell you where you planted the potatoes. That way, you won’t step on them and compact the soil after planting.
Of course, you can always choose to plant sprouted potatoes in a container instead of in the ground. According to the University of New Hampshire Extension, a good container for planting potatoes is 2 to 3 feet tall and holds 10 to 15 gallons.
If you do choose to plant potatoes in a container, just make sure to leave enough space for hilling later in the season (more detail on this later!)
4. Plant The Sprouted Potatoes
When the potato pieces are dry and scabbed over, it is time to plant them in the holes or trenches that you dug. Remember: space them a foot apart if using a trench, to give them enough space to grow without competition.
Cover the sprouted potatoes with 4 inches of soil – enough to cover the holes or trenches up to the surface of the soil.
Congratulations – you’re on the way to growing your own potatoes!
Of course, if you want to do something completely different (this year or next), you can plant your potatoes in straw bales! For more information, check out my article on planting potatoes in straw bales.
How To Care For Potato Plants
If you followed the steps up to this point, your potato plants should be planted in a spot where they have enough sunlight, plenty of space, and healthy soil with the right pH and enough nutrients.
The two biggest things you will have to worry about during the growing season are watering and hilling. Let’s start with watering.
Watering Potato Plants
When the top inch or so of soil above the potatoes is dry, give them water. There is no rule for when this needs to be done, since it will depend on temperature, humidity, your soil, and how much water the potatoes use.
Your best bet is to check the soil with your fingers each day to see if it is dry. If it is wet, hold off on watering – otherwise, go ahead and water.
The Oregon State University Extension suggests watering potato plants in mid-day. This gives the plant foliage enough time to dry off before nightfall, to prevent disease from taking hold.
They also suggest watering less in the early days of the season to prevent the sprouted potatoes from rotting before they get a chance to grow. In fact, they recommend that you avoid watering before the plant emerges from the soil.
For a similar reason, ease up on watering later in the season (when the vines die) to prevent the tubers from rotting before harvest.
You can use your hands to feel new potatoes forming underground near where you planted the sprouted potato. When these new potatoes begin to form, water the plant heavily, since it will grow rapidly and use lots of water.
Just be careful about overdoing it, especially if you are new at gardening – see my article on over watering plants.
Adding Soil to Potato Plants (Hilling)
With most plants, you put the seeds in the ground (or transplant them into the ground) and they grow without you having to add any more soil. Potatoes can grow this way, but you can do even better than that.
Hilling, or building a mound of soil around potato shoots, is a method that will lead to stronger plants and bigger potatoes. It will also help to prevent sun damage.
Remember what we talked about earlier. When potato tubers are exposed to sunlight, they turn green and produce the toxic substance solanine.
Hilling helps to prevent this by using soil to cover any tubers that appear n the plant.
Hilling is easy to do if you want to try it. After every 6 inches of potato plant growth above ground, add some more soil to cover most of the plant.
However, don’t cover it completely, since photosynthesis requires that some leaves be exposed to the sunlight.
Harvesting and Storing Potatoes
Once the plants have produced their bounty, it’s time to reap what you have sown. Let’s talk about when and how to harvest potatoes, along with the best ways to store them.
When to Harvest Potatoes
According to the University of Maryland Extension, potatoes will be ready for harvest 90 to 120 days (13 to 17 weeks) after planting the sprouted potatoes. If you started them in soil indoors, you will want to track from that date, so be sure to write it down!
Before the 13 to 17 weeks are up, you may see your potato plants start to decay or fall over. The leaves will turn yellow, and the plant will die back. This is not necessarily a cause for alarm, since it is a natural part of the potato life cycle.
In fact, this is actually a sign that the potatoes are close to the point where they are ready to harvest. If you wait 2 to 3 weeks after the plant starts to die back, the potatoes should be mature and ready to harvest.
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, if you want to harvest smaller potatoes with thin skins (“new potatoes”), plan to harvest 2 to 3 weeks after the plants stop flowering. This will help to space out your harvest if you planted a lot of sprouted potatoes.
Just make sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Frost kills potato plants, just like many other plants.
The potatoes may be fine if they are far enough underground, but if the ground freezes, it will be difficult to harvest the potatoes.
If you decide to grow potatoes in a container instead of in the ground, you can just dump the soil out and sift through it to find your harvest.
How to Harvest Potatoes
You can use your hands to dig potatoes, although you might want to use gloves if the soil is cold in the fall. This method is slow, but there is less chance of damaging the potatoes by cutting or bruising.
You can also dig for potatoes with a trowel, pitchfork, or other tool. This will be faster than digging by hand, but there is more risk of damaging some potatoes. Of course, any that get damaged can be washed and eaten immediately.
The way you harvest potatoes depends on what you want.
New potatoes are small and soft, with thin skins, and will be found higher up on the plant (and thus buried in less soil). New potatoes are a nice fall crop to go with some of your other vegetables, but they don’t store as well.
Bigger potatoes are the more mature ones with thicker skins. These ones store better and will be found deeper down in the soil.
If you leave potatoes in the ground longer, their skins will get thicker, making them easier to store for long periods.
How to Store Potatoes
If you get plenty of potatoes, it makes sense to store them properly. That way, you can get the most out of your gardening efforts and enjoy the bounty of your harvest for months to come.
First, brush off the dirt from your potatoes. You can use a soft, dry brush to do this.
Avoid scratching them or cutting into them. However, don’t wash the potatoes, since this can encourage mold growth.
After cleaning the potatoes, allow them to “cure” for a few days. This just means leaving them out to dry a bit.
Leave the potatoes to cure in a shady location. Remember about solanine and what happens when potatoes are left out in the sun!
Once they are cured, store the potatoes in cool, dry, dark place to keep them from sprouting. When you are ready to cook them, wash the potatoes and prepare them.
If any eyes have sprouted, you can cut them out and cook normally. Just avoid eating any green flesh or skin on potatoes.
As mentioned above, if you want to sprout potatoes for planting next year, then put them in a warm, damp, well-lit place.
Potential Potato Problems
Growing potatoes is not necessarily all sun and games. Sometimes, you will encounter problems.
Here are a couple of common problems to look out for when growing potatoes.
Potato blight, or late blight, is a water mold, and it was responsible for the Irish potato famine in the 1800’s. If you plant a potato with blight, the disease can spread to the rest of your garden, including other potato plants and even nearby tomato plants!
Potatoes from the grocery store could have blight in them, even if they look healthy. Furthermore, grocery store potatoes are often treated with a sprout inhibitor.
This keeps the potatoes edible longer, but prevents you from growing more of them. If you want to grow your own potatoes from sprouts with less risk of disease,look for certified disease-free seed potatoes from a garden supply center.
There are many garden pests that will give your potato plants a hard time. The potato beetle is one such pest.
The potato beetle, or Colorado potato beetle, has a yellow or orange body, along with stripes running along its back. They are about a quarter to half an inch in length.
They can lay 500 eggs in a 5-week period, usually on the underside of a leaf. They are possibly the biggest culprit in potato plant defoliation (eating and removal of the leaves).
Potato beetles have developed resistance to numerous pesticides over the years. Crop rotation is one way to combat their spread.
Mulching potato plants with straw can also help to hide the potato plants for a time. It may also encourage the potato beetle’s predators to protect your plants.
Hopefully, this article gave you everything you need about how to plant sprouted potatoes, how to care for the plants, and how to harvest and store your bounty.
You should also have enough information to avoid some of the more common problems with growing potatoes.
I hope that you found the article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.
For more information on growing potatoes, check out this article from Cornell University.