Fresh potatoes from the garden are great, and some will last for months after harvest if stored properly. Growing potatoes year-round would be nice, but extreme cold poses a challenge.
So, can potatoes grow in winter? Potatoes can grow in winter as long as they get enough light and are protected from freezes or hard frosts. Potatoes can grow outdoors in winter in warmer southern climates, such as Florida. In colder climates, potatoes can grow in winter if planted in containers indoors or in a heated greenhouse.
Of course, some potato varieties produce mature tubers much faster than others. If you are worried about a short growing season in a cold climate, you’ll want to check out my list of early potato varieties (more on this later!)
In this article, we’ll take a look at when to plant potatoes to grow in winter. We’ll also look at what to do, what to avoid, and the best varieties to choose if you want to grow potatoes for winter.
Can Potatoes Grow In Winter?
You can grow potatoes in winter, but you will have to plan accordingly:
- Choose the right potato varieties (early season varieties mature faster).
- Modify potato planting dates (planting outdoors later in the spring or even in summer means you can get a fall or winter harvest).
- Protect potato plants from heat (planting outdoors in summer can expose plants to temperatures that will inhibit tuber formation and development).
- Protect potato plants from freezes and hard frosts (plants grown outdoors without protection will die back to the ground in a freeze or hard frost).
Choose The Right Potato Varieties To Grow In Winter
If you want to grow potatoes in winter, it might make sense to choose varieties that mature faster. This will reduce the risk of a freeze or frost damaging your plants.
Early Season Potatoes
Early season potatoes mature in 75 to 90 days (11 to 13 weeks). Here are some early season potatoes from Johnny’s Selected Seeds:
- Adirondack Blue – this early season potato has an oblong shape. It also has purple skin and flesh, and it keeps this color after cooking. It is good for new potatoes, but does not store as long as other types of potatoes.
- Belmonda – this early season potato has a rounded oval shape. It also has yellow skin and flesh, and it produces high yields. Belmonda is a great choice if you want to grow new potatoes, and the tubers store well after harvest.
- Dark Red Norland – this early season potato has a rounded oblong shape. It also has red skin and white flesh, and it is good for roasting and boiling. It is a great choice if you want to grow new potatoes, and the tubers store fairly well after harvest.
- Red Gold – this early season potato has a round shape. It also has light red skin and yellow flesh, and it gives high yields. It is an excellent choice if you want to grow new potatoes, but the tubers don’t store as well as other potato varieties.
- Yukon Gold – this early season potato has a round or oval shape. It also has yellow-tan skin and yellow flesh, and it is available as organic or conventional. It is a good choice if you want to grow new potatoes, and the tubers store very well after harvest.
New potatoes are younger, smaller potatoes that are harvested before they reach full maturity. By growing new potatoes, you are sacrificing a larger size in exchange for an earlier harvest.
However, this can make all the difference if you are growing outdoors in a cold climate with a short growing season.
Modify Potato Planting Dates To Grow In Winter
Normally, potatoes are planted in spring, 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost date. (You can find the last frost date by zip code on this page from the Old Farmer’s Almanac).
However, if you want to grow potatoes in winter, you will need to plant later in the season. For example, the Royal Horticultural Society suggests that you can plant potatoes in August to harvest at Christmas.
They also mention that potatoes harvested in summer will not produce winter tubers (since they need a dormancy period to sprout). Instead, you can buy seed potatoes from a reputable supplier, such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
You can also plant your own sprouted potatoes if you wish (you can learn how to do it in my article here).
The best way to figure out planting dates is to decide on a harvest date and work backwards (based on the days to maturity for the potato variety you are growing).
For example, let’s say you want to harvest potatoes on Christmas Day (December 25). Assume that you are planting early potatoes that mature 90 days after planting.
Working backwards, we subtract 90 days from December 25: 25 days at the beginning of December, 30 days in November, 31 days in October, and 4 days at the end of September (25 + 30 + 31 + 4 = 90).
So, you would want to plant your potatoes on September 26 to get mature potatoes on Christmas Day. You could even plant a little earlier to account for slow growth – if the potatoes come a week early, you can leave them in the soil or harvest them and let them cure in a cool, dry, dark place.
Of course, you can also grow “new potatoes” (smaller, less mature potatoes with thin skin). These will be ready 7 to 8 weeks (around 60 days) after planting.
For new potatoes at Christmas, you would need to plant around October 26.
Even after choosing the right varieties and figuring out your planting dates, you’re not done yet! You still have to protect potato plants from extreme temperatures.
Protect Potato Plants From Heat
Potatoes are a cool season crop, and they can tolerate a light frost. However, heat can stop you from getting a good harvest, especially if you plant in July or August to harvest in November (for Thanksgiving) or December (for Christmas).
The reason is that high temperatures will slow or stop potato tuber growth and development if you plant too early in fall. According to the University of Illinois Extension, potato tubers fail to form when soil temperature is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).
However, they suggest that you can plant midseason or late season potato varieties outdoors as late as the first of July. (If you are growing indoors, you might be able to plant year-round.)
If you need to protect potato plants from heat, there are two good ways to do it:
- Provide shade from the sun – using a shade cloth will reduce the amount of sun that reaches potato plants and the ground near them. This will keep the soil a bit cooler without completely stopping the growth of the plant. Just remember that potato plants prefer full sun and produce a better harvest with 6 or more hours of sunlight per day.
- Insulate soil – using mulch (such as straw or compost) will insulate and shade the soil. This will keep it from getting too warm on a sunny day. (Some gardeners grow potatoes in straw bales!)
Certain potato varieties are better suited to growing in warm climates. For example, the University of Florida suggests the following potato varieties for growing in Florida over the winter:
- LaRouge – this organic potato variety has red skin and white flesh. It is adapted to growing in southern areas and it matures in 80 to 90 days. You can find LaRouge potatoes from Desert Cart.
- Red LaSoda – this potato variety has red skin and white flesh. It grows well in southern gardens, and it can tolerate heat, cold, and drought. It matures in 80 to 100 days. You can find Red LaSoda potatoes from Gurney’s.
Protecting potato plants from heat is one thing – but cold is quite another, so let’s get to it.
Protect Potato Plants From Cold
Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but a freeze or hard frost can cause the plant to die back above the soil. The underground part of the plant can still send up roots, but this sets the plant back by quite a bit.
Extended cold will also freeze the soil, making it impossible to harvest your tubers. A better option is to protect potato plants from cold in the first place.
Avoid putting potatoes in cold, wet soil. According to the University of Maine Extension, potatoes in wet soil at temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) are at risk of rotting before their sprouts break the soil.
Planting whole potatoes that have sprouted will also help to prevent rot. If you cut up potatoes (one or two eyes per piece), make sure to sprout them first and give them a couple of days to scab over before planting (this will protect the tuber against rot.)
Here are a few ways to protect potato plants from freezes and hard frosts in winter:
- Use hilling throughout the growing season – hilling potatoes means to pile up soil around the base of the plant as it grows. This insulates the plant against temperature changes. Hilling also keeps tubers out of the sun, which prevents them from turning green and forming solanine (a toxic substance). In the worst case scenario, a brief freeze will only be able to hurt the part of the plant above ground – so be sure to hill your potatoes!
- Use a greenhouse to grow outdoors – in a colder region, you might need to use a greenhouse to grow potatoes during winter. A heated greenhouse is ideal, but there are ways to keep a greenhouse a little warmer in winter (this can make all the difference when a frost is on the horizon!)
- Grow potatoes indoors – a great way to protect potatoes from freezes and hard frosts is to bring them indoors to stay with you! By growing indoors, your potato plants will be as warm as you are all winter long. You will need to find a sunny spot, but you can grow potatoes indoors if you put them in a container (like a plastic pot) or a grow bag. Just be sure to put a saucer underneath to catch any excess water!
Now you know how to grow potatoes in winter and what to look out for if you pursue this option. You also have some ideas for early season potato varieties that can shorten the wait for mature tubers.
You might also be interested in reading my article on whether potatoes are perennial (and facts about their life cycle).
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.