Can You Plant A Potato That Has Not Sprouted?


You may have heard about how you can plant a potato to grow an entire new plant.  This method works with sprouted potatoes – but what about potatoes that have not yet sprouted?  I did some digging to find out the truth, and I unearthed some interesting information that I would like to share.

So, can you plant a potato that has not sprouted?  No, you should not plant a potato that has not sprouted.  A potato that has not sprouted may grow into a new plant, but this is not guaranteed.  You have a much better chance of successfully growing a healthy new plant if you encourage the potato to sprout before you plant it.

Of course, this still leaves the question of how to get your potatoes to sprout.  We’ll get into more detail on that soon, but let’s start with some of the reasons why you should not plant potatoes that have not sprouted.

Can You Plant A Potato That Has Not Sprouted?

No, you should not plant a potato that has not sprouted.  Remember: the whole point of planting potatoes is to grow them into new potato plants.

sprouted potato
Give your potatoes a chance to sprout before planting them.

Your goal is to start potato plants that have the best chance of growing and producing a good harvest.  There are a couple of benefits to waiting for your potatoes to sprout:

  • First, you can choose to plant only the potatoes that sprout the most aggressively.  The more vigorous ones will probably have a better chance of surviving and thriving, thus growing into a new potato plant to provide you with a good harvest.
  • Second, you can choose to cut each sprouted potato into two or more pieces.  As long as each piece of potato has a sprouted “eye” on it, then it has a chance to grow into a full-fledged potato plant.

Are you still not convinced that you need to wait for your potato to sprout before planting?  Then think of it this way: let’s say you want to start any other plant (like tomatoes) indoors from seed.

Which seeds would you end up transplanting outside?  That’s right: just the ones that successfully germinate (or sprout to form a seedling) – for tomatoes, that usually means 6 to 11 days.

The rest of the seeds will probably never germinate (not all seeds do!).  So, it is pointless to spend the time and resources planting them, watering them, and fertilizing them if they have little chance to grow.

Similarly, you should only plant a potato after it has sprouted.  That way, you are only spending your time planting potatoes that have proven they are viable.  These are the ones that have the best chance of growing into mature potato plants.

How Do I Get My Potatoes to Grow Eyes? (Chitting or Sprouting Potatoes)

According to the University of New Hampshire Extension, the eyes on a potato are the small dimples that contain vegetative buds.  These vegetative buds are what will eventually sprout, giving the potato a chance to reproduce.

As mentioned before, we want to make sure our potatoes are sprouted before planting them.  To encourage potatoes to sprout (also called chitting), just do the opposite of what you would do to store potatoes long-term!

Normally, to store potatoes and prevent them from sprouting, you would store them in a cool, dark, dry place.  This encourages the potatoes to remain in the “dormant” state.

In the dormant state, potato eyes will not sprout.  They “know” that it is not the right time to reproduce, since cold, dark, and dry means winter to them.

This dormant state protects the potato plant from sprouting and growing when there is still a danger of frost that could kill the new plant.

When spring comes along, the soil gets warmer and wetter, and the days get longer and brighter.  Snow and ice also melt, allowing more sunlight to reach the soil.

So, if you want your potatoes to grow eyes and start sprouting sooner, then keep them somewhere warm and moist, and give them some exposure to indirect sunlight.

To encourage faster sprouting, lay the potatoes out on a bed of moist soil in a container indoors.  Keep the soil moist with a spray bottle to mimic outdoor conditions in the spring.

sprouted potatoes
These potatoes have sprouted and are ready to grow into new plants.

To encourage more sprouts to form, turn the potatoes over after they start sprouting.  When you expose the other side of the potato to light, the eyes on that side will also have a chance to sprout.

All of these conditions (warmer temperatures, brighter light, and wetter soil) are exactly what happens in the spring.  These conditions are what encourage potatoes to break dormancy and start sprouting.

How Big Should Potato Sprouts Be Before Planting?

The sprouts on your potato should be 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) long when you plant the potato in the garden.  If you want to cut a sprouted potato into separate pieces (seed potatoes) for planting, here’s how to do it.

long potato sprouts
The sprouts on this potato have grown too long – we would like to plant seed potatoes when the sprouts are 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) long.

First, decide how many cuts to make before you do any cutting!  Keep the following guidelines in mind when deciding how to cut your potato into pieces:

  • Make sure that each seed potato piece you cut has at least 1 eye (preferably 2 to 3 eyes) that has already sprouted.
  • Make sure that each seed potato piece weighs about 2 ounces (the ideal size for a seed potato).

Once you have decided on how to cut the potato, disinfect a knife with rubbing alcohol.  Use the clean knife to make your cuts.  Clean the knife between each potato, to avoid the spread of disease (just in case any of your potatoes are infected with blight or another disease).

Be careful when cutting the potato so that you do not injure yourself.  Also, remember to handle the potato pieces gently, to avoid breaking the sprouts!

Finally, let the seed potato pieces dry for a few days before planting.  This will help to prevent the pieces from rotting.

You also have the option of coating each seed potato piece with elemental sulfur before planting.  This will help to prevent rot and disease, and it will also keep insects away.

How Many Potatoes Grow From One Eye?

The number of potatoes you will get from one eye depends on the size of the potatoes.  However, you can expect to harvest 1 to 2 pounds of potatoes per plant.

potatoes in basket
You can expect 1 to 2 pounds of potatoes per eye (plant) in your garden.

A single sprouted eye on a potato can grow into one plant.  So, if you get 10 sprouted eyes on one large potato and cut the potato into 5 seed potato pieces (with two eyes per piece), then you could harvest 5 to 10 pounds of potatoes from a single potato!

Of course, the harvest you get will depend upon proper care for your potato plants.  When planting, make sure that the sprouted eyes are face up (towards the sun!)

Bury the potato or seed potato 4 inches (10 centimeters) below the surface of the soil.  Leave 8 inches (20 centimeters) between plants so they do not compete for water, nutrients, or sunlight.

To read the full tutorial on growing sprouted potatoes, head on over to my article here.

As the potato plant grows, you should add more soil every so often – a process known as hilling.  When hilling your potatoes, add enough soil so that the emerging shoots are just barely covered.

By the end of the season, the extra soil will be built up about 6 inches (15 centimeters) above the surrounding ground.  Hilling is useful for covering potato tubers that push up above the soil surface.

Without hilling, any potatoes that are exposed to sunlight will turn green.  You should not eat these green potatoes, nor should you feed them to your animals.  Green potatoes contain solanine, which is a toxic substance that can make you sick.

Why Are My Potatoes Not Sprouting?

If your potatoes are not sprouting, the cause is either the wrong environmental conditions or sprouting inhibitors.

Environmental Conditions

First, remember that potatoes need the right environment to sprout properly.  Cold, dry, and dark conditions tell potatoes that it is still winter.  They know not to sprout during this time, since frost could kill any growth that occurs.

Instead, make sure to keep your potatoes in a warm, moist environment with partial sunlight to encourage sprouting.

Sprouting Inhibitors

If you are using potatoes from the grocery store for sprouting and growing new plants, you may have some trouble!  Many producers treat potatoes with sprouting inhibitors, which prevent the eyes on potatoes from sprouting.

Sprouting inhibitors increase the shelf life of potatoes, making them easier to ship and decreasing waste for the grocery store.  It also gives the potatoes a nicer appearance, making it easier to sell them.

Unfortunately, these same sprouting inhibitors can make it very difficult for you to sprout the potatoes if you want to grow new plants.  These potatoes may sprout eventually, but you will probably be waiting longer than you would like.

To speed up the potato sprouting process, you have two options:

  • buy potatoes not treated with sprout inhibitor (you can probably find them at a local farmer’s market)
  • buy certified seed potatoes from a seed company (these are also guaranteed to be disease-free)

These options will cost more up-front than buying grocery store potatoes.  However, if you can successfully grow new plants and harvest lots of potatoes, then this more expensive option may end up paying for itself over time!

Conclusion

Now you know exactly why you should sprout potatoes before planting them.  You also know how to make potatoes sprout faster and how to plant them once the job is done.  With that knowledge in hand, it’s time to get started!

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share the information with someone who will find it useful.  I hope you enjoy growing potatoes in your garden this year!

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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