Maybe you are planting potatoes for the first time, or maybe you just want to get a better harvest this year. Either way, it helps to know the best location for planting your potatoes to get a good yield.
So, where should you plant potatoes? You should plant potatoes in an area with loose, well-draining soil that gets full sunlight. Potatoes also prefer soil that is somewhat acidic, with a pH between 4.8 and 5.5. Sandy loam soil drains well so that potatoes do not stay wet and rot. It also allows potato tubers to grow large without obstruction.
Of course, no yard is perfect, so it might take a little work to arrange for the ideal conditions to grow your potatoes. Let’s get into more detail about where to plant potatoes and the steps you can take to help them grow better.
Where to Plant Potatoes
There are a few important factors to consider when choosing a spot to grow your potatoes, including:
- The soil in that area (consistency, drainage, pH, and nutrients)
- How much light that area gets (full sunlight is best for growing potatoes)
- What was grown in that area recently (crop rotation helps to avoid diseases and nutrient depletion)
Of course, it also helps if your potatoes are properly sprouted before planting. You can read more about planting sprouted potatoes here.
Let’s start by taking a look at how to improve the soil to help you grow the best potatoes possible.
There are lots of things to keep in mind when preparing your soil for growing potatoes. Soil consistency is very important, so we’ll start there.
Ideally, the soil you use for growing potatoes should drain well. This will keep the soil from staying too wet after rain or watering. If potatoes spend too much time in damp soil, they are prone to rotting.
The ideal soil for growing potatoes should also have a loose, smooth consistency. As such, sandy loam soil is one of the best possible types of soil for growing potatoes.
Sandy loam soil contains enough sand that it drains well, but not so much that it gets too dry. It is also smooth and loose enough so that underground potato tubers can easily grow without obstruction as the plant develops above ground.
If your soil is loam, you can add a bit of sand to loosen it up a bit and improve the consistency for growing potatoes.
On the other hand, if you have clay soil, you should not add sand. If you do, you will end up with hard soil that is difficult to work!
Instead, add some compost to your clay soil. Compost will help your clay soil to drain better, and it will also add some nutrients and organic material to the soil.
Compost also encourages the growth of beneficial organisms in the soil, such as bacteria and earthworms. These organisms break down material into a form that plants can use.
Note: to determine if your soil is clay, you can dig some up and form it into a ball in your hand. If it is easy to shape (like clay, putty, or Play-Doh), then you have clay soil.
As mentioned earlier, the consistency of your soil will have a big impact on drainage. Remember though: even with poor soil, there are other ways to improve drainage in the spot where you choose to grow your potatoes.
One option is to build up a mound of soil for growing potatoes. When it rains, any excess water will settle into the soil below the mound, or it will flow down the mound and away from your potato plants.
Another option is to build a raised garden bed out of wood, stone, or brick. You can then fill the raised bed with any type of soil you like.
A raised bed will allow water to drain from the soil more easily. To learn more about raised beds and why they are so useful in the garden, check out my article here. (Note: a container would work similarly, and it would drain and dry out much faster than soil on the ground level).
A third option is to use some type of drainage system to direct water away from your potato plants. For example, you can use trenches or underground pipes to send the water where you want it (instead of letting it drown your potato plants or make the tubers rot underground!)
Potatoes grow best in somewhat acidic soil, with a pH between 4.8 and 5.5. This is slightly more acidic than most plants prefer.
One way to lower the pH of your soil is to add elemental sulfur. However, you should not add sulfur (or any other supplement) to your soil without doing a soil test first!
A soil test will tell you the pH of your soil. It will also tell you how much of the “big three” nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) are in your soil.
After getting a soil test, you will know for sure whether you need to adjust the pH, and whether you need to add any fertilizer to your garden. If you want to learn more about soil testing, head on over to my article here to read all about it.
Soil Nutrients and Fertilizer
Without enough nutrients, your potatoes will struggle to grow, no matter how much water and sunlight they get. Luckily, there are several ways to add nutrients to your soil to grow better potatoes.
One good option, mentioned earlier, is to add compost to your soil. Compost adds nutrients and organic material to your soil. You can make compost from yard and kitchen scraps (such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, and vegetable remains).
Another good option is to add manure to your soil. Cow, horse, and chicken manure are good choices. However, you should not put manure directly in your garden when it is fresh!
Manure that has not aged enough will be too “hot” (high in nitrogen). Manure with too much nitrogen will burn your plants. This will lead to stunted growth or death.
Generally, it will take 3 to 12 months to age manure properly. At that point, it can be safely used on your plants.
You might also consider mixing manure with compost and aging it all together. This will give you a good mixture to add nutrients to your soil.
Of course, potatoes are a “heavy feeder” crop, meaning that they use up lots of nutrients in the soil as they grow. You might find that you need to add fertilizer to the soil to supplement some nutrients that are missing.
A balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, will add some nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to your soil. These three nutrients (among others) are critical for plant growth, and will help your potatoes to grow larger.
Just remember that it is possible to over fertilize and burn your potato plants. To avoid this, follow the instructions on the fertilizer package.
Finally, get a soil test if you are unsure of whether you need extra nutrients to grow your potatoes.
To grow potatoes successfully, you also need to consider the amount of sunlight that your garden gets. You want your potato plants to get full sunlight, but you do not want the tubers themselves (the parts that you eat) exposed to sunlight.
Avoiding Shady Spots
Potato plants grow best in full sunlight, which means 8 hours or more of sun exposure per day. When you decide where to plant your potatoes, keep the following in mind to make sure they get enough sunlight each day:
- Avoid planting your potatoes too close to trees. Even if a spot looks sunny in February or March, it might not be later in the year. When the leaves on deciduous trees come back in the spring, they could shade the potato plants completely. Think about where the sun travels over your yard, and plan ahead to avoid this problem!
- Similarly, do not plant your potatoes close to tall plants. For example, tomatoes, corn, and pole beans grow several feet tall, and could easily shade a potato plant later in the season.
- Plant your potatoes at least 8 inches (20 centimeters) apart to give them enough space to grow. This will also prevent your potato plants from shading one another and blocking out sunlight.
- Pay attention to any buildings on your property. It might be a longer walk to get to your garden, but you should not plant near your house, shed, garage, or barn if there is any chance that they will block sunlight to your potato plants.
You might also choose to grow potato plants indoors in a grow bag or some other type of container. If so, you will need to provide them with enough light.
Put them near a south-facing window or under a skylight to get as much sun as possible. You can also use grow lights to give them the light they need.
Avoiding Green Potatoes
Although potato plants do need full sunlight to grow, there is one thing you need to be careful about. When potato tubers (the part you eat that grows underground) are exposed to sunlight, they turn green and produce solanine.
Solanine is a toxic substance that will make you sick if you eat it. To avoid solanine in your potatoes, you need to avoid exposing them to sunlight.
To do this, use the hilling technique during the growing season. Hilling means adding extra soil to your potato plant to cover up some of the new growth as the plant gets taller.
Usually, hilling will add a mound of up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of soil around each potato plant. It does not help the plants to grow better, but it does prevent toxic solanine from forming in your potato tubers.
Another trick to growing potatoes (or other plants) is that you need to think about previous years, not just this year. Specifically, what did you grow in the same location last year? (This is where it helps to keep a garden journal!)
If you grow the same crop (or family of plants) in the same spot every year, then there is an increased risk of disease. For example, potatoes and tomatoes are both in the nightshade family, and both can be affected by late blight, which is a devastating plant disease.
To avoid this problem, use crop rotation in your garden. Crop rotation means that you do not plant similar plants in the same area each year. Instead, you alternate between different types of plants.
For example, you might plant potatoes in the first year, and then beans in the second year, followed by spinach in the third year, and so forth.
In addition to preventing diseases in your garden, crop rotation also helps to prevent nutrient depletion in the soil. For example, legumes (such as beans and peas) will help to restore nitrogen in the soil, which other crops (such as potatoes) will use up as they grow.
You can also plant cover crops, such as alfalfa, to help restore nutrients to your soil each year. Cover crops are sown into the soil after they grow in order to provide nutrients for the next crop to use.
Now you know where to plant potatoes for maximum growth so that you can get the best harvest possible. You also know what steps to take to improve the growing conditions in your garden.
I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who will find the information useful. Now it’s time to take your newfound potato-growing knowledge and apply it in your own garden!