Why Are My Potato Plants Falling Over? (6 Causes & Solutions)


If your potato plants are falling over, it is natural to wonder if they are dying – and if you will get a potato crop at all.  I did some research into what this means, and there are several possible causes.

So, why are your potato plants falling over?  Potato plants fall over when the plants are mature & ready for harvest. Potato plants also fall over if they are too tall due to over fertilization, especially with nitrogen. Temperature, watering, diseases, & pests can cause your potato plants to fall over, possibly without producing any potatoes.

If your potato plants are mature, then it is not a cause for concern when they fall over (you can find out by digging to see if there are harvest-ready tubers under the plants).  However, if your plants are not mature, you should investigate why they are falling over.

In this article, we’ll explore the things that cause potato plants to fall over. We’ll also give some tips on what you can do to treat it or prevent it in the first place.

Let’s get started.

(If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this article on Youtube, or below).

Why Are My Potato Plants Falling Over?

One of the most common reasons that potato plants fall over is that they are mature and ready for harvest, so let’s start there.

potato vines fallen over
Potato plants turn yellow and fall over at maturity. At that point, the tubers are large enough to start harvesting!

Your Potato Plants Are Mature & Ready For Harvest

When a potato plant reaches the end of its life cycle, the part of the plant above ground will fall over. Potato plant leaves and shoots will usually turn yellow before they fall over.

This still leaves the question of how big potato plants get before they fall over. The answer is, potato plant height really depends on the variety.

potato plants
Potato plants are usually anywhere from 12 to 45 inches tall at maturity, depending on the variety.

At maturity, potato height can range from 12 inches (such as Princess Laratte potato) to 45 inches tall (such as the Red Luna potato). Most potato plants will reach a height of 18 to 24 inches before they start to fall over.

You should not cut back your potato plants, even if they start to get tall (or leggy). Pruning potato plants is usually not necessary (a possible exception is if you are trying control diseases or pests).

pruning shears
Pruning potato plants is usually not necessary unless you are trying to control a pest or disease.

Pruning (or “topping”) leggy potato plants will limit their growth. This will reduce their potential to produce a good harvest of tubers.

When they fall over, it is a kind of natural indicator of when to harvest the tubers. By topping your potato plants, you won’t have this natural indication of when to harvest.

(Of course, you can always dig up tubers to see if they are ready – you learn more about how to dig potatoes in my article here).

potatoes soil
You can dig up some tubers from beneath your plants to see if they are ready for harvest yet.

If you see potato plants turning yellow and falling over around the expected maturity date of the plant, there is nothing to worry about. To calculate the maturity date of your potato plants, it is important to keep track of when you planted them.

Then, check the time to maturity of the potato variety that you chose. You can find this information online, on the seed packet, on a seed company website, or in the catalog you ordered from.

white potato flower
Potato plants will sometimes grow flowers and even above-ground fruit before maturity! You do not need to remove potato plant fruit – but don’t eat it, since it contains the toxic substance solanine.

Keep in mind that the times to maturity for potatoes can vary from as short as 75 days (2.5 months) all the way up to 160 days (over 5 months).

For example, let’s say you planted Ida Rose potatoes on April 15.  Ida Rose potatoes take 95 to 100 days to grow to maturity (let’s use 95 days for this example).

potatoes clean for storage
Potatoes usually take anywhere from 75 to 160 days to grow to maturity, depending on the variety.

That means that after 15 days at the end of April, 31 days in May, 30 days in June, and 19 days at the beginning of July, the potatoes would be ready for harvest.

So, the potato tubers would be mature on July 19th (15 + 31 + 30 + 19 = 95 days). See the table below for a visual.

MonthDays In
Month
April (last
15 days)
15
May (the
whole
month)
31
June (the
whole
month)
30
July (first
19 days)
19
Total95
This table shows the number
of days in each month to get
us to 95 days.

Potato plants will sometimes produce flowers or even fruit before reaching maturity. This is a natural stage of their growth, and potato flowers can even help to indicate when to harvest the tubers.

You do not need to remove potato fruit from a plant, unless you are worried about pets or children eating them. The fruit that potato plants produce above ground is green and contains toxic solanine, which can be harmful in large amounts.

Why Are My Potato Plants Dying?

Don’t worry if it looks like your potato plants are dying before flowering. It may just mean that your potatoes are ready to pick out of the soil!

After harvesting your potatoes, you might find that some will sprout after long-term storage. You can learn how to plant sprouted potatoes here.

grow your own potatoes sidebar
If some of your potatoes sprout in storage, you can plant them again to get new plants and more potatoes!

For more information on times to maturity for potato plants, check out this article on growing potatoes from the Oregon State University Extension.

Your Potato Plants Are Too Tall

If your potato plants are falling over long before their maturity date, then there is some other problem to deal with.  One possibility is that the potato plants have grown too tall.

potato plants
When given too much fertilizer (especially nitrogen), potato plants will grow tall.

Overgrown potato plants can get tall due to overfeeding (especially if you use fertilizer that is too heavy in nitrogen).  This will promote lots of healthy green growth above ground.

However, this will also cause the plant to neglect the production of potatoes, which is the part of the plant you want to eat!

manure
Using high-nitrogen fertilizers can cause lots of tall, green growth on potato plants, without giving you much for tubers.

For more information, check out my article on over fertilizing your plants, and my article on low nitrogen fertilizers.

If your potato plants get too tall, you have the option of using the hilling technique. That means piling up soil around the base of the plant as it grows.

rows of potatoes
Hilling potato plants prevents the tubers from being exposed to sunlight (light exposure can cause potato tubers to turn green and become toxic).

For one thing, the extra soil will help to prevent leggy potato plants from falling over. For another thing, it will prevent potato tubers from turning green and toxic in the sunlight.

(You can learn more about hilling potatoes in my article here).

You also have the option of staking them (just like tomato plants) to support them as they grow. One option is to use a single stake to support each potato plant.

tomato stake
You can use stakes to support potato plants that are growing too tall and falling over.

You could also drive stakes into the ground along a row of potatoes and tie off a length of twine between them. Do this at various heights (every 6 inches) and let the potato plants climb as they grow.

For more information, check out my article on how to support plants.

Temperatures Are Too Extreme For Your Potato Plants

If you can rule out over fertilization of your potato plants, then it is time to consider extreme temperatures. This would be more of a problem in containers, where the soil is not as well insulated as the ground.

potato plants in container
A potato plant in a container is more likely to see extreme temperatures.

Potato tubers (the part of the plant you eat!) form best at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 21 degrees Celsius).

Potato tubers will fail to form when the soil temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) or warmer. So, avoid planting them too late in the season, when they will encounter warmer soil temperatures.

thermometer
Potatoes can survive cool weather, but a frost can kill plants back to the ground. On the other hand, high temperatures can stop potato plants from forming tubers.

It is best to plant potatoes as soon as the soil temperature is 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (7 to 10 degrees Celsius).

Potatoes can tolerate light spring frosts, but if temperatures get too far below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), the plant will die and fall over. If a fall frost threatens your potato plants, you can protect them with row covers by wrapping the whole plant down to the soil.

row cover
Row covers can protect potato plants from cold, wind, and pests.

For more information, check out this article on potatoes from the University of Illinois Extension.

Improper Watering Of Your Potato Plant

If your plant has not encountered any frost or freezing, then it could be that improper watering is causing your plants to fall over.

garden hose
Be careful not to over water or under water your potato plants, or else you could kill them!

If you over water your potato plants, the soil becomes waterlogged. At that point, the roots will not get enough air from the soil.

Eventually, the roots will rot, which will keep your plant from absorbing water and nutrients.  Your potato plant will not survive long in this state, and will soon fall over.

root rot
Root rot causes roots to turn brown and mushy when soil stays wet for too long, denying air to the root.

Potato plants leaves will sometimes curl as an early indication of under watering.  In some cases, curled leaves on potato plants can also indicate disease.

However, your best bet is to check for under watering before worrying about diseases. The best way to check whether your potato plant needs water is to feel the soil with your fingers.

soil
If your soil feels dry to a depth of a few inches, then it is time to water.

If the soil is dry to a depth of a few inches, then it is time to water your plants.  When you do water your potato plants, water from below, to avoid wetting the leaves.

If you need to use a sprinkler and get the leaves wet, water in the morning or at midday. This will leave time for the leaves to dry off before nightfall, which decreases the chances of fungal disease.

sprinkler
If you use a sprinkler to water your potato plants, do it in the morning or at midday. Wet leaves at night can promote disease.

Water deeply and infrequently, rather than providing a shallow amount of water on a frequent basis.  It is also recommended to avoid watering potato plants until after the plant emerges from the soil.

For more information on watering, check out this article on growing potatoes from the Oregon State University Extension.

Your Potato Plants Have A Disease

After ruling out over fertilization, extreme temperatures, and improper watering, we now need to consider the possibility that your potato plants are infected with a disease.

Unfortunately, there are many diseases that can affect potato plants and devastate your crop.  One such disease is blight, which comes in two types: early blight and late blight.

Your Potato Plant Has Early Blight

Early blight of potatoes is caused by a fungus called Alternaria solani. This fungus spreads by a few different methods:

  • spores carried on the wind
  • human contact
  • water splashing infected soil onto the lower leaves of a potato plant
early blight on tomato leaf
Here, we can see symptoms of early blight: brown spots on leaves, with yellow around the spots.

Early blight will cause potato plant leaves to get brown spots with yellow rings on the outside of the spots.  This happens on the older (lower) leaves of the plant first.

A severe early blight infection can cause fewer and smaller potatoes growing on your plant.  It can also cause lesions on the potatoes themselves.

large and small potatoes
A potato plant with early blight may produce fewer and smaller tubers.

For more information on potato early blight symptoms, check out this article on early blight of potatoes from the Michigan State University Extension.

Early blight will spread readily in damp conditions. An outbreak of early blight will often follow extended periods of rainy weather.

rain
Early blight is more likely to take hold in your garden after a stretch of rainy weather.

The fungus that causes early blight can survive over the winter in the soil. It can then infect newly planted potatoes the following spring.

This is more likely to occur if you use compost that contains infected plants, and if the compost pile did not get hot enough to kill the fungus that causes early blight.

compost bin
If you compost potato plants with early blight, make sure the pile gets hot enough. An alternative is to burn the infected plants and use the ash in your compost pile.

Early blight can also get into your garden if the seed potatoes you used were infected to begin with.  Make sure to order clean seed potatoes from a reputable seed company that guarantees their products!

Finally, remember that early blight also affects other nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  So, an infection of any of these plants can also spread to your potato plants.

tomato stakes
Early blight can also affect tomato plants, so avoid planting potatoes and tomatoes too close together.

Thus, it is a good idea to practice crop rotation and avoid planting any of these crops in the same area two years in a row. You can learn more about crop rotation in my article here.

Your Potato Has Late Blight

Late blight of potatoes is caused by a fungus called Phytophthora infestans. This fungus spreads by spores on the wind.

potato late blight
This potato has been infected with late blight. I don’t want to eat that one! You shouldn’t plant infected tubers either.

Late blight is easily the more devastating of the two types of potato blight. This disease can spread rapidly between plants.

Left unchecked, late blight can destroy entire crops of potatoes.  In fact, late blight was responsible for the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840’s.

Late blight causes large, dark brown blotches on infected potato plant leaves and stems (stalks). Over time, the tubers may also be affected.

late blight potato plant leaf
This potato plant leaf is displaying signs of late blight: dark, brown blotches.

Late blight cannot survive in isolation in the soil. However, it can survive over the winter by “hiding” in these infected potato tubers.

As a result, you should remove any “volunteer” (unplanted) potato plants that grow in your garden, as a precaution against the spread of late blight.

Baby Potato Plant
If you find volunteer potato plants in the garden (I always do), it might be best to transplant them to a “quarantine” area to prevent the spread of disease.

Late blight spreads rapidly in damp weather at cool temperatures from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 21 degrees Celsius).

Finally, remember that late blight can also infect tomatoes. The wind can help the spores to carry the disease from your tomato plants to your potato plants.

wind vane
The wind can cause late blight to spread from plant to plant by spores.

There is currently no cure for late blight in potato plants. Your best bet is to remove infected plants before the disease can spread to any others in your garden.

For more information, check out this article on late blight from the University of Minnesota Extension.

Other Potato Diseases

Two other common diseases that can affect potato plants are fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt.  Your best bet is to purchase seed potatoes for varieties that are resistant to both of these diseases.

In seed catalogs or on company websites, disease resistance will often be denoted by an F (for fusarium wilt) and a V (for verticillium wilt).

Pests Are Attacking Your Potato Plants

If no diseases seem to be present in your potatoes, then it is time to check for pests.  A couple of common pests that can cause problems for potato plants are cutworms and Colorado potato beetles.

Cutworms Are Attacking Your Potato Plants

Cutworms can chew and completely cut off your potato stalks at the stem, close to the ground.  If the potato plants that fall over are completely detached, then you likely have cutworms roaming in your garden.

cutworm
Cutworms will chew potato stalks (and also tomato and other plants) at the stem. Is it possible for them to sever many potato stalks in one night!

As any tomato or potato grower will tell you, a good way to prevent cutworm damage is to use cutworm collars on your potato plants.

For more information on cutworm collars and other tricks, check out my article on how to get rid of cutworms using natural methods.

Colorado Potato Beetles Are Attacking Your Potato Plants

The Colorado potato beetle has an orange or yellow body, with black stripes running along its back.  They are about a quarter of an inch to half an inch in length.

potato beetle
Colorado potato beetles can multiply quickly and cause damage to your potato plants.

A single Colorado potato beetle can lay up to 500 eggs in a 5-week period.  These eggs are usually found on the undersides of potato plant leaves.

Colorado potato beetles are one of the biggest culprits in potato plant defoliation (eating and removal of the leaves).  If there is enough leaf damage, you could certainly see your plants falling over and dying before maturity.

Over the years, Colorado potato beetles have developed resistance to many pesticides.  Crop rotation is one way to prevent them from spreading.

Using straw as mulch for potato plants also helps to hide the potato plants, and encourages the potato beetle’s predators to protect your plants.

You can learn more about Colorado Potato Beetles in this article from the University of Minnesota Extension.

Conclusion

The table below gives a brief summary of the reasons why a potato plant might fall over and what to look for.

CauseSigns
Plant ready
for harvest
Plant is healthy up
until maturity date,
and may produce
flowers or fruit.
Plant over
fertilized
(especially
nitrogen)
Plant is healthy &
has plenty of green
growth,but possibly
no flowers, fruit, or
tubers.
Extreme
cold
Plants may fall
after a hard frost
(in spring or fall).
Over
watering
Soggy soil causes
root rot. Watering
does not seem to
help. Some yellow
leaves may appear.
Under
watering
Dry soil, wilted
plant, and yellow
leaves. Potato plants
wilting in heat is
more likely if
under watered.
DiseaseYellow, brown, or
black spots on
leaves or vines.
Pests
(cutworm)
Plants completely
detached from
stems, cut off at
soil level.
Causes and signs of a potato plant falling over.

Now you have a much better idea of why your potato plants are falling over.  Hopefully, it is due to the fact that your potatoes are mature and ready for harvest!

However, if that is not the case, then you know what other problems to look for. You also know how to prevent these issues from hurting or killing your potato plants.

You can learn how to plant sprouted potatoes in my article here.

grow your own potatoes sidebar

You might also want to check out my article on how to dig (harvest) potatoes.

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

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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