It’s Time to Plant Potatoes

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Seed potato

The “eyes” on this Yukon Gold seed potato have already begun to sprout.

In central North Carolina potatoes can be planted as early as mid February and should be in the ground by the end of March. Potatoes planted later than March 31 will still grow, though their yields will likely be lower than earlier planted crops because they will not have as much time to form tubers before the vines start to wither in the summer heat.

When and Where to Plant Potatoes

Potatoes planted in March will be ready to harvest in June and July. For best results, plant only certified seed potatoes, which can be purchased from garden centers this time of year. Certified seed potatoes are small potatoes that have been grown under special conditions to ensure they are free of diseases and typically give better results than potatoes purchased from the grocery store. Reliable potato varieties for North Carolina include ‘Yukon Gold’, a personal favorite with creamy, gold color flesh, ‘Kennebec’, and ‘Red Pontiac’, a red skin potato with white flesh and deep eyes.

Potatoes grow best in rich, well-drained soil. Planting in wet soils will result in disease problems and crop failure. If your soil is still too wet to plant, you can get a head start on your potato crop by pre-sprouting seed potatoes indoors for a week or two. To pre-sprout seed potatoes, place them on a cookie sheet or other flat surface in a sunny, warm location where they will not freeze (no soil is needed). Within a few days, sprouts should begin to grow from the “eyes”.

To yield well, potatoes need consistent moisture and prefer rich soils with a pH of 5.5 – 6.0 that have been amended with organic matter such as rotted horse manure or compost. Raised beds work well because they improve drainage. Potatoes can also be grown in containers or grow bags that are at least two feet deep. Don’t fill containers all the way to the top when you initially plant them. Leave at least a 6”-8” gap between the top of the container and soil level. This will allow you to “hill-up” the potatoes as they grow by adding more soil around the stems. Hilling potatoes increases yields because all the new potatoes form along the main stem that grows between the seed piece that was initially planted and the surface of the soil.

How to Plant Seed Potatoes

When you are ready to plant, cut seed potatoes into pieces that are each about the size of an egg and contain at least one sprout, also known as an “eye”. In the garden, plant seed pieces 6” deep and 10” apart in the row, with 3’ between rows. Keep in mind 12 pounds of seed potatoes can plant around a 100’ row, and yield over 200 pounds of spuds.

As the potatoes grow, keep an eye out for their greatest pest, the Colorado potato beetle. Most years, adult beetles emerge May-June in central N.C. and begin laying clusters of bright orange, football shaped eggs on the back of potato leaves.

Once harvested potatoes can be stored in a cool, dry, dark place such as a garage or shed, where they will keep for three to four months or more.

Other Vegetables to Plant for Spring

In addition to Irish potatoes, many cool weather spring vegetables can be planted in late February and early March. Young plants of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, pac choi/bok choy, kale, and collards (if you like summer collards!) can be transplanted over the next few weeks. Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard can be seeded or transplanted. You can set out onion bulbs to harvest this summer but wait until fall to plant garlic cloves. Another crop to wait on is sweet potato, which should not be planted until May.

This is the time to sow seeds of beets, arugula, radish, green onions, carrots, parsnips, turnips and rutabaga in well prepared soil that has been tilled and raked smooth and level. Wait until mid-April to plant frost sensitive crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn, and beans.

Cool season herbs that can be seeded or transplanted now include parsley and cilantro. These crops will keep producing until early summer, at which time they will produce flower spikes. If you have room, let them bloom! Parsley and cilantro flowers attract many species of beneficial insects to the garden. For more planting dates, download a copy of Extension’s central NC vegetable planting calendar.

Learn More!

Use Extension Search to find research based information from Cooperative Extension systems across the U.S.

Visit your local Cooperative Extension center to learn more about gardening and landscape care. Go to https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/local-county-center to find your county Extension center.

Subscribe to the Chatham Gardener email list to receive timely updates on sustainable lawn, garden, and landscape care for the central NC Piedmont.