Ask the Experts: Growing and Harvesting Potatoes

Many gardeners growing potatoes for the first time wonder when and how to harvest their potatoes. Find out what an expert says.

Mashed, baked, grilled or fried, potatoes are a staple for balanced, healthy meals. And potatoes are easier to grow than you might expect—and packed with nutrients. Just watch the sour cream and butter!

Potato Planting Advice

USA, Colorado, Close up of plant growing in fieldMaisie Paterson/Tetra Images/Getty Images
Potato plant

Purchase disease-free seed potatoes for best results. Roughly six to eight weeks before the last frost date, or as soon as the soil is dry but workable, place either small whole potatoes or small pieces with at least one “eye” about 1 foot apart in a 1- to 4-inch-deep trench. Space rows about 2 feet apart. When shoots appear, cover them with a ridge of soil.

Check out the ultimate guide to growing (and eating) zucchini.

When to Harvest Potatoes

Many young freshly dug white and red potatoes lie on the ground where green grass grows.Julia Moiseeva/Getty Images
Freshly dug potatoes

“When should I harvest homegrown potatoes?” asks Amanda Jones of St. Louis, Missouri.

Horticultural expert Melinda Myers:, When growing potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), harvest as the tops die and the tubers reach full size. Dig carefully to avoid damage. Gently remove excess soil and store any surplus potatoes in a cool, dark location with good air circulation. Late maturing varieties store better.

If eyes sprout, remove and move to a cooler location or use the potatoes immediately.

You can also harvest potatoes earlier in the growing season. These are referred to as “new potatoes,” and are harvested when they’re 1 to 2 inches in size and before the tops die. Use these smaller potatoes soon after harvest for soups or to be roasted with butter.

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Potato Varieties to Grow

Try growing the Clancy potato. This is the first All-America Selections potato winner (honored in 2019) that can be grown from seed, although they need to be started indoors. The seeds are sterile and easier to save, with a longer storage life than tubers, and prevent the spread of garden disease.

Other top picks include Pontiac (red skin, summer harvest) and Norland (red skin, early harvest). Also look for tasty heirlooms such as French fingerling and German butterball.

Grow a vertical vegetable garden to save space.

Are Sweet Potato Vine Tubers Edible?

Bnbugc Susan VandercookCourtesy Susan Vandercook
Sometimes a sweet potato vine produces tubers.

“I found these tubers in my planters when I removed the sweet potato vines. Are they edible?” Susan Vandercook of Pleasant Lake, Michigan.

Melinda: The ornamental sweet potato vines are cultivars of the edible sweet potato. The tuberous roots of these ornamental sweet potato vines are edible, but it is not very tasty. Most gardeners say the flavor is not as good as those grown in vegetable gardens.

Some gardeners store the tuberous roots over winter and plant them in the garden or a container in spring. However, you may have mixed results with this method. The results are usually not as uniform or as attractive and robust as starting with new plants from the garden center in spring or cuttings.

Next, check out the best cool weather vegetables to grow in fall.

Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori is certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener and is also a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.