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Growing Potato

(Solanum tuberosum)

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
P                 P P P

(Best months for planting Potato in New Zealand - cool/mountain regions)


  • Harvest in 110-140 days
  • Plant tuber.
  • Best planted at soil temperatures between 10°C and 30°C.
  • Space plants: 30-40cm

Seed potatoes

Potatoes sold in nurseries and produce stores are certified seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are small potatoes (usually fairly dried up and wrinkled) which are free of viruses and other diseases. You are more likely to get a good crop from certified seed potatoes.

Before planting expose seed potatoes to light to start shoots growing. Avoid direct sun as this can burn or par-cook the seed! Let the potatoes grow shoots up to 1cm long - this can take a few weeks. In hot or dry climates sprout seed potatoes in seed trays of dampened potting mix.

Large seed tubers can be cut into pieces - just make sure each piece has at least one 'eye' or shoot. Let the cut pieces dry for a few days before planting or else they will probably start rotting.

Growing in the ground

Prepare the soil by digging in plenty of well-rotted animal manure or compost (don't use fresh manure as it will 'burn' plants). Dig a trench for the seed potatoes about 30 - 40cm wide and 10 - 20cm deep. Add a bit more compost/manure to the bottom of the trench and cover with some soil. Put seed potatoes 20 - 30cm apart in the trench, shoot-side up. Fill in the trench to cover the potatoes.

As potato shoots start to appear, cover them up with soil from either side of the trench. 'Hill up the crop' this way a few times in the first four or five weeks of growth, which gives the potatoes an nice loose mound of soil in which to grow. Now leave the shoots to develop on to form leaves.

Keep potatoes well-watered. The soil should be damp enough to stick to your fingers.

No-dig and container growing - ideal for home gardens

If you don't have a ton of space then no-dig and container growing both work well for home garden growing. Using container growing you can produce potatoes in any handy space, even on balconies.

No-dig

Make a no-dig bed of potatoes by layering newspapers (or flattened cardboard boxes) at least six layers thick on an area to be planted. Spread your seed potatoes on top of the newspapers about 30cm apart, trying to get the shoots pointing upwards.

Cover the potatoes with layers of compost, weed-free straw, rotted animal manure, and other mulch materials, until the potatoes are covered by about 20 - 30cm. Don't flatten the cover down.

Water well. As the potatoes start to grow through, add more layers of mulch material and keep watered. After about four weeks of growing through and covering up, let the potatoes grow on without covering. As the mulch breaks down keep adding more mulch to keep the tubers covered.

Container growing

Get a container at least 40 - 50 cm deep with holes in the bottom for drainage. Shrub-sized flower pots work well. An old wheelbarrow will work if holes are drilled in the bottom. You can also make a 'container' using loose bricks or chicken wire.

Put about 10 - 20cm of mixed compost and potting mix in the bottom of the container and put your seed potatoes on top, about 30cm apart. Cover with about 10 - 20cm of compost mixed with mulch (straw, grass clippings. Water well.

As the potato shoots start to grow through, cover up with more compost and mulch mix and keep watered. Keep on covering up for about four weeks (but stop if you reach the top of the container!)

For both no-dig and container growing, keep the mulch well watered - wet enough to stick to your fingers but not sopping. If the potatoes dry out they will probably go scabby.

  • The longer potatoes grow, the bigger the tubers will be.
  • Don't grow potatoes in the same place as other solanum crops as they share many diseases - for example, don't grow potatoes to follow a tomato crop, or vice-versa.
  • You can start harvesting a few tubers as soon as they are big enough to eat - dig around under the plants and retrieve a few, and cover up the rest to keep growing.
  • Potatoes exposed to light will go green, so keep them covered up with straw and soil as they grow. Green potatoes are poisonous!
  • Potatoes accumulate cadmium and other heavy metals, so avoid fertilizers which contain these elements. Similarly, avoid using tyres as containers for growing potatoes as they can leach heavy metals.

Your comments and tips

03 Nov 13 tony (New Zealand - temperate climate)
these days, with the prevalence of the Psyllid bug which greatly reduces yields, you will need to cover mid season crops with fine mesh. Microclima is good. Make hoops out of fencing wire and pegs out of more wire.
08 Dec 13 Bruce (New Zealand - temperate climate)
Whats the beat way to get rid of potatoe tops
28 Dec 13 Jo (New Zealand - cool/mountain climate)
What is the best feed or fertiliser for container grown potatoes?
02 Jan 14 Stacey (New Zealand - sub-tropical climate)
Jo good decomposed compost works very well for potatoes. Just water it in and it becomes like liquid fertilizer. Also acts as a mulch so they don't dry out. Has worked a treat for us and we grow a variety of spuds
03 Jan 14 Neale (New Zealand - sub-tropical climate)
My spuds have been in the ground now for 90-100 days. Bountiful leaf, but small spuds so far?
06 Jan 14 Bryan Williams (New Zealand - temperate climate)
I've been growing spuds in tyres (and ground plots) for the last four years, with great success as long as I've kept them watered ( they dry out easily) and the news that the tyres leach heavy metals into the spuds is a bit of a shock! How can we test the spuds to find out if they're ok? I had had a box of 'pearlas' go to seed so used those this year as my seed, beautiful spuds and good crops.
14 Feb 14 Megan (New Zealand - temperate climate)
we have just dug up our potatoes( rocket) and they are quite small not sure why?did we do something wrong?and also were we supposed to re plant the plants after digging the spuds out?
27 Feb 14 Ronan (New Zealand - sub-tropical climate)
How do spuds fare in frosts?
15 Mar 14 John Fawkner (New Zealand - temperate climate)
Can you help me find some SAPRO MIRA seed potatoes in New Zealand ? they a re a hungarian variety which is reported to be blight resistant
11 May 14 Kevin (New Zealand - temperate climate)
My leaves are being decimated. Not sure what is eating them. How do I rectify this?

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New Zealand - cool/mountain,   New Zealand - sub-tropical,   New Zealand - temperate  

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