Growing Potatoes in North Texas
by Jim Binnings, Collin County Master Gardener
Question of the month: I would like to grow potatoes this spring. Can you give me pointers on how to grow them in north Texas?
During December and January most vegetable gardeners spend time planning their spring gardens. And when the weather is cooperating, they spend time getting their plots ready for the bumper crop that is coming their way by summer . . . at least that is the plan 😊.
Like all vegetables, if you pick the wrong location to grow potatoes and do not have the soil in good shape, you really can’t expect to have a good harvest. Potatoes like full sun which is 6-8 hours of sun a day. The soil should be loose and easy to work with. Turn the soil over with a shovel and remove any rocks and debris. The soil should be well draining and slightly acidic (PH of 5.0 to 5.2).
Work the soil into beds 10 to 12 inches high and 36” apart.
Potatoes are heavy feeders and use a lot of nutrients during the course of their growing season. It is important to apply most of the fertilizer early in the season. Therefore, you need to put the fertilizer in the ground at planting time without the fertilizer touching the seed potato. Use 2 to 3 pounds of a complete fertilizer such as 10-20-10 for each 30-feet row in bands 2” to each side and 1 inch below the seed piece. To do this first flatten the beds 6 to 8 inches high and 10-12 inches wide.
Then open a trench about 4 inches deep on each side of the bed. Apply half of the fertilizer- about two cups for each 30-foot row in each trench.
Once the trenches and fertilizer have been taken care of, it’s time to put the seed potato in the ground as seen in the picture above. There are many potatoes to choose from. The white potatoes are eaten first and the red potatoes should be stored for later use. Locally, I have good luck with Yukon golds and Kennebec potatoes. Here is a more complete list.
- Red flesh: Dark Red Norland, Norland, Red LaSoda, and Viking
- White flesh: Atlantic, Gemchip, Kennebec, and Superior
- Yellow flesh: Yukon Gold
- Russet: Century Russet, Norgold M, and Russet Norkatah
What is a seed potato? A seed potato is actually part of the potato itself. I usually cut a potato into four pieces and this gives me four seeds per potato. Be sure each quarter has an “eye” because this is where the plant will grow from. You should buy these seed potatoes from your local vegetable gardening center because they have not been treated with chemicals. The potatoes you buy at the grocery store have been treated with preservatives so they will have a longer shelf life . . . which is what you do not want to grow potatoes.
Cut the potatoes five to six days before planting. Keep the cut seeds in a well-ventilated spot so it can heal over to prevent rotting. I have also cut the potatoes the day before planting and soaked the potatoes in water overnight which causes the cut fleshy part to heal over. I have also heard of others coating the fleshy part with ash from their fireplace and leaving overnight.
Now that your seed potatoes are ready, let’s plant them. The seed potatoes should be planted around 3-4 inches deep and around 10 to 12 inches apart, eye side up. If the seeds are covered too deeply, the plants will be slow to break through the soil and will be more subject to disease and decay. In most areas of Texas, potatoes should be planted in February or early March. Locally, I plant my seed potatoes around Valentine’s Day.
During the growing season, the potato plant arises from above the seed piece. Because the seed piece was planted around 3-4 inches deep, soil must be pulled toward the plant as it grows. This gives the tubers a place to form.
Many gardeners use a thick mulch to build up around the plant as it grows. Potatoes formed in soft mulch like straw mixed in with soil often are smoother and have a better shape the those grown in straight soil. This is especially true if the soil is heavy.
As the potatoes grow, they must be protected from sunlight or they will turn green. Apply a thick layer of mulch when the plants are 8-10 inches tall to block sunlight, reduce the temperature, and increase the yield and quality. Potato plants usually produce flowers and sometimes produce fruits. The fruits bear the true seed of the potato plant. They look like small tomatoes but cannot be eaten.
During the growing season keep the soil moist to the touch, but not soggy. Also, the potato plants will need another application of fertilizer when the plants are 6-8 inches tall. Use one cup of fertilizer for each 30-feet row beside the plants.
One last thing to mention. What about insecticides? Many insecticides are available at garden centers for homeowner use. Sevin is a synthetic insecticide, organic options include sulfur and BT-based insecticide. Sulfur has also fungicidal properties and help in controlling many diseases. Locally, I never treat my plants with any insecticide and have had no problems.
Ok, you have lovingly cared for your plants all season long. When do you harvest, how do you harvest, and how do you store your potatoes? Typically, in north Texas you can expect to harvest sometime in June. The potato plant will start drooping, drying out, and will eventually die. When this happens, it is time to harvest. How do you harvest? Well . . . what you don’t do is get a pitchfork or shovel and dig into the soil around the plant looking for potatoes. If you do this you will damage the potatoes. It is best to get on your knee pad and dig around the soil with your hands. Go deep and wide. You never know where you will find one. After you have harvested your bumper crop it will be tempting to wash them and eat one right away. Actually, you do not want to wash them before storing. Brush the dirt off the potatoes and store them in a cool dark location dry. Also, do not eat them right away. Let them sit for a week or so before cooking them. If you wait the natural sugars in the plant will have time to settle now that the plant is no longer growing.
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