This is the best time to plant and grow potatoes – and common problems explained

This is the best time to plant and grow potatoes – and common problems explained
This is what you need to know about growing your own potatoes (Photo: Shutterstock)

Spring has finally sprung and now is the perfect time to try your hand at growing your own vegetables – or to tend to your crops if you’re already a seasoned gardener.

Here’s when to plant potatoes as the weather gets milder and the nights grow longer.

When is the best time of year to plant potatoes?

According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), these are the guidelines you should follow for planting potatoes:

– First earlies should be planted around late March
– Second earlies should be planted early to mid-April
– Maincrops should be planted from mid to late April

First earlies are your ‘new’ potatoes, and take 10 to 12 weeks to mature.

Second earlies are ‘Maris Peer’ and ‘Ratte’ varieties, and take 14 to 16 weeks to mature.

Maincrops include ‘Maris Piper’ type potatoes, and take 16 to 22 weeks to mature.

How to prepare for planting

Before planting, you’ll want to ‘chit’ your seed potatoes, allowing them to start sprouting shoots.

The RHS says: “Stand them rose end up (the rose end is the one with the most small dents in the skin, or ‘eyes) in egg boxes or similar in a light, frost free place.”

You should wait about six weeks to allow chitting to run its course.

You’ll know the potatoes are ready to plant when the shoots have grown to around three centimetres, or one inch, long.

The RHS advises that on early potatoes, you should rub off the weaker shoots, only leaving about four per tuber.

How do you grow potatoes?

There are a variety of ways you can grow potatoes.

Gardening Know How lists the following methods:

– Straight into the ground under one inch of soil
– Planted in tyres – fill a tyre with soil and plant your potatoes, and as the potatoes grow, stack additional tyres on top of the original one and fill with soil
– In straw – set out a loose layer of straw and place the potatoes inside, once you see the potato growing plants, add more straw

You can also grow potatoes indoors if you don’t have an outdoor space to plant them – you’ll need something like a plastic bucket, gardening pot or even just a bag of fertilizer, and you can plant them in there. Make sure your container is able to drain well, and choose something that has a height of at least a few inches.

Common problems to look out for

Potato blight is a common disease in wet and warm summers. The initial signs of potato blight are rapidly spreading brown watery rot which affects the leaves and stems.

It’s a difficult disease to try and remedy, but if you see it occuring, you can remove the blight affected leaves, but be careful not to remove too many as this will affect the plant’s ability to grow.

Potato blackleg is a bacterial disease which causes black rotting at the stem base – if this happens, you’ll need to remove and destroy the infected plants.

Potato scab is pretty much what it sounds like – a disease that causes raised scab like lesions on the surface of the potato. There’s no control for potato scab, but it doesn’t affect the taste of the potato and can easily be removed upon peeling.

Potato rot can cause significant problems following a wet growing season – especially if the tubers are then lifted from wet soil. Be sure to use good quality, resistant certified seed tubers when planting and only harvest when the soil is not wet, hard or dry.

When to harvest potatoes

First early potatoes should be ready to harvest in June and July, with second earlies in July and August. The maincrops will be ready around late August to October.

With earlies, you should wait until the flowers open up or the buds drop – they’ll be ready to harvest when the tubers are around the size of an egg.

Alternatively, with the maincrops, wait until the foliage turns yellow – then cut it and remove it. Leave for ten days before harvesting the tubers, leaving them to dry out for a few hours before storing them.

How to cook potatoes

The wonderful thing about potatoes is that they offer an never ending list of ways to cook them.

Some of the easier methods include:

– Boiling: boil your potatoes in water for between five to ten minutes depending on their size, serve with butter
– Mashing: boil your potatoes for about fifteen minutes or until tender, and in a separate pan heat milk and butter – once the potatoes are ready, transfer them to the milk and butter mixture and mash, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste
– Roasting: heat olive oil in a roasting pan in the oven whilst you boil your potatoes for about two minutes – add the potatoes to the oil and sprinkle with flour so they’re evenly coated. Add the pan back to the oven for about 40 minutes, turning over every ten minutes – season with salt