Planting Potatoes in Fall


IT NEVER FAILS. Every year after I turn the cover crop, volunteer potato plants sprout in the beds where I planted potatoes last year. These plants seem to know exactly when to start growing based on the weather that season. They grow vigorously in the moist spring soil, getting the jump on weeds and many pests like cutworms.

Since these volunteers grow so well in the cool weather, the idea came to me, why not plant potatoes in the fall instead of the spring. Not only do potatoes do better in cool, moist soil, I also avoid having to plant one more vegetable during the mad rush of spring.

There’s also some other good reasons for planting potatoes in fall. There’s more soil amendments like compost and leaves available at that time of year. Plus, if you have already planted potatoes in the previous spring, you can plant some of your own little potatoes as seeds in the fall and reduce the need to buy seed potatoes.

For those of you in cold areas of the Northern Hemisphere, here’s my schedule for planting potatoes in fall. If you are in the other hemisphere, or in areas colder or warmer than New Hampshire, you can adjust for your zone.

September

  • Buy certified seed potatoes. If none are available, buy organic, grocery store potatoes.
  • Chit potatoes (sprout eyes) by leaving them in sunlight in cool (70 degrees) moist air.
  • Dig trenches 10 inches deep and 30 inches apart for planting.
  • Add an inch of oak leaves and compost in the trenches. Potatoes are heavy feeders.


Planting Potatoes in Fall

Photo Credit: Robin Tobin

One possible problem with planting in the fall could be finding seed potatoes in September. Most of the time, organic potatoes from the grocery store work just fine. One advantage of using these is that you get to taste before you plant.

But many seed potato sellers say this is a dangerous practice because of the increased risk of potato diseases. If you end up with diseased potatoes, it may be many years before you can successfully grow potatoes again. Is it worth the risk, I don’t know for sure, but I’ve grown potatoes from the store and haven’t had any problems. Just make sure they’re organic potatoes. The others probably won’t sprout.

 

October

  • Plant potatoes eye side up in late October before frost. Be careful not to break the sprouts.
  • Space seeds one foot apart (you can get away with less if you have fertile soil).
  • Cover potatoes with six inches of soil.
  • Cover soil with six inches of mulch (oak leaves in my case).

May

  • Mound soil around plants when growth reaches six inches.
  • Add mulch around plants when plants grow another six inches.
  • Add more mulch if the plants are tall enough.
  • Water if it gets dry.

June

  • Harvest new potatoes when flower set.
  • Leave the rest for when the vines die back and the potatoes are mature.

Is it better to plant potatoes in the fall or in the spring? The answer to that question will be determined by your environment. If you live in an area where spring is short and summer turns dry and hot soon after the ground defrosts, you might stand a better chance planting in the fall. Fall planting might also be right if you can get your potatoes out of the ground before pests can find them. On the other hand, if you live in an area like the Pacific Northwest where it’s easy to grow potatoes in the spring, it might make more sense to just wait.

Have you planted potatoes in the fall? Let us know what your experience has been by commenting below.

Related articles that might interest you:

1. How to Store Potatoes
2. Book Review: Carol Deppe’s the Resilient Gardener
3. Testing Garden Strategies

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12 Responses to “Planting Potatoes in Fall”

  1. June 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    I would love to try this but I grow my spuds in bags since I do not have the garden space…love to see how this comes out!

    • June 13, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

      Hi Donna — Potatoes in bags is a great way to make up for lack of space. You can’t plant in bags or pots or anything above ground over winter because the temperatures will get too cold. There’s not enough natural insulation to keep the temperature constant over the winter.

  2. Michael Davis
    June 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    Thanks for describing month wise procedures. As a novice I had doubt about potato in Fall. But now I got some light.

  3. June 17, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    My family has made a practice of planting Irish potatoes in the fall rather than in the early spring. We tried it both ways for many years and our conclusions are that, season after season, fall planting seems to work better for us.

    • June 18, 2012 at 5:55 am #

      Ryan — Thanks for letting us know about what you’ve learned. It’s great to know that you have tested both methods and shared your experience with us.

  4. June 19, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    Hi Bill,
    I’ve not grown potatoes yet, trying sweet potatoes for the first time this summer. I’d like to grown potatoes at some time. I’ll have to check and see how this works in my climate zone 8, what others have done here.

    Sept: “by leaving them in sunlight in cool (70 degrees) moist air.” Moist air is easy, cool 70 in sunlight not as September may still be in upper 80′s lower 90′s

    • June 19, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Hi Heidi — Good luck with your sweet potatoes. As for potatoes, a lot of people plant potatoes in February (Valentine’s day) in Zone 8. It would depend on specifically where you are and how damp or cold your ground is during that particular season. February is way too early for planting potatoes in my location in New Hampshire. The ground is still frozen.

  5. Alex Wiggins
    July 26, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    I had a nice row of volunteer potatoes – German fingerlings – come up this spring from potatoes plants the year before – potatoes I missed digging up or were cut with the spade and left. Further, I rototilled the area in the spring before the potatoe plants emerged!
    I plan to experiment with planting potatoes in the Fall this year. The guidelines above are useful. My garden is in Southeastern Wisconsin.

    My father dug a pit maybe 2 1/2 feet deep to store potatoes one winter, and it worked well.

    • July 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

      Good luck with your experiment. I hope you get a great crop in the spring. I’d like to know more about how your father stored potatoes in a shallow pit. Interesting!

  6. December 1, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    Hi Bill, glad to read your post. I had been thinking of planting potatoes in the fall for quite awhile. I may not have planted deep enough but they are mulched well, so should not freeze. Which reminds me, can the tuber handle a freeze, or does where they are need to be mulched well enough to keep the ground from freezing. Thanks Fred. CT

    • December 1, 2013 at 9:22 am #

      I have always planted my potatoes at the normal planting depth with soil mounding. This has protected them from frost during the winter. I’ve never tried planting them with less soil or using mulch instead. I think they need to be below the frost line (but I’m not really sure) and mulch won’t protect as well as dirt.

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