Where Do Potato Seeds Come From?
Have you ever seen potato seeds at your local big box store or hardware store? Most people probably have not seen them. But if that is the case, the question is, how do potatoes grow?
Do Potatoes Really Have Seeds?
Potato plants do have seeds. Potato plants produce flowers. But usually, these flowers dry and fall to the ground without producing anything. If you live in a cooler area, you may see potato plants with small green fruits. That’s the case because the potato flower needs cool weather to fruit. These fruits contain seeds. These fruits on the potato plant look like cherry tomatoes to some people, but they must never be eaten. That’s because potatoes are a member of the nightshade family, whose plants and unripened fruits are poisonous.
True Potato Seeds
You can purchase seeds to grow potatoes. Some experts recommend that you purchase heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds produce vegetables that have been grown for a long time. Some experts define heirloom plants as those being grown before the year 1951. Heirloom plants are naturally pollinated, which may be referred to as open pollination. This allows the characteristics of the plants to be passed down to each generation of the plant. This is important to ensure the size, flavor, and growth will be what is expected by the grower. Growers can also select the seeds from the best tasting or most productive plants.
So What Are Seed Potatoes?
You may hear people refer to something called seed potatoes, which can be called tubers. Seed potatoes are small potatoes that you plant to produce your crop of potatoes. You can purchase them in small bags where you find other seeds.
Is There A Difference Between Potatoes Grown From True Seed VS. Seed Potatoes?
Actually, yes, there is a difference. Potatoes grown from seed potatoes are an exact genetic match to the parent plant, also known as clones. Those potatoes grown from a true seed are not clones. This means that they can have different characteristics than the parent plants.
What Are Heirloom VS. Hybrid Plants?
When you hear people discussing potatoes, you may hear the terms heirloom and hybrid. So what’s the difference? As we discussed above, heirloom plants are naturally pollinated and have been harvested for a long time. Many people feel as though it is important to preserve these natural forms of plants for future generations.
On the other hand, hybrid plants are made up of two or more cultivars. A cultivar is a name for a plant which is selected for growing. A hybrid plant is developed by growers to have desirable traits from its parent plants.
So Why Doesn’t Everyone Grow Heirlooms?
Heirloom plants may not have the resistance to disease that hybrid plants have. This is true because many hybrid plants are cultivated by growers to be disease resistant. Don’t worry though—if you choose to grow heirlooms, there are things you can do to help them fight off common diseases. Many gardening experts recommend planting heirlooms in containers with a soilless medium, which can be purchased at your local nursery or big box store that sells gardening supplies. You can also rotate your crops to help prevent diseases that affect the soil.
How To Grow Potatoes
Let’s talk about what potato seeds and plants require. Potatoes require full sun and good drainage. Porous soil is best for potato seeds. Soil with a pH of 4.8 to 6.5 is ideal for potatoes. You can test your soil with an inexpensive soil testing kit if you’d like, but it’s not required. You can add fertilizer formulated especially for potatoes to your soil to improve your crop as well.
As we have discussed already, you can grow potatoes from potato seeds (also referred to as true seed) or from seed potatoes. Now, let’s talk about each of these methods.
Planting From True Seed
Start your seeds indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost. Use a seed flat with 1/16th of soilless medium. Do not allow the potato seeds to dry. Keep the temperature between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. After the potato seeds germinate (approximately 10 to 15 days) and have at least four leaves, transfer the plants to small pots.
Once the danger of frost has passed, but prior to the plants outgrowing the pots, place the small pots in a wind-free, shaded area for 3 days. This allows the plants to transition more easily from indoors to outdoors. After the three days have passed, you are ready to plant. Place the plants in furrows that are dug to a depth of 6 inches. Place the plants 12 inches apart and cover their roots only. Keep the distance between the furrows at approximately 2 to 3 feet.
Planting From Seed Potatoes
Purchase certified seed potatoes from your local seed supply store or big box store that has gardening supplies. Most experts recommend that you purchase certified potatoes, which mean that they have been certified by the government to be free of disease. This does not mean that the potatoes cannot contract diseases after they are planted, however. Do not plant seed potatoes with visible signs of rot.
One pound of seed potatoes generally produces about 10 pounds of potatoes. This may vary with the type of potato you choose to plant. One pound may contain 5 to 8 tubers, though again, this may vary.
It is not necessary to plant each intact potato. You can cut the seed potatoes into pieces if you would like. Each piece must have an “eye” (bud) that will sprout into a potato plant. Generally, if you plant a piece with one or two eyes, you will get fewer potatoes, but they will be of a larger size. If you plant a whole potato or a piece with multiple eyes, you will generally get more, smaller potatoes.
Plant seed potatoes when the soil has reached approximately 45 degrees. The soil must not be saturated. The period around the last frost is usually a good time to plant seed potatoes. A week before you are ready to plant, place the seed potatoes in a sunny area such as a windowsill. Let them be exposed to the sun. If they sprout, that is great, but don’t worry if they do not. If they sprout, an ideal time to plant them is when the sprouts are 1/2 inch to 1 inch long.
Dig furrows 6 inches deep and place each seed potato 12 inches from one another. If the potato has sprouted already, be sure that the sprout is facing up. Ensure that you do not break off the delicate sprouts as you plant. Cover the potato with 2 to 4 inches of soil. Keep the distance between the furrows at approximately 2 to 3 feet.
Can I Just Plant A Potato From The Grocery Store?
The answer is yes, you could, but you probably don’t want to do so. The reason is that your plant would probably not grow very well, if at all. The potatoes you buy at the store are probably treated with something called a growth inhibitor. This prevents potatoes in the store from sprouting as they sit on the shelves waiting to be purchased by the consumer.
So you could cut up pieces of the potato you purchased at the store and replant a part of it. This is referred to as growing the plant vegetatively. However, the plants may not sprout. If you are a beginning gardener, you may want to use seed potatoes to give you a better chance of success for your potato crop.
As The Potatoes Grow
Potatoes grow under the soil. If they become visible, they can turn green. To prevent this from occurring, pile up the soil around the plant during the growing cycle. The process of piling up the soil around the potato plants can also be referred to as hilling. Only 6 inches of the plant top should be able to be seen.
When you think the growing cycle is complete, dig up a few potatoes to see how large they are. If you want new (young) potatoes, dig them up when they are about 1 inch or more in diameter. Harvest other potatoes according to the directions listed with the seeds or seed potatoes. If you want to store potatoes after harvesting them, allow them to remain in the ground until after the autumn frost for about 2 to 3 weeks.
Brush the dirt from the potatoes and store them in a humid area with low light at about 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
It can be rewarding to plant your own garden and see the fruits (or potatoes in this case) of your labor. As we have explained here, potatoes can be grown from true seed or seed potatoes. As they grow, potatoes must be tended to prevent greening. At harvest time, they can be dug up and enjoyed immediately, or stored for later use. We hope that this information has been helpful and that you have discovered more about potato seeds and how to plant them.