Ah, spuds. Who doesn’t love these versatile root vegetables? Potatoes are hardy in most USDA zones, but the planting time varies. In zone 8, you can plant taters very early, provided there are no expected freezes. In fact, potato varieties for zone 8 prefer a cool spring and plenty of moisture. Try growing potatoes in zone 8 in buckets or garbage cans for easy harvest. They are also easy to start in well prepared ground.
Potatoes have been cultivated for over 2,000 years. There are somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 cultivars of these Bolivian tubers. They are related to eggplants and tomatoes and have the same potential toxins in their leaves and flowers. The tubers are the only edible part of the plant. The delicious spuds have innumerable uses and preparation methods. Such a versatile food is perfect for zone 8.
Potatoes prefer cooler soils. At temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 C.), tuber production slows and when temps reach 85 F. (30 C.), it basically stops. That is why it is important to plant potatoes early in the season when soil is still cool. Potatoes need at least 100 to 120 days for adequate production. Zone 8 potato growing usually commences in early spring, but you can also plant in midsummer for a fall crop.
Potatoes will produce more tubers in nice loose sand or silt. If your soil is heavy or has deep clay components, lighten it with compost and some organic grit. Hilling is the best way of growing potatoes in zone 8 and elsewhere. Potatoes are planted fairly shallow in trenches and then soil is added as they sprout.
This helps prevent greening, a process that leaves potatoes slightly toxic. Over time, zone 8 potato plants will be allowed to emerge and leaf. Hilling also gives potatoes the opportunity to produce more levels of roots from which the tubers grow, increasing the harvest.
Potatoes are planted from portions of the tuber. Seeds are produced but rarely develop into plants with tubers like the parent. Seeds also take a long time to produce edible tubers. The variety of potato planted is really up to the gardener and will depend upon your preference.
There are spuds that are moist, waxy, or dry. There are also red, yellow, purple, and white tubers. You may want a heavy skinned potato, like a Russet, or small, easy-to-roast tubers such as a fingerling cultivar. Some good zone 8 potato plants might be:
Divide spuds into sections with a clean knife. Include 1 or 2 healthy eyes in each piece. Set cut side down in furrows 3 to 5 inches (8-13 cm.) under soil. Place pieces 8 to 10 inches apart (20-25 cm.). You can also grow potatoes on the top of soil covered with straw mulch. This makes it easier to harvest the potatoes as needed. You can continue to replace the mulch and grow more potatoes until the vines die.
Potatoes need consistent water once flowers form. They will be making tubers at this point and need supplemental moisture. The most common problems stem from alternating wet and dry conditions, early blight, late scab, several kinds of rot and root nematode damage. Watch for insect pests and plant decoy crops or combat with Neem oil.
In most cases, care for zone 8 potatoes is minimal. These prolific plants can almost grow themselves and will reward even the most minimal garden practitioner with a healthy crop of tubers.
Potatoes require well-drained, slightly sandy soil in order to thrive. This type of soil is often low in nitrogen, a nutrient the potatoes also require for healthy growth. Fertilizing the potatoes in your home garden both before planting and once they are established helps ensure your plant produces healthy, well-formed tubers for use in the kitchen. While a soil test tells you the exact fertilization your garden needs, using general fertilizer requirements will still give your potatoes a good chance at healthy growth.
Loosen the soil to 12-inch depth using a power tiller. Remove any stones or large roots from the bed and dispose of them.
Spread 10 pounds of 10-10-10 analysis fertilizer over every 100 square feet of garden bed in the spring about one week before planting the potatoes. Work the fertilizer into the top 10 inches of loosened soil.
Fertilize potatoes a second time six weeks after planting. Work 1 tablespoon of 10-10-10 analysis fertilizer into the soil by each plant. Work the fertilizer in 6 inches away from the stem of each plant so you don't get fertilizer directly on the roots, which may cause damage.
If you wish to perform a soil test, purchase a test kit from a county or university extension office. They will analyze the results for you and tell you exactly what you need to add to the soil for the crop you are growing.
Soil test kits are also available at garden centers, though the reading from an extension office kit is more detailed.
Do not work manure or compost into the potato bed, as the excess organic matter can lead to potato scab and other diseases.
Apply all fertilizer before the end of July, as fertilizing later can cause the plant to produce smaller, undeveloped potatoes.
Cold-climate gardeners usually plant potatoes in mid to late spring. In a warm climate, you will do best planting in either late summer or late winter, so the plants aren't trying to grow during the hottest months.
It's fairly easy to grow potatoes successfully if you follow some basic guidelines:
Planting potatoes can be done in one of two ways: a trench-and-hill method that involves adding soil around the stem as it grows upward, and a simple scatter method.
Indeterminate potatoes on the other hand grow on multiple layers and if not planted deep enough, may in fact need to be hilled or mounded and usually give you a better yield. Indeterminate potatoes though do not grow like indeterminate tomatoes and keep growing and growing no matter how far up you hill them as they still typically only grow in about 10” to 12” of soil. As I mentioned before, one of the reasons to hill is planting shallow and hilling to give the stolons more soil to grow in and keep them underground to prevent them from turning green. If you think about it, it’s also much easier to harvest a potato growing in a mound above the ground surface than trying to dig 10” to 12” down for your bounty. Indeterminate varieties are also considered “late season” potatoes and are typically ready for harvest after 105 days all the way up to 140 days. They also produce much larger tubers than determinate varieties. And, indeterminate varieties continue producing new growth indefinitely during their growing lifespan.
For both determinate and indeterminate spuds, the tubers generally grow above the seed potato, rarely below it. Determinates grow on one level around the seed potato and indeterminate varieties will grow above the seed potato producing stolons up the shoot to the ground surface.
So to clarify, if you plant your seed potato 2 inches under the soil surface, you need to hill a little, but if you plant them deeper and give room for tuber development, there is no need to hill your plants. I will grow determinate and indeterminate varieties in containers this year and they will do fine planted to depth with no additional soil added to the containers.
Determinate and indeterminate growing examples
Spacing is crucial. After all, you’ll need room for your plants to develop. The question is how much space you have available. Whether your space is measured in inches or feet, potatoes can be grown. It’s just a matter of planning!
Potato spacing in containers is a bit more confined. Source: mcav0y
Is your growing area compact or do you have room for sprawling rows? If your space is limited and you’re maximizing using a square-foot garden set-up, try planting a fingerling variety that can more easily adapt to 12″ x 12″ spacing.
People who want to grow full-sized potatoes in a square foot garden should begin by making sure you have at least 10-12 inches of quality soil to fill the bed with. Then, remove all but an inch or two of the soil, reserving it for later. Evenly space your potatoes at a rate of one per square foot. A square foot grid can help with spacing.
Once you have your potatoes in place, cover with about another inch of soil. As the plants grow, you’ll be hilling up around them with your reserved soil. Make sure that the potatoes themselves are never exposed to direct sunlight, as this can cause the potato to develop a green splotch that will be inedible.
A 4’x4′ garden bed can house a total of 16 potato plants using this method. The potatoes may be a little smaller than if they were grown in a larger garden bed, but they’ll still be good to eat!
In-ground rows of potatoes are spaced further apart. Source: Peppysis
Start by digging a trench in the garden. Aim for one which is at least 6 inches wide and about 8 inches deep, as this allows you to amend. Apply a couple inches of compost to the base of the trench. Space your trenches 2-3 feet apart, as they’re easier to tend that way.
Make sure each seed potato has at least two eyes, as these eyes are where the plant will develop from. Large seed potatoes with lots of eyes can be cut into pieces. If you do slice them into smaller segments, wait a few days to let the cut sides dry to prevent rotting or possible disease susceptibility.
Once your seed potatoes are ready to plant, set one into the trench every 12 inches. Add enough compost to ensure that your seed potatoes are about 2-3 inches deep. Once planted, water and maintain the growing potatoes. As they develop, add more compost and soil to keep them covered.
Really limited on space? Don’t panic. I’ve planted potatoes in grow bags or 5-gallon buckets in the past and still gotten a decent harvest. With these methods, you’ll want to be sure you’ve got good drainage. Then, add about 3″ of compost and soil in the bottom, and plant no more than 1-2 seed potatoes per container. Treat as you would other methods, adding more soil as necessary to keep the potatoes covered.
You may be able to use a sheet of cardboard to extend the height of your container if it just keeps producing. Going vertical with your potatoes can give you a much bigger potato harvest!
For pointers on how to properly store potatoes, check out the storing potatoes section of Harvesting Potatoes: How to Know When Your Potatoes Are Ready.