Appalachia Gardening

How Do You Plant Potatoes?

how do you plant potatoes
Last week’s post about 3 generations of the same family planting taters together turned up some great comments and a question or two from Jim Casada.

Jim’s comment: Tipper–I’ve had my spuds in the ground for two or three weeks, but they didn’t go in soil that looked anywhere near as rich and loose as that of the photo. I do have a two questions about the photo. First, what’s the white looking stuff between the cut-up seed potatoes. Second, I’ve always planted the potatoes with the cut side (white) down, mostly because that’s the way Grandpa Joe and Daddy did it but also because that way you have the eye or eyes pointed towards the surface once the row has been covered. Just curious.

Adding fertilizer when you plant potatoes


The white stuff is fertilizer. As you can see from the photo above, the family in Graham County puts fertilizer on both sides of the potato, but not on or under it. Of course a few pieces fall in around the potato, anyone who has ever used fertilizer understands it jumps around as you add it in.

We didn’t plant any potatoes this year, but in the past Pap sometimes added fertilizer to the row as he planted potatoes and sometimes he didn’t add any. If he did use fertilizer, he took a hoe and drug it along the row before dropping the taters in to make sure the fertilizer was mixed into the soil. Pap said dragging the hoe through and working the fertilizer into the dirt prevented it from burning up the taters. I’m sure the Graham County family had the same thing in mind when they dressed each side of the tater with fertilizer.

Another commenter Trevis Hicks had this to say about fertilizing potatoes: Love this Tipper! My family has always planted our taters on Good Friday and dug em on Labor Day. In the past few years, I had been having some beautiful plants but no taters on them when we dug them. I was talking to my Dad this weekend and he told me that I needed to not put fertilizer in the row as I planted them. He said that I needed to only fertilize on the ground on top of them after having covered them. He said that putting it in the row as we planted was too much for them to handle but would make the plants beautiful. So this year, I am gonna try that and see if that yields better result. Love this tradition! It was always so nice to be in the garden with Dad on the tractor and then mom and I walking behind it planting and covering the row.

Now on to the other part of Jim’s question, does it matter how you drop the taters into the row?

I didn’t think we ever placed the potato a certain way but I called Pap to be sure. He said “No it don’t matter how you throw them in the eye will find it’s way to top just fine.” But I kinda see the reasoning behind Jim’s Grandpa Jo’s method. Our potatoes never produce that great so I’d be all for giving them every bit of help I could.

This great comment came from Jackie: If it doesn’t rain too much on Thursday and Friday our church will plant this Saturday. Ages usually range from about 5 to near 90. We plant about 1/2 acre for the local food ministry and just before harvest plant another 1/2 acre of sweet potatoes.

Now that sounds like a great way to plant taters!

Sanford McKinney sent me this comment: Tipper, We always put the fertilizer right in with the seed potatoes. My Dad always laid off the rows with two horses and a hillside (reversible) plow. This made the furrows pretty deep which took the potatoes longer to break the top of the ground. This helped save them from getting frozen by a late freeze. Also, when the plants burst out of the ground and we did our first hoeing, Dad would take the hillside plow and turn the soil right back over the top of the potato plant. This was also to keep the plant from being frozen by a late freeze. When they burst out of the ground the second time, they were the prettiest dark green and looked so healthy. Thought you might enjoy that little tidbit of information from over on the Tennessee side of the mountain.

Pap always ridges or hills his potatoes when they break through the ground much like what Sanford described. Of course we use a tiller and a hoe to do the chore instead of a horse. One of The Deer Hunter’s friends made a potato ridger out of a hillside turner.

If all this information isn’t enough tater talk for you check out these posts from the past:



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  • Reply
    April 12, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Jim-thank you for the comment! Sorry for my delay in answering it! You should plant below ground crops like potatoes under a fruitful sign while the moon is waning/decreasing. Have a great evening!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 6, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I was just being facetious about planting potatoes with the eyes turn up because they could see which way to grow but turning the eyes up does give them a little less soil to push through therefore the generally break through quicker. The one or two eyes per seed potato is common sense. You can’t thin them so there is more competition for the nutrients in the soil. If one of your sets fails to grow, those on the sides will quickly fill in the blank space.
    I started to comment on Jim Keller’s question about the waning or waxing moon. I started to say that if you wanted a waxy potato such as Red Bliss, fingerlings or most of the colored varieties you plant on the waxing moon. If you wanted more starchy varieties like Idaho or Russets then on the waning moon. But that would be facetious too.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 5, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    We always plowed the row, spread the fertilizer, replowed to cover the fertilizer to keep it from burning the seed potato. We found out by accident to cut the seed and let them heal over for about a week before planting, the accident was that after we had cut the seed (leaving at least two eyes) it started pouring the rain and continued until it was a week before the ground was dry enough to work. We had the best crop we’d ever raised. It doesn’t matter which way the eye lands since geotropism determines the growth direction, roots display positive geotropism and grow downward toward gravity while the shoots display negative geotropism and grow upward away from gravity. Once the shoot breaks the ground phototropism assists since plants grow toward light due to the side of the plant has a chemical called auxin which causes the cells on the side away from the light to enlarge which causes the plant to bend toward the source of the light. In a potted plant you can see this by turning the pot and watching the plant change directions and always grow toward the light source. In field crops the difference isn’t as noticeable as the sun travels east to west across the plant it balances out during the day and the phototropism doesn’t occur rapidly enough to be noticed by the naked eye.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 5, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    I’m not planting taters this year either, matter of fact, I’m not having any garden at all this year. A back doesn’t heal as good as it use to! But I love gardening and I always planted my taters with the eyes up, and sprinkled a small amount of fertilizer before covering. I always had nice crop when I dug ’em…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 5, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Now when it comes to tater planting we hillside farmers do it a little differnt. Sted of laying off the rows straight and level, we run them right up the side of the mountain. Thataway you can carry your buckets of seed taters to the top and just sit there and roll them down the row. That don’t work too good if you cut them though. If you angle the rows just right they will roll right in the cellar in the fall when you dig them.
    I always said you plant taters with the eyes point up so they can see where they are growing.
    My mother always cut her seed taters so that they had only one or two eyes. Any more than that and you have too many new plants trying to grow from the same spot. You will get a lot more taters but they won’t be near as big.
    Hilling your taters has a triple advantage.
    1. You can plant them earlier and cover them if there is a danger of frost.
    2. Pulling up softer dirt makes better growing conditions for the new taters.
    3. It’s easier to dig them in the fall.
    The down side is, its a lot more work.

  • Reply
    Jim keller
    April 5, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Is it better to plant taters in a waning or waxing moon ?
    Jim Keller

  • Reply
    April 5, 2016 at 10:06 am

    I’ve grown fingerling potatoes on my porch in a big blue bin from one of the box stores and the spuds from Ingles. They get beautiful flowers and produce enough small potatoes to suit my needs.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Growing up we never fertilized the potatoes we planted on hillside, so it must have been perfect loose soil with a big bin full to store for winter. Also, no care in which way the eye pointed, and always a bountiful crop. I remember Mom graveling or grappling potatoes, and was never sure how that was pronounced.
    I have almost entirely cut potatoes from my diet, but love to grow them any way. They always seem to grow well when the rest of the garden may be struggling to get going. Digging potatoes is one thing children seem to love.
    As always, Tipper, I find your subject matter very interesting. Your blog seems to get me more interested in things I already love. There is not much more country than tater planting, and I learn tips from your posters also.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    April 5, 2016 at 9:21 am

    I planted Summer potatoes last week. Here in Ohio it is normally too early, but this winter was so warm I am getting an early start. I will plant a second planting in late June or early July for fall. I plow a deep furrow and then add fertilizer. I use a hand push plow to mix the fertilizer into the soil.
    I am fortunate that the local village brings dump truck loads of leaves out each fall so I mulch between the rows with them after the potatoes getup. the leaves have made some of the best garden soil I could ever want. They are the reason I can use a push plow easier than trying to start my old garden tiller.
    I have never understood why people burn their leaves rather than putting them out of the way and letting then rot or use for mulch. I use them over the entire garden and this eliminates most weed problems. I add lime to the soil each fall as the leaves will make the soil acidic.
    Back to the potatoes. I harvested over 800 pounds last year. But I cut back from the year before as I had 1200 pounds that year. This is on about a total of 500 feet of rows. I replant the left over potatoes from the year before. Usually by the time the summer planting comes around they already have roots and sprouts even though they are kept in a dark cellar. I don’t bother cutting potatoes as I have so many and I agree the eye will find the surface no matter whether it is on the bottom or not.
    The comment about potato beetles makes me wonder if they go in cycles. about 5 or 6 years ago, I also had so many that nothing could get rid of them. Each day I would pick a hundred beetles and larva off into a jar. But since then I have had no beetles.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 5, 2016 at 8:37 am

    I think “eyes up” is a tradition that some observe and some don’t. Plants have hormones that orient the growing tips; up for shoots and down for roots. Fertilizing in the row is a way to use less fertilize as compared to broadcast fertilization. Broadcast fertlizes everything to, even weeds, but it does avoid over-fertilization.
    I’m thinking I may leave my potatoes un-dug in the ground because; (1) when I dig them they sprout and shrivel, and (2) the ‘escapees’ in the garden stay plump and crisp all through the winter. I suspect the problem may be what – if anything – to do about them re-sprouting in the fall. I’m not sure if that is anything to worry about though ……

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 5, 2016 at 8:13 am

    The thing I remember about my Granny planting potatoes was that she cut the eye from the potato and put it in the ground then saved the remainder of the potato to cook. She would peel the unplanted part of the potato and put it in a quart jar covered with water in the fridge till she was ready to cook it. As I grew older and planted my own potatoes I wondered about that practice. It seems to me from a logical stand point that the remainder of the potato served as food for the young growing plant and should probably be plated with the potato. But then my granny always had good potatoes so I guess she was right….and she was thrifty too. My granny wasted nothing. She lived through the depression years and knew what it was to be hungry.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2016 at 7:42 am

    Our potatoes went in the ground two weeks ago and they’re already up. We plant just as you do, a handful of fertilizer between the cut spuds. And eyes up! Although I agree that it probably doesn’t matter so much. Some of the best potatoes we’ve ever raised came not from seed potatoes but from sprouted potatoes from the store–and once, from potato peelings tossed in the compost.
    We stopped growing them for a few years because of the Colorado potato beetle–they were actually attacking the potatoes in the ground before they even came up! The little sprouts were covered with them and never stood a chance. We decided that the amount of poison it would take to kill them off far outweighed the value of homegrown for once, and so we had to buy potatoes. Not something I was used to. But since Larry has diabetes, we eat less of them anyway so it wasn’t too bad. The past few years we’ve been planting late in May, and only a short row, to avoid the beetles. We’re taking a chance this year that they’ve left, so keep your fingers crossed for us!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 5, 2016 at 4:27 am

    We used to plant potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day…depending on the weather. Mix in the row, compost, etc., plant/cover and start hilling when the green tops start showing. The better half keeps hilling up the taters until they are about a foot or so tall. Then he fertilizes the ditchy area left from pulling up the dirt around the taters.
    We don’t plant taters that early any more, we are just getting too old to harvest them. They would get so big and make so many that we would have to have 50 or more bushel baskets and a wagon to haul them in. When we plant late they don’t grow as big and I can carry in a peck at a time….plus I would rather grapple for small taters…you believe it don’t you?
    Thanks Tipper,
    Loved this tater post!

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