KC Gardens

It's potato planting time

Potato plants

Tip of the Week

Tradition holds that potatoes should be planted on St. Patrick’s Day for a successful harvest. The truth in this old wives’ tale is not so much in the date of March 17 but in the fact that planting in March will result in higher yields. If you are an old pro at gardening or a first-time novice, potatoes are a fun plant to grow and require little care for success.

Pieces of potatoes, referred to as “seed potatoes,” are planted to start the new crop. It is important to purchase disease-free seed pieces from reputable garden centers each spring. Many diseases are passed on from unclean tubers. Saving potatoes from last year’s harvest or using spuds from the market are not recommended due to the disease potential.

Pieces of potatoes are used to plant the crop and it is wise to use larger pieces. Cut an average size potato into four pieces, or a large one into six sections. New potato plants emerge from the eyes on the potatoes. Many people cut the seed pieces, making sure there are several eyes on each piece. This is not necessary, as there are numerous eyes on each tuber. Once cut the pieces should be allowed to dry for two or three days in a warm, airy location to allow the cut surfaces to callus. A corky layer develops, reducing rot and decay in cool, damp spring soils.

Cured seed potatoes are ready for planting. Do not plant too deep. Deeper planting slows emergence and development; 1 to 2 inches deep is recommended. Gradually cover the row with soil as the plants grow. Continue to mound up the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches with loose soil by the time the vines are 12 to 18 inches high.

Care of the plants during the season is simple — control weeds, water regularly and fertilize lightly a couple of times. It is vital to grow the plants as fast as possible so that the tubers will develop before the heat of summer. Potatoes can be dug once the vines begin to die down in early summer.

Variety selection is important for good yields. Try some of these K-State Extension recommendations: Red varieties include ‘Red Norland,’ ‘LaRouge,’ ‘LaSoda,’ ‘Viking’ and ‘Reddale.’ White skinned potatoes include ‘Superior,’ ‘Norchip,’ ‘Crystal,’ ‘Kennebec’ and ‘Irish Cobbler,’ Russet type varieties are ‘Norgold’ and ‘Norkotah’. Russet types are good for baking but are the hardest to grow in this area. Of course there are all types of specialty varieties with yellow to blue flesh and even long, skinny finger types. Red and white varieties tend to return the highest yields under our ever-changing weather patterns. They are also best for boiling and mashing.

Try a potato patch this year. Like most home grown vegetables there is a definite taste difference. Homegrown potatoes are bursting with flavor, so forget the butter and sour cream for a down home treat.

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