LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Are you ready for spud season? If you want to grow your own potatoes, it's time to dig into the dirt and get planting.
Not only are potatoes simple to grow, but they also pack a punch of essential nutrients, including calcium, iron, potassium and vitamins B6 and C. With 2 grams of dietary fiber and 3 grams of protein per serving plus a healthy dose of prebiotic resistant starch, they're a nutritious addition to any plate and garden.
Planting potatoes in Louisiana kicks off as early as mid-January in the southern region and extends through February. We recommend planting between Jan. 15 and Feb. 15, with north Louisiana starting a little later.
Potatoes originated in South America, tracing back to the Inca of Peru around 8000 to 5000 B.C. Spanish conquistadors brought them to Europe, and Sir Walter Raleigh introduced them to Ireland — the country many of us associate with potatoes — in 1589.
The early American colonies received their first potatoes in 1621 in Jamestown, Virginia, courtesy of Scotch-Irish immigrants. Interestingly, the first vegetable grown in space was none other than the potato. Today, they rank as the world's fourth largest food crop — although in Louisiana, our homegrown sweet potatoes often steal the spotlight.
Irish potatoes are modified stems whereas sweet potatoes are modified roots. In contrast to Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes’ foliage can be eaten and is often used in Asian dishes including stir fries. Irish potato leaves are toxic because they contain plant chemicals called solanine and chaconine, which are present in some plants from the nightshade family. Nightshade is a large family of plants known as Solanaceae, which includes both edible and toxic species.
Potatoes thrive in cool-season climates, making them ideal for late winter and spring planting here. These tuberous wonders grow underground and are relatively trouble free, making them a favorite among gardeners.
In Louisiana, there are several varieties that do well. Kennebec, a reliable white potato with brown skin, tops the list for performance as evaluated by our former vegetable extension specialist, Kathryn Fontenot. For those craving color, Red LaSoda and La Rouge offer vibrant options, while Yukon yellows are often hailed as the cream of the crop. Don't forget LaChipper, a classic, white-skinned potato.
When planting, opt for certified seed potatoes for disease resistance. Cut seed potatoes into pieces, each containing at least one eye or bud, and allow them to heal for 24 to 48 hours before planting. Plant the pieces in shallow trenches about 4 inches deep, covering them completely with soil.
Alternatively, some gardeners simply plant whole seed potatoes without cutting them. Ensure each contains at least one eye or bud from which new growth sprouts. Plant them in loose, well-drained soil under the sun, spacing them about 12 inches apart in rows spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. Mulch generously to suppress weeds and avoid herbicides.
Potatoes also can be successfully grown in containers. A 5-gallon container or larger is recommended to allow room for root development and tuber formation. Ensure containers have drainage holes to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to rot issues.
Potatoes need full sun exposure and regular watering, particularly during dry periods. Mulching with materials like leaves and straw helps retain moisture and suppress weeds. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer such as 13-13-13 before planting and again after the plants bloom.
Potatoes are susceptible to various insect pests and diseases. Common pests include aphids and the Colorado potato beetle. Aphids can be controlled with horticultural oil while the Colorado potato beetle may require organic pesticides containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Diseases such as early blight and late blight can affect potato plants, especially in humid conditions.
Good cultural practices, including avoiding overhead watering and ensuring proper spacing can help prevent disease issues. Properly drained soil and adequate air circulation around plants also help prevent rot issues.
Tubers begin to form as plants flower. Light frosts won't harm them, but hard freezes may affect tops and delay harvest. When leaves yellow and die, it's harvest time — usually about 90 to 100 days after planting. Dig carefully around the roots and gently pull the plants from the soil.
To check for maturity, lightly rub a potato's skin; if it slips off easily, it's not ready. Harvest carefully to avoid damage and store them in a cool, dark place with high humidity for short-term storage. Maintain conditions of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit with 85% humidity for long-term storage.
Once the season comes to a close, don't forget that properly stored potatoes can be planted again from mid-August to mid-September, keeping the spud cycle alive and well.
Potatoes are ready for harvest when the leaves begin to turn yellow and die. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Potatoes can be harvested by digging carefully around the roots and gently pulling the plants from the soil. Photo by Kathryn Fontenot/LSU AgCenter
Cut seed potatoes into pieces, each containing at least one eye or bud, and allow them to heal for 24 to 48 hours before planting. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter