brandy222February 9, 2008

Well, I have looked throught the archives and am not seeing an answer to my potatoes questions, so I hope you all will endure more questions from me. . . hee hee

I bought some seed potatoes and I am anxious to do something with them. I have never grown potatoes before. Some places say that I can go ahead and plant them now and the mulch and/or dirt will keep them warm enough. Other places say not to plant for another MONTH! I have read all of the ways to plant them; buckets, cages, covered with hay, planted in mounds of dirt . . . what has worked best for you all?

Thanks again for all of your help!

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Potatoes are amazingly easy, except for the whole disease and potato bug thing.

Down here in southern Oklahoma in zone 7B, we usually plant our potatoes around Valentine's Day. The recomended dates for Oklahoma are Feb. 15th thru Mar. 10th, so you can plant anywhere in the timeframe. However, the farther north you are, the later you should plant.

Here's how I plant.

I buy seed potatoes a couple of weeks before I intend to plant them. About a week before the anticipated planting date, I cut each seed potato into pieces. Each piece must have at least one eye (bud) or nothing will sprout from it. I put the pieces into a paper bag with a little garden sulphur and shake the bag to coat the potato pieces. The sulphur will help prevent soil-related diseases. Then I spread the pieces out on a table covered with newspaper and let them cure for 5 to 7 days. You can cure them inside the house or in a garage or similar area. You can cover the pieces with damp paper towels or damp burlap bags. The damp covering helps maintain the pieces in higher humidity and that is what you want.

On planting day I take the pieces outside to the garden and plant them in the ground. I like to dig a trench about 6 to 8 inches deep. I place the potatoes in the trench, about 8" to 12" apart in rows that are about 30" apart. I cover the seed potato pieces with only 2" to 3" of soil. After the plants emerge and begin to grow, I gradually fill in the trench with the remaining soil. Once the trench is full and the potatoes continue to grow, I continually add straw mulch as the potatoes continue to grow. I usually stop adding straw when it is about 12" deep. If you don't want to use mulch, you can "dirt" the potatoes by adding soil around the plants (also referred to as 'hilling'). Wherever you have added soil, potato tubers will form underground. Your ultimate goal is to have 6" to 8" of potato plant underground.

Now, you just weed, water and watch them grow. Watch the foliage carefully for potato bugs. The bugs are easy to control if you spot them early and handpick them off the plants. If you don't do this, they can totally defoliate your plants in no time at all. Also watch for signs of foliar disease and treat promptly if they appear.

In case you are curious about why so much of the potato plant is underground, remember that the potatoes themselves form along the underground portions of the plants' stolons (secondary underground stems). Thus, the more plant you have underground (within reason), the more potatoes you will have.

It is not necessary to dig the trench, but I do it because it is easier for me to dig the trench deep and gradually fill it in than to plant them more shallowly and then hill up the dirt around them. Deeper trench planting works in very well drained soil. If you soil drains slowly and stays wet for a prolonged period of time, you might be better off to only plant a couple of inches beneath the soil surface and hill up soil around the plants as they grow.

The reason you don't dig a deep trench and completely fill it in immediately is that, in cold and wet years, seed potato pieces planted that deeply may rot before they can grow up out of the deep trench. And, the longer the seed potatoes are underground without top growth exposed to the sun, the more susceptible they are to soil-borne disease.

Remember to prepare your soil properly because potatoes are heavy feeders.

I have grown potatoes above ground in a circular wire container filled with compost and soil for the lower few inches and straw/hay/grass clippings on top of that. In an average to wet year it works pretty well to grow them this way. In a very dry spring, though, it is hard to keep this above-ground set-up wet enough to work since it dries out very quickly.

And, in case you are wondering, 6" to 8" is about the maximum depth at which you can plant potatoes and get a good yield. Planting them deeper than that has not been shown to increase yields.

You'll have to evaluate your soil, how quickly it drains, how heavy or light it is, how much precipitation you generally have in the spring to early summer, etc. and decide which method would work best for you. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, plant them a couple of different ways and see what works best for you in your soil and your climate.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2008 at 1:18PM
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One thing I would add is that potatoes like slightly acid soil, so if you are in a part of the state that has more alkaline soils you may get some scabbing, which looks bad--looks like scabs on the skin of the potatoes--but doesn't hurt the interior, unless you acidify your soil. Here in z6b we plant in early to mid Mar--St Patrick's day is traditional. I treat my potatoes like Dawn except I only leave them 2-3 days after I cut them, before I put them into the ground. We also plant 6-8" deep and then hill with dirt as we have had potatoes grow out of the ground and turn green. (Green potatoes are poisonous; don't try to eat them.) One thing about planting too early is that a hard late freeze can kill the growing shoot.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2008 at 7:42PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Dorothy,

Im glad you mentioned potato scab--it didn't even enter my mind at all. My soil is around 6.8 to 7.0 (neutral) so I have never had a scab problem.

It is funny that we plant our potatoes by a holiday (easy to remember to do it then, though)--Valentine's Day for me and St. Patrick's Day for you. My dad always planted them on or near Washington's Birthday! LOL

Some people I know plant them by the moon...but I never can remember which things to plant under which kind of a moon!


Neither Dorothy nor I have really touched on the main threat to your potatoes (other than potato bugs), which is early blight and late blight (the disease that caused Ireland's potato famine in the middle decades of the 1800s). Potato blight shows up as dark spots on the leaves and stems of the plants. At the first sign of it, spray with either a chemical or organic fungicide. If you leave it untreated, it can spread rapidly and wipe out your plants.

By the way, you can also plant potatoes as a fall crop. Fall potatoes won't give you as big of a yield, but you'll have fresh potatoes to store for the fall and winter.

If you don't know the pH of your soil, you can check with your county ag extension agent and get a general idea of the median soil pH in your county, or you can get a soil test done. The median soil pH won't necessarily be close to your soil's pH, though. (My county's median pH is significantly lower then the pH of the soil in our garden.)

Have we confused you enough yet? (Personally, I think gardening is easier than it sounds!)

I've linked an Oklahoma pH map below, but your soil may be somewhat different than the number shown for your county.


Here is a link that might be useful: Median Soil pH by County (Figure 5)

    Bookmark   February 9, 2008 at 9:17PM
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The sulfur you coat potatoes in, will ammoinia sulfate work or the stuff for hydrangeas ? I think it is to raise ph . will this work or is there just plain ole garden sulfur ?



    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 8:17PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


The plain old garden sulphur is what you want. It helps keep the seed potatoes or seed potato pieces from rotting before they can sprout.

Ammonium sulfate is 21% nitrogen and that can cause problems for your taters as they grow. I've never seen it recommended anywhere that you could use ammonium sulfate as a substitute for sulphur when preparing seed potatoes for planting. Keep in mind tht ammonium sulfate can mess with your soil pH and that, in itself, is reason to use only plain sulphur.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 11:12AM
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Other than scab we've never had any disease problems with out potatoes. ANd about potato bugs. They can be a nuisance. We don't dust or spray with anything though because we have so many ladybugs and lady bug larvae and adults eat potato bug eggs and larvae. I hope you will take the time to learn the difference between the eggs and larvae of the two insects and handpick only the potato bugs. If you watch early in the season when the overwintering potato bugs first emerge and make their way to the plants and handpick them, you can reduce the number of eggs that hatch. About storing potatoes. We dig potatoes when the vines die in late June or early July, lay them out in the shade of trees covered with newspaper for a day or two to dry--you don't want them to turn green--and then pack them into boxes. I put the boxes under a bed in a cool bedroom and eat homegrown potatoes most of the winter. Spring raised potatoes last until December usually if I take the time to desprout them whenever they try to sprout. The smaller fall crop lasts until February. In fact, I bought the first bag of store potatoes just last week. So happy gardening. Oh and do you know that you can harvest new potatoes when the plants bloom without digging the plant. I just dig down on one side of several plants and bring up one potato from each plant until I have enough to fix new potatoes with snap peas. Wonderful eating!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 10:58PM
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I was moving Hubby old wood to use for my beds today and guess who is hiding under them ! Lots and Lots of lady bugs . I know they swarm here alot I always wondered where they went . They seem to come out when it is warm out and then go away again . We had so many in early winter I am still vacuming up bodies from in the house . Everytime we opened the door they came in . So they are a good thing ?

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 11:24PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Ladybug beetles are wonderful garden helpers. The more you have the better! They will eat all kinds of pests for you. In many instances, it is the young larvae who eat a lot of pests, so I have linked photos for you because the young ones DO NOT look like ladybugs. The very first time I saw a ladybug beetle larvae, I thought I found a bizarre new pest---boy, was I wrong!

Our ladybugs come inside in late fall and early winter and I vacuum the up and release them outside again. As you have found, they DO find shelter and survive.

Ladybugs are so important that, if anyone doesn't have them on their property, they should buy them and release them.


Here is a link that might be useful: Ladybug photos

    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 9:38AM
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Oh, my gosh! I never knew lady bugs started out looking like that! I wonder how many I have freaked out and killed? Last year I had aphids on the tender shoots of my grape vine. I made a big mistake, mixed up some homemade insecticidal soap and sprayed them down. Then happened to notice a ladybug making its way up the vine. If only I had waited another day! As it was, everywhere I sprayed, the foliage died. Owa tagoo siam.

But I do have a question. I have four yams that I didn't cook when I planned to and now they have sprouts. I'd like to plant them. Same procedure/timing as potatoes or not?

    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 12:33PM
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Wow I did not know lady bugs started that way . We have some that look kind of yellow to with no spots .some orange with no spots .

Can you plant sweet potatoe you buy from grocery store ? Nobody here yet has any sets to buy .

I just ended up letting my potatoes scare over .

Thank you guys for all the help .

    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 6:00PM
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Yes, I planted sweet potatoes from the grocery store that had sprouted, quite a few years ago, and got quite a crop, especially considering that in those days I was just trying out my first raised bed and knew so much less about gardening than I do now. You can plant a lot of things from the grocery store. Some turn out well and some do not. Last year, I had some grocery store potatoes that started to sprout, so I cut them up, rolled them in dirt, let them dry out on the counter a little, then planted them in containers and got quite a nice little crop of new potatoes. Considering I was going to throw them away because they had gotten too old to eat, I was quite pleased with the way things turned out.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 6:33PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Wendy: They probably don't have sets because it is way, way too early to plant them. Around here, I seldom see sets until mid- to late-April at the earliest.

Ilene: It took me a while to figure out Owa tagoo siam. LOL I loved it. Was laughing out loud!

Y'all, the first time I saw a ladybug larvae, I had no clue what it was....and it took me quite a while to find out what it was. (It is a lot easier nowadays with all the bug ID sites online.)

Sweet potatoes are one of the last things I plant....along with other 'late' heat-lovers like okra and black-eyed peas.

You can plant them anytime after the soil temp is 60 degrees 2" below the surface of the soil. You can use a meat thermometer to measure soil temps--there is no need to purchase a more expensive soil thermometer.

Since your yams have sprouted, Ilene, you can "hold" them in a hotbed or coldframe, or even in a pot of very sandy soil in the garage or somewhere inside. Just submerge the yams on their sides in the sand, leaving the sprouts sticking up above the soil surface if they are tall enough. The sand should be moist but not wet. Cover the yams with about 2" of soil initially and let them grow on as you wait for the soil to warm up.

For anyone who wants to grow their own slips, you can do so by "planting" your root stock yams or sweet potatoes in sand or water indoors and keeping them in a warm (the closer to 80 degrees the better) location. It is a good ideal to start your slip-growing process 45 to 50 days before your anticipated planting date.


    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 8:11PM
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Dawn I live in zone 7 too so maybe that is why they are not out yet . I live about 1 hour from okc and 14 miles from Lawton .
I have never planted them just thougth I would try it this year .
The only things i have ever planted until this year was onion ,red potatoes and tomatoes and carrots

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 12:17AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


As soon as I see sweet potato slips in a local store or nursery, I'll post a message online here to let you know.

I usually see them in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area (zone 8) first, which is where I grew up and lived my entire life before moving here in 1999. Once they are available there, it is usually just a couple of weeks before I see them here.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 1:59AM
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Should I roll my sweet potato pieces in sulphur like you recommend for regular potatoes? I'm going to WMT today to see if they have anything I need. For a store so big it's amazing how many things are still not marked off my list when I leave, and I'm already tired from having to walk all over the store and then stand in line for what seems like forever, while somebody's toddler throws a loud hissy fit too close for comfort! Then I have to go elsewhere to look for what I need, usually finding one thing here, one thing there. WMT should put sound proof lounges right next to the exits where you can buy a little glass of wine and sit in a recliner with cucumbers on your eyes before you leave. Ah, but then I'd get in trouble for drinking and driving, I guess. LOL

I wondered if anybody would ask about Owa tagoo siam! LOL

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 9:51AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


If the potato pieces already have sprouted, you probably don't have to roll them in sulfur to keep them from rotting, but it never hurts to do so.

Once sweet potato slips have sprouted, the most important thing is just to keep them really warm.

After I figured out Owa tagoo siam, I read the sentence out loud to my son and he got it right away. We had a good chuckle.

I'm headed to a few stores today myself. I never find everything I'm looking for either. I do like to hit the stores early before they are too crowded, and that helps a little.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 10:04AM
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About sweet potatoes. Unlike regular potatoes, you do not plant any part of the original tuber. You plant the sprout and it is important to get a good long slip with lots of roots on it. I used to set my tubers in a deep tub with 2" of sandy loam over them and add more soil as the slips grew. You want about 6" of rooted slip. And as Dawn said, being tropical plants they need to sprout in a warm place and then be planted out into warm soil. When it is time to plant--in Mid to Late May here in 6b--carefully turn your tub out, remove the tubers and twist the sprouts off of the tubers, being careful not to damage the roots or the stem. Wait until the first light frost blackens the vines in the fall and dig the tubers immediately. Then to prevent rot, allow them to "cure". They need to be kept at about 75-80degrees for a week or two in a high humidity location. I used to set mine around the wood stove--or in the attic of a storage building, then under the bed in an indoor bedroom for long term storage.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 10:27PM
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Susan Levy

I want to ask about potatoes also. How is the best way to grow them inside. A friend tried in her zone and got white bugs on them. She didnt know if they were maggots. How is the best way to grow inside. I dont want bugs either LOL SUE

    Bookmark   November 23, 2010 at 12:44PM
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