One of the most frustrating things about gardening is finding something wrong with a crop that cannot be fixed. I witnessed this last week when checking on a problem with some recently harvested potatoes.
Sometimes potatoes that look perfect on the outside might not be perfect on the inside. Unfortunately, this is the case when potatoes are afflicted by the physiological disorder “hollow heart” or “brown center”.
The disorder that causes hollow heart or brown center in the potato tuber manifests when cells die inside while potatoes are growing too quickly or unevenly, such as when recovering from environmental stress or over fertilization.
Weather extremes during tuber development cause plant stress. Weather conditions that may cause brown center are early season cool nights, which cause soil temperatures to be below the mid-50s for around a week or longer. Soil moisture at 80% or greater may also cause the same brown center symptoms.
Hollow heart is typically caused by swings from low to high soil moisture and overapplication of nitrogen. To mitigate this condition, consistent irrigation practices and spit fertilizer applications have been shown to be effective.
Additionally, if hollow heart or brown center is a typical problem for a given growing area, selection of cultivars that are less susceptible to this condition is beneficial, since there is quite a bit of variation among cultivars / varieties.
The final message is one of good news, if brown center or hollow heart is noticed at potato harvest this year, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate this issue for future growing seasons.
For more information, please check out the reference for this article, UF/IFAS publication HS945 “Potato Physiological Disorders—Brown Center and Hollow Heart”