Written by: DeAnthony Price

People love eating potatoes, and farmers love planting them. Traditionally, Valentine’s Day is a known date for planting potatoes. This tradition goes back generations. Potato planting time in North Florida is during the coldest months of January to February, although February 14th is a popular planting day. The taste and texture of homegrown potatoes are far superior to those of store-bought spuds! Garden potatoes also provide a bounty of nutrients. The potato (Solanum tuberosum) is a member of the nightshade family. This cool-weather vegetable typically yields bigger crops in the northern portion of the U.S., however potatoes can be grown as a winter crop in warmer climates.

Potato Varieties

The most popular and successful varieties grown in Florida are based on yield, disease resistance, quality, and adaptability to warm climates. These varieties are white-skinned potatoes ‘Yukon Gold,’ ‘Gold Rush,’ ‘LaChipper,’ and ‘Sebago’, and red-skinned varieties ‘Red Pontiac’, ‘Red LaSoda’, and ‘LaRouge.’ For russet varieties, home gardeners can select varieties that mature relatively early (100-115 days), such as ‘Russet Norkotah.’ Exotic potato varieties are fun and interesting to try since these varieties are hard to find in supermarkets. They are often smaller, taking less time to cook, but are also very colorful, which can increase the nutritional content. Potatoes with bright orange flesh have more carotenoids, and those with red pigments have more anthocyanins, both having health benefits. Other fun varieties include fingerling types and varieties with blue/purple flesh. The ‘All Blue’ potato has deep blue skin and flesh and produces blue flowers. Certified seed potatoes are ideal and can be found at your local feed store or garden center.

Golden and red potatoes
Credit: C. Christensen

Planting Prep: Before Planting

The seed potato needs to be cut into the size of an egg, with at least one eye per section. They must be dried in a cool, dark place for a few days. Plant the sections in a 4-6 inch deep trench that receives full sun, with the cut side down and sprouts facing up. Potato plants are heavy feeders and need nutrition through the growing season. To determine what kind and quantity of nutrients to apply to the soil, get the soil tested by a qualified laboratory. Contact your local Extension office for local fertilization recommendations. Apply a 10-0-10 fertilizer at 7.5 pounds per 100-foot row, both at planting and again 3-4 weeks later, by side-dressing fertilizer about 4-6 inches to either side of the plant.

Growing, Harvesting, Storage

Potatoes are ready to dig in about three months. Since potato tubers push up above the soil surface, the soil needs to be mounded around the stems as the plant grows. Tubers exposed to the sun turn green, making them inedible. Remove the tops 2-3 weeks before digging to “toughen the skin.” After harvesting, potatoes need to be kept in a cool (60-65 degrees F) dark place for 10-14 days to allow any damages to heal. Move them to a final storage location with high relative humidity, good aeration, and cool temperatures (38-40 degrees F). Washed tubers should be allowed to dry thoroughly before storing. Under proper conditions, potatoes can be stored for 3– 6 months or more.

HS933/HS183: Growing Potatoes in the Florida Home Garden (ufl.edu)