There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes grown in the United States, but according to the "Vegetable Gardening Encyclopedia," they fall into four basic categories. These are round whites, long whites, round reds and russets. Potatoes are members of the Solanum family, which includes peppers and tomatoes, but unlike most members of that family, potatoes prefer a cool growing season.
Choosing Certified Seed Potatoes
First, make sure to purchase only certified seed potatoes. This is an important consideration because it means that the potatoes are free from known diseases and infestations. Never try to grow potatoes from the grocery store. Commercial growers treat potatoes chemically, to prevent sprouting, when packaged for eating rather than for seed.
Choosing Varieties for Early Maturity
Even though potatoes like cool weather, they will not tolerate frost, so you must have a growing season that is frost-free for 90 to 120 days to accommodate most varieties. If you live in an area with hot summers, try to plant early varieties that mature before the weather gets too hot. Mother Earth News states that some varieties may even die if temperatures go above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Yukon gold is one extremely common early season variety. Tolaas, superior and frontier russet are less common but also early.
Choosing Varieties for Cooking
If you primarily bake potatoes or if you prefer them for French fries or like them boiled, choosing varieties developed particularly for those modes of cooking is important. Look for large russets if you want baking potatoes-russet and russet Norkotah are popular, and usually easy to find. Marfona, though more difficult to obtain is considered a choice baking potato by The Organic Gardener website. Kennebec and Norland fry and boil well. For all around mashed, boiled, fried or baked potatoes white lady, Celine and Hampton are all good choices. If you have room for only one variety grow russet Burbank. This is the general-purpose supermarket variety well-known for its versatility. It is especially valued as a French fry potato.
Choosing Varieties for Disease Resistance
Potatoes, as root crops in direct contact with soil, are susceptible to a number of maladies from fungal infections, wilt and rot due to blights, mosaic virus, and infestations of slug and potato beetles. If you have problems with any of these (or other common potato ailments), you should select varieties known to be resistant. Bob Thompson of "The Victory Garden" recommends red Norland for potato scab resistance and Kennebec for resistance to mosaic and blight. Superior is another scab resistant variety.
Choosing Varieties for Long Storage
Most of the varieties will store very well-Yukon gold and Kennebec especially. Add red Pontiac to the list of commonly available long keepers, and Saxon if you can find it. If you prefer unusual varieties, try red lady, Rose Finn apple or purple Peruvian.