How to Plant a Potato With Eyes
Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) do not grow from seeds but from seed pieces, which are small chunks of potato with eyes. These annual tubers must be started fresh each year, so understanding how to correctly cut a potato to produce seed potatoes is an important part of growing potatoes at home.
Learning how to produce and plant seed potatoes is not challenging. But it must only be done using certified seed potato stock or heirloom potatoes for personal use, because potatoes are highly susceptible to disease, warns the University of Illinois Extension.
Be sure to disinfect your knife and cutting board before cutting seed potatoes at home, as the tubers are highly susceptible to disease.
Cutting Potato Eyes for Seed Potatoes
Potatoes are highly susceptible to disease, so it is important to maintain clean, sanitary tools while cutting seed potatoes at home. Spray your cutting board with disinfectant to sanitize it before you start cutting the seed potato pieces. Dip your knife in full-strength household disinfectant and let the solution sit on the blade for a few minutes before wiping it on a clean paper towel.
Sanitizing your blade is especially important when creating seed potatoes from heirloom varieties saved from your garden because, unlike store-bought seed potatoes, they are not guaranteed to be disease-free.
Cut the potato into 1 1/4-inch chunks. A minimum of one eye per seed potato is required to grow a plant, but the University of Minnesota Extension recommends two to three potato eyes per chunk. Spread out the seed potato pieces in a single layer on a clean tray and set the tray where temperatures stay between 60° and 70°F. Let the pieces dry for a few days, stirring them occasionally to expose every side to the air.
Planting Seed Potato Pieces
Seed potatoes should be planted in spring once all frost danger has passed and the soil has warmed to above 40°F, recommends Cornell University. The seed pieces can be planted in a garden bed, a raised bed or in grow bags that are at least 2 feet deep with a soil volume greater than 30 gallons.
Choose a growing location that provides at least six hours of sunlight each day and excellent drainage. Amending the soil with a 2-inch-thick layer of compost will help improve the soil texture and nutrient content, but it should be done at least a month before planting so the soil has time to settle.
Dig planting furrows that are 8 inches deep, 6 inches wide at the top and 3 inches wide at the bottom using a pointed hoe. Space the furrows 3 feet apart. Set the seed potato pieces 12 to 14 inches apart in the furrow with the cut side facing down.
Cover the seed potatoes with no more than 3 to 4 inches of soil at first, as this will help them avoid rot before sprouting. Fill the furrow with another 3 to 4 inches of soil once sprouts appear, which is typically a few weeks after planting.
Growing Potato Plants
Growing potatoes from eyes requires very little hands-on care or attention apart from regular watering.
- Watering: Provide 1 to 2 inches of water each week after planting. Run the hose at the base of the plant rather than watering from overhead, because too much moisture on the foliage can create ideal conditions for fungal growth.
- Mulching: A 3-inch-thick layer of mulch spread between the rows will help conserve soil moisture and reduce the need for watering. Use organic mulch, such as straw or compost, which will break down over time and enrich the soil.
- Harvesting: Potatoes can be harvested early or once the tubers are fully grown. Early, or new, potatoes are typically harvested when the plant begins to flower, which is around seven or eight weeks after planting. They are quite small with very delicate skin and are considered a delicacy. According to North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension, mature potatoes are harvested three to four months after planting once the plant has dried out and died back.
- While potatoes are generally a cool-season vegetable, there are late varieties that can be planted in mid-summer.
- Some seed suppliers sell just the potato eyes, unattached to a seed potato. These often fail to produce a mature plant.
Sasha Degnan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Anthropology. Her written work has appeared in both online and print publications. She is a certified Master Gardener and dedicated plant enthusiast with decades of experience growing and propagating native and exotic plant varieties.