Department of Horticulture New York State Horticulture Study Guide for Youth 4-H Logo


Flowers &
Indoor Plants

Fruits & Nuts



Special Topics



Cornell University

Solanum tuberosum
(sol-an-um too-bur-oh-sum)

Click on thumbnails for larger image.

What about it?

Potatoes are in the Nightshade family and are related to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. They are easy to grow but quite often neglected in home gardens due to their availability year-round in grocery stores. New potatoes are planted early and harvested early as well to provide room for later plantings of other crops.

What is it used for?

Potatoes are grown for the edible tuber that grows underground. A tuber is a modified stem.

Where does it grow? How do we grow it?

Potatoes need to have well-drained soil and planty of sunshine; shade will result in lots of leaves but few tubers. Loose soil makes it easier for the tubers to develop. A key to potato growing is providing the proper conditions at the outset so that the potato plant will have a healthy, rapid start. After the potato plants have sprouted, you will need to make a hill around the stem. This is called "hilling" and it covers the stem with soil to prevent sunlight from reaching the tubers, rendering them green and inedible. This should be repeated after 2-3 weeks.

What are its primary problems?

Potatoes are not exactly disease-resistant. Potato scab is a common problem for commercial growers, along with early blight and late blight. Start with clean seeds. You may also run into aphids, flea beetles, and Colorado potato beetle, and the European com borer. Acid soils can help prevent seals.

How do we propagate it?

Potatoes are not started from packaged seeds but rather from pieces of potato with "eyes," or sprouts, on them. These pieces should be cut 3 days before planting. Dig a trench 6 inches wide and 8 inches deep. The trenches should be 3 feet apart. Place potato pieces 12 inches apart in the trench and cover with 4 inches of soil.

How do we harvest and store it?

Tubers will enlarge after the last half of the growing season. Early varieties take about 10 weeks to mature. But these types are usually harvested when small and tender. In most varieties, the leaves of the plant will begin to wilt, indicating that it is harvest time. Dig potatoes out of the ground with a spade. If your potatoes begin to poke out of the soil before they are ready to be harvested, cover them back up with soil. Potatoes exposed to light will turn green and are poisonous if eaten.

Cure potatoes for 2 weeks at 55 degree F. Then store for the winter at 40 degrees in a paper bag or a cloth sack.

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Copyright, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University.