Updated: March 24, 2020
Can you plant potatoes in fall? Absolutely. But the reason for planting potatoes in autumn will differ greatly depending on where you live.
If you live where winters are mild, you probably want to plant potatoes in fall so that you can take advantage of the cooler season and harvest in winter.
If, on the other hand, you want to plant in fall and let your potatoes grow over winter in order to get a jump on the spring growing season, this article is for you.
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It never fails. Every year after I turn the cover crop, volunteer potato plants sprout in the beds where I planted potatoes last year. These plants seem to know exactly when to start growing based on the weather that season. They grow vigorously in the moist spring soil, getting the jump on weeds and many pests like cutworms.
Since these volunteers grow so well in the cool weather, the idea came to me, why not plant potatoes in the autumn instead of the spring. Not only do potatoes do better in cool, moist soil, I also would avoid having to plant one more vegetable during the mad rush of spring.
In fact, there are many reasons why you might want to plant in fall. These include:
Get a head start on the growing season. Potatoes that you plant in autumn will start growing their roots during the winter. Plus, they will start growing above ground as soon as the soil warms up. This lets your plants get well established before pest arrive.
Weather in spring is unpredictable. Potatoes like cool weather and moist soil. Spring is the most likely time of year to get these conditions. Cool and moist is not good for the person planting, but good for potato growing. Your plants will be able to take advantage of the conditions right from the start. More to the point, heavy rain or even snow may prevent you from planting. This is rarely a problem in fall.
Harvest sooner. Start sooner, harvest sooner. Plus, even potatoes with the longest growing time will mature before the winter because they have the entire spring, summer and fall to grow.
Two crops in one season? Depending on the potato variety you’re growing and the duration of your growing season, you could have time for two harvests.
No planting in bug season. Around here, the bug season is in spring. You’ll avoid planting when the bugs are thick.
No chitting. You shouldn’t chit your autumn planting potatoes. Your potatoes will have plenty of time to grow without chitting.
Underground growth when it’s cold. Your potatoes will grow roots during the off season, so they will explode with growth above ground when the weather turns.
More compost available in fall. Typically, I have a lot more compost and other soil amendments in autumn. I bet you do, too.
How to plant potatoes in the fall
Time needed: 1 hour.
Planting potatoes in the autumn is a lot like planting in the spring. Here’s how to do it:
- Buy seed potatoes.
You may save your own seed potatoes. If this is the case, you are golden. Otherwise, you will have to buy them online because few local stores have them in the fall. If you want, you can use heirloom seed potatoes. I like them better. If you pick an indeterminate potato variety and mound your potatoes when the plants come up, you will get more potatoes.
- Plant your seed potatoes.
Do everything you would normally do when you plant potatoes, except plant just before your first frost of the fall / winter. For me, this is typically the middle of September. Do NOT cut up your potatoes to extend the number of plants. You should plant your potatoes whole. This helps prevent rotting of your seed potatoes over winter. Also, you should plant below ground and NOT in bags or towers or even raised beds. Seed potatoes need the insulation from the cold that underground provides. In fact, you should plant eight to ten inches deep. This will help keep the potatoes warm. Furthermore, you should add mulch, leaves, grass clippings or other organic matter to the bottom of the trench. The organic matter will warm the dirt as it breaks down, giving your potatoes a head start.
- Keep the soil moist and wait.
Of course, the amount of time your plants will need will vary by variety. Still, your potatoes will be ready sooner in the year than if you had planted in spring.
If you have several potato patches, why not plant a small patch in the fall to see how it works for you.
Better in the fall or spring?
Is it better to plant potatoes in the fall or in the spring? The answer to that question will be determined by your environment.
If you live in an area where spring is short and summer turns dry and hot soon after the ground defrosts, fall planting is probably for you.
Autumn planting might also be right if you can get your potatoes out of the ground before pests can find them.
On the other hand, if you live in an area like the Pacific Northwest where it’s easy to grow potatoes in the spring, it might make more sense to just wait.
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