Potatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow producing heavy yields of tasty tubers when planted in garden beds and containers. Plus, there’s so many awesome potato varieties to grow – from fingerlings to russets – in a rainbow of colors. But as the crop is produced below ground, it’s hard to tell when the tubers are ready to dig. So, how DO you know when to harvest potatoes?
When to harvest potatoes?
Harvesting potatoes is so much fun, even the kids will want to help. It’s like digging for buried treasure – treasure you can eat! There are two main types of potatoes: new potatoes and storage potatoes, and both harvesting time and techniques differ between the two types. Because I want both new potatoes for summer cooking and storage potatoes for fall and winter, I plant at least one bed of each. Figuring out when to harvest potatoes can be a challenge for new gardeners, but once you know the basics, timing the harvest is a snap!
New Potatoes – All potatoes can be new potatoes if harvested when the tubers are still small and thin-skinned, about 50 to 55 days from planting the seed potatoes for early maturing varieties. The first sign that new potatoes have formed is the appearance of the flowers. At that point, feel free to start harvesting from the potato plants. For a long harvest of new potatoes, stagger your seed potato plantings or plant early and late maturing varieties. That way you can enjoy tender new potatoes from late June through August.
Storage Potatoes – Storage potatoes, also called main-crop potatoes, are ready at the end of the growing season when the foliage has turned yellow and begun to dry, often after a frost. At this point they have reached maturity. In my zone 5B garden I harvest my storage potatoes in late September through October. Some gardeners cut back the leaves while others allow them to die back naturally. Either way, the tubers need to be left in the ground for about two more weeks. This allows the skins to thicken up and results in better storage quality.
How to harvest potatoes
Pick a dry day to harvest potatoes as moisture can spread disease and rot. What’s the best way to harvest? Carefully! Try to avoid piercing or slicing the potatoes when digging the tubers. If your spade does slip, eat damaged potatoes right away. I find it handy to keep a bowl nearby for damaged tubers which then head directly to the kitchen. Potato scab is a common potato disease and any affected potatoes are also taken to the kitchen as they may not store well.
New Potatoes – When the plants begin to flower, usually sometime in July, you can start harvesting new potatoes by reaching into the side of the hill and taking a few tubers from each plant. I use a gloved hand, not a tool, for this task as I don’t want to damage the plants and I want to keep my hands (relatively) clean. Once you’ve harvested a few new potatoes, push the soil back in place and mound it around the plants.
Storage Potatoes – To harvest storage potatoes, insert a garden fork about a foot away from the plant and gently lift the root mass. Shovels may also be used. There may still be a few potatoes in the ground, so use a gloved hand to feel around for any missed tubers. Once harvested, gently brush off caked on soil and allow them to dry off for an hour or so outdoors. Do not wash the tubers.
Harvesting potatoes from containers and straw beds
If harvesting new potatoes from a container or potato grow bag, reach into the soil to feel around for the tubers, taking just a few from each plant at any one time. After harvesting new potatoes from in-ground or container plants, feed them with a fish emulsion fertilizer to encourage healthy growth and more tubers. Container grown storage potatoes can be easily harvested by dumping the container onto a tarp or in a wheelbarrow. Sift through the soil with your hands to grab all of the tubers. Learn how to grow potatoes in containers in this short video.
If harvesting potatoes from a bed mulched with straw, use a garden fork to carefully lift off the layer of straw. Most of the tubers will have formed in the straw mulch and be dirt-free. Gather them up for curing.
Prepare the soil for next year
Once the potatoes have been harvested, I sow a cover crop or add a source of organic matter, like manure or compost, to the top of the bed. The autumn and winter weather will work it down into the top few inches of soil. If you’re not sure of your soil pH, this is also an ideal time for a soil test. It’s also important to consider crop rotation and keep track of where you grew potato family crops, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Planting these crops on a 3 year rotation cycle can reduce pests and soil-borne diseases.
How to store potatoes
Before they can be stored, potatoes need to go through a curing process. This helps the skin thicken up and extends the storage life of the tubers. To cure potatoes, lay them on newspaper, trays, or cardboard in a cool, dark spot (50 to 60 F, 10 to 15 C) with high humidity for one to two weeks. Pick a location that offers good air circulation.
Once cured, move the potatoes (removing any that have signs of damage) to bushel baskets, cardboard boxes (with ventilation holes poked in the sides), low baskets, or brown paper bags. You can also find multiple drawer harvest storage at many garden supply stores. Don’t pile them too deeply, however as that can encourage rot to spread. Cover containers with cardboard or sheets of newspaper to block light. Light turns the tubers green and green potatoes contain solanine, a toxic alkaloid.
The best storage area for potatoes
The storage area should be cooler than the curing site and be dark and well-ventilated. I use a corner of my basement, but a root cellar is best if you have one. You can also store potatoes in a garage, but it should stay above freezing. Aim for the ideal temperature of 40 to 45 F (4.5 to 7 C) with high humidity. Under ideal conditions, storage potatoes can retain quality for six to eight months in long-term storage. Check tubers regularly and remove any that show signs of rot or shrivelling.
The thin skin that makes new potatoes so appealing limits their storage life to weeks not months. Therefore, enjoy new potatoes soon after harvesting them.
For a tutorial on when to harvest potatoes and how to do it right, check out this video by Savvy’s Jessica Walliser.
Do you have any tips to add on when to harvest potatoes? Leave them in the comments below.
For more on growing potatoes in a garden, check out these awesome articles:
- Growing potatoes in small spaces with 7 easy steps
- How to plant seed potatoes in gardens, containers, and straw
- Build a potato bin with compost and autumn leaves
- How deep to plant seed potatoes
Thanks so much!! I’m a new gardner and using bags to plant beets and potatoes. I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing but a good crop of potatoes came up in the bag. The flowers have just died leaving seed pods in their place. I learned that the seeds can be used to start new potato projects. The best part is that your description of how to check when to harvest the potatoes is both timely (for me) and useful. Many thanks again.
Hi it’s Andrew here iv mixed up my potato s in pots iv put in earlys and main crop but don’t no which is which how can you tell which ones are earlys and which are main thankyou
Julie Friedman says
I am new to growing potatoes and just harvested a couple dozen. Too many to eat at once. How long can I keep these? Can I cure these? And if so, what is the process?
I read about also leaving potatoes in the ground until October and then letting them sit on the soil to cure for a couple hours before storing. I will do that with the remaining plants.
Thank you for such an informative article. I’ve just planted my first potatoes and am waiting now to harvest them. Can’t wait to grow new ones using the information you’ve provided. Thanks again!
Tanya Covey says
Hi! I have grown potatoes twice before and haven’t run into this problem. This year I noticed my plants beginning to wilt. While waiting a few days to harvest, we received a bunch of rain. The day after the rain, I went out to check on things and noticed I have several newly sprouted plants! What should I do? HELP!
Jessica Walliser says
I would go ahead and harvest. Any small potatoes growing at the base of the newly sprouted plants should be eaten first.
Chris Lowe says
I’m a new “gardener” and I use the term lightly 🤫 . . . your article & the comments have been very helpful. Thank you
Cathy Mclean says
Should I store my potatoes in the frig to cure? I do not have a cool dark place. I live in Houston, Texas!
Niki Jabbour says
Hey Cathy… good question! I don’t think you can cure them in a fridge, it’s just too cool. If I were you, I would start to dig plants once the baby spuds have formed and, depending how many plants you have, you can continue to do that for weeks. That would likely be better than trying to cure them in too warm conditions. Good luck! Niki
Wayne B says
I have the benefit of living out of town. I literally store my spuds and carrots down the well. I just put the potatoes in 20L/5 gal pails tied to a rope and hang them down the well [36 inch opening] The humidity and temperature are about perfect to keep the potatoes from September through to next June. Don’t overload the pails or use pails with handles in poor condition. Losing a pail of potatoes into the water is not fun. I live in Manitoba Canada so winter freezing and low humidity are a problem.
Does anyone know if you can eat the larger more mature potato plants straight from harvesting, or do they always need to be cured first?
I tried my first potato planting this year and only have a single planter, so I’m sure there won’t be enough to mean there’ll be leftover to save for later.
I know you can eat the small new potatoes right away, but I’d like to leave then to grow a bit bigger if possible.
Niki Jabbour says
Hey Julie. You can totally eat your mature tubers as soon as you harvest. You only need to cure them if you want them to last for weeks/months. 🙂 – Niki
Perfect!! Thanks so much for clearing that up for me Niki, really appreciate that.
Now the only trouble is having the patience to actually leave them in there a bit longer! :oD
Ron Mitchell says
I’m trying something different this year. Instead of buying small, whole potatoes, I’m using true potato seed from William Dam Seeds. I ordered a variety called Clancy F1. So far I’m not overly impressed with how they have grown in the garden. In years past the growth would be sturdy and vigourous. These guys seem kind of weedy…spindly. They also don’t seem to want to ‘reach for the sky’ but prefer to be inclined to sprawl. I guess the real test will be when I harvest them. Will I get a good quantity of good sized tubers or will this just be another ‘learning lesson’? Time will tell.
Paul Helfman says
I’m having a hard time figuring out which are my seed potatoes and which are my new potatoes. Can you help.
Niki Jabbour says
Hey Paul… usually by the time you harvest, the original seed potato has rotted away. Sometimes they’re still attached to the root system where the stem emerges but they’re soft and mushy. So you shouldn’t worry you may eat it. Just harvest all the firm and lovely baby potatoes. Enjoy! – Niki
Can some of my potatoes be saved to use as starts next year? If so what is the best way to do it? I live in Illinois and the potatoes are Yukon gold variety. TIA
First time potato gardener here. Thanks for all the great info!!!
After the plants die back is it important to continue to water in order for the potatoes to continue to develop?
My dad planted a bunch of sacks and he’s gone now
I have no idea how many different varieties as he didn’t label them
We live in Washington state and he planted beginning of May
The foliage is still green I have no idea when they should be ready?
Niki Jabbour says
Great question! Wait until the foliage has died back and then pull up the plants and dig through the soil to find all the tubers.
I planted red potatoes. They were potatoes I bought in the grocery store that had started to sprout. I just harvested some of them and they are yellow. How would that happen?
SoCal newbie farmer here. I’ve grown potatoes in containers and in the ground. Oddly enough, one of the potatoes in this container crop has little green ‘tomatoes’ on one of the stalks. Any idea what this is, and are they edible?
Niki Jabbour says
Great question Mike! Those are fruits that came from pollinated potato flowers and they are NOT edible. They contain high levels of solanine do please don’t eat them. They do look like cherry tomatoes and if you cut them open, they’ll have seeds but they won’t come true to type so I never bother saving them. Hope that helps! – Niki
Okay, please explain how to keep harvested potatoes at 50 degrees in September, when temps are still in the 80s and 90s. All of these videos and websites tell us to do that, but not HOW. Which makes me wonder if you and the others know what you’re talking about, or just copying other people’s advice.
Niki Jabbour says
A little rude… we are horticulturists and garden professionals and if we offer scenarios for every region and living condition, it would make this a much longer article. I live in a house with a basement. And while it’s 75F outside now, my basement is about 60F and that is where I store my potatoes. You can also leave them in the ground until the outside temperature is cooler (as it is typically now in most parts of the Northeast US and Canada). Harvest as the seasons switch and hopefully you’ll have a cooler spot inside at that point. Otherwise, put them in a box or basket in a dark pantry, basement, garage, etc where they can at least be out of direct sun/away from light. Eat as soon as possible. You can’t store potatoes long-term (months) without a cool basement or root cellar.
Do you keep your house 80-90 degrees on the inside year round? Find a place that is dry, dimly lit and cooler and store potatoes there. That’s what I do when I do not have time to dry can potatoes for storage. We have to adapt and work with what we have – be innovative – you can do this.
Alice Ryan says
Such a wonderful place to read about potatoes!! I didn’t plant any potatoes this year and thought I’d try beets. Well, out of 28 2″ plants, I ended up with 4 that grew. I just put my gloved hand into the soil, and there’s something that feels like a small carrot. LOL So I didn’t plant potatoes, but to my surprise I have 6 plants anyway. I knew what they were the minute I saw the leaves, so we shall soon see what’s under the dirt. I don’t have a garden, but dug around my fence about 3 feet, and that’s where I plant. 3/4 of one side is all raspberries that a large, sweet, and delicious, and they come twice a year, in June and Sept. The rest is filled with tomatoes and pickling cukes that I just started getting 3 weeks ago. I just want to share a potato story. I grew up on a dairy farm back in the 40’s and 50’s. My grandparents were in the big farm house, and we lived in a small house a small field away. Grandpa and his sons (my dad) planted potatoes in that field every year. When it came time they’d go in with their pitchforks and turn the soil over. Then the potatoes would sit in the air for two or three days, before they’d get them. I’d walk through the rows looking for the babies. Anything from the size of a cherry to a pea. I’d brush the dirt off on my pants and pop them in my mouth. Raw potatoes are delicious to me! Gram had a big garden behind the farmhouse. After she picked all the greenbeans for canning, she’d save a 1/2 of a bushel to dry out. When they were done drying, it was my job to sit in her back enclosed porch and take all the seeds out for next year. AND I could get out a roll for the player piano back there, and pump with my little feet (that barely reached the pedals) and watch the keys go up and down, playing I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles!
New gardener says
Can you grow potatoes from organic store bought ones? Will they grow new ones and are they editable? Or do you have to use “Seeds” and if so what is a potato seed? Isn’t that just a potato?
Niki Jabbour says
Hi, some gardeners do plant organic store-bought potatoes in their gardens but the difference is that seed potatoes are tested for diseases like blight. So starting with seed potatoes is less lightly to introduce disease into your garden. You can also buy potato seeds, Clancy is a recent introduction. You need to start them indoors in mid-spring like tomatoes. I find it quicker and easier to grow potatoes from seed potatoes. Good luck! Niki
Hi, I know you can harvest any potato early but can you harvest early varieties in autumn?
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Ned, absolutely! The tubers will have thicker skins in autumn which allows them to store better and longer. 🙂 Niki
Jeanette Histed says
I am in Kent in the UK and although a gardener for many years only just trying my hand at veg due to the pandemic and more time available. My potatoes are in sacks and have grown really well but your information has been so helpful with regard to the harvesting of them. Looking forward to great crops. Thank you so much.
John M says
Hi … I’m in Southern New Brunswick. I have 20 Kennebec potatoes growing that have not flowered except for 1 in a container. First time this has happened (the deer usually get the flowers lol). They are at week 15 the leaves are starting to yellow and die back a bit. Will they still produce tubers? Thanks
Niki Jabbour says
Hi John.. that is odd but I’d bet you’ve got a bunch of tubers under the soil. They probably won’t put on much more growth if the leaves are dying back, but if you want to store the tubers I’d leave them in the soil for another couple of weeks to thicken up the skin. If you’re curious though (I know I am!) you can dig up a plant and see how many tubers you’ve got. Do let me know what happens when you harvest. Best of luck! – Niki
Wow just noticed I had never responded. No flowers and from 20 plants only had 10 pounds of small taters. At least 8 people we know of encountered the same issue. It was very hot last summer much hotter than usual for 2 months. Even the tomatoes were affected while the harvest was great more than expected the scotia tomatoes formed a very tough skin cause it was so hot. Never had as many hot peppers either six cayenne plants produced 100 nice sized peppers. Not as warm this year so far
I dry can my small and new potatoes. Please do you own research on this process but I have wonderful canned potatoes throughout the year. I was purchasing my potatoes from Amish country in Tennessee but thanks to your tutorials I now grow my own.
I haven’t grown potatoes for years. This year, I decided I would try my hand at it. My question is, should I give them ‘hair cuts’ like I do my tomato plants?
Niki Jabbour says
Great question Tammy! And no, you don’t need to prune potato plants. The more leaves and shoots, the more tubers will form. Hope you have a great harvest! – Niki
I bought the bags to plant potatoes, I have tall beautiful plants does this mean I willn’t have potatoes? They are blooming I will go snip off the blooms. I would love to peak at them. there is a flap where I can but so scared that there is nothing there. I’m in East Tennessee and it’s really hot.
Niki Jabbour says
Hey Pam, great questions!! First, sounds like your plants are doing awesome. I would keep adding more soil until the soil reaches the top of the grow bags. This can encourage more tubers to form. Also, you mention hot weather, it’s vital to make sure your plants have consistent moisture – if they’re water stressed, tuber formation may decrease. Once plants flower, there should be little tubers – baby potatoes!! You can sneak in to grab a few. But keep watering and you’ll soon have plenty of potatoes 🙂 Good luck! Niki
We always wonder when to stop watering our potatoes….when the plants start dying back or sooner?
Niki Jabbour says
Excellent question!! It’s usually about 2 to 3 weeks before you intend to harvest, or when you notice the leaves starting to yellow. – Niki
Just felt the need to give a shout out to Niki Jabbour!! She has been OVERLY helpful, patient with each and every question, and even showed class for the people who ARE rude and disrespectful.
Do not post something ugly when it is a platform to ask legit questions and pray you get an actual response (as she has clearly done and THEN SOME). That is what deserves accolades!! Thank you for being you Niki!! You ROCK!
I technically am here reading ALL THIS “stuff” because I was blessed graciously with TWO green thumbs from my late PawPaws.. I’m growing about 10(ish) potatoes in containers. They have sprouted.. some big/little with their little stalks and leaves but I was thinking of putting them in the ground. They seem sturdy soooo any advice as to where I should place them?!?
I’m in southern Louisiana. Warm here majority of the time. I just know they like being watered from their base (bottom to top) so if I plant them in the ground, they will have no choice but to receive their watering from above or sucking it from beneath… right?!? Suggestions?!?.. and please let me apologize on behalf of the inappropriate, rude, nobodies you’ve dealt with. Us ‘OTHERS’ ALL appreciate ANY and ALL advice. Some people are just trolls and want others to feel as miserable as they feel inside themselves. You are doing awesome!! Know your WORTH and know that everyone you respond to and every person you interact with each day; are BETTER because of YOU! Plant or no plant. You show nothing but class and respect for each person and question. So thank you.. I appreciate YOU. I wish they made more of you.. take care. XOXO