RHS Growing Guides

How to grow potatoes

Our detailed growing guide will help you with each step in successfully growing Potatoes.

  1. Getting Started
  2. Choosing
  3. Planting
  4. Plant Care
  5. Harvesting
  6. Storing
  7. Problems

Getting Started

Getting Started
Section 1 of 7

Potatoes are a traditional veg plot staple, easy and fun to grow, producing a plentiful crop in summer or early autumn. Whether you’re new to growing potatoes or have been doing it for years, digging up your buried bounty is always a thrill. And eating your first new potatoes of the season, steamed and served with butter or mint, is a highlight of early summer.

Harvesting your own potatoes is like digging for buried treasure
The humble spud (Solanum tuberosum) comes in a surprisingly diverse range of varieties, offering gardeners a choice of flavours and textures not available to supermarket shoppers. Most varieties are classified as either earlies (new potatoes) or maincrops, depending on when they’re ready to harvest. Earlies are further divided into first or second earlies.

Potatoes are grown from specially prepared ‘seed potatoes’ (small tubers), usually planted in spring. With early varieties, the seed potatoes can be ‘chitted’ (or encouraged to sprout) before planting, to get them off to a head start and produce an earlier crop. As the plants grow, soil can be gradually piled up around the stems, known as earthing up, to bury the developing tubers. If you don’t have room for a whole row of potatoes, you can grow just a few in a small bed or large container. You can even grow a winter harvest by planting in a large tub in late summer, then protecting the plants from frost in a greenhouse or sunny porch.

Potatoes are usually easy and reliable croppers, but they can be affected by several diseases, the most notorious being the fungal disease blight. However, this is less likely to affect early varieties and is less prevalent in dry summers.

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With so many colours and flavours to tempt you, how can you resist growing potatoes?
There is a huge range of potato varieties to choose from, so it’s well worth trying out some of this rich diversity. There are different flavours, textures (waxy or floury), sizes and colours (white, yellow, pink, red or even purple) to discover, with traditional heritage varieties and new disease-resistant options, for various growing conditions and culinary uses. In fact there are potatoes to suit every taste – far more diversity than you can buy in the supermarket, which is one of the main advantages of growing your own.

Potato varieties are classed as either earlies or maincrops:

  • Early varieties (first or second earlies) – are ‘new potatoes’, small, sweet and delicious. They’re faster growing, ready to harvest in as little as 12 weeks. The plants take up less space, so are useful in smaller plots, and can be grown in containers. As they’re harvested by midsummer, they free up space to grow another crop, such as courgettes or beans, for the rest of the summer 
  • Maincrop varieties are in the ground a lot longer, through to late summer or early autumn. They produce a larger harvest and bigger individual potatoes, ideal for roasting and baking, and can be stored for use in winter  

When choosing, look in particular for varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) – these performed well in trials, so should grow and crop reliably for you. See our list of AGM fruit and veg and our Recommended Varieties below. You can also see many crops, including potatoes, growing in the veg areas at all the RHS gardens, so do visit to see how they’re grown, compare the varieties and pick up useful tips.

What and where to buy

Potatoes are grown from specially prepared ‘seed potatoes’ (small tubers). These are just like potatoes you buy from the supermarket, but they’re certified virus-free, so should give you healthy, vigorous plants. You can buy seed potatoes in late winter and spring in garden centres and online. Mail-order suppliers offer the widest choice of varieties and most allow you to order in advance, as popular varieties may sell out. To grow a Christmas crop in a greenhouse, buy cold-stored tubers in late June or July.

Recommended Varieties

Showing 3 out of 15 varieties


Potatoes are mainly planted in spring, over several weeks, according to the type of variety:

  • First earlies – plant around late March
  • Second earlies – plant in early to mid-April
  • Maincrops – plant in mid- to late April

The timing also depends on where you are in the country – plant slightly later in colder regions and earlier in milder ones. To give your potatoes an early start, you can ‘chit’ or sprout the tubers before planting (see below), so growth gets underway more quickly.

There are also a couple of other planting options, to extend the cropping season:

  • To grow an extra early crop – plant chitted seed potatoes of early varieties at the beginning of March, into large containers in a frost-free greenhouse. Keep them indoors in good light for a crop by about mid-May
  • To grow a winter/Christmas crop – plant prepared (cold-stored) seed potatoes in July or early August, into a large container in a greenhouse or bright frost-free location. Keeping them indoors also protects them from blight

Chitting potatoes

Related RHS Guides
Chitting potatoes
Chitting simply means allowing seed potatoes to start sprouting before you plant them. It’s not essential, but is worthwhile with early varieties to get them off to a head start, so they produce an even earlier crop. For both first and second early varieties, start chitting in late January in milder areas and up to early March in colder spots. The process takes four to six weeks – see our guides above for full details. If you don’t have the time or space to chit your early seed potatoes, they will still grow perfectly well, but will just take a few weeks longer to crop. There’s no real advantage to chitting maincrop varieties, as they grow over a much longer period.

Planting in the ground

Potatoes need an open, sunny growing site, not prone to late frosts, as the young shoots are susceptible to frost damage in April and May. They like rich, fertile soil, so dig in plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure before planting, especially if your soil is light – see our guide to soil types. If possible, do this the previous autumn or winter. You can also apply a general-purpose fertiliser.

To plant, dig a trench 15cm (6in) deep, place the seed potatoes along the base with the sprouts upwards. Cover with at least 2.5cm (1in) of soil, taking care not to damage the sprouts, and water well. Alternatively, you can dig individual holes for each seed potato.

  • Earlies – plant 30cm (1ft) apart, in rows 60cm (2ft) apart
  • Maincrops – plant 37cm (15in) apart, in rows 75cm (30in) apart

See our potato planting guide and potato success for more details. Take care to grow potatoes in a different location each year, to avoid any build-up of diseases and other problems in the soil – see our guide to crop rotation.

With no-dig gardening, you can shallow-plant the seed potatoes, then add a deep layer of organic matter on top. The crop is then easy to harvest by simply pulling the potatoes out of the mulch.

Planting in containers 

If you don’t have space in the ground, you can grow potatoes in large containers, where they’ll produce a modest but valuable crop. Early varieties are the most suitable, as the plants are smaller and mature more quickly. Choose a container at least 30cm (12in) wide and deep, and half-fill with 15cm (6in) of peat-free multi-purpose compost. Plant one seed potato per 30cm (12in) of pot diameter, setting them just below the surface. Once shoots start to appear, add more compost gradually as they grow, until the container is full.

If you have a frost-free greenhouse or similar location to keep the container, you can grow a very early batch of new potatoes or a very late crop in winter.

Plant one seed potato in a 30cm pot, position it in full sun and keep it well watered


Plant Care

Earthing up potatoes 

Potato plants are traditionally ‘earthed up’, which means mounding up soil around the stems as they grow. This protects the shoots from frost damage in late spring and ensures the developing potatoes aren’t exposed to light, which turns them green and inedible. It’s a simple process – once the shoots are about 23cm (9in) tall, draw soil up around them to form a ridge along the row, leaving just the top 10cm (4in) of the plants visible. As the stems grow taller, repeat the process several times, a few weeks apart. The final height of the ridge should be 20–30cm (8–12in). But if you are unable to earth up, or don’t have time, you should still get a good crop.

Follow a similar process for potatoes in containers. From half-full at planting time, gradually add more potting compost as the stems grow, until the surface ends up just below the pot rim.

Use a hoe to pile earth up around the potato plants along the row


To ensure a good crop, keep potato plants well watered in dry weather – particularly early on, when the tubers are starting to form. Potatoes in containers need regular and generous watering throughout the growing season, especially if kept in a greenhouse. Even outdoors, the dense foliage will prevent rainwater reaching the compost, so water even during wet weather to make sure you get a decent harvest.


Maincrop potatoes benefit from a nitrogen-rich fertiliser around the time of the second earthing up.


Weed regularly for the first month or two after planting, so the young plants don’t have to compete for light, water and nutrients. See our tips on controlling weeds. Once potato plants are growing strongly and have plenty of leaves, weeding isn’t usually necessary as they will generally shade out any competition. Repeated earthing up also helps to deter weeds.

Protecting from frost

Frost can damage young potato plants, so if freezing temperatures are forecast after shoots have appeared, protect them with a cloche or some hessian or straw overnight, or cover with soil or garden compost. With plants in containers, keep them in a frost-free place such as a greenhouse until there’s no longer any risk of frost outdoors.



You can harvest from early summer to autumn, if you grow early and maincrop varieties
Harvesting potatoes is the really fun part – carefully lifting your plants to discover the size of your underground treasure is a thrill that never fades, however many years you’ve been growing potatoes. But it can be difficult to judge when to harvest, as the crop isn’t visible. So before you dig up your first plant, gently scoop away some of the soil to check on the size of the tubers. Cover them again if you decide they’re not yet big enough.

Early potatoes and maincrop potatoes mature at different times over the summer. Harvest times can also vary across the UK and from year to year, depending on the weather. But as a general guide:

  • First early varieties should be ready to lift in June and July
  • Second earlies in July and August
  • Maincrop varieties from late August through to October

With earlies, wait until the flowers open or the buds drop. The tubers should be the size of hens’ eggs. With maincrops, start lifting them in late summer for immediate use. You can leave them in the ground until needed, and they will keep growing larger, but the longer they’re in the soil, the more likely they are to get damaged by slugs.

Dig up potatoes carefully, inserting your fork at least 30cm (1ft) away from the base of the plant to avoid spearing the tubers. Discard any potatoes that are green, as they’re potentially poisonous. If you only want a few potatoes at a time, try digging down carefully beside a plant with a trowel – you should be able to remove a few individual potatoes without disturbing the plant’s roots, so it can continue growing.

Potatoes grown in containers are really easy to harvest, without the risk of accidentally damaging them – gently tip out the contents and simply pick out your potatoes by hand.

Early potatoes are best used as soon as possible after harvesting. Maincrops can either be used fresh or stored for several months and eaten gradually when needed through the winter. If you want to store maincrop potatoes, delay harvesting until the leaves turn yellow, then cut off and remove all the top growth. Wait for 10 days, then dig up the tubers and leave them in the sun for a few hours to dry, then brush off the soil.



Maincrop potatoes usually store successfully for several months. Only store perfect, undamaged potatoes that are fully dry, and brush off any remaining soil. Keep them in a dry, cool, frost-free place, such as a garage, in paper or hessian sacks or on slatted trays in the dark (to prevent sprouting). Check them every few weeks for signs of rotting, and enjoy regularly through the winter months. Aim to finish them before early spring, as they’ll start to sprout and shrivel.


Guide Start
Section 7 of 7

Potatoes are easy to grow and usually produce a large, reliable crop. However, they can be affected by several diseases or be eaten by various soil-dwelling creatures such as slugs, which particularly like to tunnel into maincrop tubers during damp autumn weather. Blight can be a wide-spread problem in some summers, depending on the weather, but you can still usually harvest and eat the crop if you act quickly, although the potatoes won’t be suitable for storing. 

To avoid the build-up of problems in the soil, grow potatoes in a new position each year – see our guide to crop rotation. Some potato varieties are also less susceptible to certain diseases. See Common problems below for more advice on tackling the main growing issues.

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