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How to Grow Potatoes – Potato Types Explained

Planting seed potatoes

Planting potatoes in March

Apart from clearing the garden and adding manure of compost to your soil, planting potatoes is the first proper thing you can do in the vegetable garden. In Ireland early potatoes are traditionally planted on St.Patrick’s day while in the rest of Europe it is the Spring equinox (yesterday as it happens) that signals the time to put early potatoes in the ground. The cold weather is starting to move off now so for many of you this weekend will be the perfect time to put in your spuds and kick off the growing year.

Chitted new potatoesPotato categories
Early, second early and maincrop varieties are categorised according to how long they take to mature. As long as it is warm enough you can plant all categories, staged planting is more about when you want to harvest the crop than when you can put them in.

I like to get my maincrop varieties in early as I don’t spray for blight so know I will be removing all the potato foliage when the disease hits in late Summer. Removing the above ground plant stops blight reaching the tubers (as long as you don’t leave it too late) but also stops the growth of your potatoes. I figure the more growth I can get done before this happens the better.

The downside is that they will also be ready early and will sprout in storage if the weather is still warm. I leave them in the ground until October so I can harvest them in cool weather but this does leave them open to slug attacks. There is never a perfect solution in gardening! Anyway, here’s the planting to picking times for the different potato types:

First earlies – Planting to picking – 90 days.
Plant mid march. Harvest late June/July

Second earlies – Planting to picking – 110 days.
Plant early April. Harvest July

Maincrop – Planting to picking – 135 days.
Plant mid to late April. Harvest October onwards.

Late Maincrop – Planting to picking – 160 days.
Plant mid to late April. Harvest October onwards.

Planting seed potatoes in MarchWhich type of potato to choose?
As shown above the different potato types are categorised by the time they take to mature but there is also a size difference both in the plant and the potato.

If you have a small garden you are better off growing early varieties because they will take up less room. Also, because they are ready from late Spring, you can use the bed again for follow on crop of another vegetable. Earlies also have the advantage of being ready before blight becomes a problem in the mid to late Summer so if you want to avoid spraying they are a good choice.

First and Second earlies produce smaller potatoes but what they lack in size is made up for in flavour. Earlies are dug and eaten as you need them so have the best fresh potato taste, you will never experience this from shop bought varieties. The fresh flavour is most apparent in first earlies, my favourite is ‘Red Duke of York’ which is floury yet firm with a delicious flavour.

Maincrop seed potatoMaincrop varieties have a higher yield and produce much larger potatoes. They are more suited to large gardens as they will need their growing space for the full season. While thin skinned earlies are not suited for storage, maincrop potatoes have a thicker skin and will keep all Winter. It is not always the case but as a rule of thumb early potatoes tend to be more waxy while maincrops tend to be more floury.

If you are growing maincrop potatoes and want to avoid spraying you need to choose blight resistant varieties like the Hungarian ‘Sarpo’ range. Blight resistant varieties will get blight in the end but will hold out for longer, the size of the crop will depend at what point you have to cut away the leaves and stems.

If you would like to learn more about growing potatoes have a look at our potato video below of click the blue button to view our potato blog articles.

Potato growing video

    1. Andrew

      Hi Alice
      Thank you for your question. I am afraid I don’t have any personal experience of growing potatoes in tropical countries but as all potatoes are natives of South America I expect most varieties will do well. The best place to start would be either a local garden club or seed supplier, they will best be able to advise on varieties best suited to your area.
      I hope this helps

  1. Mary o doherty

    Hi Andrew. Am new to vegetable gardening. Really enjoying your garden tutorials. Perfectly pitched for beginner gardeners. Mary.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Mary. Thank you for your kind comment. I am delighted you are finding the tutorials helpful, let me know if there is anything you would like me to cover.

  2. Mick Parle

    Hi.. what is the best potatoes to sow on east coast of Ireland (wicklow),in late July to have for Christmas dinner??!

    1. Andrew

      Hi Mick
      I would go for Charlotte but unfortunately we are out of stock. We still have some Gemson which are a nice pale skinned potato but in July it is usually down to whatever you can get! I hope this helps. Andrew

  3. rosaleen keating

    Hi Mick

    Another beginner here. The weather forecast for my area is for a lot of frost in the coming week. Should I delay the planting of my early potatoes until this has passed. I understand there is no perfect time but what would you do ?

    1. Andrew

      Hi rosaleen

      Who’s Mick? I would delay planting your potatoes until the soil has had a chance to dry out and is warmed a little as the weather improves towards the end of this week. With regard to frost, the issue is new shoots being damaged but these won’t be above ground for a another few weeks after you plant them. The last frost date is usually towards the end of April / early May so a good chance you will have a frost issue anyway. I would buy some inexpensive horticultural fleece which you can lay over the crop on frosty night which will protect down to -3 degrees. I hope this helps! Andrew

  4. rosaleen keating

    Hi Andrew, I planted my potatoes (earlies) Sharpes Express 84 days ago. They appear to be healthy and have leaves. But they have not flowered yet. Is it too soon ? Do all potatoes flower ?

    1. Andrew

      Hi Rosaleen. Sharpes Express should flower but sometimes potatoes don’t flower depending on the season. I would have a rummage in soil under one of your plants to see how they are getting on, they don’t need to have flowered before you harvest.

  5. Maurice

    Hi there,
    Wondering how long it should take for your Scottish seed potatoes to shoot after planting. They are in almost 3 weeks now…
    Thank you

    1. Andrew

      Hi Maurice, you should see them any day now. It generally takes 3-4 weeks when they are planted 10-15cm deep. Hope you get a great crop!

  6. Rune Rist Grorud

    Hi, I am writing to you from Norway. I’m growing a potato which is named after a miner who was married to a British girl. He brought a potato to Norway most likely from Scotland with the name Erlain Melodia or Erlain Puritan. Have anybody heared about this potato?

    1. Andrew

      Hi Rune, there are varieties called Melody and Puritan. Melody has yellow flesh and Puritan has white if this helps!

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