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Still time to plant potatoes

A potato plant emerges from the soil. Once green shoots of the plant emerge, plan to hill soil up along the plant base. (Submitted photo)

Q: Is it too late to plant potatoes?

— Ed from Struthers

A: Anytime in springtime is a good time to plant potatoes.

Potatoes are cool season plants. As soon as the soil warms, potatoes may be planted. While they could have been planted a couple weeks ago, nearly any type can be planted now and you can plant over the next couple of months.

They grow best in a well-drained sandy soil, so hilling up the area at planting time can help if you have clay soil or drainage issues in your garden.

There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes. What is your favorite? Russets have light brown skin and are mealy and dry-fleshed — good for baking and mashing. A waxy, or moist-fleshed, round potato holds together when cooked — good for potato salad or soup. My favorite is Yukon gold with a balance of mealy starch and waxy flesh.

Potato plants start from tubers (seed pieces) rather than from true seeds. Some tubers are small whole potatoes 1 to 1.25 inches in diameter. These are ideal and do not need divided. Larger tubers can be cut into chunks making sure each piece has at least one eye. Place the cut pieces on a tray at room temperature to cure for a few days.

Now it’s time to plant.

Plant seed pieces cut side down, 10 to 12 inches apart and 3 to 4 inches deep. The rows in the garden should be at least 24 inches wide.

Cover the seed pieces with 4 inches inches of soil or compost. Potatoes should be fertilized, following the directions on the label. Start at four weeks after planting and side-dress fertilizer along side of the rows. Once green shoots of the plant emerge, plan to hill soil up along the plant based. This is to protect the tubers near the surface from turning green, continue as plants grow so by end of season will have hilled approximately 6 to 8 inches of soil around plants. The potato will need a second fertilizer application two weeks after first hilling.

Like most of our plants in the vegetable garden, potatoes require approximately 1 inch of rainfall per week. A soaker hose, irrigation tape or jugs with one small hole in the bottom can provide slow, uniform, deep moisture to the plant’s roots.

Weed control is a necessary evil. Newspapers over the soil can limit weed emergence.

Common problems are flea beetles and leaf hoppers. The best way to avoid disease is good cultural control practices such as crop rotation and using certified seed potatoes purchased from your local garden center.

Harvesting potatoes is a fun time. Mature potatoes are ready when plant has died down. Gently dig trying not to damage your potatoes. The estimated yield from10 pounds of seed tubers 50 pounds of potatoes. If you prefer small, new potatoes, dig the plants seven to eight weeks after planting. To do this, dig down a foot, turn the plant over and pull off tender potatoes.

If you need to store a lot of potatoes, you need a cool 42 to 50 degrees area that is dark and moist. Brush dirt off potato — do not wash. Any green skinned areas on potato should be cut off and not eaten.

To learn more about potatoes, go to http://go.osu.edu/potatoes.

Kacenski is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. Call 330-533-5538 to submit your questions to the plant clinic. Live clinic hours are 10 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays.

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