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9 Common Potato-Growing Problems & How to Fix Them

Potatoes are a staple crop in many diets the world over. Of course, here in the United States, we generally prefer our potatoes fried. Every grocery store in America has an entire aisle dedicated to our love of salty potato chips. And the frozen foods section boasts bag after bag of fried potato foods. French fries, tots, hashbrowns, home fries – we love our potatoes.

Despite how inexpensive they are at the store, more and more gardeners are choosing to grow their own potatoes. Growing potatoes is easy, allows you to skip the pesticides and gives you the freedom of choosing from a ton of different varieties.

But, like any other gardening venture, you’ll encounter growing issues specific to potatoes in your quest for homegrown spuds.

Not to worry! I’m going to cover the nine most common potato-growing problems you’re likely to run into. Be it pests, diseases or environmental issues, I’ll talk about each and provide solutions for them. Of course, this applies to your standard “white” potato; growing sweet potatoes is another topic!

You’ll be a spud-growing master in no time, so have your air-fryer prepped and ready because there’s nothing quite like a batch of homemade fries using potatoes you’ve grown yourself.

Hand holding a newly harvested potato

A Potato Primer

Before diving into potential problems, let’s recap the basics of potato growing:

Choosing Potato Varieties

Potatoes come in various types, each suited to different culinary uses and growing conditions:

  • Early Varieties: These quick-maturing potatoes are ideal for harvesting early in the season. They don’t store well, so use them up quickly.
  • Maincrop Varieties: Larger potatoes that take longer to mature but yield bigger tubers that can be stored for months.
  • Specialty Varieties: Includes fingerling potatoes (my favorite) and colorful purple potatoes.
Fingerling potatoes in baskets

Select varieties based on your growing zone, available space, preferred harvest time, and, most importantly, what you want to make with them. They’re suited to different culinary uses based on their varying starch content and texture.

  • For potato salads, waxy potatoes like Red Bliss or Yukon Gold are ideal—they hold their shape well after boiling and have a creamy texture.
  • For crispy French fries, high-starch potatoes such as Russets (also known as Idaho potatoes) are preferred due to their fluffy interior when fried.
  • Fingerling potatoes, with their thin skins and buttery texture, are great for roasting or adding to stews.
  • Then you’ve got your all-purpose potatoes like Yukon Golds, suitable for mashing, baking, or making gratins.

The choice of potato can significantly impact the outcome of a dish.

Soil Preparation

Potatoes prefer well-drained, loose soil rich in organic matter; dig in some compost before planting. Keep your rows 12-18 inches apart with 3-4” between each seed potato.

Planting Potatoes

Use potatoes you’ve grown and chitted yourself or certified seed potatoes from a reputable source to minimize disease risk. Larger seed potatoes can be cut into smaller pieces, each containing at least one or two eyes (buds). Plant seed potatoes 3-4 inches deep, eyes facing upward, and cover with soil.

Watering and Fertilizing

Potato plants

Maintain consistent moisture, especially during tuber formation, but avoid overwatering to prevent rot.

You can side-dress potatoes with a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) when the plants are about 6-8 inches tall and again after flowering.

Hilling

Mound the soil or mulch around potato plants as they grow to prevent tubers from being exposed to sunlight, which causes greening and bitterness. You’ll need to do this twice during the growing season.

Harvesting Potatoes

Harvest earlies when the potatoes are small and tender, typically 75-90 days after planting. Maincrop potatoes are ready for harvest 90-120 days after planting. Cure maincrop potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area for 1-2 weeks before storing them in a cool, humid environment to prevent sprouting.

Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s explore the most common problems that potato growers may encounter and how to manage them effectively.

Common Potato-Growing Problems and How to Fix Them

1. Potato Blight (Late Blight)

Brown potato leaves with blight

Probably the most troublesome of all potato issues is potato blight. This stuff spreads on the wind and rain and can remain dormant in the soil for years. It’s no laughing matter when it shows up in your neck of the woods, as it can easily wipe out an entire crop within days and stick around for ages.

Symptoms: Dark spots on leaves that spread rapidly, causing them to yellow, wither, and die. White mold may develop on the underside of leaves in humid conditions.

Management

Prevention: As always, prevention is the best medicine; unfortunately, despite your best efforts, sometimes potato blight is inevitable if it’s already in your area. You can mitigate it by planting blight-resistant potato varieties and ensuring your spuds are spaced appropriately with good air circulation. You can apply a copper-based fungicide in humid weather as a preventative.

Treatment: Remove and destroy infected foliage immediately. Do not put any part of these plants in your compost. Burn them or put them in the garbage. Unfortunately, if you get hit with potato blight, your potato season is over.

2. Potato Scab

Potato covered in scabs
Not pretty, but still edible.

Symptoms: Rough, corky patches on potato tubers that may be superficial or deeper. Happily, these only make for funky-looking potatoes. They don’t affect the taste. But if you’re looking to grow perfect potatoes or you’re wondering why your spuds are wonky, this could be it. It’s a microorganism that often hitches a ride on infected seed potatoes. (This is a good reason to use Fawn’s Potato Slip Growing Method.)

Management

Prevention: Plant scab-resistant varieties. Maintain soil pH around 5.5-6.0 and avoid over-fertilizing. (She’s going to say it again, I just know it.) I recommend you get your soil tested each year. (You just couldn’t help yourself, Tracey, could you.)

Treatment: Remove affected tubers at harvest. Rotate crops and avoid planting potatoes in the same soil for a few years. However, if you have a very small garden, crop rotation is moot.

3. Potato Virus Y (PVY)

Yellowing potato leaves

It sounds scary. Potato Virus Y.

Symptoms: Leaf curling, stunted growth, yellowing, and distorted leaves. Potato virus Y will significantly put a dent in your harvest.

Management

Prevention: Plant certified disease-free seed potatoes. This will help with all manner of potato issues. Control aphids (we’ll get to them in a bit), which transmit the virus, with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Treatment: Unfortunately, there is no cure for PVY. Remove and destroy infected plants as soon as possible to help prevent the virus from spreading.

4. Potato Cyst Nematodes

Symptoms: Stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and reduced yield. Root cysts containing nematode eggs may be visible on roots.

Management

Prevention: Rotate crops regularly. Again, this really only works well if you have a larger garden. Look for certified nematode-free seed potatoes.

Treatment: Solarize soil by covering it with plastic in summer to kill nematodes. Consider planting trap crops like marigolds or brassica crops, which can help reduce nematode populations in the soil.

5. Colorado Potato Beetles

Colorado potato beetle larvae on a potato plant
These guys will make short work of the leaves of this potato plant.

Symptoms: Colorado potato beetles cause noticeable damage to potato plants. Suddenly, you’ll notice skeleton-like leaves from these munching menaces. Their orange-yellow eggs and striped larvae are commonly found on the undersides of leaves.

Management

Prevention: Plant early to avoid peak beetle populations. Maintain healthy soil and plants through proper care to reduce plant stress and susceptibility.

Treatment: Integrated pest management, the fancy agricultural way of saying, “Hit ‘em with everything you’ve got!” is the best approach. Handpicking beetles and larvae, using row covers to prevent adult beetles from laying eggs, and applying natural predators like ladybugs are all useful on their own but work best together. Monitor plants regularly for early signs of infestation to get ahead of them.

6. Wireworms

Hand holding a potato with a wireworm sticking out of it.
Um, not what you want to see when you harvest your potatoes.

Symptoms: Small, round holes in potato tubers caused by wireworm larvae feeding.

Management

Prevention: Keep your soil clear of debris and weed regularly. Wireworms thrive in undisturbed soil.

Treatment: Apply beneficial nematodes or milky spore to the soil to control wireworm populations naturally.

7. Aphids

Aphids on a potato leaf
Aphids carry PVY and can infect your plants.

Symptoms: Small, pear-shaped insects on new growth, causing distorted leaves.

Management

Prevention: Check your plants regularly for signs of aphids. Encourage natural predators like ladybugs or lacewings.

Treatment: Spray affected plants with insecticidal soap or neem oil to control aphid populations.

8. Potato Leafhoppers

Potato leaf with a potato leafhopper
These tiny, bright green bugs can cause a lot of grief.

Symptoms: Curled or yellowing leaves, reduced growth, and stunted plants due to leafhopper feeding.

Management

Prevention: Again, check your plants often for early signs of leafhoppers.

Treatment: Apply insecticidal soap or neem oil to control leafhopper populations. Remove and destroy severely infested plants.

9. Poor Soil Drainage

Yellowing leaves of a potato plant
Blotchy yellow leaves are often one fo the first indications of root rot.

There’s nothing quite like the smell of rotting potatoes. While it’s worse coming from your cupboard from that bag of potatoes you forgot you had. It’s no picnic when it comes from your garden. It means all your hard work was for naught.

Symptoms: Waterlogged soil, yellowing leaves, and stunted growth due to root rot.

Management

Prevention: Amend soil with organic matter to improve drainage. Plant potatoes in raised beds or skip the soil altogether and grow them under straw.

Treatment: Improve soil structure with compost, leaf mold or other decaying organic matter. Ensure proper spacing and avoid overwatering.

Growing potatoes is awesome because when they’re ready, it’s like a treasure hunt in the dirt. Knowing what common problems affect potato plants and having effective solutions means you can optimize your dirt treasure hunt and enjoy a bountiful crop of spuds.

Remember to check your plants regularly and choose disease-resistant varieties, and you’ll do just fine. Happy potato growing!


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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,

Tracey
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