Crunchy, fluffy roasties, silky-smooth mash, straight-out-the-ground new potatoes, chip-shop chips or crispy French fries, many will swear that potatoes always taste better if you’ve grown them yourself.
They’re a versatile, hearty, and staple crop that can thrive in the UK’s climate with the right care and preparation, and growing potatoes in Britain can be a rewarding endeavour for both seasoned gardeners and those new to the gardening scene.
So if you want to know when to sow potatoes in the UK, and also when to chit potatoes in the UK – we’ll explain what chitting is later in the article – this article aims to provide gardeners of all skill levels with comprehensive insights on how and when to plant potatoes in the UK.
When to Plant Potatoes in the UK
The key to a good crop is knowing when to sow potatoes. In the UK, the weather can play a huge part in determining the correct time to get them in the ground but generally speaking, the first crop of potatoes – known as ‘earlies’ – can be planted in mid-March and will usually be ready in about ten weeks.
The next crop – known as ‘second earlies’ – can be sown a couple of weeks later and take up to fifteen weeks, and maincrop potatoes such as King Edward, can be planted from mid-April to early May and can take as long as twenty weeks.
Understanding these differences is crucial for planning your planting schedule to ensure a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. In some parts of the UK, especially in colder regions, gardeners might need to wait until late March or early April to plant ‘earlies’ to avoid frost damage.
What is Chitting?
Knowing when to chit potatoes in the UK can make the difference between an average harvest and a bumper harvest.
Chitting is the process of pre-sprouting seed potatoes before planting them in the ground. To chit potatoes, place them in a cool, bright, frost-free area (like a windowsill) with plenty of natural light around early to mid-February.
Arrange the seed potatoes with the end that has the most ‘eyes’ (small indentations from which sprouts will grow) facing upwards. This can be done using an egg carton or a shallow box to hold them in place.
Over a period of about 4-6 weeks, you’ll notice small shoots beginning to emerge from the eyes. Once these shoots are about two centimetres (one inch) long, your potatoes are ready to be planted. This pre-sprouting process helps to give the potatoes a head start, leading to earlier and potentially larger crops.
While this is a good guideline, it’s important to note that the timing should be adjusted based on the planned planting date. As we mentioned, chitting usually takes 4-6 weeks, so you should time it so that the sprouted potatoes are ready to plant at the optimal time for their specific region.
How to Grow Potatoes in the UK
Planting potatoes is a straightforward process that can yield a generous harvest with a bit of care and attention. Here’s a basic step-by-step guide to get you started.
Choose Your Potatoes
Whether it’s earlies, second earlies, or maincrop, decide what potato varieties you want to grow based on your harvesting – and eating – preference. Early varieties are great for new potatoes in the summer, while maincrop varieties are harvested later.
Prepare the Soil
After you’ve chitted your potatoes, choose a sunny, frost-free spot in the garden. Prepare the soil by digging and loosening it, removing weeds, and adding compost or well-rotted manure for nutrients. Ensure the soil is well-drained to prevent rot.
Plant Your Potatoes
Plant seed potatoes about 12-15 centimetres (5-6 inches) deep, with 30 centimetres (12 inches) between each potato and 60 centimetres (24 inches) between rows. For earlies, spacing can be slightly reduced. These depths and distances may need to be adjusted slightly due to the soil type and potato variety so please check before you commit your spuds to the soil.
Earthing up is the process of mounding soil around the base of the plants when they reach 20 centimetres (8 inches) or so tall. This protects shoots from frost and prevents the tubers from turning green and toxic. You should repeat this process as the plant grows.
Keep the soil moist, especially during dry periods. Potatoes need more water once they start flowering.
As important as knowing when to plant potatoes in the UK is knowing when to pick potatoes. UK gardeners with experience will know when to harvest them, but for those with less experience or who are venturing into the garden for the first time, here’s a ready reckoner.
Earlies and second earlies are usually ready about ten weeks after planting when the flowers open or the foliage begins to yellow. Gently lift the plant to check if the potatoes are of a suitable size and if they are, get them out of the ground at this stage.
For your maincrop spuds, wait until the foliage dies back, usually around 15-20 weeks after planting. Maincrop varieties benefit from being left in the ground a bit longer to develop a thicker skin for storage.
LIke all crops, it’s important to monitor your potatoes and adjust harvesting times based on their growth and development.
Talking of storage, you should only store maincrop potatoes. Cure them in a dry, sunny spot for a few days to toughen up the skin, brush off any remaining soil, then put them in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place to prevent ‘greening’. Put any damaged or rotten potatoes in your composting bin.
Generally speaking, the question of how to grow potatoes in the UK is quite straightforward. By following these steps, you can enjoy a healthy and plentiful potato harvest. Whether you’re growing in a garden or in containers, the process is rewarding and yields delicious results. In addition to the above guide to growing potatoes in the UK, there are a few additional tips to keep in mind:
Avoid planting potatoes in the same spot every year to prevent the build-up of pests and diseases.
Use horticultural fleece or cloches to protect early plantings from frost.
Pests and Diseases
Keep an eye out for common issues like potato blight and take action as needed.
Knowing when to plant potatoes in the UK and how to grow potatoes can be a rewarding gardening experience. If you time the chitting and planting just right, and by following the essential steps for planting and care, you can enjoy a sackful of splendid spuds all year round.