It’s a bit late, we hear you all mutter. It’s true; it is a bit late to be planting homegrown potatoes in Jacksonville FL. Our UF Planting Guide for Northeast Florida (USDA zone 9a) starts us planting in January. Our own Beth Marlowe, of the Urban Garden, puts hers in the ground in February. But you can go early in March, especially on years where we have a late final frost.
Potatoes are not hard to grow as long as you know a few of their specific needs. The tubers, which are specialized underground stems, are sensitive to soil temperature. They need at least 50° F., form best when soil temperatures are between 60-70° F., and fail to form above 80° F.
In addition to their soil temperature range, potatoes need
- well-drained, slightly acidic (pH 5-6) nutrient-rich soil
- consistent moisture
- at least 6-8 hours of full sun
Seed pieces are planted 3-4 inches deep with cut side down and eyes facing up, either in the ground, or in a deep container with plenty of room around the seed potato.
Roughly 2 weeks after planting the potatoes must be “hilled.” Rake or pile soil up around the young plant, burying it up to the crown. Hilling blocks sunlight from reaching developing potatoes and turning them green. Sunlight can cause buildup of toxic alkaloids and make them unsafe to eat.
Continue hilling throughout the growing season as necessary to cover the tubers.
Fertilize every 3-4 weeks after planting.
Hand cultivation will help reduce competition and keep insects and diseases away from your crop.
In about 90 days (more or less, depending on variety), you can gently dig potatoes for harvest. If you want to store them after harvest, wait until 2-3 weeks after the plants die back before digging. Try not to damage the skins. Place potatoes in a single layer in a cool, dark well-ventilated area to cure for 10-14 days. This will allow them to be stored for 3-6 months.
Many varieties can be successfully grown here. At the demonstration garden, we have fruitfully grown ‘Peter Wilcox,’ a purple-skinned cultivar with a golden interior and excellent taste. It can be roasted, boiled, or fried. In Florida Potato Variety Trials, it exhibited high yields. We grow potatoes from February to May, though not every year.
Potatoes must be planted in a location that has NOT had a relative sown for several seasons. (Relatives include tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. – all members of the Solanaceae family.) Do not plant potatoes in the same place they have been planted within the last 3 years! Crop rotation helps to reduce buildup of insect and disease problems.
Our own Paula Weatherby, a longtime master gardener and writer for the Times Union recently described a small community near Hastings, FL called Spuds where they have been potato farming since the 1700s. By 1901, the area had been dubbed the “Potato Capital of Florida”, even getting its own post office in 1911. Today, few of the community’s buildings remain, but the farms continue to produce abundant winter and early spring potato harvests, such that Florida is ranked 7th in the United States for potato production. Read more about Homegrown Potatoes in Jacksonville, FL
For more information about growing potatoes here in Florida, you can find a great article filled with the latest research-based intel at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/HS183
PS – You may say potato, but no-one says potahhhto! That tomato/tomahto thing, though? That’s real.
PPS – What about cabbage…since you’re talking St. Patrick’s Day? We got that too – UF researched summary on cabbage – and guess what? They’re grown in the Hastings area, too!