Plant potatoes in autumn

ClareBroommaker's picture

This is a quote from an advertising email I've received from Peaceful Valley garden sales.

Fall is upon us, and it's time to consider an often-overlooked opportunity in the gardening calendar: Fall Potato Planting!
It's a fantastic way to get ahead of spring cutworms and weeds. You can put those little greenish potatoes that you may have forgotten about to good use.

Why Plant Potatoes in the Fall?
Beat the Pests: Gardening experts in Wisconsin recommend fall potato planting so you can establish your plants ahead of spring cutworms and weeds.

Soil Temperatures: If your soil gets cold and stays cold in winter, with temperatures 8 inches below the surface staying below 48°F, fall potato planting can be very successful for you.

Volunteer Potatoes: If your garden has a history of volunteer potatoes, then this method should work out well for you.

Now, I've only grown potatoes once and it did not go well. I spring planted. I did not have either intuition or knowledge about growing potatoes. Is autumn planting commonly done? What about rot, spring weeds, and winter hungry animals? The link for info in the email did not work for me, and I'd like to hear from you all anyway.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I generally have not had success with Fall planted potatoes. I have tried it perhaps 4 or 5 times but no longer do it. I will sometimes get a few volunteers in the Fall from potatoes that were missed from digging the Spring planted ones and collectively may get a few lbs yield from those if the first freeze is late enough. Other than hilling up once they don't typically get much nurturing. YMMV as your climate is a bit cooler than mine.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I looked back through my gardening notes and found that in 2016 I had a fairly good yield of 25 lbs from 38 feet of row of Fall planted potatoes. That year had a much later than typical first hard freeze. Several attempts in later years had minimal yield so I finally quit further attempts.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

This year I did hill up a dozen or so volunteers. They got slightly more than the usual minimal nurturing as I did snake some drip tape among them. Of the 21 years of records at this location, this was the driest September/October with a combined rainfall of 0.95" and only 0.2" of that in October. The next two driest years were both 2+". My median date for first freeze is November 1 and it was right on schedule this year. This was not a particularly favorable location for late season growth due to trees to the South causing shade for much of the day. Direct sunlight on a clear day was probably on the order of only 2-3 hours for the month of October. I dug them yesterday an got 7 lbs which figures to about 1/2 lb per plant which was more than I expected from them. In a good year the Spring planted ones produce on the order of 1 lb per plant.

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Sweet Tatorman's picture

Here is what I got.

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mountainmoma's picture

I havent tried it but in my location, as tempting as it is, I dont think it will work. I think my tubers would rot or grow in january when we tend to get a warm spell, followed by a february hard frost. This makes certain fruit trees difficult too.

But, in my area, I typiclly have a long mild fall, so can do 2 crops of potatoes, the last planted july or august

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Upon rereading the original post I think I may have misunderstood. If by Fall planted it is meant planted in the Fall to overwinter for harvest the next year such as is done with "Winter wheat", this sounds like a totally bad idea for my climate and I think by extension, yours.

Ken's picture

Fall planting of potatoes is probably worth a try, especially if you have some that have green spots or are trying to sprout on you and can't eat anyway. Your location and the potato variety will undoubtedly influence your success rate. I've planted potatoes in January as a "give it a try", figuring if they didn't make it, I could replant at the more normal time for my area (St. Patrick's Day). That was a year with a January warm spell and then freezes and snow in February but the potatoes did fine and I was harvesting potatoes in early MAY. They, of course, wouldn't keep at that point and had to be eaten quickly, so if you do try fall planted potatoes, don't plant more than you can eat or give away. Spring planting/Fall harvesting gives me a few months of decent (passive) storage. But even with a good root cellar, in my climate (USDA 8b) potatoes want to sprout in the early Spring. As to volunteers, I have a policy of zero tolerance. Potatoes should not be grown year over year on the same ground and that is exactly what a volunteer is doing. You really do need to rotate them around to different beds to avoid a build-up of potato destroying pests and diseases. Think of your garden beds as little ecosystems; if you bring in a bunch of fat, tasty spuds, all those things that eat fat, tasty spuds are going to have a population explosion... kind of like fossil fuels and humans but on a smaller scale!

ClareBroommaker's picture

Thanks, all, for the input. Sure enough, I don't think autumn planting for spring harvest would work for me. The biggest problem I would foresee is warm-ups through winter causing the stem growth to a soil level where it would subsequently freeze, or even to above ground where it would freeze.

I think this is a practice for areas with consistent cold followed by a sudden-ish spring uninterrupted by freezes.