a potato being planted into soil with the buds facing upwards

Do You Plant Potatoes With The Eyes Up Or Down?

How many times have you forgotten about that bag of potatoes in your pantry only to find them covered in strange, bumpy growth? These growths are buds or sprouts which grow from the potato eyes, and they look rather unappetizing. Some people toss the entire potato thinking it’s no good, while others cut the small buds off before cooking it. But did you know that you could actually plant these potatoes to grow more potatoes?

Where are the eyes on a potato?

The “eyes”of a potato are the indentations on the potato’s surface where a bud or sprout will grow from. These eyes can occur anywhere on the potato. Most often we refer to a bud as being the initial growth from the eye which is less than 1/4 of an inch long- when this grows 1/2 inch and longer it is most commonly referred to as a sprout.

Buds starting to grow from the eyes of this Kerrs Pink potato.
Buds starting to grow from the eyes of this Kerrs Pink potato.

If left alone, the eyes will start to sprout and continue to grow longer and longer. While the growth of a sprout on a potato doesn’t alter the taste of the potato, growing sprouts will cause the potato to dry out, making the potato flesh rubbery and the skin wrinkly. It is perfectly ok to remove a couple of short buds growing on a potato but when the potato becomes a mass of buds it will most likely be very rubbery and is past saving and should be thrown out.

Eyes forming on potatoes is a natural process, but you can help slow down their formation by storing your potatoes in a cool, dry location away from other vegetables. Keep in mind that this usually won’t stop the eyes from growing indefinitely, but storing at cooler temperatures will slow down the emergence of buds/sprouts.

Do you plant potatoes with the eyes up or down?

Planting potatoes is not a difficult task, but there are many tips you learn over the years to grow these versatile vegetables optimally. If you are planting your seed potatoes by hand and placing them into the drill/bed/row you should plant them with the eyes facing upwards. By placing your potatoes with the buds/eyes facing upwards the potato plant stems will reach the surface sooner. This will mean your potato plant will establish its leaves faster and be ready for harvesting earlier in hopefully better weather.

To say you plant the potato with the eyes facing upward is misleading, as a potato has eyes positioned all around its surface. I am referring to the side of the potato with the longest buds or sprouts as being placed uppermost in the soil.

Potato plants grow best in loose soil that is free from rocks and debris. Before planting, you may also want to add soil amendments, such as compost rich in organic matter, to help improve the quality of the soil. One part compost and 2 parts garden soil is generally a good ratio for potato soil. Growing potatoes in rocky or compacted soil, usually means the plants won’t have enough soil, air, water, or nutrients to grow properly and you will experience low yields.

potato plants emerging through the surface of the soil
Potato plants emerging through the surface of the soil.

Plant each potato about 6-inches deep and keep a space of about 12-inches between each plant. This will give the plant enough room to grow and spread without impeding on the other plants. If you are planting multiple rows, keep 36-inches between each one.

As the potatoes begin to grow underground, their shoots will start to emerge from the surface of the soil. When this occurs, you may need to cover them with additional soil if you have not planted the seed potato deep enough. This process is called hilling, and it protects the potato tubers from being exposed to sunlight. When the plant starts to produce potatoes around the flowering stage check that no potatoes are showing out of the soil. If there are, cover them with about 4-inches of soil. You may need to repeat this process later during the growing season.


What happens if I plant the potato with the eyes down?

Planting potatoes with the eyes facing upward is the best course of action. That doesn’t mean, however, that you’re in trouble if you plant them with their eyes facing down. Most seed potatoes grown by farmers are planted into the soil by a potato planting machine which places the seed potato at a pre-determined depth – it cannot plant the seed potato in the soil with the longest buds/ sprout uppermost.

Potato planting machines cannot place seed potatoes with the longest sprouts uppermost.
Potato planting machines cannot place seed potatoes with the longest sprouts uppermost.

It is of no major consequence if the seed potatoes are planted with the longest sprouts/eyes facing downwards. This is because eyes and sprouts will generally appear on all sides of the potato sooner or later and will all reach the surface of the soil eventually. The time for a potato to reach the surface of the soil if it had been planted with its longest buds facing downward compared to upwards is only an extra few days to a week maximum.


Can you plant potatoes without eyes/buds?

Yes, the potato does not need to have buds showing on the seed potato before planting. You can plant potatoes before buds have appeared, although it’s better to wait until the buds have started sprouting before planting as it gives the plant a headstart. This can lead to the plant establishing above ground earlier, as well as a potential for higher yields from a slightly longer growing season.

These seed potatoes are being used for planting - their buds are very small- but they will still grow as normal.
These seed potatoes are being used for planting – their buds are very small- but they will still grow as normal.

If your potatoes don’t have sprouts, you can help them appear by a process known as chitting. Chitting is a process that encourages potatoes to sprout, and it is a good idea to start it a few weeks before you plan to plant the potatoes. Place the seed potatoes with visible eyes facing upwards in a shallow box or egg carton, making sure to keep the lid open. Set the box or carton in a dark room that stays at about 70-degrees Fahrenheit. After about a week, the eyes will start sprouting.

A seed potato with good buds for planting
A seed potato with good buds ready for planting

At the 2-week mark, move the sprouted seed potatoes to a cooler room that stays about 50-degrees. This room should also have some light, which will help keep the sprouts healthy and green. Three weeks after you begin the chitting process, the sprouts should be green and ready to plant. When the sprouts measure about 1 to 2 inches long, you can choose to divide each seed potato into sections if you are short on seed or if the seed potatoes are very large. Divide the seed potato into pieces, making sure each piece has no less than 3 sprouts. Wait a few days after cutting to plant the pieces. This will give the piece enough time to heal the delicate exposed flesh and turn dry or leathery.

Summary

It is of no real consequence if you plant your potatoes with the eyes/sprouts facing up or down, as all the sprouts will eventually reach the surface and form the potato plant above the surface of the soil. However, if you are planting your seed potatoes by hand and have the opportunity to place each seed potato with the longest buds facing upwards then why not take advantage of the natural headstart nature has provided you with? Planting a potato with the longest sprouts upward will reach the surface of the soil sooner and establish your potato plant quicker. Happy planting!