How To Get Potatoes To Sprout Eyes: preparation for planting

In this article i will show you how to get potatoes to sprout from their eyes which is also known as chitting seed potatoes. This is done a few weeks in advance of planting, which can mean your potatoes will be ready up to 2 weeks earlier than usual.

So you have decided to plant some potatoes, but you are unsure what steps if any are needed for this to happen. Past experience has taught me that preparation is key to many things, and growing potatoes is no exception.

How to get potatoes to sprout: the process

When you have sourced good quality seed potatoes the next thing to do is put the seed potatoes in a slatted wooden box or the base of an egg carton tray and place them somewhere inside, like a shed or an outbuilding, free from frost and with plenty of light.

Planting pre sprouted potatoes will mean your plant will mature earlier and allow you to harvest your potatoes earlier in the year.

  • Harvesting earlier in the year is better for you for a couple of reasons.
  • 1. You get to eat them sooner
  • 2. The later in the year the wetter the weather making it harder to harvest you potatoes in good (dry) conditions.

This practice is known as chitting seed potatoes.

Before you decide where you want to plant your potatoes, how to prepare your soil or even working out the amount or type of potato fertilizer you need – you should start with preparing your seed.

Finding a reputable seed potato supplier

Before you plant your seed potatoes in the ground you need to decide where you are going to buy them, depending on the amount of seed you require, you can purchase your seed from a number of different vendors.

I would encourage you to find a reputable seed potato supplier rather than just use ones left over in the bottom of your bag purchased at the supermarket or farm shop, as the potatoes purchased from a seed potato supplier either online or in your community should have been inspected either by the Department of Agriculture or a similar reputable body.

Now while you might think this is a bit extreme, and it will be ok to use the small potatoes in the bottom of the potato bag, some of these potatoes may be at their last planting.

These old seed potatoes have been degrading from the time of their first planting and you run the risk of having a poor to non existant crop and/ or introducing disease into your garden or plot of land and having nothing to show for it at the end of the years work.

If you start with bad seed, you are not giving yourself a very good chance of growing a great crop of potatoes. This can be accomplished either traditionally outdoors or you could even try growing potatoes indoors.

Buy graded seed potatoes

The grades of potatoes which are inspected by the department of agriculture in the US can be seen from this link:

https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/potatoes-grades-and-standards

If you grow a lot of potatoes you will usually go to a registered seed potato producer who will will sell you graded seed potatoes from half a ton upwards.

Depending on the grade they could be from $200 to $600 per ton, but there is nothing to say he/she couldn’t sell you a 50lbs bag, or even a handful, it all depends on the person and your relationship with them.

Buying seed potatoes online

There are many sites which sell seed potatoes online, some can be expensive and some may sell ungraded potatoes – you should check that the seed has been graded otherwise you could be buying poor quality seed.

If you don’t have any luck finding seed potatoes online – have a look at this article about selecting the best variety of potato to grow – it has some links to seed suppliers online.

If all else fails I would recommend visiting your local potato farmer i’m sure they wouldn’t mind helping you out with graded seed.

There is a deadline for the latest time of the year you can plant potatoes so be sure to plan your planting date well in advance. After this time the potatoes may not get enough time to mature and fully grow out.

How to get potatoes to sprout eyes

It is important that the place you put the potatoes is not susceptable to frost as this will kill your seed and make it unusable.

This gradual increase in temperature will encourage buds to grow on the seed potatoes- the buds will grow from the “eyes” on the potato. By prestarting the buds on the potatoes before you plant them will mean when conditions are right for planting you will have a headstart on the growing of the plant.

It is also important that the place is not too dark as this will encourage long soft white buds to grow – these will break off easily if knocked- which will be a waste of your time.

If you do notice that your buds are slightly white you can bring them out into the light ahead of your planting date and the white buds will turn into green leafy buds when the daylight get at them.

You should aim to have your buds 1cm to 2cm long and a green colour on your planting date.

An example of a chitted potato with perfect buds - green and less than 1/2 inch long.
An example of a chitted potato with perfect buds – green and less than 1/2 inch long.

Above: A potato with good buds- green and not too long.

A chitted potato with bad buds - fragile, long and easy to break
A chitted potato with bad buds – fragile, long and easy to break.

Above: A badly chitted seed potato- soft white buds getting long.

The majority of your potatoes should only have a few chits or buds.

If you find there are a few potatoes with lots of buds you can remove the excess to leave 2-4 buds.

This will help to ensure there isn’t too many stems fighting for competition leaving you with lots of small potatoes instead of a few large ones.

How long do seed potatoes take to sprout

The time it takes a potato to sprout depends mostly on the temperature it is kept at.

In most cases chitting takes place a couple a few weeks before planting and planting ocours from mid February to April so at these temperatures you should expect chitting to take from 1 to 2 weeks depending on your location.

Removing excess buds from seed potatoes

Sometimes a seed potato can produce buds from up to 10 different eyes – all we need is a couple of eyes to sprout.

Some people prefer to remove these excess buds to give more power to the couple they want.

This practice of removing buds is something easily done if you only have a few potatoes to plant or if you are planting in a bag or a small container.

If you have boxes upon boxes of seed potatoes I would not worry too much about having to remove buds.

It is more important that the buds you do have are green and not too long.

When the seed is planted into the soil the uppermost buds will automatically make their way to the surface.

Toughen your seed before planting

If the room you have the seed potatoes in for chitting is quite warm, I would advise you bring the seed outside to a cooler area three to four days before planting.

This will toughen the seed up before you plant it in the ground and take the shock out of it coming straight from warmish room to being planted in cold soil.

This can set the seed back a few days growing as it adjusts to the soil temperature.

Choosing what to sprout your potatoes in

The best type of container to sprout your potatoes in is a wooden box with slatted sides to let plenty of light and air in.

The light will prevent the buds going white and allowing air to flow through will help to prevent mould or damp conditions which could rot your seed. Get started today!

8 Comments
  1. I can say thanks for this advice as I have been planting potatoes I didn’t know this…

  2. Hello Simpiwe, you’re welcome! If you have any other questions please let me know.
    Richard

  3. Hi thank you for all the great advice (made easy to understand) some of my seed potatoes are huge do I cut them up before planting?

    • Hello Ali, yes you can cut the large potatoes up as long as each piece has an eye. I wouldn’t cut them any smaller than one square inch.
      Thanks
      Richard

  4. Hi, some of my seed potatoes have dark or blackish tips. Are they safe to plant?
    Note-I did have them in my basement where they did not get much light at all.

  5. If I have some extra potato “seed” potatoes w/chits, how long can I store them before planting or how long before they will go bad?

    Thank you

    • Hello Kay you should get them planted now as soon as possible. I would keep them in the daylight so they don’t grow big buds – they should be ok to use until they begin to shrivel up too much.

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