how to hill up potatoes

How To Hill Up Potatoes: a guide using hand tools

Hello, fellow gardeners and potato enthusiasts! Today, we’ll be discussing an essential technique that can significantly improve your potato harvest: hilling. When you hill up potatoes, you’re encouraging the plants to produce more tubers, which means a bigger yield for you. This article will take you through the ins and outs of hilling, providing you with practical tips and techniques to maximize your potato-growing success. So, let’s get started!

What is hilling and why is it important?

Hilling, also known as earthing up, is the process of piling soil, compost, or straw around the base of potato plants as they grow. The main objective of hilling is to protect the potatoes from sunlight, which can cause them to develop a toxic compound called solanine. Solanine gives the potatoes a bitter taste and can even make them harmful to eat if consumed in large quantities. By covering the tubers, you’re ensuring that they remain safe, edible, and delicious.

Aside from protecting your potatoes from sunlight, hilling provides several other benefits:

  1. Weed control: hilling new soil onto the sides and top of the potatoes will cover the weeds and allow the potato tops time to grow bigger and beat the weeds.
  2. Enhanced root development: Hilling encourages the plant to produce more lateral roots, which in turn leads to a larger yield.
  3. Pest control: Covering the tubers makes it more difficult for pests like slugs and potato beetles to reach them.
  4. Improved drainage: By creating hills, you’re allowing excess water to drain away from the tubers, helping to prevent rot and other diseases.
  5. Easier harvesting: Potatoes that are hilled up are easier to dig out at harvest time, as they’re closer to the surface.

When to hill up potatoes

Timing is crucial when it comes to hilling. The process should be done at least twice during the growing season. Here’s a quick timeline to help you plan your hilling sessions:

  1. First hilling: When the potato plants are about 6 inches (15 cm) tall, hill them up by adding 2 inches (5 cm) of soil or compost around the base of each plant. This usually occurs 3-4 weeks after planting.
  2. Second hilling: 2-3 weeks after the first hilling, when the plants have grown another 6 inches (15 cm), repeat the process, adding another 2 inches (5 cm) of soil or compost.
  3. Optional third hilling: If your potato plants are growing exceptionally well and continue to produce new foliage, you may want to hill them up a third time, adding another 2 inches (5 cm) of soil or compost.

How to hill up potatoes: step-by-step guide

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into the detailed steps for hilling up your potatoes. These instructions apply whether you’re using soil, compost, or straw.

Step 1: Choose the right tools

To hill up your potatoes by hand, rather than hilling using a tractor you’ll need a few basic gardening tools:

  • A garden hoe or rake and shovel: These tools will help you gather and distribute soil or compost around your plants.
  • Gloves: Protect your hands while working in the garden from sharp objects in the soil.
  • A wheelbarrow or bucket: Use this to transport soil or compost to your potato plot.

Step 2: Prepare your soil or compost

If you’re using soil or compost, make sure it’s loose and weed-free. Break up any large clumps and remove stones or other debris that might hinder your plants’ growth.

Step 3: Hill up the potatoes

Starting at one end of your potato row, use your hoe or rake to carefully pull soil or compost around the base of each plant. Be gentle – you don’t want to damage the plants or their roots. Aim to add another 2 inches (5 cm) of soil onto the top and sides of the drill so that the soil extends at least 6 inches (15 cm) from the plant’s base on all sides. This will provide ample coverage for the tubers while still allowing the plant’s foliage to receive sunlight.

Step 4: Using straw as an alternative

If you prefer to use straw instead of soil or compost for hilling, you’ll follow a slightly different process. First, ensure that the straw is weed-free and dry. Spread a thick layer (approximately 6-8 inches or 15-20 cm) of straw around the base of each plant, covering the entire surface of the soil. Like with soil or compost, make sure the foliage remains exposed to sunlight but that the tubers cannot. I would advise the use of soil for hilling rather than straw.

Step 5: Water the plants

After hilling up your potatoes, give them a good watering. This will help settle the soil or compost and ensure that the roots have adequate moisture. Be sure not to overwater, as excess moisture can lead to rot and other diseases. This is especially true if you use straw, as it can hold the water for much longer.

Step 6: Monitor and maintain

Keep an eye on your potato plants throughout the growing season, checking for any exposed tubers. If you spot any, cover them with additional soil or compost to prevent solanine development. Also, watch out for weeds and pests, and address any issues promptly to maintain the health of your plants.

Step 7: Harvest time

Once your potato plants have flowered and the foliage begins to yellow and die back, it’s time to harvest your bounty. Since you’ve hilled up your potatoes, they should be easier to dig out of the ground. Use a garden fork or a spade to carefully loosen the soil around each plant, then gently lift the tubers out. Be sure to dig deep enough to retrieve all the potatoes, as some may be hidden further down in the soil.


Hilling up potatoes is a simple yet effective technique to ensure a bountiful harvest. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll protect your potatoes from sunlight, improve drainage, and promote better root development – all of which contribute to a healthier, more productive crop. With a bit of patience and care, you’ll soon be enjoying the fruits (or tubers) of your labour. Happy growing!