Potatoes are a common staple in the American diet and are often grown in the home garden. These starchy tubers are used for fries, mashed potatoes, and in casseroles, soups, and stews. It may surprise you to learn that even though potatoes are vegetables, the potato tubers aren’t really the fruit of a potato plant. The real fruit, an inedible green sphere that looks like a tiny green tomato, is poisonous and cannot be eaten. The potato fruit grows soon after the plant flowers – in this article, we will find out when the potato plant flowers.
When do potatoes flower?
Potato plants flower approximately 70 days from planting, but the flowering time can vary depending on the cultivar and whether you are growing early mid-season or late potatoes. Generally, early potatoes bloom first, followed by mid-season and finally late-season varieties. Typically, potatoes bloom in June or July, and the blooms last for two weeks or more.
The flowers may be either white or purple, depending on the variety of potatoes you are growing. Potato flowers attract bees and other pollinators to the garden. Even though your potato plants do not need to be pollinated for the tubers to grow, attracting pollinators benefits the rest of your garden.
Why do potatoes produce flowers?
Like all plants, potatoes produce flowers to make seeds and reproduce. But they are unique in that potatoes can reproduce both sexually via fertilization (pollination) of the flowers and form seeds and asexually via vegetative reproduction.
Potatoes grown from the seeds contained in the fruit may produce new varieties of potatoes, while potatoes grown from tubers produce potatoes identical to the parent plant.
Potato seeds, not to be confused with seed potatoes — the term used for potato tubers that have been certified as free of disease and safe for planting —are used for breeding new cultivars of potatoes. Potato tubers (seed potatoes) are used to grow more of the exact same potatoes.
What are the tiny green balls on my potato plants?
After blooming, you may notice clusters of tiny, green balls on your potato plants. These look like miniature, green, cherry tomatoes. They are the berry or fruit of the potato plant. As they mature, seeds inside the fruit ripen, so they can reproduce and grow more potatoes.
Some potato varieties produce red, purple, or deep blue fruits that can be either spherical or oblong. Each fruit can contain up to 300 potato seeds, although they typically produce fewer.
Can you eat the fruit of a potato plant?
The fruit of the potato plant is toxic as it contains the enzyme solanine, this also applies to the leaves of the potato plant, the stems, and even green potatoes. Solanine is thought to be the plant’s natural protection against hungry animals. Not only does it taste bitter, but if it is ingested, it can cause illness and, in large quantities, leading to solanine toxicity which can be deadly.
Accidentally taking a bite of the fruit (and likely spitting it out) may irritate your mouth and cause stomach upset, but it isn’t likely to be life-threatening.
Do all potato plants produce fruit?
Most potato varieties have the potential to produce fruit, but whether they do in your garden depends on the climate. Because potatoes are native to the Andes mountains and areas of Chili, they are accustomed to cool, humid weather. They will set fruit when the weather closely matches their native environment.
If your growing area has high humidity and temperatures below 80 degrees F, your potato plants will likely set fruit after blooming. Otherwise, if the air is hot and dry, the flowers will likely shrivel and drop from the plant without ever setting fruit.
Over years of breeding, some cultivars may have lost their ability to bloom or at least the likelihood that they will produce fruit after blooming. Because the potato plant’s berries (or fruit) are not essential to tuber production, breeders may have disregarded this trait during breeding and focused on other more important traits like tuber size, shape, and flavor, and disease resistance in the plants.
Should I remove the potato flowers?
Many gardeners are delighted to see their potatoes bloom as they know this is a sign that tiny tubers are beginning to form underground. They are also attractive in the garden with their white or purple blooms, but there may be advantages to removing the blooms.
According to Farmer-online, potatoes can expend up to 25 percent of their energy in blooming and forming seeds. Removing them should allow the potato plant to divert that energy into growing large tubers. However, when you remove the flowers, the plant needs to expend energy to repair the broken stems, which may offset the benefit of removing them.
In addition, it may take longer for the potatoes to mature and make your plants more susceptible to disease.
However, several trials revealed that removing the flowers from your potato plants causes more small and medium tubers to form, while the tubers may grow larger if you leave the blooms on the plant.
If you harvest your potatoes when they are young as new potatoes, more small and medium potatoes may be an advantage. But, if you are growing main crop potatoes and want large, well-formed tubers for winter storage, removing the flowers may not be a good idea as it decreases the size of the potatoes.
If you are battling insect pests, like the Colorado Potato Beetle, and want to use a pesticide, like Sevin, while your potatoes are in bloom, removing the flowers first will help to reduce the risk of harming bees and other pollinators.
Can I plant the seeds from my potato berries?
Technically, you can save and plant the seeds in the fruit of your potatoes, but you won’t get potatoes identical to the ones you are growing, says Michigan State University Extension. In addition, the seeds will take several years to produce tubers large enough to eat. While it can be a fun experiment to grow your own potatoes from true potato seeds, don’t count on producing bushels of delicious potatoes right away.
Most potato plants bloom in early summer, but some cultivars never bloom. Although many gardeners use the emergence of blooms as a sign that the tubers are beginning to form underground. Potatoes do not need to bloom to produce large, healthy tubers. If your potatoes do not bloom, use the days to maturity of the variety you are growing as your guide to when you can expect to harvest the first tiny new potatoes.