Which seed potatoes should you buy….

Freshly dug new potatoes

The taste of a fresh potato, straight from the ground can’t be beaten, but which seed potatoes should you buy? Known for their crisp texture and delicious, sweet flavour, fresh potatoes have a much better taste than shop-bought potatoes that may have been sitting in storage for weeks or months. Both highly nutritious and versatile, you can grow seed potato varieties that are perfect for preparation in a variety of ways. For instance, boiling, baking, mashing, roasting and frying, pretty much however you like to enjoy your spuds.

What’s more, it’s so satisfying to consume something that’s come straight from your own garden, cultivated with love and care. If you’re new to growing potatoes it can seem quite confusing to work out which seed potatoes you should buy, so we asked our Gardening team to help us navigate the process of growing seed potatoes, and asked them to answer the top 14 most often asked questions regarding this interesting topic.

1. What are seed potatoes?

The name “seed potato” is actually rather confusing, because it isn’t actually the seed of the potato plant, but could be more precisely be referred to as a potato tuber. Potatoes do actually produce flowers which bloom, but usually they dry and fall from the plant without setting fruit. A seed potato is, in essence a small potato that is used to grow a new plant. The seed potato is planted in soil and as it grows, will produce shoots and leaves above the ground and, eventually, more small potatoes underground. You will have observed your normal shop bought potatoes growing “eyes” if they are left in a warm place. This is essentially similar to the beginnings of this process in action. The small potatoes that form underground are then harvested to be eaten.

2. Seed potatoes vs regular potatoes – what are the differences?

There are several advantages of growing seed potatoes rather than buying your potatoes from a shop or supermarket. The main advantage of course is improved flavour: You just won’t get the same taste from a store-bought potato as you do from one straight from the garden.

  • Variety: Seed potatoes offer a wider range of potato varieties to choose from compared to commercially grown potatoes available in the stores. For instance, here at Gates, we have over 40 different varieties to choose from.
  • Freshness: Growing your own seed potatoes allows you to harvest and consume potatoes that are fresher and often more flavourful than those purchased from a store. Freshly harvested seed potatoes are also more nutritious compared to shop bought potatoes being a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium and dietary fibre.
  • Cost-effective: Seed potatoes are relatively inexpensive compared to store-bought potatoes, making them an economical option for gardeners.
  • Fewer chemicals: Seed potatoes are treated with fewer chemicals and fertilisers than regular commercial potatoes.
  • Control over growing conditions: When growing seed potatoes, you have control over the growing conditions, including the soil, fertiliser, and water, which can help to produce high-quality, healthy plants.
  • High yield potential: Potatoes are a highly productive crop, and growing your own seed potatoes can result in a bountiful harvest.
  • Improved soil quality: Potatoes can improve the quality of soil in your garden by adding organic matter, which can benefit future crops.
  • Gratification: Growing your own food and consuming the fruits of your care and attention can be a satisfying and rewarding experience. Plus, who doesn’t love the flavour of freshly dug potatoes? Anything home-grown is more enjoyable to consume than shop-bought, even if it’s sometimes a little muddier and irregular!
Which seed potatoes should you buy? 2nd image

3. Why should you grow seed potatoes?

You may be asking, why can’t you just plant a regular shop-bought potato, rather than a seed potato? There are several compelling differences between the two, which make using seed potatoes the best choice:

  • Origin: The main difference between seed potatoes and regular potatoes is that seed potatoes are grown from seed tubers which are small sections of potato plants that have been specially selected for planting. Regular potatoes on the other hand are grown from commercial varieties and are typically purchased from a shop for human consumption, rather than planting.
  • Pest resistance: Seed potatoes are often better adapted to local conditions and are less likely to be affected by pests and diseases compared to commercially grown potatoes. For instance, all of the seed potatoes sold at Gates are certified by seed organisations and are free of disease and pests. This helps to ensure that the potato plants produced will be healthy and productive. When selecting seed potatoes it is important to choose high-quality disease-free tubers that are free of any cuts, bruises or other damage that could reduce the potential for a successful harvest.
  • Wide variety of options: There is a wide range of potato varieties available, so you can choose the type of potato that best suits your climate, growing conditions, and culinary needs.
  • Treatments: Supermarket potatoes will normally be treated with sprout inhibitors which will prevent potatoes from growing plants.

4. How many seed potatoes can you get from one plant?

One seed potato will grow one plant, from which the crop of potatoes will be around 8-10 potatoes. However various factors will affect this yield, such as variety, soil fertility, moisture, sunlight, insect damage, disease prevention, planting depth, and distance.

5. Where do seed potatoes come from?

Seed potatoes typically come from potato farms or nurseries where they are grown and harvested for use as a planting material for new potato crops. These seed potatoes are chosen for their high quality and disease-free status and are used to produce new potato plants for commercial agriculture or home gardening. All of our Seed Potatoes at Gates Garden Centre are 100% British and are grown and harvested in Scotland where they are overseen by the Animal & Plant Agency to ensure there are no crop failures or other issues.

6. What are the best seed potatoes?

The best seed potatoes vary depending on the growing conditions, climate, and intended use. It is recommended to select seed potatoes that are certified disease-free and to choose a variety that is well-suited to the growing conditions in your area. Some popular and reliable seed potato varieties include: Charlotte, Lady Crystl and Desiree. See below for a full guide to which seed potatoes you should buy to suit your purposes.

7. Will seed potatoes keep?

Seed potatoes can be stored for several months, but the length of storage time depends on several factors, including the variety of seed potato, storage temperature, and storage conditions. On average, seed potatoes can be stored for up to six months if they are kept in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated location. Proper storage will help prevent sprouting and maintain the viability of the seed potatoes for planting.

Seed potatoes stored for longer periods of time may show a decrease in germination rates, so it’s best to use them as soon as possible after purchase. It’s also recommended to sort through seed potatoes before planting and discard any that are showing signs of disease or rot, as these can spread to the rest of the crop.

8. When to plant seed potatoes

In the United Kingdom, seed potatoes are typically planted from late winter to early spring, depending on the growing conditions in your area. Here are some general guidelines for planting seed potatoes in the UK:

  • Early potatoes: First early and second early seed potatoes can be planted from late February to March, when the soil is starting to warm up but is still cold enough to prevent premature sprouting.
  • Maincrop potatoes: Maincrop seed potatoes are usually planted from late March to April, when the soil is warmer and the risk of frost has passed.

The specific planting date will depend on the weather conditions in your area, as well as the variety of seed potato you are growing. Before planting, check the soil temperature and wait until it has warmed up to around 7-10°C. You can also check the local weather forecast and wait for a period of settled weather before planting.

Seed potatoes should not be planted in soil that is waterlogged, as this can reduce the viability of the seed potatoes and increase the risk of rot and disease. If necessary, wait until the soil has had a chance to dry out before planting.

Potato Heart lifestyle image
Potato Preparation lifestyle image
Potatoes lined up lifestyle image

9. What soil do you need for seed potatoes?

Prior to planting, encourage seed potatoes to sprout by placing them on a cool, bright windowsill for 4-6 weeks. This process is known as ‘chitting’ and will help prepare the potato tuber for going in the ground.

Seed potatoes grow best in fertile, well-draining soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. A soil that is too acidic or too alkaline can reduce the growth and yields of potato plants. You can use a soil test kit to find the PH of your soil. Here are some factors to consider when preparing soil for seed potatoes:

  • Drainage: Potatoes need well-drained soil to prevent waterlogging and to reduce the risk of rot and disease. If the soil does not drain well, consider planting in raised beds or mounds.
  • Organic matter: Potatoes grow best in soil that is rich in organic matter, such as fresh compost, like Westland Multi-Purpose Compost with added John Innes, well-rotted manure, like Westland Farmyard Manure, Pelleted Chicken Manure, Westland Fish Blood & Bone Festiliser, or leaf mould. Adding organic matter to the soil will help improve soil structure, fertility, and water-holding capacity.
  • Soil preparation: Before planting, prepare the soil by removing any weeds and breaking up any clumps to create a smooth and level seedbed. Consider adding compost or well-rotted manure to the soil to improve fertility.

Once planted, ‘earth up’ the potatoes by drawing the soil up around new shoots to protect them from frost damage and prolong the growing time. Earthing up also protects developing potatoes from sunlight which causes them to turn green and poisonous. Keep potatoes well watered during warm weather.

Seed potatoes should not be planted in soil that has recently been used to grow tomatoes, peppers, or other nightshade crops, as this can increase the risk of disease transfer. It’s also important to avoid planting seed potatoes in soil that has been contaminated with potato scab or other potato diseases, as this can reduce yields and the quality of the crop. We also don’t recommend using grass areas that have recently been dug up to grow vegetables, as these will have more hungry worms that could eat your spuds before you get to them!

10. Which way up should seed potatoes be planted?

Seed potatoes should be planted with the “eyes” facing upwards. The eyes are the small indentations on the potato where new shoots will emerge. When planted with the eyes facing upwards, the shoots will grow upwards and become the stems of the potato plant.

When planting seed potatoes, ensure that the soil covers the seed potatoes completely, but not too deeply, as this will encourage healthy root development and good growth. Planting seed potatoes too deeply can lead to weak and spindly plants, while planting them too shallowly can lead to sunscald and dehydration. A general guideline is to plant seed potatoes at a depth of 10cm and 20cm apart in a line. Leave at least 30cm between lines to allow growing space.

11. Can seed potatoes be cut in half?

Yes, seed potatoes can be cut in half widthways before planting, but it is important to follow proper guidelines to ensure successful growth:

  • Each half should have at least one or two “eyes,” which are the small indentations on the potato where new shoots will emerge.
  • Before planting, allow the cut surfaces to callus over (dry out) for a day or two to prevent disease.
  • It’s also recommended to plant the cut pieces of seed potato with the cut side facing downwards, as this will encourage the growth of roots.

Cutting seed potatoes in half may decrease the yield, but can be done to extend the available seed potatoes or to reduce the size of large seed potatoes to make planting easier.

Seed Potato cut in half
Outdoor Potato Growing Bag
Outdoor Potato Growing Bags
elho® Green Basics Potato Pot 33cm close
Elho Green Basics Potato Pot
Stewart Smithy Patio Tub Gun Metal
Stewart Garden Smithy Tub

12. What pots and containers do you need for growing seed potatoes?

Growing seed potatoes in pots and containers is a great option for those with limited garden space or who want to grow their own potatoes on a patio or balcony. Here are some types of containers that can be used for growing seed potatoes:

  • Grow bags: Grow bags are porous fabric containers that are filled with soil and are ideal for growing seed potatoes in small spaces. They provide good drainage and aeration, plus they can be moved around as needed. We sell Outdoor Potato Growing Bags, especially for this purpose.
  • Pots and buckets: Pots and buckets can be used for growing seed potatoes, but it’s important to choose containers that are large enough to accommodate the growing plants and have adequate drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. The Green Basics Potato Pot is perfect as the central core lifts out for easily accessing your crop.
  • Tubs and barrels: Large containers such as tubs and barrels can be used for growing seed potatoes, but they can be heavy and difficult to move. Consider planting larger containers with a single, large seed potato, or several smaller seed potatoes, depending on the size of the container. The Smithy Patio Tub range by Stewart Garden is great for this purpose and comes in two sizes to suit your needs.

Regardless of the type of container you choose, it’s important to use a good-quality, well-draining potting soil, and to provide adequate light and water to the plants as they grow. It’s also important to watch out for pests and diseases, and to take steps to prevent their spread.

13. When do you harvest seed potatoes?

Seed potatoes will be ready to harvest around 1 month to 4 months after planting, depending on the type of potato. The plant should bloom with white flowers. When these flowers have finished and dropped, the potatoes should be ready to harvest. Lift one plant to check whether it has the quantity and size of potatoes that are desired. As potatoes taste better when fresh from the ground, we recommend lifting plants one by one, using just what you need for that day and leaving the potatoes you don’t need yet in the soil. This is preferable to harvesting them all at once and having to store excess potatoes. Potatoes that have been harvested will store for longer if they are kept with the earth on them, as getting the potatoes wet can promote the growth of fungus and bacteria.

When ready to harvest, cut back haulms (plant stalks) to ground level before gently lifting the plant up with a garden fork. Carefully remove the potatoes from the plant and wash well before use in the kitchen.

14. Which seed potatoes should you buy?

We have prepared a guide to the types of seed potatoes we stock, their planting and harvesting dates plus their suggested culinary uses to help inform your decision of which seed potatoes you should buy.

The Royal Horticultural Society grows plants at its gardens in the UK, and compares how these plants perform on a number of factors. Plants that are awarded an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) should be a good performing plant in all areas of the UK and should grow well in your garden under normal circumstances. This certification shows the plant will be:

  • Excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions
  • Available
  • Of good constitution
  • Essentially stable in form and colour
  • Reasonably resistant to pests and diseases

The AGM certification can also be used to orient your decision about which potatoes to select.

A first early seed potato is a variety that is one of the earliest to mature. They are usually ready for harvest within 60 to 90 days after planting. They are typically smaller in size compared to main crop potatoes and have a tender skin that does not need to be peeled. They are often used for boiling, roasting, and salads, as well as for making new potatoes. Some popular first early seed potato varieties with planting dates and culinary uses. include:

A second early seed potato matures slightly later than first early potatoes but earlier than main crop potatoes. They are usually ready for harvest between 90 to 120 days after planting. Second early potatoes are generally larger in size than first early potatoes and have a firmer skin that can be peeled if desired. They are versatile and can be used for a variety of cooking methods, including boiling, roasting, mashing, and frying. Some popular second early seed potato varieties include:

Second Early seed potatoes, planting, harvesting and culinary use

A main crop seed potato matures later than first early and second early potatoes. They are usually ready for harvest between 120 to 150 days after planting. Main crop potatoes are usually larger in size compared to early potatoes and have a thicker skin. They are ideal for storage and can be used for a variety of cooking methods, including baking, roasting, mashing, and frying. As main crop seed potatoes require a much longer growing time in the ground, they would benefit from an added fertiliser during the Summer months. Some popular main crop seed potato varieties include:

Main Crop Seed Potatoes, planting, harvesting and culinary use

With all seed potatoes, it’s important to choose varieties that are certified disease-free and that are well-suited to your growing conditions.

With seed potatoes to suit every culinary use and crop type, plus all the compost and containers you’ll need to get going with growing your own, we hope you find what you are looking for. If you have any questions or queries that we haven’t answered then visit our helpful and knowledgeable Gardening team in-store, contact us on 01664 454309 or shop the Gardening department online.

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