Can you plant potatoes without eyes? You can, but it’s better to plant potatoes that have already sprouted their growing buds. That way, you’ll know for sure that your seed potatoes will grow – no guesswork involved.
Most potatoes will happily grow into plants even if you don’t see any active eyes on them when it’s time to plant, however, some won’t sprout; then you’ll be left with gaps in your rows or beds of potatoes, that you’ll need to fill in with new seed potatoes.
And since potatoes take about one month to emerge from the soil after planting, those plants will be one month behind all of the rest.
I’ve planted 200 potatoes in my garden already this year, with another 100 to go later in the year, so join me for a few minutes and learn the ins and outs of sprouting potatoes.
Let’s dig in 🙂
Eyes or Sprouts – What’s The Difference?
Before we go any further, let’s get some terms straightened out. Many people talk about potato eyes, when they really mean potato sprouts or chits.
Eyes are small dimples on a potato where sprouts might eventually form. While the sprouts are the stubby little shoots that ‘sprout’ on your potatoes when they break their dormancy period.
In the photo below, you can see the sprouts on one of my potatoes that’s ready to plant.
Potatoes want to grow, and under the right conditions, the majority of your potatoes will form sprouts from their eyes.
If you don’t see any sprouts yet, and you’re wondering why, there could be several reasons.
Why Aren’t Your Potato Eyes Sprouting?
Reason Number 1
It’s simply too early.
Potatoes must go through a period of dormancy before they will ‘wake up’ and get busy growing. That’s why you can’t use potatoes you’ve harvested in June as seed potato for another planting in July. They won’t grow no matter what you do, because they’re in their dormant state.
Potatoes left in the ground (which is their natural place to be) stay in their dormant state throughout winter, then when the soil temperature is warm enough, they send out roots and shoots in the spring.
If you’ve ever missed a few potatoes when you harvest, you’ll see ‘volunteer’ potato plants coming up soon after your last frost date.
(Volunteer potatoes are a good indicator that it’s the optimum time to plant by the way).
So, if you’re waiting for potatoes from a recent harvest to chit, I’m sorry to tell you, that won’t work.
Reason Number 2
If spring is around the corner, and you’re waiting for potatoes to sprout, but you aren’t seeing any progress, then it could be that you haven’t waited long enough.
Potatoes take around one month to chit, once they’re set up in the right conditions.
If it’s been less than a month, just wait a little longer or try this method to help them sprout faster.
Reason Number 3
Are you trying to grow potatoes you bought from the supermarket?
If so, it could be that they’ve been treated with a growth retardant; unfortunately, you could be waiting for ages for these potatoes to sprout.
Seed potatoes which are specifically grown to be sown rather than eaten, won’t have retardant on them and will definitely sprout.
Not all store bought potatoes will have the retardant on them, and if they do, it will wear off eventually when the potatoes are old enough. (I’m sure you’ve found sprouted supermarket potatoes in your kitchen at one time or another).
If you’re growing store bought potatoes and they haven’t sprouted after 6 weeks, put them aside to plant later in the year (if you’re planning on a second crop).
For now, you’ll need to pop out to your garden center for some seed potatoes or order some online to get on with planting your potato crop.
An alternative is to go to a farmers market and try and buy some of last year’s harvest that hasn’t been treated with growth inhibitor. You’ll need to ask the vendor to be certain though.
Reason Number 4
The conditions you’ve set up for your potatoes aren’t right for sprouting.
If it’s too cold, or too dry, they won’t sprout, or they won’t sprout well.
When we store potatoes we keep them cool & dark and with enough humidity so they don’t dry out and shrivel up. These are the conditions that will preserve their freshness the longest. Under these conditions, potatoes stay dormant.
To sprout, they need warmth. Exposing them to light in warm conditions will speed up sprouting, but it’s not necessary. Potatoes left in the ground all winter, down in the dark, sprout just fine. (Well, they do as long as they haven’t rotted or been eaten by rodents).
Think about how the conditions in the ground change from winter to spring. In the winter the ground is cold, and it’s often fairly dry (unless you have very wet winters in your climate).
As spring approaches, the sun begins to warm the soil and rain increases the moisture levels. Warmth and moisture tell the potato it’s time to grow.
So if you’ve got your potatoes in an unheated part of the house where it’s too cold for sprouting, and/or there’s low humidity, they’re going to be slow to chit.
Is Seed Potato Really Necessary?
Seed potato from a reputable grower gives you guaranteed, disease free seed stock. These potatoes won’t be treated with inhibitor either.
Growing from seed potato removes the possibility that your potatoes will be affected by disease carried by the tubers you plant.
They do cost more (a lot more, in many places) than the potatoes you buy for eating, but they’re a safe bet.
Everywhere you look online for advice, you’ll be told to only plant certified, disease free potatoes. I won’t argue with that, because I don’t want you to be disappointed with a ruined crop, because you tried to grow potatoes from the store.
But I will share my experience for what it’s worth.
Potatoes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops grown today. Commercial growers use pesticides and fungicides and herbicides, so they can harvest a bountiful crop and make a profit.
So there’s a good chance that an inexpensive sack of potatoes from the store will grow perfectly well, problem free.
But it’s not guaranteed.
It could be the case that the grower’s crop was affected by a virus, or blight, but the malady struck close enough to harvest time, that they still had a viable crop to send to market.
You can’t see a lurking virus or fungal spore, and there’s no way to tell if the potatoes are ‘healthy’. You have to decide whether you want to take the chance.
And bear in mind, that just because the seed potatoes are certified disease free, that doesn’t mean your potatoes will grow disease free.
The reason farmers spray so heavily, is because potatoes are so susceptible to problems.
At my place, if we’ve got got potatoes growing at the end of July, when humidity really increases, they’ll get hit with blight, guaranteed. That’s as true for my certified disease free potatoes as it is for ones I’ve grown from the store.
I’ve never had a failed crop from store bought potatoes, but there’s a first time for everything.
What I tend to do in my garden, is keep my own seed potato from my potato harvest. I choose the small ones, that are too small to bother preparing in the kitchen, and stow them away in egg boxes until the following spring. If I don’t have enough, I’ll see if I can find seed potato at a reasonable price. If not, I’ll plant regular supermarket potatoes.
The Best Conditions For Sprouting Your Potatoes Ready For Spring Planting
As I’ve already mentioned, potatoes in the ground break their dormancy when the soil warms up and moisture levels increase.
To replicate those conditions above ground, you simply need to place your potatoes in a warm enough spot with some humidity, so they don’t dry out.
There’s no point sprouting too early, because you won’t be able to plant them outside while it’s still very cold. The minimum ideal temperature for potatoes is 55°F/12°C at night.
Wait until 4 weeks before your last estimated frost date before you set them up for sprouting.
Sprouting Method 1
Lay them in a single layer on a tray or in a box.
Place in a warm room (above 50°F/10°FC).
Set the potatoes in indirect light. A position away from south facing windows is best. As long as the room gets daylight, they’ll be fine.
Potatoes also sprout in the dark (as nature intended), but you’ll need to check them frequently and bring them into a lighter place once they sprout.
If you leave sprouted potatoes in the dark for too long, the sprouts will turn into long white (or pink) shoots that break off very easily when you have to handle them for planting. And the potatoes will begin to shrivel up, because all of their moisture has gone into the long shoots.
Keep a bowl of water nearby to help with humidity, especially if your room is very warm.
Sprouting Method 2
Follow the same temperature and light requirements listed above.
Lay your seed potato on a bed of lightly moist soil or compost. You could use seed trays for this, plant pots, or even a cardboard box lined with some plastic.
Use a misting bottle to spray water once a week to keep the soil moist.
Most potatoes will sprout from eyes when it’s the right time of year for them to break their dormancy. As long as you provide the right conditions, you’ll see the sprouts form after roughly 4 weeks.
If you’ve passed well beyond 4 weeks without any signs of growth, it’s either too cold and dry for the potatoes to sprout, or you’ve got potatoes that have been treated with a sprouting inhibitor.
Good luck with your crop!