How to earth up potatoes – five tips to use to grow the perfect potatoes

James Martin offers advice on making roast potatoes

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Potatoes can be boiled, mashed, chipped or baking. There are many varieties of potatoes some of which can be harvested earlier than others. May has now arrived which means there are a host of new jobs for the avid gardener who is growing potatoes in their garden. has compiled a guide to explain how to earth up potatoes effectively.

Potatoes need to be “earthed up” in order to grow and prosper.

Earthing up or hilling is a technique by which you cover part of a plant, especially the stem, with soil to protect it from frost, light or more.

This is done in order to keep the plant stable during windy weather.

As May arrives, potatoes planted up last month need to be earthed up in order to grow properly.

Potatoes grow very quickly in warm and moist conditions.

When they reach around 10cm tall, leafy shoots can be mounded around with soil to their full height – which is a process known as earthing up.

Earthing up potatoes will increase the length of underground stems which will bear potatoes.

This mounding process can be repeated once or twice more in two to three-week intervals to ensure the best crop.

How to earth up potatoes

To earth up potatoes effectively you will need potato plants, a garden fork or spade and a rake.

When your foliage reaches around 20cm tall, you should draw up the soil on both sides of the plants.

Loosen the soil between the rows of your potatoes using a garden fork.

Use a rake or spade to draw the soil into a ridge along the length of the row around the emerging stems of the potatoes.

You should then leave a shallow trough along the row at the top of the ridge to channel any water down to the developing tubers.

This technique should prevent the tubers from turning green and protect the foliage from frost damage.

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When growing potatoes in large pots or sacks, the tubers must be planted into around 10cm of compost at the base of the container.

As the shoots emerge make sure to add more compost at regular intervals.

It is advisable to add around 5cm of soil at a time until the container is almost completely full.

With light soil, mix in a well-rotted garden or bagged compost to earth up the potato plants as this will help to conserve moisture which swells the tubers.

Once June arrives you may be able to begin to harvest your potatoes.

First, early potatoes should be ready to lift in June and July, while the second earlies will be ready in July and August.

Maincrops are likely to be ready for harvesting from late August through to October.

With the earlies, you should wait until the flowers on your potato plants open or the buds drop should signify the tubers are around the size of a hen’s egg and ready to harvest.

With your maincrop potatoes, wait until the foliage turns yellow before you cut it down and remove it.

Wait for 10 days and then harvest the tubers and allow them to dry for several hours before storing.

Tips to grow the best potatoes

  • Use hilled rows when planting potatoes.
  • Use straw mulch when growing potatoes as it conserves soil moisture and smothers weeds.
  • Plant potatoes in raised beds to get a larger yield.
  • If you have a wet garden, use wire cylinders as they provide excellent drainage and prevent soil from getting waterlogged.
  • Grow bags can be great for patios or driveways or where garden soil lacks nutrients.

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