How to plant potatoes
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Although it's still too early to plant most other edibles in my neck of the woods (planning to get on that next weekend), I planted potatoes yesterday.
In the past, harvesting potatoes was a bit of a pain. They form underground, so they need to be dug up, sight unseen, which can disturb the plant. Although the timing roughly coincides with the dieback of the plant, you really have no way of knowing for sure how mature they are before you start digging.
So when I saw these innovative fabric potato pots with Velco-secured "windows" online, I ordered a few to try out. I'll let you know how it goes (in the meantime, I've added them to this page if you’re curious).
Potato plants put out roots from their stems, and more roots equal more potatoes, so soil should be mounded up on them as they grow. That's why I filled my pots only one-third of the way with soil (actually, I combined organic potting mix with composted manure and Sphagnum peat moss). As the plants grow, I'll add more of the mixture to the pot, and they will produce more potatoes all along the buried portion of their stems.
If you're planting potatoes in the ground, dig a trench about 8 inches deep and set your seed potatoes (eyes pointing up) in the trench, about 10-12 inches apart. Rows should be about 30 inches apart.
Cover the potatoes with 2-4 inches of soil and continue adding more around them as plants grow taller, burying the exposed portion of the stem under hills.
Whether growing in the ground or in containers, be sure to add mulch (straw works well) over the soil to keep roots cool, suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.
You can harvest "new" potatoes — small ones with thin skin — from the sides of your hills or wait until the tops of plants turn yellow to dig up the whole harvest.
If you're using fabric potato pots, just open the window from time to time to get a close-up look at the potatoes as they develop.
Let me know how it goes — and send photos of your progress!
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: I have a Butterfly Magnolia, which I planted about 20 years ago. It is quite large now. Every year, it is covered in beautiful yellow flowers that passersby stop to admire. This year, there are hardly any yellow flowers. Do you think it is dying? —Kathy Parathyras
DEAR KATHY: Magnolias are long-living trees, so if yours seems otherwise healthy, it's not likely to be dying.
They typically produce flower buds in fall for the following year, so if the tree was pruned during or after fall, this year's buds were likely removed. If that's the case, the tree should resume blooming next year.
Even if you didn't prune the tree, it's possible buds were damaged or destroyed by frost over winter.
Other possible culprits: Magnolias require at least 6-8 hours of full sun daily to bloom properly. If nearby trees have grown -- or new ones were planted -- then too much shade could be responsible.
Fertilizer, too, can inhibit blooming: Nitrogen directs plants to spend most of their energy on green leafy growth at the expense of flowers and fruit, so if you fertilized too heavily (or with the wrong product) -- or if a nearby lawn was fertilized -- inhibited blooming could result.
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Prune spring-blooming shrubs as soon as their flowers fade. Most will start producing buds for next year right afterward, so don't wait too long.
For more great gardening tips — 365 of them! — get a jump on the growing season with my Day-by-Day Gardening Calendar. It’s like a complete gardening course in a wall calendar! By the end of the year, I promise, you’ll have earned a green thumb! Plus, your wall will be adorned with award-winning photography provided by The Weekly Dirt readers. And I’ve extended my 20% Off Welcome to Spring Sale! Take a look:
👏 Sunday shoutout
MaryElla Moeller of East Hampton, NY, sent in this lovely photo of her camillia in full bloom, taken in April.
Send in your photo, and you could be featured next!
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, though, I'll post the most recent here every week.
Not all shade is the same: Gardening where there's little sun: Gardening in the shade doesn't have to mean limited plant choices and lack of color. The first step is understanding which type of shade you have. Click in for guidance and plant suggestions.
Sunflowers! Homegrown sunflowers are popular, native and, for some, newly meaningful. Learn how to grow them— and how to harvest and roast their seeds.
Plant this, not that: Native alternatives for 8 popular invasive plants.
Go Native! If your idea of the perfect garden includes abundant plants that do well with little human intervention while attracting and supporting all manner of pollinators, plant natives. Here's what you need to know to get started.
Annuals to plant for old-time nostalgia: Longing for grandma's flowers? Here are 8 vintage garden favorites.
Filling raised beds? Save money—and grow better—with Hugelkultur: Hugelkultur is a different, more natural (and cheaper) approach to raised beds or mounds that doesn't require so many bags of top soil or compost. Instead, you fill the space with organic matter that gradually decomposes, feeding the soil and plants. Here's how.
Growing veggies in small spaces: Smaller new varieties can yield excellent results for vegetables grown in containers.
Plants to plant in spring for a beautiful garden next winter: When you're planning and planting your spring garden, think ahead to next winter too, and include plants that will create interest in your landscape in the so-called "offseason."
Black innovators who reshaped American gardening and farming: The achievements of 19th-century scientist George Washington Carver have landed him in U.S. history textbooks, but many other agricultural practices and innovations that traveled with enslaved people from West Africa or were developed by their descendants remain unsung. Here's a look at five.
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