Why now is the best time to plant potatoes for Christmas

Impress family and friends by serving up your own home-grown potatoes at Christmas dinner.

If you love the idea of dishing up your own home-grown potatoes at Christmas, then August is the perfect time to start. Saga Exceptional has been chatting to Rob Smith, product development manager for Sutton Seeds and Thompson & Morgan, who believes that your festive crop could be the best all year.

“Growing potatoes in late summer in time for Christmas is probably even easier to do than growing them in the traditional spring planting season,” he says. “There is no need to chit the seed potatoes, no earthing up and less risk of damage from slugs and blight.”

If that all sounds like exciting news, then what are you waiting for? Pull on those wellies and get out into the garden while the sun is still shining.

This is how Smith suggests you grow a delicious crop of potatoes for Christmas.

Potatoes falling out of a basket onto soilCredit: Suttons Seeds
Late summer is the perfect time to plant our your spuds ready for a Christmas roast

When should I plant potatoes for Christmas?

Late summer is the best time for planting 

August and early September is the time to plant potatoes to be sure they’ll be ready to harvest for your Christmas dinner.

Because temperatures are already warm by late summer, there is no need to ‘chit’ (or sprout) the seed potatoes before planting – they can be planted directly into the soil. Ideally, potatoes for Christmas should be grown in growing bags or large pots as they will need to be moved to a sheltered position before the first frosts arrive.

What is chitting?

Gardeners often ‘chit’ their seed potatoes in order to get them off to an early start in spring. It involves placing them in sunlight for a few weeks before they go in the ground, to encourage them to start sprouting (or chitting). This gives them a head start when they get are put into the cold and often damp soil in spring, resulting in an earlier crop of spuds.

Thankfully, if you are planting them in summer for a Christmas harvest, there is no need to chit them first as the soil/ compost is already warm.

1. Choose your types of potato

You need ‘cold-stored’ potatoes

The best types of potatoes to grow for Christmas are first or second earlies. Suitable varieties include first earlies ‘Lady Christl’, ‘Orla’ and ‘Rocket’, and second earlies ‘Charlotte’, ‘Maris Peer’ and ‘Twinner’, but there are plenty of others to choose from.

The most important factor when selecting potatoes to grow for Christmas is that they have been ‘cold-stored’. “If you take a potato that you have just grown and stick it in the ground, it won’t sprout,” Smith explains. “You need to buy ones that have been kept in a cold store in order for them to grow at this time of year.”

2. Prepare your container

It’s best to plant your potatoes in pots or bags

Smith suggests growing Christmas potatoes in pots rather than directly in the ground so they can be moved somewhere sheltered before the frosts arrive. “I use a bucket with drainage holes that is at least 40cm (16in) diameter and 40cm (16in) high,” he says.  

“Fill the bottom of the pot with 10cm (4in) of a general-purpose, peat-free compost. It is best to use fresh, bought compost rather than homemade or older compost, as this avoids problems with introducing slugs – particularly keel slugs. We’ve got lots of tips for keeping slugs out of the garden.

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3. Plant your potatoes

You’ll only need a few potatoes in each container

Smith places two or three potatoes into each pot. As he explains: “The more potatoes you put in, the smaller the potatoes will be. Place potatoes on the surface of the compost spaced equally apart.

“There is no need to gradually earth up the potatoes with more compost as they grow, as you would with conventional potato growing,” Smith continues. “Simply fill the container right to the top with compost. The advantage of this is that you will get bigger potatoes, albeit a smaller quantity.”

4. Place them in the right spot

Leave your potatoes in sunshine until the first frosts

Potatoes growing in potsCredit: Suttons Seeds
Potatoes for Christmas are best grown in pots

Place the pot a sunny position and occasionally water when the compost feels dry to the touch. Before the first frosts arrive, move the pot into a sheltered position such as a porch, conservatory or frost-free greenhouse. Smith says he moves his pot of potatoes into his shed as autumn approaches.

“Even if the plant stops growing and the foliage starts to die back, the potatoes can happily stay in the pot until you are ready to harvest them for your Christmas dinner. I trim back the foliage at this stage and reduce watering, then allow the potatoes to mature in the shed until I’m ready to eat them. ”

5. Get harvesting!

Harvesting couldn’t be easier

Raw potatoes with spices and oil on a white wooden board.Credit: Suttons Seeds

Potatoes should be ready from late October/early November.

Smith says: “The simplest way to harvest your delicious potatoes is to stick your hand in the compost and pull out a few potatoes. Keep the remainder under the soil until you need them again. By keeping them dry and frost-free, they will store in their container until Christmas and longer.”

We also spoke to RHS horticultural adviser Rebekah Mealey for her tips on growing potatoes for Christmas.

Rebekah Mealey’s tips for perfect spuds for Christmas

Only coldstored potatoes will work the Christmas magic. These can be brought from specialist seed merchants in July and August.

This helps protect them from the colder, wetter months at the end of their growing session and they can be moved to a sheltered spot, and is also a way to store them in perfect form for the big day.

Potatoes grown in containers can be thirsty, but at a cooler time of year they don’t often need as much water and sitting too wet could cause them to rot.

With the lower light levels of autumn, make sure your spuds are getting plenty of golden rays.

Apply liquid plant food occasionally.

Simon Akeroyd

Written by Simon Akeroyd he/him

Updated:

Simon Akeroyd was previously a Head Gardener for the National Trust and RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) and has written more than 30 gardening books during his career. He also writes regularly for national newspapers as well as garden and lifestyle magazines.

Simon has presented and been featured in TV gardening programmes and worked as a horticultural researcher, writer and producer for the BBC.

During his career, he’s also managed many gardens including RHS Wisley, RHS Harlow Carr,  Sheffield Park, Polesden Lacey, Coleton Fishacre, Compton Castle and Agatha Christie’s Greenway.

He believes passionately in encouraging everyone to grow plants. Not only do plants make our surrounding space look more beautiful, but they help the wildlife and the planet too.

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