Christmas potatoes are a fantastic crop to grow, they give you a taste of Spring at a time when nothing else is growing out in the garden. And nothing tastes better than homegrown potatoes.
You can grow your own potatoes for Christmas even if you don’t have a big garden, even if you don’t want to spend a lot of time and even if you haven’t successfully grown your own food in the past.
This article will show you how.
How To Choose Which Variety To Grow
For autumn planting you are best growing either a first or second early variety as these are very reliable for Christmas harvesting.
However, you will need to get second crop seed potatoes. These are seed potatoes that have been cold stored to be planted in summer. You can normally buy in summer.
If you were planning to just keep some of your potatoes you harvest in July/August back to replant, think again. Potatoes enter a period of dormancy after being harvested, which means they won’t sprout for a while.
So you need to get seed potatoes that are meant to be planted in late summer.
I will show you a few of the varieties I have grown and recommended plus a few new “wild cards” that might be worth trying out this year…
3 Recommended Christmas Potato Varieties
Christmas Potato Charlotte – This is the variety that most people grow and recommend. From our recent survey 68 percent of people said this was their favourite variety. The crops are large and the potatoes taste incredible. I have had some great success with this variety!
- Jamieson Brothers 2kg net Charlotte Seed Potatoes Approx. 20-25 Tubers
- Suitable for Salads, Mashing and Boiling
- Can be planted until end of May for early harvest or end of August for christmas harvest
Christmas Potato Maris Peer – Another variety that is started to be sold more widely, its not as well tested as Charlotte but has many good reviews. Although I have only grown this for one year I will be trying it again this year as the crops were big and tasted very good.
- Approx. 20-25 tubers per pack
- Can be planted until end of May for early harvest
- Lovely salad potato
Christmas Potato Nicola – This is another common variety for Christmas potatoes. It has a waxy yellow flesh and is very versatile, being suitable for baking, boiling, mashing, roasting and salads.
- 10 Seed Potato Tubers
- Suitable for baking, boiling, mashing, roasting and salads
- Second Early variety ready to harvest 13-15 weeks after planting, traditional planting time is March - April
There are also a couple of “wild card” varieties that I have not grown but others have recommended to me:
Pentland Javlin (highly recommended)
- Approx. 20-25 tubers per pack
- One of the finest varieties to grow
- See our quick potato guide for culinary uses and disease resistance
Maris Bard (highly recommended)
- 10 Seed Potato Tubers
- First Early variety ready to harvest 10-12 weeks after planting, traditional planting time is March - April
- Suitable for baking, boiling and salads
These wild card varieties may very well be worth a try!
When To Plant Your Christmas Potatoes
You need to get the planting right if you want a good crop… there is a lot of false information going around.
Hopefully this article will show you which advice to follow.
Timing the planting is pretty critical. It’s difficult to know when to plant when some people recommend planting as early as the end of June and others as late as October.
However, from my own growing tests I have found a month long period that is the ideal time for planting Christmas potatoes…
The ideal time to plant is the last two weeks of August and the first two weeks of September.
I asked a large group of gardeners when they recommended planting Christmas potatoes and the general feeling from these folks was that August and September are the best months.
I believe planting after the third week in September dramatically reduces your chances of having a crop ready for Christmas.
Got that? Right. Lets move on…
Choosing The Right Soil…
The next important thing to consider is the soil you are going to grow your potatoes in. You want to use a good mix of soil, compost and manure if possible.
You are looking to grow in a soil that will not need any feeding or fertiliser towards the end of the year.
Although, I have tested growing standard potatoes with and without the use of fertiliser and found much better results using fertiliser.
If you do want to use a fertiliser I recommend this organic potato feed that I use for my Christmas potatoes and I am very happy with it.
However, if you start with a good soil your pretty well set without the need to fertilise.
It’s also important to mention that it’s a bad idea to grow potatoes in the same soil that you grew your regular potatoes in. This is because it can increase the risk of pests and diseases, ruining your crops.
Where To Grow? In The Ground? Pots? Or Bags?
I would highly recommend growing in bags or containers.
It’s very simple and protects your tubers from pests like slugs. Here is how you plant your seed potatoes in a growing bag:
First, fill the bag with a layer of compost, about 5 cm high.
Then place 4-5 seed potatoes in one layer, spacing them well apart from each other and make sure that they eyes of the seed potatoes ‘look up’. Cover them with another lawyer of compost, again about 5cm high. Give them a good soak through.
When the foliage starts to come through the soil and the shoots are about 10 cm high, add another layer of compost leaving only the top of the shoots to poke out. Repeat this until your bag or container is full.
This is called hilling and will ensure that you will get a good amount of potatoes. It will also keep your tubers out of the sunlight. This is important, because tubers that are exposed to sunlight turn green and are poisonous.
I have used this method and would genuinely give it my highest recommendation. You can get a huge crop out of a small bag.
It’s not recommended that you grow in the ground as it can be difficult to protect the potatoes from frost this way.
If that is your only option, then you can find out how to plant them in the ground here in our article about growing potatoes.
What you should be aware of though is that slugs tend to start eating potato tubers from August into autumn. So if you are planning to plant your Christmas potatoes out in the ground you might want to take the following precautions to minimise the risk of slugs destroying your Christmas feast:
- Cultivate the soil before you plant your seed potatoes. Simply turn over the soil a few weeks before planting to expose any slugs to their predators. This won’t get rid of all of them but it will reduce their number and help avoid a heavy infestation.
- Lift your potatoes as soon as they have matured. You might read elsewhere that you can leave them in the soil until you need them for Christmas, but if you are worried the slugs might get to them, then you better harvest them early and store them elsewhere.
Whether you grow in containers, bags or in the ground, you need to choose the right spot to give your potato plants the best chance of making it through autumn.
The ideal place will be in a protected spot out of the worst of the British weather conditions when the cold weather comes. A frost free space like a greenhouse would be ideal, but don’t worry if that is not an option for you.
A conservatory or bright porch will also work and will solve two of the main problems you will face. Speaking of which…
Once Planted There Are 3 Problems You Face…
- Lack of watering – or over-watering. Both can destroy your crop.
- Potato blight can be rampant in August and September
- Frost! Discover the two problems frost causes and how to protect your plants!
This is the bad news.
The good news is that there are a few simple, high leverage things you can do to stop these being a problem and virtually guarantee an impressive crop of potatoes for Christmas.
How To Water Your Potatoes The Right Way (there is a wrong way…)
Watering seems so simple, but it can be a problem…
You will need to water your potatoes up until the autumn rain comes, usually that will be in October, if you do not by October your plants will have died of drought…
But watering can bring problems too. Wet leaves attract blight which can (and will) destroy your plants.
It’s a double edged sword.
The simple way to get around this is to water the soil directly rather than the leaves.
A good soaking when the soil is dry is best.
It might sound really simple but if you make the mistake of watering the leaves it will probably make planting these potatoes a big waste of your time and money…
Although this will dramatically reduce the chances of blight affecting your plants it is in no way a guarantee.
This brings us to problem #2.
How To Prevent Your Potatoes Being Attacked By Blight
There is no cure for blight, once a plant is infected it will deteriorate and eventually die. But there are things you can do to minimise the risk of blight affecting your crops:
- Crop rotation is one important way to minimise the risk of blight. The spores can overwinter in the soil and attack next year’s plants.
- Blight is a fungal disease and thrives in wet conditions, so it is important to ensure good air circulation by planting your plants further apart and ideally in a breezy spot.
- As mentioned above, water your potatoes from underneath to avoid the leaves getting wet.
- Make sure you don’t use seed potatoes from plants that were affected by blight as the tubers might be infected too.
Finally we have the problem of frost.
Protect Your Potatoes From Frost Quickly & Easily!
Here are two quick and easy ways to protect your potatoes from frost….
If you are growing in bags you can simply move your plants into a cold greenhouse when frost threatens. The alternative is to protect your potatoes with a fleece. I can recommend this one, it’s not expensive and it’s enough to cover a good area.
- Provides enhanced frost protection for tender plants and shrubs and protects early potatoes
- Protects down to -5/6ºC
- Also, an effective and economical greenhouse insulation without condensation
If a really cold snap I expected you might want to even use fleece if you are growing in a greenhouse.
The problem with getting attacked by the frost is that once your potatoes are caught by the frost they will stop growing any bigger so please make sure your plants are protected.
Now let’s get to the good part…
Harvesting Your Bumper Crop For Christmas Dinner
This is the time when you discover if all the work over the last few months has been worth it…
…this is also when you are going to know if reading and following the instructions in this article has paid off.
Christmas potatoes grow quickly if you have managed to keep them frost free.
12 weeks from planting is usually a good time to check if your crop of potatoes is ready.
You can check to see if your potatoes are ready by moving some of the soil from the container until you find potatoes – it’s important not to disturb the plants or roots when you do this!
If they are big enough to eat you can begin harvesting now.
If they are not big enough to eat yet cover again with soil and allow to grow for a couple more weeks continuing to make sure there is no frost damage.
Remember to harvest only as required. Unless you are worried about slugs eating them or if you have wet and cold soil. In that case, lift them once they are matured and store them buried in dry sand or soil in a cool but frost free place like your shed.
Either way, if you have planted in the 1 month period recommended you should certainly have potatoes ready for Christmas dinner!
Frequently Asked Questions
Didn’t find what you were looking for? Find out more about growing potatoes for Christmas dinner in our FAQ section.
How many potatoes do you get per plant?
This is difficult to answer as it will depend on the potato variety, soil and weather conditions. But you can probably expect anywhere between 5 and 10 potatoes per plant.
You can increase your yield by feeding your potato plants once they have started flowering. I use this organic potato feed, it works well with all potatoes, not just the Christmas ones.
I would plant more rather than less and store any surplus potatoes in dry coarse sand or soil in a frost free place, like a shed, and have more homegrown potatoes for the new year too!
And in case you are wondering how many plants you can get from one seed potato, the answer is it depends how many eyes it has.
Don’t attempt to put too many seed potatoes into one container or bag though, as they will need room to grow tubers. If there isn’t enough space they will grow less. So you are better off planting more bags to ensure you get a good yield.
How do I best store my potatoes until Christmas?
If possible leave them in the ground or container/bag. However, this will make them vulnerable to attacks from pests and diseases, especially in the ground.
What you could do instead is harvest them and then reburry them in sand or soil. Make sure that the sand or soil you use is dry though, as moisture can cause the tubers to rot.
Layer the bottom of a box or crate with sand or soil. Then add a layer of potatoes, keeping them spaced apart. Top with another layer of soil or sand and continue until you have buried all your potatoes.
Store the box in a cool, dry place where there is no risk of frost, such as a shed or cellar. You can store your potatoes for several months using this method.
Make sure that all the potatoes you store are in good condition though and check on them now and again. If you find any potato has started to rot, get rid of it as otherwise all of them will rot.
Can I grow potatoes in a winter greenhouse?
Yes you can. A wintergreen house is an ideal place for growing potatoes for autumn/winter harvest as it will keep the frost away.
And if you have given it a good clean, the chances of blight affecting your potato plants are also smaller.
You can also grow other vegetables in a winter greenhouse, such as winter lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, broccoli and another Christmas must, Brussels sprouts.