December 26, 2007
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Properly cured seed pieces should be planted 8 to 12 inches apart and covered initially with 3 to 4 inches of soil. (Photo by Chris S. Corby)
Potatoes with a Texas
By Chris S. Corby
If you have never grown potatoes in your garden, you may think they are not worth the trouble. After all, they are so inexpensive in the grocery store and potatoes are potatoes. Right?
Wrong. Like many garden crops, there is just no comparison between a homegrown crop and those northern spuds that have been in cold storage for six months. Just ask anyone who has savored a mess of early plucked new potatoes boiled gently, basted with butter and seasoned with fresh dill. The flavor is unsurpassed and definitely worth the effort.
The key to a successful potato crop starts with proper variety selection. Most gardeners should stick to either the red-skinned varieties like LaSoda and Pontiac or the white skinned Kennebec. The russet type potatoes are just not well suited to most of the state. However, if you garden in the Panhandle or far West Texas you can include Norgold Russet in your planting selection.
When selecting seed potatoes, be sure to purchase certified seed. This is your best chance to obtain seed potatoes that are disease-free and that will produce true to variety. Avoid using potatoes purchased in the grocery store since many of these are treated with a chemical to inhibit sprouting plus you will have no idea which variety you are buying. The only exception to this rule would be in the fall when certified seed is usually not available. In that case, use potatoes saved from your spring crop or, as a last resort, use those grocery store potatoes, but allow them to begin sprouting before you plant to ensure viability.
When to Plant
Timing is just about everything when it comes to potatoes. In the spring, you should plant your spuds about four weeks before the last average killing frost in your part of the state. If you plant too early, your plants may be damaged by a freeze: the result will be disappointing yields; plant too late and your crop will mature during hot weather resulting in a poor crop, also.
Potatoes prefer acid, fertile soils that are well drained. If your garden soil is alkaline you will want to add a generous amount of compost and perhaps some sulfur to help reduce the alkalinity. Potatoes are heavy feeders so till in some fertilizer prior to planting. As a rule, apply about 3 pounds of commercial fertilizer per 35 feet of row. Use a blend with a 1-2-2 ratio if you garden in East Texas and one with a 1-2-1 ratio if you garden elsewhere. This will be all the fertilizer you will need to produce a crop. The practice of top-dressing, or adding additional amounts of fertilizer as you would with other vegetables during the growing period, will not produce any added benefits for your potato crop.
Always purchase seed potatoes to ensure maximum yields, not pre-cut seed pieces. Cut your seed potatoes into 2- to 3-ounce pieces, each having several eyes. Next, drop your pieces into a paper bag containing sulfur and shake the sack until all pieces are thoroughly covered with sulfur dust. Store them in a cool (not freezing), dry location like a garage for several days prior to planting. When properly cured, your seed pieces should appear slightly shriveled.
Potatoes can be planted using several techniques. The most common is to dig a trench 6 to 8 inches deep and drop your seed pieces into the bottom of the trench. Space them about 8 to 12 inches apart and cover with 3 to 4 inches of soil. As the pieces begin to sprout and grow you should pull or hill the soil around the plants. The tubers or potatoes will form on stolons that grow from the stem, between the seed piece and the soil surface. Hilling should take place in several steps over several weeks. Just be sure not to cover the foliage growing above ground. If you have poor drainage, you can simply place the seed pieces on the ground or form a raised planting bed and build your hill from there. You can also use hay instead of soil to cover the plants as they grow. This technique certainly makes for an easier, albeit smaller harvest.
It is very important to keep your potatoes evenly moist throughout the growing period. If the soil is allowed to fluctuate between dry and wet you will end up with knobby, oddly shaped tubers. It is best to apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the plants, particularly if you are growing them in raised beds. Before applying mulch to your spring planted potato crop, wait until the soil temperature has warmed to at least 65 degrees.
Be on the lookout for insects during the growing period. Pill bugs, grubworms and potato beetles among other insects can damage your plants, ultimately reducing your yield. Often, these insects can be controlled by hand picking although some are nocturnal and require a flashlight and a little extra effort to keep them in check. Diseases are usually more of a problem with potatoes grown in Texas. Potato scab attacks plantings where the soil is alkaline or where lime has been applied. To aid in preventing diseases from becoming a problem in your potato patch be sure to always use certified seed, treat seed pieces with sulfur, practice crop rotation and avoid adding any amendment that increases the alkalinity of the soil.
You can harvest your potatoes at any size but digging immature tubers or "new" potatoes will reduce the overall yield. Consider harvesting enough potatoes for a meal or so and leaving the rest to fully mature. Your potatoes are mature when the foliage starts to yellow and die back. Most potatoes grow within a foot of the plant so be careful when digging them-you may damage some of your crop.
Originally published in Texas Gardener, January/February, 2001.
The compost heap
Bugged by new insect information
"Thank you so much for the information you provided on the new insects in Texas in your Texas Gardener's Seeds for December 12," writes Kim Andrews. "As a Master Gardener, I wish we would receive notification of this type of information. Perhaps, I am at fault for not knowing how to be notified with new horticulture information. However, I am certainly grateful for the information you provide and the timeliness of the information."
"If you donít have any rainwater available for watering tender seedlings," writes Willow Stevens, "run some tap water into a container and allow it to set for several hours before using. This will allow any chlorine in the water to evaporate before using it on tender, young plants."
Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.
Did you know...
Many of our most beloved garden flowers including dianthus, lavender, morning glories and hollyhocks and hundreds of others have been spread around the world over many centuries from the earliest gardens.
Upcoming garden events
Galveston: Festive sights and sounds will fill Moody Gardens at the sixth annual Festival of Lights November 17 through January 5. This whimsical celebration will kick off the holiday season on November 17, with Santa Claus parachuting in to switch on the lights. Festival of Lights is celebrated Thursday through Sunday November 17 through December 16, and daily beginning December 17. Transforming its lush tropical garden setting into a winter wonderland, Moody Gardens will be adorned with more than a million twinkling lights and dozens of light displays. In addition to experiencing the lights, guests can also strap on a pair of skates and glide across the ice at the Outdoor Ice Rink at Moody Gardens. Indoors, visitors can take pictures with Santa or even gaze upon a giant poinsettia tree. Moody Gardens will feature a variety of holiday-themed films during the Festival of Lights. Three films will be playing at the IMAX 3D theater and two films will be playing at the Ridefilm theater. The Garden Restaurant will feature a delectable holiday buffet, offered from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Group rates of $20 per person are also available for groups of 20 or more, and include admission to Festival of Lights and the holiday buffet. Admission into the Festival of Lights is $5.95, and tickets to additional attractions including the Rainforest Pyramid, holiday IMAX 3D film, holiday Ridefilm, Outdoor Ice Rink and Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, can be purchased for only $4.00 each. For more information, call Moody Gardens at (800) 582-4673 or visit www.moodygardens.org.
League City: The Kemah-Bay Area Garden Club will hold its first meeting of the new year on Wednesday, January 9, at a temporary location to be announced later. Carl Weekly, conservationist, will speak about "Koi Ponds and Water Gardens." A light lunch will be served and the public is invited. For additional information, contact Nancy Busko, president, at (281) 332-5294.
Houston: Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale will be held Saturday, January 19, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. A class describing all varieties for sale, as well as providing vital information on how to plant and care for each type tree will be held January 5 and 12 (your choice), from 2 to 4 p.m. A nominal fee of $10 is charged for the class. Register for the class by calling Urban Harvest. Sale and classes at Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Dr., Houston. For detailed information about the sale as well as about fruit trees, check the Urban Harvest website www.urbanharvest.org.
Tomball: The annual Fruit Tree Sale and Seminar presented by Heidi of Treesearch Farms will be held at The Arbor Gate, 15635 FM2920, Tomball, on Saturday, January 27. The day begins with a free seminar at 9 a.m. The sale begins at 10:30 a.m. For additional information, contact (281) 351-8851 or visit http://www.arborgate.com.
Navasota: The Grimes County Master Gardeners will hold their 2008 class beginning Tuesday, January 29 and ending on Tuesday, April 22. Classes meet from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. in the Go Texan Building at the Grimes County Fairgrounds outside of Navasota. Cost for the class is $150 and applications may be picked up at the Extension Office on Judson, Martha's Bloomers and Coufal Prater. For further information contact the Extension Office at (936) 825-3495 or Julia Cosgrove at (979) 921-0538.
Tyler: The 15th annual East Texas Spring Landscape & Garden Conference will be held February 16, from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at the Tyler Rose Garden Center, 420 Rose Park Drive, Tyler. Featured speakers include Dr. Jerry Parsons, Joe Novak, Aubrey King, and Tim Lanthrum. Topics include "Texas Superstars in Your Garden," "Secrets of Successful Vegetable Gardening," "Gardening for a Lifetime," "Landscaping with Texas Native Plants," "Common Problems with Small Engines and How to Prevent Then," and "Calibrating Sprayers and Spreaders." Cost: $15, which includes lunch. For additional information, contact Keith Hansen at (903) 590-2980 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu.
Houston: River Oaks Garden Club will host its 73rd annual Azalea Trail Friday through Sunday, March 7, 8 and 9 from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day. Azalea Trail, 2008, will celebrate the 51st anniversary of Miss Ima Hogg's gift of her beautiful home and gardens, Bayou Bend, to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The trail will feature four private houses and gardens, as well as Bayou Bend, Rienzi and the River Oaks Garden Club Forum of Civics Building and Gardens. Tickets for seven admissions are $15 before March 7 and $20 during the trail. Single admissions are $5. For additional information, call (713) 523-2483 or visit http://www.riveroaksgardenclub.org.
Tomball: The Arbor Gate will host its third annual Rose Festival March 8. More than 100 varieties of old and antique roses will be available, as will guest speakers and informative booths. The Arbor Gate is located at 15635 FM2920, Tomball. For additional information, contact (281) 351-8851 or visit http://www.arborgate.com.
Burnet: The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association will sponsor the 10th Annual Hill Country Lawn and Garden Show, March 22, from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Burnet Community Center on E. Jackson in downtown Burnet. The show features garden-related vendors, a children's booth, a raffle, and seminars. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://hillcountrylgshow.com or call Paula Montandon, Show Chairman, at (830) 693-0163.
Galveston: Moody Gardens and the International Oleander Society will host the Earth Day and Oleander Festival at Moody Gardens on Galveston Island April 26-27. The Oleander Festival is an annual event dating back to 1921 that honors the beautiful flower and educates guests about the history of the oleander on Galveston Island and throughout the world. Area plant societies, clubs, and vendors are invited to set up booth space to display and sell their plants. There will be a floral design competition were professional, amateur and child participants can display their work to be judged. Earth Day celebration activities by Moody Gardens and its community partners will include arts and crafts, entertainment and presentations great for the whole family. "We are pleased to bring these two events together here at Moody Gardens in Galveston," said John Zendt, General Manager of Moody Gardens. "We are excited about promoting the environmental conservation missions of both Moody Gardens and the International Oleander Society and inviting the public to have some fun while learning about global and local environmental issues." Admission to the Earth Day and Oleander Festival is free to the public. For more information, call Moody Gardens at (800) 582-4673 or visitwww.oleander.org.
Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at a new eco-farm in Kilgore. If there is enough interest, we will also start a Sunday afternoon monthly meeting. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.
Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the little blue-gray house located at 102 N. Allen Dr., Allen. For more information, visit www.allengardenclub.org.
Austin: Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit www.main.org/aog.
Friendswood: The Second Tuesday of each month the Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold a free evening educational program for the public, called the Green Thumb Series, at Southeast Church of Christ, 2400 W Bay Area Blvd., Friendswood, about 1 mile west of I-45 and Baybrook Mall. For more information visit http://hcmgap2.tamu.edu or call (281) 991-8437.
Rockport: The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group, founded in March 2003, meets the second Wednesday of each month, with the exceptions of June and July, to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including historical uses and tips for successful propagation and cultivation, meets at 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. Sometimes they take field trips and have cooking demonstrations in different locations. For more information, contact Linda (361) 729-6037, Ruth (361) 729-8923 or Cindy (979) 562-2153 or visit www.rockportherbs.com.
San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.
Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member's homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit www.RainbowGardenClub.com.
Denton: The Denton Organic Society, a group devoted to sharing information and educating the public regarding organic principles, meets the third Wednesday of each month (except July, August and December) at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Avenue. Meetings are free and open to the public. Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.
Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets the third Thursday of each month at the Texas Cooperative Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak at 7 p.m. For more information, phone (830) 379-1972 or visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org.
Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.
Dallas: The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.
Arlington: The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.
If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.
Doug Welsh's Texas
Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac is a giant monthly calendar for the entire state ó a practical, information-packed, month-by-month guide for gardeners and "yardeners." This book provides everything you need to know about flowers and garden design; trees, shrubs, and vines; lawns; vegetable, herb, and fruit gardening; and soil, mulch, water, pests, and plant care. It will help you to create beautiful, productive, healthy gardens and have fun doing it.
$26.63 plus shipping*
Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.
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Fiber row cover
Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.
$30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)
Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.
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Publisher: Chris S. Corby ● Editor: Michael Bracken
Texas Gardener's Seeds, P.O. Box 9005, Waco, Texas 76714 ● www.TexasGardener.com