Having a crop in the garden not set flowers can be concerning for new and seasoned gardeners alike. Luckily, potato flowers, or a lack thereof, aren’t any cause for concern.
Potatoes do not need to flower to produce tubers. Flowers can often be a sign that it’s getting close to harvest time. But, even without the flower indication, you can still have a bountiful potato harvest this season.
I’ll discuss the lifecycle of potato plants and how to tell when potatoes are ready for harvest without flowers. As a bonus, I’ll also talk about whether it’s possible to save the seeds from potato flowers.
Lifecycle of a potato plant
To get a better understanding of how and why potatoes flower, it helps to first understand the life cycle of the potato plant.
The life of a potato starts in the early spring months about 3 weeks before the last frost. Seed potatoes are planted into shallow trenches about 4-5 inches deep or in raised beds depending on your garden setup.
Not long after being planted, potatoes will start to grow sprouts from their eyes. Potato eyes are small dimples or divots on the skin of the potato. Sometimes, tiny sprouts may already be growing before you plant. This is normal and won’t affect the health of your plant.
For the most part, sprout growth is taking place underground so it’s not something we gardeners can see.
After about 3 weeks from planting, the first potato leaves will begin to emerge from the ground. At this point, it’s important to make sure that your plants are properly watered and have adequate sunlight in their very beginning stages of life.
The soil should be watered about once or twice a week to keep the soil consistently moist. Make sure not to let the soil dry out completely but don’t water log the plants either.
Over the next couple of weeks, your potato plants will continue to grow and may begin to produce flowers. These flowers can be white or purple and may even turn into small fruits.
I’ll talk some more about these flowers and fruits later on.
Your tubers should reach full maturity in about 90-110 days from when they were first planted. You’ll notice that the leaves of the plant begin to yellow and start to die back. This is a good sign that it’s time to harvest!
Harvesting potatoes is simple and fun! All you need to do is a little digging. I like to use a digging fork for this part but you can also use a trowel or shovel if you prefer.
When I harvest potatoes, I try to be careful not to knick or pierce the tubers as this damage could introduce rot later on in storage.
Do potatoes need to flower to produce tubers?
Unlike many other plants, potatoes do not need to flower to produce tubers. In fact, potato plants often won’t produce flowers.
While many plants flower as a way to make seeds and reproduce, this isn’t necessary for potatoes as we don’t use their actual seeds to grow them. We plant new tubers which grow into potatoes via the lifecycle that I mentioned above.
These flowers can sometimes turn into little green fruits that look like tiny tomatoes. Some people prefer to remove the flowers and fruits as a way to help the plant put more energy into tuber production.
This has never made much of a difference in the growth of my own tubers but you may find that this is quite beneficial for yours.
When you do see flowers and fruits, you can use this as an indication that the plant is nearing the end of its life cycle. Pretty soon the flowers and fruits will fall off the plant as the rest of it begins to die back.
Once the leaves die back, you can expect your tubers to be ready for harvest in about 2 weeks.
When are potatoes ready to harvest?
When exactly your potatoes are ready for harvest will depend on the variety you are growing. As I mentioned earlier, it generally takes about 90-110 days for potatoes to reach full maturity. This is about 3 or 4 months.
Larger potato varieties, like Kennebec or Norland, will take a little longer to reach maturity than their smaller potato counterparts, like Satina.
Your seed provider will be able to give you a more exact time frame to harvest your potatoes. We also have a much more in-depth article all about when and how to harvest your potatoes that you can check out here.
If you’ve lost track of how many days have passed since you first planted your potatoes, then pay attention to the foliage. As harvest time gets closer, the leaves will begin to yellow and the plant will wither and die back.
Sometimes, I also just like to do a little dig to check and see how the tubers are looking underground as they get closer to their harvest date.
Are potato fruits edible?
If your potato flowers do turn into fruits, don’t eat them! The tiny fruits are poisonous and definitely won’t leave you feeling great. They really don’t taste that good anyway.
Potatoes are in the nightshade family along with other crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. All of these plants contain a chemical called solanine which can be harmful when ingested.
Luckily, this chemical isn’t found in the parts of the nightshade plants that we traditionally enjoy eating. As long as you steer clear of eating any leaves or stems of these plants, as well as the fruits of the potato plant, you’ll be just fine.
Can you save seeds from potato fruits?
Yes, it is technically possible to save the seeds from the small fruits of the potato plant. The seed-saving process is pretty much the same as the process for saving tomato seeds.
The easiest way to separate the seeds from the fruit is to mash the small fruits up into a pulp. Place this pulp in a jar with some water so that it makes a kind of slurry. Then, cover the jar with a breathable cloth to keep out any bugs or dander.
This slurry will need to sit out for about 3 days to ferment. You’ll know the seeds have fermented when they sink to the bottom of the jar and a thin layer of mold begins to form on the surface of the liquid.
Give the seeds a good rinse and leave them out to dry before putting them in storage to be used.
Potato seeds vs. seed potatoes
Saving seeds from potato fruits isn’t very popular for 2 main reasons. First, there’s a good chance the potatoes grown from saved seeds won’t grow true-to-type meaning they’ll likely grow to be much different from their parent plant.
Secondly, starting potatoes from true seeds takes significantly longer than just starting them from seed potatoes. Unless you have enough space to start the seeds indoors over the winter, it will be extremely difficult to get a good potato crop going.
Potato seeds and seed potatoes sound like the same thing but they’re not. Potato seeds are in reference to the actual seeds that come from the fruit. Seed potatoes are the tubers most people are familiar with planting in the spring.
Having flowerless potato plants is no reason to panic. Your potatoes will grow just fine without them. While flowers can be a good indication that it’s almost time to harvest your tubers, you’ll also know they’ve reached maturity when the entire plant starts to die back.
Just make sure not to eat the flowers or the fruits they might produce as these are toxic. You may even consider removing them to help promote the growth of the tubers underground. Happy potato growing!