The vocabulary used for talking about potato seeds is confusing. There are “seed” potatoes, which aren’t seeds at all, and true potato seeds, which are the real seeds of the potato plant.
Potatoes do have seeds but are rarely grown from seed as almost everybody, farmers and gardeners alike, grow their potatoes from “seed potatoes”. Some seasons there will be what looks like cherry tomatoes growing just under the flowers of the potato plant. Inside this inedible bulb are true potato seeds.
Most modern potato varieties don’t produce seeds well or at all and require cross pollination from a different potato variety to produce the seed containing berries. That’s why some seasons you’ll see potato plants produce berries containing true potato seeds and not some seasons.
What Are True Potato Seeds?
True potato seeds come from the berries of the potato plant. They are commonly called TPS to distinguish them from seed potatoes. True potato seed when saved and grown produce many different varieties of potato and not a replica of the parent potato plant like seed potatoes do.
There is some debate as to the harvest results of first year TPS grows with some people saying it’s not possible to get a decent size harvest from them the first year and others claiming that it is if done right.
There is no arguing that starting the potatoes from TPS instead of seed potatoes produces mixed results due to the wide variety of potato genetics you’ll get from a batch of true potato seeds.
Because of this, and the extra steps and time involved in growing from seed, the only people that are interested in growing potatoes from true seed are plant breeders trying to produce a new variety of potato.
Growing Potatoes For and From True Potato Seeds
Many modern varieties of potatoes are poor at forming seeds and are male sterile. Male sterile varieties can still produce berries if pollinated by another variety but may pass on male sterile genes to offspring.
This is why using seeds from berries that just showed up in your garden is not a good way to start a hobby of growing different potato varieties. If you are interested in collecting and growing true potato seeds you should probably start with true potato seeds.
This way you know the potato plants that come from those seeds have a good chance at bearing seeds. When you get seeds from the potato plants that come from those true potato seeds you’ll have plants that grow berries full of seeds well in your climate.
When you grow from TPS you’ll get tons of varieties. Some that don’t yield much, some that are full of glycoalkaloids that make them bitter, and maybe some of the best tasting taters you’ve ever had!
Once you do get potato berries each potato berry can contain several hundred seeds so you are sure to get a wide variety of potato genetics from a few berries. In fact, from one five gallon bucket full of berries you’ll get enough seed to plant 10 acres of potatoes. Check out this resource for a more in depth look at TPS.
What Are Seed Potatoes?
Seed potatoes are potatoes that will be planted and used to grow potato plants. The majority of farmers and gardeners use seed potatoes because they will grow an identical plant with the same genetics as the plant the seed potato came from and cut out the time and steps necessary when growing from TPS.
Seed potatoes are often cut into pieces allowing multiple potato plants to come from a single seed potato. In commercial farming, specialized equipment is used to get uniform sized cuttings. Then the cuttings will commonly be sprayed with something to prevent infection.
For a home gardener, we aim for the cuttings to have two or three “eyes” that the roots and stems will grow from. It’s a good idea to let the potatoes sit out a day or two after cutting so the exposed area can harden some and prevent rot after planting.
A general estimate for yields from seed potatoes is that you will get a yield of 10x what you plant. So if you plant 10 lbs. of seed potato you can expect a 100 lbs. of potatoes at harvest time with a decent season.
Seed potatoes can be found at local gardening stores or even big box stores such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Menards. You can buy seed potatoes online and have access to a wider variety of potatoes.
Another thing to look for is that the potato is a “certified” seed potato. This designation means that the seed potatoes have undergone testing to ensure they are disease and insect free.
This article has good information on varieties of potatoes and sources for seed potatoes online.
Can I Grow Potatoes From Store Bought Potatoes?
It is possible to use regular store bought potatoes as seed potatoes but it doesn’t make much sense to do so. If the store bought potatoes produce sprouts then theoretically they should be able to be used as seed potatoes.
However, potatoes that are designated for eating are usually sprayed with a sprout inhibitor that could affect the growth of the spuds somehow even if it does produce sprouts.
The main reason for choosing seed potatoes over regular store bought potatoes is that you get to choose the variety and the individual potatoes that you want to use as seed. Most potatoes sold as seed potatoes also come certified disease free.
If somehow you’re in a situation where you can’t get seed potatoes and need to use store bought potatoes it would make sense to spend the extra money on organic potatoes as it’s less likely to be sprayed with a sprout inhibitor.
Can I use Last Year’s Potatoes for Seed Potato?
Using potatoes from your harvest the previous year is a common practice among gardeners and most Russians. You know exactly what you are getting and how well that variety did in your specific location.
You’ll need to learn how to properly store your potatoes and keep them dormant. This article has good information on how to store potatoes.
When using your own potato seed you need to be extra vigilant about potato disease. It makes sense to rotate your potato crop every year to keep disease and pests in the soil from getting their favorite food delivered to them every year. Also important to keeping potatoes disease free is keeping a clean and weed free potato patch.
If you have a bad year with pest or disease it’s a good idea to buy your seed potatoes the next year. This way you get a different variety that may do better with these specific pests and diseases and avoid the stored potato bringing over the disease from the last year.
Do Potatoes Grow From Seeds?
For farmers and gardeners alike, most potatoes are grown from seed potatoes. Potatoes can be grown from what’s called true potato seeds (TPS) or botanical seeds but this is rarely done.
To grow a potato from botanical seeds requires extra steps and ends with mixed results, as there is a wide variety of genetics that will come from true potato seeds even with seeds taken from the same berry of the same plant. For these reasons potatoes are rarely grown from seeds and almost always grown from “seed” potatoes.
Please comment with your experiences or thoughts about seed potatoes or true potato seeds.