What Is Hilling Potatoes? – Is It Necessary?

There is a lot of confusion surrounding hilling. Is it necessary? Does it improve yields? Can you do it in a container? The answer to these questions and hopefully everything you want to know about hilling coming up.

Hilling potatoes is the act of mounding dirt around the base of the potato plant. It’s done 2-3 times throughout the potato plants life. Simply move dirt around the base of the plant and leave 3-4 inches of green growth above the dirt. You don’t need to prune the bottom of the plant just cover it with dirt.

Is Hilling Potatoes Necessary?

Farmers do not hill their potato plants. If you don’t plan on hilling potato plants plant them deep enough that the potatoes will all be covered with dirt.

Hilling is not necessary to successfully grow potato plants. However, it is necessary as you are growing potatoes to check on the plants and see if any potatoes are peaking through the ground and getting direct sunlight. If they are you do need to cover them with dirt. Potatoes that get direct sunlight will turn green and become inedible.

Hilling potatoes is generally good practice for a gardener. By hilling potatoes you are taking away a lot of the risk that some of your potatoes will be exposed to sunlight. Also the first hilling when your plants reach 6-8 inches can insulate them from the cold early spring and later act as support as the potato plant grows to keep it upright.

Hilling potatoes can also keep weeds away from the plant and make for better drainage at the base of the potato plant so it’s not sitting in a puddle when a heavy rain comes. Whether hilling will increase your potato yields depends on if the potatoes you’re growing are a determinate or indeterminate variety.

Determinate Potato Varieties

Determinate potatoes grow in one layer just under the ground slightly above where the seed potato is planted. Because of this, hilling is not necessary for determinate potato varieties. Almost all early and mid season potato varieties are determinate.

Determinate varieties will stop producing new tubers once the plant reaches tuber initiation, the third stage of the potato plants growing cycle. This stage ends with early flowering which marks the fourth stage in the potato plants growing cycle, tuber bulking. Below is a list of some determinate varieties.

  • Adirondack Red
  • Adirondack Blue
  • Yukon Gold
  • Norland
  • Ratte
  • Caribe
  • Chieftain
  • Sierra Gold
  • Sierra Rose
  • Superior
  • Reddale
  • Gold Rush
  • Onaway
  • Cranberry Red

Indeterminate Potato Varieties

Indeterminate potato varieties grow in multiple layers and continue to produce new tuber growth throughout the plants life cycle. Because of this hilling is a good idea with indeterminate varieties. If you are growing a late season variety it is an indeterminate.

Growing indeterminate potatoes in pots can lead to bigger yields than growing determinate varieties.

The continued growth leads to bigger yields from indeterminate varieties and makes for a good choice for gardeners with limited space allowing more growth to be done vertically. If you’ve seen growers pulling out big yields from a container that is likely coming from an indeterminate variety. Some indeterminate varieties are listed below.

  • Russet Burbank
  • German Butterball
  • Butte
  • Katahdin
  • Red Pontiac
  • Canela
  • Carola
  • Strawberry Paw
  • Green Mountain
  • Kennebec
  • All Blue
  • Desiree
  • Elba
  • Red Maria
  • Ranger Russet
  • Bintje
  • Lehigh
  • Russet Nugget
  • Red Cloud
  • Nicola

Hilling Potatoes In Containers

Growing indeterminate varieties in containers is a great way to get good yields with limited space. The process is the same for potatoes anywhere else. Wait for the potato plants to grow to 6-8 inches tall and mound dirt around the plants leaving 3-4 inches of green growth above the soil.

After the potato plants grow another 6-8 inches or 2-3 weeks later repeat the process. Typically gardeners end up hilling their potatoes 2-3 times in the plants life.

If your container runs out of space you can add height to it by taking cardboard and shaping it into a cylinder around your container and then taping it together.

Here’s a 4 pack of 10 gallon bags with windows to check on root veggies. If you use something around the house for a container look for something that’s 12″ deep and make sure it has holes or make holes to allow for drainage.

Hilling Potatoes In Raised Beds or Garden Plots

Hilling potatoes in raised beds or garden plots starts when you plant your seed potatoes. Dig a trench about 6 inches deep to plant your seed potatoes. Cover the seed potato with dirt but still leave a little of the sunk in trench to fill in later the first time you hill.

By digging the trench you will have soil on either side of the seed potatoes to mound with. You’ll most likely need extra soil from somewhere later when you go to hill the potatoes for a second or third time. If your soil has sat through the winter make sure to loosen the dirt in the garden before planting to make hilling easier later.

It can be tough to keep hills mounded when heavy rain and wind come into the equation. Some gardeners use bricks, concrete blocks, or tires to hill their potatoes. These structures will keep the hill in place and allow you to hill as high as you like by adding blocks or tires one on top of the other.

Hilling Potatoes With Straw or Mulch

Potatoes can also be hilled with mulch or straw.  Covering the potatoes with straw makes for less digging and easier harvesting come that time.  A thick layer of straw will keep the soil temperature down in hot weather and may insulate the plant better for varieties that have long seasons and are still growing when the weather turns cold in the fall. 

Straw or mulch needs to be applied thickly to avoid sunlight getting through and turning the potatoes green.  You can throw some soil into the mix on top of the straw to fill in areas where the sun could get through.

When to Stop Hilling Potatoes

Stop hilling potatoes after doing the process 2-3 times. You’ll still want to keep an eye on the plants and if you see any tubers sticking out of the dirt make sure to cover them.

Some gardeners say to stop when your hill reaches 8-12 inches. After potato plants flower they’re pretty much done with above ground growth and you shouldn’t need to hill around the plants anymore.

Please comment below with your own thoughts about hilling potatoes.

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