Potato Plants Under Leaves: How To Grow Potatoes In Leaves

Potato Plants Under Leaves: How To Grow Potatoes In Leaves

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By: Amy Grant

Our potato plants pop up all over the place, probably because I’m a lazy gardener. They don’t seem to care under what medium they are grown, which got me to wondering “can you grow potato plants in leaves.” You’re likely going to rake the leaves up anyway, so why not try growing potatoes in a leaf pile? Keep reading to find out how easy it is to grow potatoes in leaves.

Can You Grow Potato Plants in Leaves?

Growing potatoes is a rewarding experience since yields are generally fairly high, but traditional methods for planting potatoes do require some time and effort on your part. You start with a trench and then cover the growing potatoes with soil or mulch, continually mounding the medium as the spuds grow. If you don’t like to dig, however, you can also grow potato plants under leaves.

Planting potatoes in leaves has got to be the easiest growing method, although you do have to rake the leaves, but there’s no bagging and no moving them.

How to Grow Potatoes in Leaves

First things first…find a sunny area to grow your potato plants under leaves. Try not to select a place where you have grown potatoes before to minimize the chance of pest and disease.

Next, rake up the fallen leaves and gather them into a pile on the location of your soon to be potato patch. You are going to need quite a lot of leaves, as the pile should be around 3 feet (about 1 m.) high.

Now you just need to be patient and let nature take its course. Over the fall and winter, the leaves will begin to break down and by spring planting time, voila! You will have a nice, rich mound of compost.

Select the variety of seed potatoes you wish to plant and cut them into pieces, making sure to leave at least one eye in each piece. Let the pieces cure for a day or so in a warm area before planting the potatoes in the leaves.

After the potatoes have dried for a day or so, plant them a foot (31 cm.) apart from each other down into the pile of leaves. An alternate method that yields the same results is to prepare a bed in the garden and then bury the pieces, cut side down, into the dirt and then cover them with a thick layer of the leaf humus. Keep the plants watered as they grow.

A couple of weeks after the stems and leaves have died back, part the leaf humus and remove the potatoes. That’s it! That’s all there is to growing potatoes in leaf piles.

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Crops to Grow for Your Compost Pile

Ken Samuelsen / Getty Images

Some organic gardening methods, including biodynamic and bio-intensive gardening, encourage the gardener to grow crops specifically for the compost pile. While very devoted adherents to these types of methods might use more than half of their available gardening space to grow compost crops, you don’t have to go that far. The good news is that you can grow plants specifically for your compost pile that, in some cases, will feed your family or local wildlife as well.


Autumn leaves, especially those that have been shredded by a lawnmower, are dream additions to the compost pile. Leaves are a great source of "brown," high-carbon material for the compost. Simply alternate layers of shredded leaves with the regular green materials you'd add to your compost pile, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, weeds, grass clippings, and plants that you pull out in your fall garden cleanup, and let it sit over the winter. Aerate or turn the pile when you think of it, and by planting time you'll have finished compost.

If you are a fan of lasagna gardening, also known as sheet composting, autumn leaves are a true gift. You can build a lasagna garden in the fall with your leaves and other compostables, let it sit over the winter, and plant in the new bed in the spring.

Compost Components

Composting is an elegant and effective way of dealing with kitchen scraps that would otherwise be hauled off to the dump. Just toss them into a pile somewhere in the yard, stir it every so often, and voila: black gold. “Good” compost is made up of mostly decomposed organic matter, which can come from kitchen scraps, animal manure, fallen leaves and grass clippings. Relatively low in nutrients, the real value of compost is in its ability to enhance the workability of soils to which it is added, by improving soil structure and water retention and adding trace amounts of minerals and micronutrients.

Plants to Grow in the Fall: Potatoes

Fill up your fall garden with potatoes. Photo by Pauline Eccles

Potatoes are a fun crop to grow at home because they are relatively simple to care for and children have a blast pulling up the plants to look at the potatoes during harvest time.

Whether you live in the north or the south, fall can be a great time to plant potatoes. Southern growers will be able to get a crop of potatoes in the fall before the first frost hits, and Northern growers may have healthier summer potato crops if the potatoes are planted in the fall.

Ideal Soil Condition for Potatoes

Potatoes grow best in acidic, loose soil that is well drained. The soil should be tilled to 12 inches before planting. Since potatoes are a member of the nightshade family, don’t grow them in the same bed that has housed other potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants in the last 2 years.

Fall Potato Planting in the South

Plan to have your potatoes in the ground about 110 days before the first frost. In Texas, the first frost generally does not hit before November, and sometimes it is even later than that. If you plant your fall crop between late July and early September, you should be able to get a solid crop before a firm frost hits and kills the potato plants. If you live in an area with just one or two frosts a year, or none at all, you should be able to successfully grow potatoes almost through the entire winter. Potatoes grow best when daily temperatures are around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which in Texas, is a normal daily fall/early winter temperature.

Plant chunks of potato eyes about 3 inches deep with the eyes facing up. Sprouts should emerge in 2 weeks. As the plant grows, pile up dirt and acidic mulch around the base of the plant to the bottom of the leaves. Water potato plants 1 inch of water per week. Harvest the potatoes when the leaves start to turn brown and die back. You can harvest a little earlier, if the weather starts to get nippy, but don’t eat green potatoes.

Fall Potato Planting in the North

In the north, potatoes obviously don’t grow during the winter because it is too cold, but some gardeners recommend planting potatoes well-insulated in the ground so that when spring arrives, the potatoes are able to start growing a few weeks before the final frost. This gives them a better chance of survival if a late frost hits.

For fall planting in the north, use whole seed potatoes (organic potatoes should also work- they tend to sprout in my pantry) to discourage rotting. Make sure the soil is loose for about 12 inches and dig a 10-inch trench for your potatoes. Fill the bottom of the trench with leaves or pine needles. Place the whole potatoes over the leaves. Fill in the holes with more leaves, compost, or grass clippings. Pile dirt in mounds over the top mulch.

The insulation mulch barrier will decay during the winter, creating heat that helps the young plant grow when early spring temperatures are still unsteady.

Want to plant even more vegetables in your yard? We recommend reading [sc:byfarm ].

Planting Potatoes in the Fall

Small seed potatoes grow best. Photo by Aardappel Doré

You don’t have to plant potatoes in the ground. If you have a deep enough container, like a barrel or even a bucket, potatoes can grow successfully if the container is kept drained. Potatoes will rot in the presence of too much water and compacted soil.

Have you tried growing potatoes in the fall? What were your results?

Join in the Green Thumb Thursday fun!


Charles Bruman says

Yes I have planned red potatoes in December covered them with leaves and old corn stalks and then back plastic removed plastic in spring.they turned out really good.l got my idea from mother nature when in years past I missed some and they grew the next spring. I’m going to try snap peas this year because some came up from last year.I thought I was the only one who has crazy ideas.

Happy Camper says

I have 2 bags, Idaho’s and red that had some bad ones that spoiled in storage. I just planted them in 9-12″ of garden soil in the yard. Its November in wv.After reading this, maybe I should move them to a small plastic pool. What do you think? Fill it with leaves, transfer the mounds of dirt containing potatoes to it. Cover with more mulch, then straw with soil to weigh it down. I’m thinking of drilling holes for drainage and earth worm transit. What would you change with this idea?

Charles Bruman says

Oh I live in lower Michigan

Marilyn says

i have quite a few potatoes that turned green before i got to them. would these wor for a fall planting?

Lisa Tompkins says

I just harvested my potatoes that I planted this spring. Can I use my little 1 inch round potatoes as seed potatoes and plant them now? They do not have any little eyes sprouting.

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Using Shredded Leaves

If you have an abundant source of leaves in the fall, shred them. Your garden will benefit in a big way. Here how to use them:

  • Insulate Tender Plants: A 6-inch blanket of leaves protects tender plants from winter wind and cold. Cover cold-hardy vegetables—such as carrots, kale, leeks and beets—and you'll be able to harvest them all winter.
  • Boost Your Compost Pile: Carbon-rich leaves balance high-nitrogen compost ingredients such as fresh grass clippings.
  • Improve Your Soil: Mix shredded leaves right into your garden. Next spring, your soil will be teeming with earthworms and other beneficial organisms.
  • Make "Leaf Mold": Simply rake the leaves into a big pile. If you shred them, they will decompose faster, but you can still make leaf mold without shredding. After one to three years, fungus will have broken the leaves down to a special compost that smells like a walk through the woods. Leaf mold is high in calcium and magnesium and retains three to five times its weight in water—rivaling peat moss.

Man dies after inhaling fungal spores from garden compost

Aspergillus fumigatus fungus, commonly found in decaying vegetation. Photograph: Science photo library

Aspergillus fumigatus fungus, commonly found in decaying vegetation. Photograph: Science photo library

Gardeners should take extra care when handling old bags of compost after a man died from kidney failure after inhaling poisonous fungal spores, doctors have warned.

The 47-year-old welder from Buckinghamshire, who has not been named, died in intensive care a week after being engulfed by "clouds of dust" when he opened bags of rotting plant material that had been left to fester, in a case reported in the Lancet.

Doctors were baffled by his condition until his partner said he had fallen ill after working in the garden. Later tests revealed he had developed acute aspergillosis, a dangerous reaction to Aspergillus fumigatus spores. The fungus, which is commonly found growing on dead leaves, compost piles and decaying vegetation, may trigger a relatively harmless allergic reaction but can cause serious problems if too many spores get into the lungs.

David Waghorn, a doctor at Wycombe hospital in Buckinghamshire and a microbiologist, said the man had been unlucky: "He'd been opening bags of compost and mulch which had been left to rot. The fungus spores had grown in perfect conditions. He was extremely unlucky - there must have been a very large number of spores which he inhaled."

People with weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable. "What we don't know is how strong his defences were. He was a smoker and a welder by trade and his lungs may have been damaged. It's a very unusual thing to happen but if people are dealing with big bags of mulch, there is a potential danger," said Waghorn.

The man, who had previously been healthy, became ill 24 hours later, but was not admitted to hospital until a week later, when he complained of chest pains and breathing difficulties. Despite being given oxygen by medical staff, tests showed his tissue was starved of oxygen and that he was suffering from "overwhelming sepsis", a life-threatening condition caused by an overactive immune system. Symptoms include a fast heart rate, low blood pressure and kidney problems.

Doctors initially thought he had developed pneumonia from a bacterial infection but treatment with antibiotics was not successful. Once aspergillosis was confirmed, intravenous antifungal drugs were given by doctors, but the treatment came too late.

Waghorn said: "I don't know if he could have been saved had we known about the spores, but we could have given the antifungal drugs sooner."

The authors of the article said that while acute aspergillosis after contact with decayed plant matter is rare, it "may be considered a hazard for gardeners".

In April, a group of German scientists raised concerns about the dangers of airborne mould spores produced when organic waste decayed. The spores could lead to allergic reactions, asthma attacks and hayfever-like symptoms, they said.

Harald Morr, a leading pneumologist, said: "Even just opening the lid of a bin containing organic waste can cause mould spores to be stirred up which, if breathed in, can damage the lungs."

Householders who regularly handled organic waste were advised to wear face masks and to keep a distance when handling rotting material.

Watch the video: No-Dig Potatoes Experiment