Jumpstarting Spring: How to Greensprout Potatoes

Spring is getting off to a late start here in Vermont, and in many other parts of the country as well. As a result our customers have been asking us what they should do with their potatoes while they wait for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw. One method you can try is called greensprouting, or “chitting” potatoes, which takes advantage of the extra time available to transform your potatoes from starchy spuds into verdant transplants.

Why Greensprout?

Getting potatoes into and out of the ground quickly in the spring is really important. Cool, wet soil can lead to rot, and the longer the potato spends in the ground “waking up”, the more susceptible it is to attack by fungal diseases. One of the keys to successful organic farming is getting plants off to a healthy start when they are transplanted into the field. Transplant shock, or the adjustment to being outdoors in the big wide world, can set back schedules as well as yields, both of which affect a farm’s bottom line. The hardening-off process, of getting transplants ready to make the leap, is something people do regularly, so why put your potatoes into the ground without the same care?

I have been greensprouting or “chitting” my potatoes for years, and while it’s a little extra work, the results are totally worth it. The potatoes are ready to harvest about two weeks earlier and tolerate cool, wet spring soils much better. Plus, they can be planted later, and the time they spend sprouting inside is time they aren’t vulnerable to pests, diseases, and cold temperatures in the field. Rather than dropping seed potatoes in the row, as is traditionally done, I am really transplanting my potatoes as if they were seedlings.

Step One: Break Dormancy

The process is simple. The first step is to break the dormancy of the potatoes by keeping them warm and dark. I arrange them a few layers deep in a black crate and put them in a room that I keep at 70-75 degrees F. You could also place them on top of a seedling heat mat, on top of the fridge, or any other warm (not hot!) surface. The elevated temperature breaks the dormancy of the potatoes, and encourages them to produce multiple eyes. How long this takes can vary; some potatoes may have been stored better than others and will be slower to sprout, however you should ideally start seeing white shoots appearing in a week or two.

Step Two: Grow Out

Once the sprouts have emerged to about ¼”, the temperature should be lowered to 50-60 degrees F, and the potatoes should be exposed to natural or artificial light. I just use shop lights that I put right on top of the crates. This is the step that slows the growth of the sprouts, and allows them to undergo the really beautiful part of this process. The sprouts turn greenish purple, and the strength of the sprout attachment increases, making them less likely to get broken off during planting. However, even if the sprouts do break off, research shows that greensprouted potatoes still send up new shoots much more quickly than unsprouted potatoes. The greensprouting process also encourages seed potatoes to develop more shoots, resulting in plants that produce more tubers.

Step Three: Transplant

If you wait long enough, the sprouting potato forms true leaves. That’s the part that I really get excited about. I plant my potatoes by hand, and orient the seed potatoes with their new shoots and leaves up. If the seed pieces are of a larger size, I cut them just before they go in the ground. I try to have at least three nice eyes per piece, and I plan my cut so the cut side is as small as possible, thereby minimizing the risk of rot from the injury. Lots of people cut their seed potatoes a day or two before they plant, and allow the cuts to heal a little bit. We plant enough that we don’t really have the room to accommodate this extra step, and I find if you let the soil get warm enough, the risk of decay is fairly low. If the potatoes just have sprouts and no leaves, plant them so they are just barely covered, and they will send up shoots very quickly. If they do have leaves, plant so that just the leaves are sticking out of the soil. Most growers find that they shave 10-14 days off of the potato growing season by greensprouting, and are able to plant longer-season varieties than they would normally be able to grow successfully.

Potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. Just think — when you dig them, you are the first person ever to have held this amazing food, and that same tuber holds life for the next season’s crop. The greensprouted tubers are a sight to behold in the early days of spring, and the lush mature plants are likewise beautiful. When they are all in bloom, with their rows of different colored flowers, you couldn’t find a prettier place on earth.


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28 Responses to Jumpstarting Spring: How to Greensprout Potatoes

  1. Hannah Dietz says:

    Does anyone have advice how to remove or overcome sprout inhibitors in treated potatoes? Here in North East Texas the potatoes must be in the ground by mid-February, so they can mature before our brutal summer heat. Untreated seed for the specialty and fingerling potatoes are not available locally, and shipping costs are prohibitive. So I bought some bags of pricey (Melissas) from California – mixed fingerling and Dutch baby potatoes from the gourmet section. My guess is they were treated with ethylene. Will soaking remove this???

    • paul betz says:

      If ethylene was used, it was applied as a gas, so soaking isn’t going to wash it away.
      The first step in greensprouting is used to break the dormancy of the potatoes. It might take longer if they were treated, but it should be effective.

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  4. Very informative blog post, we like your site!

  5. Lin Reuther says:

    Hi ! I have the same questions as Betsy, just above…..I live in Vermont at 1400′. Wondering when to start this whole sprouting process so the potatoes are ready to plant early June.
    Also, can I order High Mowing potatoes now even if I will have to wait a while to start the sprouting? Will they “keep” ok? Thanks so much!

    • paul betz says:

      The whole process takes about four weeks. Breaking the dormancy is around two weeks, getting them green is about another two weeks. If your intention is to hold the potatoes till June, then I would count back around a month from your planting date to start. Until that time, keep the seed potatoes cool and dark, to hold them in a more dormant state. My goal is to get them in the ground by the third or fourth week of May, so I start mine in mid April. If you find that the conditions in the field have turned, and you can’t plant them when you had planned, it’s important to keep them under lights. Just keep them cool as well to slow down their respiration.

      As for layering the seed, I stack them two or three deep in the crates. They will still get light to them and the sprouts will green. If the seed potatoes are small, it might be better to just do them two deep. The intention is that all, or as many as possible, of the shoots have access to the light.

  6. Betsy says:

    When you grow out the sprouts, do you put the potatoes in a single layer under the lights? How long, on average, do the seed potatoes stay under the lights? When do you start this process here in the NorthEast? Can I hope to plant my seed potatoes as late as the first or second week of June?

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  13. John says:

    How long after planting potatoes can you expect to harvest?

    • paul says:

      It really depends on the variety and the season…. An early variety can be from 65-80 days, mid season from 80-90 days, and late seasons are 90+.
      You can dig around and rob some early potatoes a few weeks after flowering and leave the others to grow on and get to full size. I often find that the Norlands wont flower, but the quality of the plant will start to fade and look a little tired. That is my clue for them for when I start to dig around in those for some amazing new potatoes.

  14. Joe Weil says:

    Cool can’t wait to see more of your crop. I’m starting potatoes the way my Daddy did, old potatoes shriveled and sprouting huge eyes… They get cut into one eye sections and left for a few weeks to grow a leathery skin.

    I’m in zone 10b, San Diego, CA. I call it a Mediterranean climate, we have very few frost hours and some years none. desert plants thrive here but we can grow most anything with correct fertilization and watering (which I combine).

    I put mine in a ditch 8″ deep, in a 18″ amended soil, and topped with one inch of compost on 3/30/14. I have one shoot showing already. When the shoots are about 4″ tall I’ll add 2 “of amended soil. When the get to where most sprouts are 3″ add 1″ of compost. When 4-5″ is exposed fill another 3 inches of amended soil, and so on adding a mound until the growth starts to flower. at this point I add my super tuber feed of 2″ of compost and organic fertilizer.
    of course I’ll pick the little gems that like to surface as they grow…
    Oh yeah, the potatoes come from the produce section of the grocery store.

    • connie jorgensen says:

      You should try some of the fun pototoes! The fingerlings are especially delicious! I have a peanut fingerling that I’ve been growing and saving for five years. :) If you buy seed potatoes from the grocery store you might end up with some gmo sort, unless you buy organic pototoes of course. Sounds like your potatoes are wonderful!

  15. Joyce says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that you can plant chitted potatoes 2 weeks later (and still have them ready at the end of the season). I’ve been growing potatoes in raised beds in Canadian hardiness zone 5a for four years. I don’t plant then until after June 1st and have never had Colorado potato beetles – when they’re trying to lay eggs, my potatoes are still safe inside under lights, so I miss the first – and subsequent – generations.

  16. Rachael says:

    Do you cut them up into the individual plants right before transplanting or earlier? If earlier, how much earlier? –Thanks!

    • paul says:

      I cut them up right before I plant them. I know that lots of people like to do it a few days before, so the cut side can dry out and “heal” a little, but we do too many to make that work for us. I find if you wait until the soil is warm enough, the risk of rot isn’t too bad, and I get good results. If a piece is a little on the big side, but not too big, I will plant it whole to avoid cutting it if I can.

  17. Jen says:

    Do you cut the potatoes up first, or are you sprouting them as whole potatoes?

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      Jen – these are with whole potatoes.

      • Lauren says:

        And then you cut them up or do you plant the whole potato. If you plant the whole potato, what kind of yield does that produce as opposed to planting cut up tubers?

        • paul betz says:

          It depends on the size of the potato you plant. If a piece is a little on the big side, but not too big, I will plant it whole to avoid cutting it if I can. If the piece is really big, you will be cutting your yields across the patch because that seed piece could have gone farther if it was cut.

    • Ring Huggins says:


      Many years ago when I was gardening in B.C. Canada an old lady showed me how to minimize potato rot on the cuts. Get a small container of clean, pure sand and dip the cut
      in the sand before planting. Worked for me there and now here in the Terlingua Big Bend desert.

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