We’re all looking for better ways to increase the yield of our gardens, but do potato towers really work? Hilling is the process of adding soil around a potato plant. To understand why this is, you need to understand the potato plant itself.
Potatoes start with seed potatoes or mother potatoes. These potatoes are ditched 4 to 6 inches and covered with loose soil. As a new potato plant grows, it sends roots downward and outward under the soil.
Stolons form along the portion of the stem above the mother tuber and below the ground. Where these stolons end is where the tubers or potatoes begin to develop.It is easy to see that potatoes planted at 4 to 6 inches do not have much room for potato growth and development. An additional concern is that growing potatoes exposed to sunlight turn green with the toxic alkaloid solanine.
Hilling the potatoes about five to six weeks into the growing season will add warmth, retain moisture, and protect the potatoes from much-needed sunlight. This ultimately leads to improved crop production. Growing potatoes requires raking the soil around the plant so that most of the leaves are exposed to the sun.
Now that it’s clear that hilling can help with production, what about potato towers? Now, this logic is flawed.
A second hilling a few weeks later may also be beneficial for potato development, but does not appear to increase production by more than about 12 inches. If you keep planting or burying potato plants in hills with potato towers, the stems and leaves will continue to grow upwards. However, additional stolons do not develop beyond the first 12 inches, and then covering the leaves of the potato plant or removing it from the sun inhibits tuber development. Sunlight and photosynthesis are key to the development of starch stored in potatoes. Over-cultivating and disrupting that process will reduce plant productivity.
So say yes to hilling and no to potato towers. gardening fun.
— The Smith County Master Gardener Program is a volunteer organization affiliated with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.