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Native to the Andes Mountains in Peru, potatoes are a staple in most gardens, if not kitchens. Potatoes are part of the Solanaceae family, which is also referred to as the Nightshade family. While the purple flowers that bud from potato plants are undeniably beautiful and add a splash of color to the garden, we are more interested in the tubers that grow beneath.
When it’s time for the potato plant to flower, you can leave the plants to flower peacefully. Flowering is part of the potato plant’s natural stage. It shows that the plant has been absorbing sunlight, nutrients, and water from the surrounding environment.
However, removing the buds of your potato plants is also an option. According to the University of California IPM, it is recommended that you prune potato flowers once they appear. The argument is that when a plant flowers, it uses most of its energy in the process rather than devoting it to the growth of larger tubers. Therefore, pruning potato flowers is a great way to help boost the production of spuds.
In this piece, we discuss in further detail everything about the potato flowering process. Read on to learn more.
Why Do Potatoes Flower?
While it may surprise some people, potatoes can produce fruits and still produce the potatoes we eat. For the potato plant to produce fruit, it must flower. The fruit usually forms after the pollination the flower. The pollination can be a result of pollen from another plant or self-pollination. After pollination, the fertilized ovule starts to grow and finally becomes a fruit.
However, note that potato fruits aren’t edible, unlike in a majority of other plants. This fruit is only meant to house the seeds, which is essential for the growth of other potato plants.
Again, just like the fruits, the flowers from these potato plants are not edible either. Apart from the tubers that we consume, all the other parts in a potato plant contain solanine. Solanine is a toxic chemical that leads to headaches, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other unpleasant symptoms. In some worse cases, consuming too much of the solanine can even lead to death.
Therefore, once you remove the flowers from your potato plants, ensure they are out of children’s reach, especially in places they play. Potato flowers are usually enticing to your kids so they can quickly ingest them. Don’t forget to watch out for pets since solanine can equally affect them.
If you still insist on letting a few potatoes produce seeds so that you can collect them for the following year’s plantation, you can let a few plants have flowers. While at it, make sure you watch out for pets and children going to the garden since they may get tempted to pop a flower in their mouths.
What Do Potato Plant Flowers Look Like?
In my first experience with potato plants, I wasn’t sure what the flowers look like, so I had to inquire from agricultural experts. The flowers produced by potato plants are usually small and will sometimes form clusters. If you’ve come across flowers growing on tomatoes, then you should expect something somewhat similar to that but in various colors.
You can find potato flowers with colors ranging from pink, lavender, white, or purple, along with a yellow center. The variety of potatoes you choose to grow will determine the color of the flowers. Some specific potato varieties have a particular color on the flowers.
Once it’s time to prune the flowers, you can use gardening shears or a pair of scissors to cut at the base of the plant’s stem with the flower. This way, the plant will stop sending more energy for seed production. Instead, the plant will now focus on producing tubers. Pruning is the most effective method that helps direct the plant’s energy to where you want the energy to go.
Although most gardeners pinch off the flowers with bare fingers, it’s advisable to consider putting at least long sleeves, gloves, or eye protection. Gloves will help to avoid getting into direct contact with the plant’s sap. If you have an allergy to potatoes or have sensitive skin, it’s possible to develop a rash or other allergic reactions.
Alternatively, you can sterilize your pruners or scissors by dipping the blades into Pine-Sol, Lysol, or rubbing alcohol. Let the blades air dry, then start siping off the buds or flowers developing from your potato plants.
The video below will give you 13 tips for growing potatoes and I speak about the benefits of removing potato flowers and why you may want to consider it.
Do Potato Flowers Always Bloom?
While most people expect all potatoes flowers to bloom, it doesn’t happen in all potato plants. However, this doesn’t mean you will see any effects on the tubers forming on the potato plants. In cases where there are warmer climates or hot seasons, the potato fowers will mostly likely last for only a few days. This means the flowers will fall off before they even start to bloom and allow for pollination.
The flowers have no direct influence on the tubers forming underground, so there won’t be any effect if they fall off or never show up on the potato plant. Even if the plant fails to flower, potato plants will still produce the expected large and healthy tubers. However, if your potato plants fail to bloom out, it may be tricky to tell when it’s time to harvest your tubers.
Some gardeners prefer waiting until the potato flowers fade away to start digging up the potatoes. In a case where the plants don’t flower, watch for the foliage in the plants to dry, fall over, or wither. This is a good sign that you can start harvesting your crop.
Alternatively, I prefer to wait until the potato plant dies, then harvest mature potatoes within two to three weeks. When the leaves turn yellow and the plant begins to dry up, these are indicators of a dead potato plant. Also, waiting up to this point gives the tubers as much time as possible to get bigger and healthier. On the other hand, some gardeners prefer to harvest the potatoes when the plant is still green with yellow tops.
This is because it’s a much easier process to pull out the plant and tubers from the ground.
Typically, potato flower bloom happens when there is cool and wet weather, mostly in early summer. As a result, depending on your growing zone, you may experience more potato plants flowering than in areas with warmer climates. People living in warmer zones from ten through twelve have significantly lower chances of potato flowers sticking around for long.
On the other hand, people living in fewer warm areas such as five, six, seven, or eight will likely have blooming potato flowers.
When Does a Potato Plant Flower?
Generally, potato plants flower as they get closer to the end of their growing season, as the plant nears maturity. This is a sign that the potato tubers underneath are doing well. However, when the flower starts forming, it’s still not yet time to begin harvesting the tubers. The bulk on the potato tubers usually experiences the highest growth rates once a potato plant flowers.
Keep in mind that depending on the variety of a potato plant, it can take approximately ten to 17 weeks to mature. Be sure to check the maturity time when purchasing potato seeds from a given company. I have a habit of marking the date I planted on my calendar to help me keep track of the date I planted the potato seeds. Tracking helps you figure out the exact harvest time.
Must You Wait for the Potatoes to Flower Before Digging Them Up?
You can still decide to dig out potatoes before the plants start producing flowers. However, I discovered that harvesting before flowering doesn’t give you the expected potato yields that you would get on a good harvest. These potatoes will not be at their full potential, so you will likely get small, thin-skinned potatoes that usually form before the flowering stage of a potato plant.
If possible, it’s advisable to wait until the potato plant flowers and starts to die off so that you can begin digging the tubers. However, other factors affect the yield of our potatoes, including solar radiance, nitrogen abundance, rainfall or watering, soil and air temperature, day length, and certain nutrients such as calcium and magnesium, among many.
When a potato plant flowers, it’s a sign of how mature the plant is and that the tubers are also growing bigger. You can also check on the growth progress of the potatoes by digging around the plant with bare hands to reach out for new potatoes. Before the potato flowers, you will likely have baby potatoes, but you can still harvest them if you are okay with that size.
However, if you are in an area where temperatures get too warm, it’s a good idea to dig out the potatoes. When soil temperatures get to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, tubers will stop forming, so there is no point leaving them to continue growing.
How Much Time Does a Potato Take to Flower?
Typically, potato plants will start flowering as they get nearer to the end of the growing season, just like any other plant. Flowers attract pollinators that help potato plants to reproduce more in the future. In most cases, flowers are an indication that potato plants have started producing tubers. Still, flowers can also signify that the plant may be over-fertilized, leading to a rush in flower production.
Also, excessively high or low temperatures can lead to flowering before the ideal time or even faster growth than the expected time. As a general rule, you will mostly see the plant flowers approximately 55 to 60 days after the planting time of the potato seed in the ground. This period offers enough time for the potato plant to start flowering and producing fruit before being dormant.
The period it takes for a potato to blossom typically lasts for only a short time as they wait for the pollination period. After pollination, the flower turns into a fruit. If pollination doesn’t occur within a short period, the buds die and fall off the plant to make new growth.
Conclusion on should you leave flowers on potato plants or remove them
Known to raise divided opinions, the decision to remove flowers from potato plants remains a hot topic for debate amongst gardeners. Although, in theory, removing the flowers should divert more energy towards the growth of the potato tubers, the difference is thought to be quite negligible. So, it comes down to personal choices and preferences.
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