Potatoes are a staple crop grown in gardens around the world. While the underground tubers are the valued part of the plant we eat, potato plants also produce delicate and beautiful flowers above ground. These flowers come in a range of colors from white to purple and serve an important purpose in potato reproduction.
What Do Potato Plant Flowers Look Like?
Potato plant flowers can vary slightly in appearance but generally have five petals that form a star shape. The petals emerge from a green or purple tinted flower bud on the end of a sturdy stem.
Some key features of potato flowers include:
- Petals – The petals range in color from white to pink, purple, red or blue. Some potato varieties have solid colored petals while others have petals with white tips.
- Stamens – Inside the flower are yellow stamens which contain the pollen.
- Pistil – At the very center is a yellow/green pistil which contains ovules that can be fertilized to produce berries.
- Stems – Flowers emerge individually or in clusters on sturdy stems that extend from the main plant.
- Leaves – The flowers will be surrounded by the oval or oblong green leaves of the potato plant.
- Scent – Most potato varieties have lightly fragrant flowers when blooming.
The dainty blooms come in a mix of hues and serve the vital roles of attracting pollinators, enabling seed production, and promoting genetic diversity. Though not the main edible portion, the mildly sweet flowers can also add color to recipes when used sparingly.
With proper care focused on planting timing, temperature, sunlight and pest prevention, you can enjoy both the beautiful flowers and tasty tubers from your potato plants!
Why Do Potato Plants Flower?
Potato plants produce flowers for the purpose of sexual reproduction. Like many plants, potato plants have both male and female reproductive parts contained within each flower.
The key reasons potato plants produce flowers are:
- Pollination – Insects and wind transfer pollen from the stamens to the pistil of potato flowers. This fertilizes the ovules and allows berries containing true potato seeds to form.
- Seed production – The berries mature into small green balls that contain around 300 true potato seeds. These seeds can then be collected and used to propagate new potato plants.
- Genetic diversity – Flowering and cross-pollination between different potato plants promotes genetic diversity in potato varieties. This helps create potato plants that are disease resistant and have favorable traits.
While potato plants primarily reproduce through their tubers (seed potatoes), flowering and seed production is important for breeding new varieties. Commercial growers generally prevent flowering to put all the plants energy into the tubers.
However, home gardeners can benefit from allowing some flowers for collecting seeds and expanding your potato collection. The flowers also attract beneficial pollinating insects to your garden!
When Do Potato Plants Flower?
The timing of flowering in potato plants depends on a few key factors:
- Potato variety – Early potato varieties flower and mature faster than late season varieties.
- Location – Potatoes grown in warmer climates with a longer growing season tend to flower earlier than cooler regions.
- Plant maturity – Most potato plants begin flowering around 4-6 weeks after the plants emerge depending on the factors above.
Some general guidelines for when potato plant flowering occurs:
- Early season varieties – Begin flowering around 4 weeks after sprouting.
– Example varieties: Irish Cobbler, Early Rose
- Mid-season varieties – Flower around 5 weeks after sprouting.
– Example varieties: Yukon Gold, Kennebec
- Late season varieties – Flower after 6+ weeks of growth.
The plants will continue blooming for several weeks as the tubers enlarge underground. Look for clusters of flowers at the tops of plants once they are 12-18 inches tall.
Knowing your specific potato variety’s maturation rate can help predict when flowering is likely to occur in your growing zone. Track the days from sprouting to flowering each year to learn when your plants normally reach this stage.
Can You Eat Potato Flowers?
While potato flowers are not the main edible portion of the plant, the flowers are non-toxic to humans. So yes, you can eat potato flowers!
The flavor of potato flowers is very mild with a slight herbaceous or grassy taste. The petals have a similar texture to greens like lettuce or parsley.
Some ways potato flowers can be eaten include:
- Added to salads for color and texture.
- Fried in tempura batter for a crunchy texture.
- Included in brothy soups to add interest.
- Mixed into herbed butters for a pretty garnish.
- Used as an edible garnish on plated dishes.
The flowers should be harvested when freshly opened before any signs of wilting. Make sure to wash the flowers thoroughly, since pollinating insects often land on the blooms.
Potato flowers are not a significant source of nutrients, so they are best used sparingly as an edible garnish. The rest of the potato plant including the leaves, stems and berries remain toxic and should not be consumed.
Enjoy experimenting with these garden beauties in your recipes for a novelty floral flavor!
Common Problems with Potato Plant Flowers
While potato plant flowers are an important part of the plant’s life cycle, some common problems can affect flowering and reduce yields:
Lack of Flowers
If a potato plant is failing to flower, it is often due to:
- Improper planting – Planting too early or late in the season can disrupt flowering signals.
- Low temperatures – Cool weather can delay flowering, especially in some long-season potato varieties.
- Water stress – Too much or too little water as plants mature may inhibit flowering.
- Nutrient deficiencies – Low levels of nutrients like nitrogen that support plant growth can reduce flowering.
- Plant potatoes according to your region’s recommended planting dates.
- Provide frost protection if planting early varieties.
- Maintain even soil moisture as plants near maturity.
- Test soil and amend with compost or fertilizer to prevent deficiencies.
Flowers Falling Off
Some causes of dropped flowers in potato plants include:
- Heat or frost – Extreme heat or cold snaps can damage delicate blooms.
- Wind damage – Strong winds may blow flowers off the stems before they are fully pollinated.
- Pests – Insects like potato flea beetles feed on flowers and can make them detach.
- Diseases – Fungal or bacterial diseases like early blight spread in wet conditions and can kill flowers.
- Monitor weather and provide shade/insulation during temperature swings.
- Stake plants and use windbreaks to protect from winds.
- Apply organic pest control measures when pests are seen.
- Allow plants to dry out between watering and treat disease as needed.
Failure to Form Tubers
If potato plants are flowering normally but the tubers are not bulking up, it is typically due to:
- Low sunlight – Tubers require direct sunlight to form properly after flowering begins.
- High temperatures – Sustained heat over 80°F can inhibit tuber formation and growth.
- Waterlogging – Excess moisture in the soil provides poor conditions for tuber expansion.
- Ensure potato plants receive at least 6 hours of sunlight, especially after flowering.
- Provide shade if daytime temperatures rise above 80°F for multiple days.
- Allow soil to dry between waterings to prevent overly moist conditions.
Addressing issues like nutrient deficiencies, pests, and maintaining optimal growing conditions can help ensure potato plants flower and produce a bountiful harvest!
Caring for Potato Plants Through Flowering
Here are some tips for caring for your potato plants as they progress through flowering:
- Water regularly – Potatoes require consistent moisture through flowering and tuber production. Water at the base of plants avoiding wetting the stems and leaves which can spread disease.
- Apply fertilizer – Using a balanced fertilizer when plants begin flowering nourishes the plant through this high energy growth stage. Organic options like compost or fish emulsion work well.
- Hill soil – As plants flower and tubers begin to swell, mound more soil around the base of plants to allow the developing potatoes room to expand.
- Monitor for pests – Be on the lookout for flower and leaf damaging pests like potato beetles and aphids which can spread rapidly. Remove them by hand or use spinosad, neem oil or insecticidal soap sprays.
- Remove flowers – Some gardeners pinch off the first round of flowers to focus the plant’s energy on the tubers. However leaving some flowers for pollination is beneficial as well.
Maximizing Potato Flower Production
While commercial growers aim to prevent flowering in potato plants, some hobby gardeners enjoy growing varieties specifically for their prolific flowers. Here are some tips for maximizing blooms:
- Select small, fingerling or salad potato varieties. These types tend to flower earlier and produce more blooms compared to large russet or baking potato types.
- Give plants plenty of sunlight. At least 8 hours daily provides energy for excellent flower production.
- Use a balanced fertilizer higher in phosphorus which promotes flowering in plants. Organic options include bone meal or rock phosphate.
- Allow potato plants to grow longer, even past maturity of the tubers. This extends flowering over a longer period.
- Stake or cage tall flowering stems that can flop over from the weight of flowers.
- Deadhead spent flowers regularly to encourage new flower buds to form.
With the right selection and care, you can enjoy months of prolific flowers from potato plants in addition to the tubers.
Using Potato Flowers for Pollination
As potato plants flower, they attract beneficial pollinating insects to your garden like bees, butterflies, and hover flies. You can maximize this free pollination service from potato blooms by:
- Planting potatoes near insect-pollinated crops like squash, berries, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. The steady bloom period overlaps perfectly with when many food plants need pollination.
- Choosing potato varieties with profuse, nectar-rich flowers in colors like purple, pink, red, and blue. Open shaped blooms are easiest for pollinators to access.
- Providing habitat for pollinators, like sheltered nesting areas and a shallow water source nearby.
- Avoiding use of pesticides during the weeks when potato plants are in peak flower to protect visiting pollinators.
Let your potato patch help nourish bees, butterflies and other important garden helpers while also producing a bounty of food.
Collecting and Storing Potato Seeds from Flowers
The berries that form once potato flowers are pollinated each contain around 300 true potato seeds. These seeds provide an easy way to propagate new potato plants. Here’s how to gather and save potato seeds:
- Allow several flowers on each plant to be fertilized and set berries.
- Let green berries mature on the plant until they turn brown and slightly soft.
- Pick berries when fully ripe and store in a single layer in a cool spot to continue curing for 1-2 weeks.
- Gently crush ripe berries in a sieve and ferment pulp in water for a day or two until seeds separate and sink to the bottom.
- Spread seeds out to dry thoroughly, then store them in envelopes or jars in a cool, dry spot.
- Potato seeds remain viable to plant for 3-4 years if kept cool and dry.
- Maintain a temperature around 40°F and under 50% humidity.
- Avoid freezing seeds which damage viability.
- Place seeds in an airtight container with a desiccant pack to remove moisture.
When ready to plant, germinate seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your planting date!
Amazing Varieties of Potato Flowers
While all potato varieties produce edible flowers, some types are prized for their prolific blooms, unique colors, or ornamental quality:
- All Blue – Deep blue-purple double blooms.
- Vitelotte – Deep purple flowers with darker veins.
- French Fingerling – Masses of delicate white blooms.
- Russian Banana – Pale yellow comma shaped flowers.
- Andean Sunrise – Abundant bicolor pink and yellow blooms.
- Congo – Tall plants with showy hot pink flowers.
- Adirondack Blue – Vibrant royal blue flowers all season.
Experiment with growing different types of potatoes to discover your favorites when it comes to both tuber and flower traits. With the right selection and growing conditions, potato flowers can be both beautiful and bountiful.
Potato plant flowers mark an important stage in the plant’s lifecycle. While we may mostly value potatoes for their delicious underground tubers, the flowers are worth paying attention to as well. Make the most of potato blooms by troubleshooting problems, harvesting seeds, enjoying as edible garnishes, and enlisting their help to nourish pollinators in your garden. With an understanding of potato plant flowers, you can unlock the full potential of this staple crop!