How Potatoes Grow

Did you know potatoes are the leading vegetable crop in the United States? Americans love the potato’s versatility and consume an average of 110 pounds of potatoes a year per person. But have you ever wondered how potatoes actually grow?

North Carolina potatoes are grown as annual plants with fields planted in late February through March and harvested in the summer. The part of the plant we call a “potato” grows on a specialized underground stem called a stolon. So, although potatoes grow underground, they are stems, not roots — also known as “tubers.”

Potato Growth Cycle

The growth cycle of the potato can be roughly divided into five stages.

Hover over each image to learn more about each stage:

Stage 1 Sprout Development

The eyes of the
potato develop sprouts,
which emerge from the soil.

Stage 2 Vegetative growth

The leaves, stems, and root system form, photosynthesis begins, and the plant prepares to store nutrients in tubers.

Stage 3 Tuber initiation

Tubers begin forming on the end of stolons (underground stems), usually before the plant flowers.

Stage 4 Tuber bulking

Tubers enlarge. Sugars and starches accumulate.

Stage 5 Maturation

The tubers reach full size. The top of the plant dries out and dies and tubers are ready for harvesting.