Easy Crop Rotation for Potatoes (Plus 2 Major Advantages!)
Crop rotation has been in practice for so long, even the Roman Empire had its own system. Additionally, potatoes are one of the world’s most important crops, so I think that they deserve a good crop rotation system. With just a little planning, you’ll grow healthy potatoes with large yields every year!
Potato crops can easily be rotated by growing them in different plots every year for 4 years. Crop rotation is vital for 1) maintaining soil health and 2) preventing pests from damaging potatoes and reducing annual yield.
Potatoes are one of those neglect-tolerant crops that you can bury in the ground and forget about. Once you enter a new year, however, it’s not wise to plant them in the same area as last season. Find out why and learn how to easily create a crop rotation system for potatoes!
How to Plan Crop Rotations for Potatoes
For optimal results, plant potatoes in a different garden bed each year before cycling them back to their original plot. Avoid planting other nightshade crops, like tomatoes and peppers, in the same area annually. Crop rotation is best practiced for 4 years, however, it is possible to follow 3-year rotations too.
To start rotating potatoes, it’s important to plan ahead of time. In this case, 3 or 4 years ahead of time.
A 3-year rotation is the minimum recommended timespan. However, 4-year rotations or more are the most effective when it comes to growing healthy potatoes.
Besides getting your soil tested, you don’t need to do much preparation beforehand. All you need to do is create a future garden plan every year and plant your potatoes in different beds annually for at least 3 years.
For example, in the first year, you can plant your potatoes in bed 1. In the second year, your potatoes will be moved to bed 2 while you grow other crops in bed 1. This cycle continues until you reach the end of your rotation, and your potatoes can go back to bed 1.
Here is a simple illustration of what I mean and what other crops you can add to the rotation each year! This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a very simple example that you can alter to fit your unique garden.
Pro Tip: Have at least 3 or 4 garden beds to make a full rotation and ensure your potatoes are not grown in the same soil annually.
What’s important is to avoid planting potatoes and other members of the potato family in the same bed two years in a row, especially if you struggle with insects or malformed potatoes.
Since these plants, like peppers and tomatoes, share the same genes as potatoes, they’re susceptible to the same types of pests and diseases and can risk spreading harmful ailments to your potatoes.
What is Crop Rotation? (Plus Its 2 Benefits for Potatoes!)
Crop rotation is done by intentionally growing specific crops in different plots each year in sequence. It is necessary to rotate potato crops to 1) maintain soil health and 2) prevent pests.
Although some people believe crop rotation is no longer necessary in modern times, it is still hailed by many and is confirmed to be beneficial for several reasons, which you’ll find out later.
Crop rotation is a practice where you grow your crops on different plots each year and rotate them through your garden for at least 3 years.
By planting potatoes in the same bed year after year, you’re more likely to come across a myriad of issues like diseased potatoes or pests. Each of these unpleasantries has the opportunity to become worse if you never move your potatoes elsewhere.
In case you’re uncertain, let’s go over the key benefits of using crop rotation for potatoes and how it is useful for you!
1. Maintain Soil Health
Crop rotation is essential to maintaining soil quality and high potato yields. By growing potatoes repeatedly in the same area, the soil will eventually lose its nutrients and the annual potato yield will start to decrease.
Potatoes are ridiculously heavy feeders. To develop large and healthy tubers, they need ample amounts of nutrients.
If they’re constantly grown in the same bed without additional vitamins, the soil will gradually lose its precious nutrients over time and may even become deficient.
It might not seem like such a big deal at first. However, you’ll notice your yields dropping lower and lower each season.
This will happen even faster in cases where the soil is already poor in quality. Luckily, this can be prevented by rotating your potatoes and growing them in different plots each year.
2. Prevent Pests
Potatoes grown with crop rotation systems are less prone to insect damage than potato crops without them. This is because infestations are more likely to occur when potatoes are grown in the same plot every season.
One of the disadvantages of growing plants is having to fight off bugs. Colorado potato beetles, wireworms, and aphids are just a few of the many insects that can devastate entire potato fields if they are always grown in the same area.
Additionally, since tomatoes and potatoes belong to the same plant family, Solanaceae, these same pests could invade your other nightshade crops!
Explore more in 25 Pests That Eat Tomato Plants (Plus How to Protect Them!)
Although herbicides may seem like an easy fix when handling insects, it’s always best to avoid introducing harsh chemicals unless necessary.
By rotating your potatoes, you’ll reduce the chances of pests building up resistance and growing stronger every season.
The 3 Best Crops to Rotate With Potatoes
The best plants to grow in crop rotations together with potatoes are 1) corn, 2) rye, and 3) radishes.
When it comes to crop rotations, a good rule is to avoid planting anything in the potato family in the same bed annually. Instead, try to grow plants that are not only valuable to you but make it easier to grow potatoes in that same bed again.
For example, here are some good crops for you to consider!
Corn is commonly used in crop rotations for potatoes and can help replenish the soil after planting potatoes. Additionally, corn is a non-host crop for wireworms and is a natural way of preventing future infestations.
This is one of the best crops to include in your potato rotations. Not only do fresh corn and potatoes taste great together, but corn is also frequently praised for its ability to help maintain soil quality.
After harvesting the corn, farmers often leave dead corn stalks on the ground to decompose and introduce high amounts of carbon content back into the ground.
Soil carbon helps act as an additional food source for plants and is crucial to having healthy and productive crops.
Because of this, corn is excellent at restoring the nutrients that potatoes have taken from the soil after being planted.
Wireworms are also less likely to attack plots with corn, making them useful in controlling potato pests.
Rye is a common cover crop for potatoes that can combat weeds. This plant produces natural herbicides to suppress weeds and must be cleared before growing potatoes to prevent growth inhibition.
Since potatoes need to be buried several inches in the soil and dug out after harvest, it’s easy to pull weed seeds to the soil surface and make it easier for them to germinate.
Rye is especially helpful in scenarios like these and is a great cover crop to use when growing potatoes.
Aside from having extensive root systems, rye plants are also allelopathic, meaning they produce chemicals to prevent weeds from sprouting. However, this also means that they can hinder the growth of plants that you want to cultivate.
Because of this, you’ll have to be sure there is no rye left on the field before you plant potatoes again, as they may inhibit their growth.
Radishes can alleviate soil compaction and are suitable for potato crop rotations. Furthermore, these crops can tolerate cold and under-fertilized soil.
No-till garden owners are sure to love this last crop.
If your soil has become compact and your potatoes cannot grow easily, consider using radishes in your crop rotation to naturally aerate and break up the soil.
These vegetables are quick to mature and thrive by driving long and powerful roots to penetrate compact soil. Radishes also don’t require many nutrients and can handle cooler temperatures that potatoes cannot.
After a 3 or 4-year rotation with potatoes and radishes, your potato plants will have an easier time growing large tubers inside the freshly loosened soil.
It doesn’t take much effort to integrate these crops into your rotation system, but it will make such a difference the next time you grow potatoes in that plot!
Do you have to rotate potatoes in containers?
Potatoes grown in containers do not need to adhere to crop rotation systems, since they are kept in small spaces with little-to-no issues. The soil can be reused, but it’s best to amend it with additional compost after every harvest to replenish any lost nutrients.
Does crop rotation help with potato diseases?
Prevention of plant diseases is one of the benefits of rotating potatoes. Agriculturists have found that unrotated potatoes had the highest amount of pathogens compared to potato crops with a 4-year rotation. By rotating the potatoes and growing them in different beds, they are less likely to grow diseased tubers.
Summary of Crop Rotation for Potatoes
Despite potatoes being commonly known as low-maintenance crops, they benefit from crop rotation where they are grown in different beds each year for 4 years.
Crop rotation is useful in maintaining good soil health and preventing potato pests that would otherwise damage and lower the quality of the potatoes. The crops that are the most suitable to use in potato crop rotations are corn, rye, and radishes.
- “The Potato: Botany, Production and Uses” by Roy Navarre and Mark J. Pavek in Washington State University
- “Crop Rotation” by n/a in University of California
- “Pests of Potato” by Kenneth Sorensen, James Baker, Cathy Cameron Carter, and David Stephan in NC State University