How to Grow Super Early Potatoes

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Potato plant growing in a terra cotta pot in a sunny spot

I love a good spud, and it’s the soft, almost creamy new potatoes that are best. You know the ones: with a pale yellow interior, like freshly churned butter, and a thin, pop-in-the-mouth skin.

The very first garden-grown potatoes are the stuff of legend – you just can’t beat them! They demand extreme reverence and to be elevated from mere side dish to main event. I serve them up with a big knob (or two) of butter on top that melts its way into the steaming pile, finished off with a sprinkling of chopped chives from the herb patch. Yum, yum…YUM!

Among many gardeners there’s kudos surrounding who can grow the very earliest potatoes. Like the first strawberries, there’s a real sense of pride at stake here! But just how early is too early? When can you safely plant these delicious tubers to steal a march on the season?

Harvesting early potatoes in a container

Super Early Potatoes

Potatoes can be classed as first earlies, second earlies, or maincrop. Look for varieties of ‘first early’ potatoes, which are the quickest growing of the lot. These can be ready as soon as 10 to 12 weeks after planting.

The secret behind exactly when to start them off lies in the timing of your last expected frost date. You can find out the recommended outdoor planting dates for your area by using our Garden Planner – just add the Early Potato icon to your plan and click on the Plant List button to view the recommended planting dates for your location. Using this feature shows that outdoor planting in my part of central England begins in early April, with the first tubers lifted in July. That’s reasonably early, but not early enough! So how can we cheat the seasons and get our spuds sooner?

Chitting seed potatoes

Chitting Potatoes for an Earlier Crop

In many regions potatoes are sold as ‘seed potatoes’ which first need chitting – or sprouting – to encourage a head start. Chitting can begin as soon as you can find seed potatoes in the shops, so as a first task go out and buy your potatoes…right now!

To chit, place them into old egg cartons or similar containers, blunt end facing up. Keep them on a cool, bright windowsill. This is important because you want thick, sturdy shoots to emerge, not the weak and spindly ones that sometimes occur when there’s not enough light and/or the temperature is artificially high. Ideally you want the shoots to be at least 1cm (0.5in) long by the time you plant them, though it isn’t the end of the world if they’re not – aiming for thick, sturdy shoots is more important.

Potatoes growing in bags in a greenhouse

Growing Early Potatoes in Pots

The earliest ‘new’ potatoes found in the grocery store are usually grown on sun-facing slopes in mild climates. In Britain this means the (relatively!) sun-kissed fields of Cornwall and Jersey, both flanked by warming seas and blessed with rich, chocolatey soils.

For an early crop you want to mimic, as best you can, these sorts of conditions. This means growing them in containers in a protected, suntrap spot or, ideally, inside a greenhouse or hoop house. These conditions will warm the potting soil the potatoes are growing in and substantially speed up their rate of growth. You can find out the best spacing for container-grown seed potatoes, and other tips for growing them in our article How to Successfully Grow Potatoes in Containers.

Add a greenhouse or hoop house to your plan in the Garden Planner and then add your early potatoes 'inside' the structure - this will automatically extend the sowing, planting and harvesting dates for the potatoes so you know exactly when to start them off. If you're not using a season-extending structure, just edit the recommended dates as shown in the Adding Plants and Varieties video.

Your extra-early potatoes will need regular watering (one of the biggest mistakes is to let the potting soil dry out) and, once they’re producing lots of foliage, an occasional liquid feed for good measure. If you’re able to move the containers you could pop them outside when the weather warms up, though as long as conditions don’t get intolerably hot you may as well leave the potatoes growing where they are.

Frosted foliage can set back your potato harvest

Protecting Potatoes from Late Frosts

If you can guarantee a frost-free environment, there’s no reason you can’t grow your earliest potatoes at least one month ahead of those growing outside. In my garden that means planting them at the beginning of March.

Keeping the stems and foliage (called ‘haulms’) safe from frost is the crucial bit if you don’t want to see your hard work undone. A few layers of garden fleece or row cover plastic on a cold night will keep a light frost at bay and avoid a check to growth. If you’re able to lift the pots, consider placing some mats or newspaper inside a garage or shed and lifting your containers under cover for the night. Whatever it takes to keep Jack Frost away!

With any luck you will be able to enjoy your first golden spuds as soon as early summer or even late spring, perhaps served up with some sweet baby carrots and a scattering of tender fava beans. Delicious moments like these, dear friends, are what growing your own is all about.

Plants Related to this Article

Bugs, Beneficial Insects and Plant Diseases

< All Guides

Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

Show Comments


"Very well written and informative. I love potatoes as well and just learned a couple of things as to how to grow more of them. Thank you for your insight! "
Steve Yahl on Tuesday 14 February 2017
"I plant Casablanca in the second week in January chit in heated propagator covered with compost leaves appear in three weeks then in unheated polytunnel cover with coffee ground compost no slugs protect with bubblewrap from frost ready last year on 11 april approx. 2kg perplant anyone as early? "
Bob Bowen on Monday 27 November 2017
"what is the earliest variety name of red potato? and where we can buy from? Thanks."
Wenkai on Friday 10 February 2023
"Hi Wenkai. I'm not sure exactly what would be the earliest variety of red potato for sure. Any varieties described as 'first earlies' would be the quickest to mature, to start with those. One example of a red potato that's also a first early is 'Red Duke of York'."
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 11 February 2023
"Red Duke of York are probably the earliest red...hope this helps?"
Christopher Coote on Thursday 11 May 2023
"Great recommendation, thanks Christopher."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 15 May 2023

Add a Comment

Add your own thoughts on the subject of this article:
(If you have difficulty using this form, please use our Contact Form to send us your comment, along with the title of this article.)

(We won't display this on the website or use it for marketing)


(Please enter the code above to help prevent spam on this article)

By clicking 'Add Comment' you agree to our Terms and Conditions