You hear your alarm go off in the early dawn, signaling you it is time to tend to your potato plants. You walk outside to see that your poor potato plants have fallen over! You may wonder if this means they are ready for harvest? Does this mean they are dying? Did an animal or hungry night creature get into them? Why do potato plants fall over?
Potato plants fall over when there is not enough water, pests or disease, and environmental factors, or they may be ready to harvest. Over-fertilizing can cause excessive growth making them too tall to stand don’t their own.
Now that you have a general idea about the factors that can cause your potato plant to fall over let us go into more detail about these factors and how to avoid or mitigate them.
6 Factors that cause potato plants to fall over
Potatoes are easy to grow, high-yielding plants. One potato seed grows several more potatoes. They require truly little maintenance, other than simply watering and occasionally shifting the soil to cover them up when the potato bulbs start to get pushed above ground. Several factors could cause your potato plants to fall over.
Potato plants are a little finicky when it comes to watering. Too much water can cause water retention in your soil. If there is too much water in your soil or drainage issues, your potato plant roots can suffocate from not enough air. This can cause your plant to fall over.
If your potatoes do not get enough water, they will shrivel and become weak, eventually falling over. Deep infrequent watering of the potato plant’s soil is recommended for best results.
Weather can make or break your plants. Storms, heavy downpours of rain, and intense winds can destroy your potato plants overnight. They can cause your potato plants to fall over, break, or even drown.
Elevated temperatures can also wilt your potato plants and dry out the soil. Be sure to take in precipitation amounts when watering your plants.
There are many pests potato plants are highly susceptible to. Depending on where you are located, pests known as cutworms can destroy your potato plants’ stems. This can be identified by checking if the top of your plant is completely separated from the stem.
Other pests include:
- Root-knot nematodes
These pests will eat the potato leaves, causing your plant to die and fall over.
Potatoes are exceptionally susceptible to diseases. When a potato plant dies, it will typically wilt and fall over.
- The potato wart – is a disease that grows warts on the potato and is caused by a fungus called Synchytrium-endobioticum, which grows in soil.
- Bacterial wilt – causes root rot on your potato’s roots. This bacterium is also found in soil.
- Common Scab – a bacterial infection attacks the potato through its pores.
- Late Blight Disease – This disease damages the leaves, stems, and tuber of a potato plant, causing them to turn brown or black. It is spread through soil and infected seeds that remain in the soil.
- Potato Virus – there are several strands of the potato virus. They are known to cause chlorosis, necrotic lesions, and decreased leaf size.
Weak and leggy
If your potato plants become too weak and leggy, they will often fall from the weight of the plant. The wind can easily blow the plants over that have little to no support. Lack of sunlight causes leggy, weak plants. They will grow skinny and tall to try and reach towards the sun. Potatoes require a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to grow and thrive.
If you fertilize your potatoes too much, they can grow so tall that they can no longer hold their own weight. It seems the fertilizer or plant food is doing its job from the surface! However, below ground is another story.
The plant will withhold nutrients in the green leaves of the potato plant and neglect to produce potatoes. Too much fertilizer can also cause an excess of nitrogen, which can also cause them to grow too big to hold their own weight.
Are my potatoes falling over because they are ready for harvest?
Sometimes potato plants will fall over when they are ready to be harvested. If you fail to pull your plants at the proper maturation time, the plants will try to tell you they are ready to be harvested by falling over. Most potato varieties take approximately 2.5 to 4 months. However, some potato plants mature faster than others. Knowing the variety you planted, and its expected growth rate is vital.
Visual signs of full maturity
If you forgot to keep track of the age of your potato plants, there are a few good visual cues to keep an eye out for:
- Height – is that most fully grown potato plants will grow to about 1.5 to 2 feet tall before falling over.
- Yellowing – Another useful visual to watch for is that a mature potato plant will begin to turn yellow before it falls over, signaling it is ready to be harvested.
- Flowers – Depending on the variety of potatoes, matured plants will grow flowers just before they reach full maturity. Some potato farmers recommend removing the flower buds so that the potato plant can focus on growing the potatoes.
- Falling over – Finally, the last visual cue to watch out for is if your potato plants are beginning to fall over. If you know they are close to reaching maturity; this may be your sign to go ahead and harvest your potatoes.
Helpful tips to avoid tipsy potato plants
Potato plants require a lot of support to stay upright. If potato plants fall over, they become more susceptible to diseases and fungal infections. There are a few options to help keep your potato plants from falling over.
- Hilling – This technique means piling the soil around the base of the potato plant as it grows. This provides extra added support as it continues to grow. It also prevents your plants from getting leggy. Finally, it prevents potato tubers from growing above the soil and dying in the sunlight.
- Staking – You can stake potato plants just like tomato plants to help support them as they grow taller.
- Planting season – If you plant too early in the season, you risk spring frosts. States, such as Ohio, where I live, is still at risk of snow, even into late April. If you plant your potato plants too late in the season, the high soil temperatures could prevent you from receiving a proper yield. High soil temperatures can dry the soil out and kill your plants.
- Row covers – is an option to help protect your growing potato plants from frost in the early spring and late fall months.
If your potato plants are falling over, it is essential to determine the cause. If you know your plants have not fully matured, figure out what the issue is and follow one of the tips listed above to help fix it. If potato plants grow and attempt to mature on the ground for a period, many problems could occur, including losing your plants.
Hi there, my name is Allie and welcome to my blog; GareningWithAllie!
Much of what you see written here is just our personal experiences with gardening. Along with the content I write here, there is also a unique collection of gardening topics covered by some of our close friends. I hope you find everything you read here to be helpful, informative, and something that can make your gardening journey the most lovely experience ever! With that said, Happy Gardening!