Hardly any crop survives the winter when the ground freezes completely. Or does it? What influence do sub-zero temperatures have on growing vegetables, especially potatoes, when temperatures fall just below 0°C? This guide explains in 9 facts how much frost potatoes can take.

Potatoes tolerate frost only slightly

Potatoes love a warm environment. They do best in a sunny location. Soil temperatures of 8°C to 10°C are ideal. However, they are very sensitive to frost. Nevertheless, the tubers are more robust than other types of vegetables because they can withstand slightly below zero for a short period of time. It is important that it does not freeze as long as the flower appears. Then the tubers can no longer be saved. Ground frost after flowering, on the other hand, hardly causes any damage.

Note: Even in unfavorable weather conditions, a complete crop failure in potato cultivation is unlikely, as different varieties are planted at different times of the year.

Warm springs cause crop failures

On the one hand, early flowering due to warm temperatures makes potato farmers happy. On the other hand, there is the concern that the frost will return and destroy the harvest. Until the Ice Saints in mid-May, the thermometer can drop below freezing at night. Until then, farmers have to worry that their tubers will “burn”, as it is called in technical jargon. Basically, frosty nights in April are not uncommon. They also pose only a small risk. It only becomes critical when March brings unusually warm temperatures. That is when the tubers begin to germinate prematurely and, with their blossoms, are particularly susceptible to freezing temperatures below zero.

New potatoes are particularly popular

Normally, a potato is not planted outdoors before April, since the tender tubers do not tolerate night frosts. However, more and more farmers are ignoring this rule. It is the coveted new potatoes that make early sowing so lucrative.

Varieties that are endangered due to their precocity

  • Highness
  • Annabelle
  • Anuschka
  • Belle de Fontenay
  • Casablanca
  • Duke of York Erstling
  • Early Rose
  • Finka
  • Freislander
  • Glorietta
  • The Ratte
  • Leyla
  • Maris Peer
  • edge
  • Rosara
  • Lead singer

Breeding boosts earnings

In order to be able to harvest the tubers in the spring, many farmers rely on plants that have already been grown. Their crops ripen around two weeks earlier, but they require particularly careful care. Since they are very sensitive to pressure, some of the harvesting is even done manually.

It is primarily for commercial purposes. The earlier traders can offer their vegetables, the less competition there is for sale. In addition, new potatoes are particularly popular with customers because of their delicate aroma.

Tip: If you want to plant pre-germinated potatoes in your local vegetable patch, you can plant the tubers in a bright spot at 10°C to 15°C about 6 weeks before you actually sow.

The right soil conditions

The soil requirements of the potato speak for themselves. The tuber thrives best on light to medium-heavy soil. Loamy soil, on the other hand, hinders growth. The opposite is true for frosts. Heavy soil tends to hold water and freezes faster. So if you grow the tasty tubers in your own garden, you should ensure well-drained soil to avoid frost damage due to waterlogging.

Irrigation as frost protection

Another method to protect potatoes is sprinkling. Field workers have to work a night shift for this. Water the plants just before the onset of frost. The fine water droplets freeze on the leaves, flowers and tubers and form an ice shell. This protects you from the cold temperatures.

Note: Winemakers use the same method to protect their vines.

Foil cultivation as frost protection

There are numerous ways to protect vegetables from frost. On the one hand, farmers cover the plants with foils. The temperature can be regulated under the material because a greenhouse is created. However, it is important that the cover, which also protects against precipitation such as hail, is breathable. Otherwise there is a risk of mold.

Note: in your own garden it is rather unusual to grow potatoes in such large quantities that a plastic cover is worthwhile. If only a little green can be seen on the surface of the earth up to now, simply piling up or applying a layer of mulch are time- and material-saving alternatives.

Never harvest potatoes in frost

The following applies to both commercial cultivation and the hobby gardener: vegetables must never be harvested when the temperature is below zero. The plants cannot recover from the loss in the cold temperatures, as they have to use all their strength to fend off the cold.

frequently asked Questions

With a bit of luck, minor frost damage will not cause the plant to die off completely, but will increase its susceptibility to disease and reduce the crop yield.

Apart from the potato, there are many plants that not only tolerate freezing temperatures, but actually depend on them. An example is the narcissus, which buds only after stratification. Ground frost prevents the flower from sprouting too early and serves as a guide for the seasons.

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