Potatoes Are Splitting – What To Do For Potato Elephant Hide Disorder


By: Kristi Waterworth

Hidden underground, there is a myriad of things that can go wrong with potatoes as they develop. Gardeners often get surprises when they begin their harvest, like shallow growth cracks in potatoes they assumed would be smooth-skinned and perfect. If your potatoes are splitting on the surface, it could be potato elephant hide disorder, a not-so terribly serious problem of potatoes.

What is Potato Elephant Hide?

Researchers are unclear on the exact causes of potato elephant hide disorder, but they believe it happens when potato tubers grow irregularly. Sometimes part of the surface of the potato will expand faster or slower than another part, causing potato tuber cracking on the surface. This cracking isn’t serious, but it can give potatoes a scaly appearance.

Although these potatoes look ugly, they’re perfectly safe to eat because the cause isn’t pathogenic. Many environmental problems are suspect, but the exact cause isn’t yet known. Current suspects include excessive fertilizer salts or decaying matter, high temperatures, excessive soil moisture, and uncoordinated growth due to genetic factors.

Managing Potato Elephant Hide

Once your potatoes have developed elephant hide, they can’t be cured, but unless they’re intended for market use, it won’t affect their edibility. You can prevent future crops from suffering the same fate by carefully monitoring their growing environment. When amending your potato bed with fertilizer or compost, make sure to do it well in advance of the growing season to allow everything to fully break down. It’s also a good idea to resist the urge to fertilize without a soil test. Over-fertilization can lead to excessive salts in the soil that can burn fragile potato skins, as well as rapid, uncontrolled growth.

High temperatures and excessive soil moisture can stress tubers significantly. It’s already known that high soil temperatures slow the growth of tubers and cause potato skins to thicken, so it’s reasonable to think these stressors may cause additional problems. Shade your potatoes when the heat is serious and provide them with about four inches (10 cm.) of organic mulch to help cool soil and even out soil moisture.

Some potatoes are simply more susceptible to elephant hide than others, with Russet Burbanks being at the highest risk. If your favorite potato produces elephant hide year after year, it might be a good idea to ask your neighbors about the potato varieties they’re growing in their gardens. You may discover that they’ve had better luck with a different variety.

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How to Care for a Purple Flower Potato Bush

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Don’t expect potatoes from a purple-flowering “Royal Robe” potato bush (Solanum rantonnetti “Royal Robe,” Lycianthes rantonnetti “Royal Robe”). Introduce this gaudy sun-lover into your landscape for a nearly non-stop display of golden-centered blue-violet flowers on slender, sprawling stems of deep-green leaves. The fragrant, cup-shaped blooms give way to showy red berries. Suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, “Royal Robe” makes a good centerpiece for a tropical setting. Use it as a free-form, 6- to 8-foot shrub or train it as a container patio tree. Let it climb as an alternative to thorny bougainvillea.

Water "Royal Robe" as needed to maintain consistently moist soil in your growing zone. Because of the slower soil-moisture evaporation rate, a plant in a cool, humid coastal area needs less frequent irrigation than one in a hot, dry inland location. If you're unsure about when to water, test the soil and irrigate when the top 2 inches feel dry to the touch. Soak the soil slowly and deeply so the water penetrates to the plant's deepest roots. The potato bush's water consumption drops significantly during the shorter, cooler days of fall and winter.

Feed "Royal Robe" before its new growth emerges in early spring with a slow-release or liquid, balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer applied at the label's recommended rate. If you're growing the plant as a container patio tree, feed it monthly. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers they send the potato bush's production of tender new growth into overdrive and might leave you with an insect-infested plant.

Monitor the plant regularly for aphid or thrips damage. Pinhead- to matchhead-sized, pear-shaped aphids congregate on new growth to drain plant fluids. Sap-sucking thrips hide in buds and closed shoots, leaving damaged tissues distorted, mottled and speckled with dark frass. Prune infested foliage, or dislodge aphids with a blast of water. Spray the plant with neem or horticultural oil to control thrips.

Prune “Royal Robe” after each of its flower flushes to tidy the plant and encourage more blooms. Maintain it as a patio tree by removing any sprouts from beneath the canopy and pinching back excessively long canopy stems. In late summer, prune the canopy back by one-third to stimulate new growth and flowers.


Why do my potatoes turn green?

Potato tubers turn green when they are exposed to sunlight during growth or storage. The green comes from the pigment chlorophyll. Potato tubers exposed to light will become green naturally as the plant seeks to harvest the light.

Potato varieties can differ in their sensitivity to light. In general, white-skinned varieties tend to turn green more easily than red- or russet-skinned varieties.


How to Plant Sprouted Potatoes

There are a few things to keep in mind when you go to plant your sprouted potatoes. Follow these steps, and you should get healthier plants and more potatoes. Let’s take them in order.

1. Wait for the Right Weather Conditions (Cool – But Not Too Cold)

If you plant your potatoes too early, a late frost could kill them. You can use this tool from the Farmer’s Almanac to find the date of the last frost for your area.

Remember that these dates are estimates or averages, and a frost could occur slightly later. To be safe, you can certainly wait until a few weeks after this to plant.

If your potatoes are really sprouting quickly, you could put them in some potting soil in a bucket. Then, you could leave them under a grow light or near a window to transplant into the garden later.

This potato has sprouted and is really taking off. It can’t be contained!

Otherwise, an early fall frost could kill the plants before they can produce a full harvest. Besides that, frozen ground would make the potatoes difficult to harvest.

2. Prepare Potatoes for Planting (Chitting and Cutting)

Now that you have an idea of when to plant, it’s time to prepare the seed potatoes themselves for planting. A seed potato is simply a potato (or a piece of a potato) that has a bud (eye) that can grow into a new plant.

You can plant potatoes before they have sprouted, but it is better to wait until their “eyes” have begun to sprout. “Chitting” is the process of encouraging seed potatoes to sprout, in order to prepare them for planting.

Once a potato sprouts, you know that it is ready to grow into a full-sized plant. You won’t have to wait to see if the potato will ever sprout, since it has already begun the process.

You can certainly plant an entire potato in the ground after it sprouts. However, there is another way to get more plants and more potatoes.

First, cut the potato into several smaller pieces. Try to leave one sprouted “eye” on each piece of potato.

Cut the potato into pieces – aim for one eye per piece.

That way, you can give each piece of sprouted potato enough space to grow. This will prevent competition among plants for water and nutrients in the soil.

Then, leave the potato pieces out for a few days, to give them a chance to dry out and “scab over”. This will help to prevent rot after you plant the potatoes.

While you are waiting for the cut potato pieces to dry out, you can take the next step, which is choosing and preparing a garden site.

3. Choose and Prepare a Garden Site for Planting Sprouted Potatoes

Potatoes are not too picky, but if you choose a good garden site to grow them, then the plants will thrive and produce more potatoes for you.

Here are a few steps to help you choose and prepare a good site for growing potatoes:

Choose A Sunny Spot

First, identify areas of your garden that get 6 to 8 hours of full fun per day, with partial shade during the rest of the day. Avoid areas with full shade, since this will inhibit the growth of potato plants or give you small potatoes.

Potatoes need plenty of sunlight. Look at those beautiful rays!

Pay attention to where the trees are, especially ones that lose their leaves in winter. What looks like a bright spot in early spring may be partially or completely shaded by leaves in the summer!

Ensure Well Drained Soil

Next, make sure that the soil drains well. Potatoes don’t like soil that is too soggy.

To find out if your soil drains well, dig a hole, and pour some water in it. If the water drains down into the soil in 10 minutes or less, the soil is well-draining.

Clay soil often drains poorly and stays too wet for growing potatoes.

If your soil drains poorly, you can add compost or aged manure to your soil to supplement organic material (humus) and improve drainage. For more information, check out my article on how to make soil drain better.

On the other hand, if you have trouble with dry soil, check out my article on how to treat dry soil.

Keep in mind that potatoes and tomatoes should not be planted together. The reason is that they are in the same family and share some of the same diseases, such as early blight and late blight.

Adjust Soil pH and Nutrients (Do A Soil Test First)

Now it is time to check your garden soil pH & nutrient levels. You can use a home test kit, or you can send a sample to your local agricultural extension for testing.

According to Cornell University, potatoes like acidic soil, with a pH between 4.8 and 5.5. They can survive in soil with a higher pH, but there is more of a chance of scab, which is a disease that affects potatoes.

If your soil pH is too high, one way to lower it is to add elemental sulfur. For more information, check out my article on how to lower soil pH.

To grow nice, healthy potato plants like these, the soil needs the proper pH and plenty of nutrients.

If the soil test reveals low nutrient levels, add soil amendments as needed. A standard 10-10-10 fertilizer will help with three important nutrients (nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, or N-P-K).

Dig The Trenches For Planting Your Sprouted Potatoes (Or Choose The Right Container)

Finally, prepare spaces to plant your potatoes. There are two basic options:

  • Dig holes 4 inches deep and 1 foot apart in a row.
  • Dig a trench 4 inches deep along the entire row.If you want 10 potato plants, then make the trench 10 feet wide.

A trench might work better for potatoes that have formed long sprouts. This will give you plenty of space for planting without having to worry about breaking off or bending the sprouts.

Leave a foot between potato plants in a row, whether you use trenches or individual holes for the sprouted potatoes.

No matter which method you choose, leave a space of 3 feet between rows of potatoes. This will leave room for watering, weeding, and hilling later in the season.

Since potatoes start off completely underground, you might want to use a marker (a stick, plastic label, etc.) to tell you where you planted the potatoes. That way, you won’t step on them and compact the soil after planting.

If you do choose to plant potatoes in a container, just make sure to leave enough space for hilling later in the season (more detail on this later!)

4. Plant The Sprouted Potatoes

When the potato pieces are dry and scabbed over, it is time to plant them in the holes or trenches that you dug. Remember: space them a foot apart if using a trench, to give them enough space to grow without competition.

Plant your sprouted potatoes a foot apart to avoid competition between plants.

Cover the sprouted potatoes with 4 inches of soil – enough to cover the holes or trenches up to the surface of the soil.

Congratulations – you’re on the way to growing your own potatoes!

Of course, if you want to do something completely different (this year or next), you can plant your potatoes in straw bales! For more information, check out my article on planting potatoes in straw bales.


How to Grow Red Potatoes

Last Updated: December 23, 2020 References Approved

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Red potatoes are slightly smaller and have less starch than brown Russet potatoes. They are a great source of vitamin C and potassium, and they can grow in both warm and cold climates under the correct conditions. Start by purchasing seed potatoes from a local nursery, and plant them when their sprouts reach 1 ⁄2 –1 in (1.3–2.5 cm). Plant your potatoes either in your garden or in a container. Water them regularly, cover them with dirt as they grow, and your potatoes will be ready to harvest in about 100 days.


7 CFR § 51.1564 - External defects.

External defects are defects which can be detected externally. However, cutting may be required to determine the extent of the injury. Some external defects are listed in Tables III, IV, V and VI.

Table III - External Defects

Defects Damage Serious damage 1
Air Cracks When removal causes a loss of more than 5 percent of the total weight of the potato or when the air crack(s) affects more than 1/3 the length or diameter of the potato (whichever is greater) in the aggregate When removal causes a loss of more than 10 percent of the total weight of the potato or when the air crack(s) affects more than 3/4 the length or diameter of the potato (whichever is greater) in the aggregate.
Artificial Coloring When unsightly or when concealing any defect causing damage or when penetrating the flesh and removal causes loss of more than 5 percent of total weight of potato When concealing a serious defect or when penetrating into the flesh and removal causes loss of more than 10 percent of total weight of potato.
Bruises (Not including pressure bruise and sunken discolored areas) When removal causes a loss of more than 5 percent of the total weight of the potato or when the area affected is more than 5 percent of the surface in the aggregate (i.e., 3/4 inch on a 2 1/2 inch or 6 oz. potato). Correspondingly lesser or greater areas in smaller or larger potatoes When removal causes a loss of more than 10 percent of the total weight of the potato or when the area affected is more than 10 percent of the surface in the aggregate (i.e., 1 1/4 inches on a 2 1/2 inch or 6 oz. potato). Correspondingly lesser or greater areas in smaller or larger potatoes.
Cuts When one smooth cut affects more than 5 percent of the surface area Cut(s) that affect more than 10 percent of the surface area in the aggregate or when a single side cut extends beyond 1/2 the length of the potato.
Dirt When materially detracting from the appearance of the potato When seriously detracting from the appearance of the potato.
Elephant Hide When affecting over 10 percent of the surface area of the potato When affecting over 25 percent of the surface area.
Enlarged Lenticels When materially detracting from the appearance of the potato When seriously detracting from the appearance of the potato.
External Discoloration (Areas that are light tan or lighter in color and blends should be ignored) When more than 30 percent of the surface is affected by light tan or light brown colors which do not blend or when more than 15 percent of the surface is affected by colors darker than light tan or light brown When more than 60 percent of the surface is affected by light tan or light brown colors which do not blend or when more than 30 percent of the surface is affected by colors darker than light tan or light brown.
Flattened or Depressed Areas/Pressure Bruises When removal of underlying discolored flesh causes a loss of more than 5 percent of the total weight of the potato or when the flattened or depressed area(s) covers more surface area than allowed in Table IV. (See Table IV.) When removal of underlying discolored flesh the causes a loss of more than 10 percent of the weight of the potato or when the flattened depressed area(s) covers more surface area than allowed in the Table IV. (See Table IV.)
Flea Beetle Injury When materially detracting from the appearance or when removal causes a loss of more than 5 percent of the total weight of the potato or when the area affected is more than 5 percent of the surface in the aggregate When seriously detracting from the appearance of the potato or when removal causes a loss of more than 10 percent of the weight of the potato or when the area affected is more than 10 percent of the surface in the aggregate.
Greening When removal causes a loss of more than 5 percent of the total weight of the potato or when green color affects more than 25 percent of the surface in the aggregate When removal causes a loss of more than 10 percent of the weight of the potato or when green color affects more than 50 percent of the surface in the aggregate.
Growth Cracks When the growth crack(s) affects more than 1/2 the length of the potato in the aggregate on round varieties or more than 1/3 the length in the aggregate on long varieties or, when the depth is greater than that as outlined in Table V. ( See Table V.) When the growth crack(s) affects more than 3/4 the length of the potato in the aggregate or when the depth is greater than that as outlined in Table V. ( See Table V.).
Grub Damage When removal causes a loss of more than 5 percent of the total weight of the potato or when affecting more than 5 percent of the surface area (i.e. more than 3/4 inch on a 2 1/2 inch or 6 ounce potato). Correspondingly lesser or greater areas in smaller or larger potatoes When removal causes a loss of more than 10 percent of the total weight of the potato or when affecting more than 10 percent of the surface area (i.e. more than 1 1/4 inch on a 2 1/2 inch or 6 ounce potato). Correspondingly lesser or greater areas in smaller or larger potatoes.
Insects or Worms (See Serious Damage.) When present inside the potato.
Nematode (Root Knot) When removal causes loss of more than 5 percent of total weight of potato When removal causes loss of more than 10 percent of total weight of potato.
Rhizoctonia When affecting more than 15 percent of the surface in the aggregate When affecting more than 50 percent of the surface in the aggregate.
Russeting (On Non Russet Type) When more than 50 percent of the surface is affected in the aggregate N/A.
Rodent or Bird Damage When removal causes a loss of more than 5 percent of the total weight of the potato or when affecting more than 5 percent of the surface area (i.e. more than 3/4 inch on a 2 1/2 inch or 6 ounce potato). Correspondingly lesser or greater areas in smaller or larger potatoes When removal causes a loss of more than 10 percent of the total weight of the potato or when affecting more than 10 percent of the surface area (i.e. more than 1 1/4 inch on a 2 1/2 inch or 6 ounce potato). Correspondingly lesser or greater areas in smaller or larger potatoes.
Scab, Pitted When removal causes a loss of more than 5 percent of the total weight of the potato or when scab affects an aggregate area of more than 1/2 inch. (Based on a potato 2 1/2 inches in diameter or 6 oz. in weight.) Correspondingly lesser or greater areas in smaller or larger potatoes When the removal causes a loss of more than 10 percent of the total weight of the potato or when scab affects an aggregate area of more than 1 inch. (Based on a potato 2 1/2 inches in diameter or 6 oz. in weight.) Correspondingly lesser or greater areas in smaller or larger potatoes.
Scab, Russet Smooth and affecting more than 1/3 of the surface or rough russet scab which affects more than 10 percent of the surface in the aggregate Rough and affecting more than 25 percent of the surface in the aggregate.
Scab, Surface When more than 5 percent of the surface in the aggregate is affected When more than 25 percent of the surface in the aggregate is affected.
Second Growth When materially detracting from the appearance of the potato When seriously detracting from the appearance of the potato.
Silver Scurf When affecting more than 50 percent of the surface area of the potato When its severity causes a wrinkling of the skin over more than 50 percent of the surface.
Sprouts When more than 5 percent of the potatoes in any lot have any sprout more than 1/4 inch in length at shipping point more than 1/2 inch in length at destination or have numerous individual and/or clusters of sprouts which materially detract from the appearance of the potato When more than 10 percent of the potatoes in any lot have any sprout more than 1/2 inch in length at shipping point more than 1 inch in length at destination or have numerous individual and/or clusters of sprouts which seriously detract from the appearance of the potato. Serious damage by sprouts shall only be scored against the U.S. Commercial and U.S. No. 2 grades.
Sunburn When removal causes loss of more than 5 percent of total weight of potato When removal causes loss more than 10 percent of total weight of potato.
Sunken Discolored Areas SEE TABLE VI SEE TABLE VI.
Surface Cracks (Areas affected by fine net-like cracking should be ignored.) When smooth shallow cracking affects more than 1/3 of the surface or when rough deep cracking affects more than 5 percent of the surface When rough deep cracking affects more than 10 percent of the surface.
Wireworm or Grass Damage When affecting the flesh of the potato and removal causes loss of more than 5 percent of total weight of potato. When affecting the flesh of the potato and removal causes loss of more than 10 percent of total weight of potato.

The following defects are considered serious damage when present in any degree: 1. Freezing. 2. Late blight. 3. Ring rot. 4. Southern bacterial wilt. 5. Soft rot. 6. Wet breakdown.

Table IV - Flattened or Depressed Areas - Pressure Bruises Maximum Area Allowed

Diameter Weight No. 1
(aggregate area)
No. 2
(aggregate area)
Potato is: Potato is: Not more than: Not more than:
Less than 2 in Less than 4 oz 1/2 in 1 in
2 to 2 1/2 in 4 to 6 oz 1 in 1 1/2 in
More than 2 1/2 to 3 in More than 6 to 8 oz 1 1/4 in 1 3/4 in
More than 3 to 3 1/2 in More than 8 to 14 oz 1 1/2 in 1 7/8 in
More than 3 1/2 to 4 in More than 14 to 20 oz 1 3/4 in 2 in
More than 4 to 4 1/2 in More than 20 to 28 oz 2 in 2 1/4 in
More than 4 1/2 to 5 in More than 28 to 36 oz 2 1/4 in 2 3/4 in
More than 5 in More than 36 oz 2 1/2 in 3 1/4 in

Table V - Depth Allowed for Growth Cracks

Diameter Weight No. 1
(depth)
No. 2
(depth)
Potato is: Potato is: Not more than: Not more than:
Less than 2 in Less than 4 oz 1/8 in 1/4 in
2 to 2 1/2 in 4 oz to 6 oz 1/4 in 3/8 in
More than 2 1/2 to 3 in More than 6 oz to 8 oz 3/8 in 1/2 in
More than 3 in More than 8 oz 1/2 in 5/8 in

Table VI - Sunken Discolored Areas Maximum Area Allowed



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