How to Grow Potatoes in Zimbabwe

The best site for potatoes has full sun (6-8 hours of sun) and well-drained soils. Potatoes can be grown in most soil types but prefer loose, well-drained sandy soils with good aeration. Avoid heavy clay soils. Potatoes will rot in poorly drained soil or heavy clay soils.

The best site for potatoes has full sun (6-8 hours of sun) and well-drained soils. Potatoes can be grown in most soil types but prefer loose, well-drained sandy soils with good aeration. Avoid heavy clay soils. Potatoes will rot in poorly drained soil or heavy clay soils.

The best soil pH for potatoes is between 5.0 and 6.5. It helps if the soil is fertile and moisture retentive, so apply a thick layer of compost prior to planting. A high soil pH (alkaline) is not suitable for potatoes because it can cause scab disease. Your soil test will give you your soil’s pH.

Practice a three-year crop rotation in your fields. To do this change the field in which you grow your potatoes, compost and or potato family plants each year. Only plant again in that same field once every three years. It helps control and prevents insects and diseases. Potato-family members (Solanaceae) including tomatoes, peppers, tobacco and eggplants.
Without crop rotation, your potato losses can go up as high as 30% due to soilborne diseases. The best rotational crops for potatoes are cereals (wheat or maize) and forage grasses (Rhodes grass, Katambora).

Don’t bother growing potatoes in containers such as sacks or tyres. The yields will be dismal and will not make a good return on your investment. Stick to the fields!

The potato can be grown in warm or cool climates. However, it does not withstand frost well. Frost can drastically reduce your potato yields. If frost is likely after the leaves of your early potatoes come up, cover them with floating row cover, straw, newspapers or dirt. It is better though to plant after frost danger has passed.

Potatoes also can’t take a lot of heat, and tuber development is affected by high temperatures (above 30 degrees C).

The main potato growing period in Zimbabwe is in late winter (2nd winter): from late July to early August after the last frost. Planting times vary depending on your area.

Summer crops: are planted in November before the rainy season. These are more prone to disease pressure but get good germination.

1st winter: potatoes are planted between February and April. They mature before frost begins. In the Lowveld areas, better to plant later. Plants are susceptible to late blight. Choose blight-resistant varieties.

Fertilising Your Potatoes

A soil test is effective for a good fertilisation strategy. Apply fertiliser requirements based on your soil analysis results.  You can get information on testing from Kutsaga or your nearest research centre.

Potatoes respond well to organic matter. Provide them with well-rotted compost or manure to amend your soil. Rake in 30t/ha of well-rotted manure evenly over the bed. Using compost and soil amendments can help you reduce your fertiliser costs.

Potatoes need plenty of nitrogen. Manure and compost are also good sources of nitrogen. Nitrogen is important for the overall development of plant stems and leaves.  Signs of nitrogen deficiency are slow growth, stunting and smaller than normal potato leaves.

Weigh out and apply a compound balanced fertiliser at the time of planting at about 170g per square metre.  Dig a furrow alongside the planting row and add moisture. According to the FAO, basal fertiliser (Compound C) or (Compound S) recommendation is about 1000kg/ha. But it really depends on your soil analysis, soil type and the climate condition.

Do not overuse nitrogen, though, stick with the recommended quantities. Plants with too much nitrogen are far too lush, and green and have little or no fruit.

Top dress (add fertiliser after the plants are growing) with potassium nitrate around your plants at 4, 8 and 12 weeks. Potassium improves the tuber quality (size, starch content, and storability). Do not put fertiliser on plants it can scorch foliage, put it around plants.

Add Ammonium Nitrate (AN) at 290 kg/ha three weeks after emergence.

Top dress with Sulphate of Potash split into two applications first at flowering and then two weeks after flowering.


Keep the soil free of weeds to ensure high yields. Weeding is easier with potatoes because of hilling. Potatoes have shallow roots, so be careful not to damage them with a hoe when you are hand weeding.

Remove weeds early and often before they flower and set seed. Young weeds are also the easiest to remove.

Tips for controlling weeds:

  • Manually weed using a hand fork or hoe.  Then leave weeds in the sun to dry before discarding them.
  • Mulch with straw or compost to help suppress and control weeds.
  • Solarize your soil before planting. You solarize by trapping the heat of the sun using plastic and raising soil temperature to several degrees, thereby killing weed seeds, roots, and bulbs.
  • Use pre-and post-emergence herbicides (such as Topogard, and Senco) if weeds are excessive.

Watering Your Potatoes

Water is important for potato farming, so plan to set up irrigation early.  Potatoes are shallow-rooted and need ample amounts of water during tuber set and full growth.

Here are the stages of potato development: i) sprout development, ii) vegetative growth, iii) tuber initiation, iv) tuber bulking and v) maturation.

Keep the soil moist, but not wet using furrow, drip or sprinkler irrigation.  Drip irrigation is the best because it saves time, water use and effort. Provide extra water for early potatoes during dry conditions.

Potatoes are sensitive to drought. Water deficits during critical periods such as tuber development cause low yields and small tubers. If the soil dries after tuber development, the second growth will result in knobby potatoes. Dry conditions can cause hollow heart in potatoes.

Good watering tips:

  • Water in the early morning or in the evening
  • Do not water during the hot period of the day, it leads to evaporation
  • Use soil moisture sensors and rain gauges to monitor water
  • End irrigation about 10 days before harvesting.
  • Don’t overwater

Problems, Pests, and Diseases

The potato is often the victim of several pests and diseases which can cause crop losses if not properly managed. Minimize the chances of disease by planting disease-resistant seed potato varieties and rotating crops to a new field each year.

Potatoes are susceptible to a number of common pests including aphids, Colorado potato beetles, and blight. Make it a point to monitor, detect and identify insect damage early.

How do you plant potatoes in Zim?

Plant the tubers 70-100 mm deep under irrigation, and up to 150 mm deep under dry land planting. Rows are normally 0.9 m wide and 0.3 m between plants to give a plant population of 37 000 plants/ ha. You need 75-80 pockets (30 kg) to plant out 1 ha of the crop.

How much does it cost to produce a hectare of potatoes in Zimbabwe?

Successful Crop Management Tips

Producing a hectare of potatoes costs between USD5000 and USD8000 depending on the agronomic practices being implemented.