Ultimate Guide to Growing Potatoes in Containers
The practice saves garden space and is less labor intensive than other methods
By Elizabeth Jones
While early maturing potato varieties are preferred, all are suitable for container cultivation.
Growing potatoes in containers is a great idea if a home gardener is short on space. Not only is this an easy process, it is also one of the most rewarding. Even the smallest container will yield a pleasing crop of potatoes.
Potatoes are ideal for container gardens. Their lush green foliage is a perfect partner for more showier ornamental plants. Growing spuds in containers is also a great way to make the most of an empty corner of a balcony or patio.
Easier than growing tubers in the ground, growing potatoes in containers requires little digging or manual effort. You also don’t need perfect soil to enjoy fresh, homegrown potatoes.
The process also helps to protect tubers from soil-borne diseases and pests such as scab and potato cyst nematodes.
This guide will take you through everything you need to know about growing potatoes in containers. We will discuss everything from selecting the best varieties to preparing your container through to plant care and harvesting your crops.
All varieties of tuber are suitable for growing potatoes in containers. Ultimately your choice is down to personal taste.
Many gardeners find that, when growing potatoes in containers, the best results are delivered by first and second early varieties. These are types that will usually mature early, in 70-90 days.
Early maturing varieties also enable you to harvest your crops before blight arrives in the summer. The red Norland variety is a particularly early tuber that is well suited to this process. Yukon Gold, a yellow-fleshed early maturing variety, is another popular choice.
Salad varieties also work particularly well. Varieties such as fingerlings, Wisconsin reds and round whites are all popular choices.
Make sure that you select certified disease-free seed potato varieties.
SELECTING A CONTAINER
You can purchase purpose-made potato planter bags. These make harvesting the crop a simple process. Each bag will accommodate three to four tubers.
Alternatively, any large container can be used to grow tubers. You can use several small pots, planting one plant in each, or a larger container. You can even use an old garbage can or water barrel. Heavy burlap bags make ideal containers because the material breathes and drains well.
The container rarely affects the size of your crop. Cultivating several tubers in small pots will yield roughly the same size crop as cultivating the same number of plants in a large container such as a barrel or garbage can.
The only noticeable difference is that the smaller containers require less soil and compost.
When it comes to growing potatoes in containers, the choice over what container to use is up to you and what works best in your space. Just make sure your chosen container is clean and has drainage holes in the bottom.
Overplanting a container will lead to small or deformed tubers. Plants will struggle to thrive and may even fail to produce a crop. Each plant needs around 2.5 gallons of soil to grow.
PLANTS PER CONTAINER
Containers 1-foot in diameter each will hold one plant. Two-foot-diameter containers can hold up to three plants. A purpose-made potato growing bag will comfortably hold three-to-four pants, and a larger bin or bucket will hold four-to-five plants.
Your chosen container should have enough room for the soil to be built up around the plants as they grow. This is key to encouraging more tubers to form.
Before you begin, you will need to prepare the tubers. The preparation process for growing potatoes in containers is similar to cultivating in the ground. Basically, before planting, the potatoes need to sprout.
To sprout tubers, place them in an egg carton with their eye or eyes facing up. Place the egg carton in a cool but light location. The eyes will grow into stubby, green shoots. The tubers can then be planted.
Your chosen soil should be well draining. You can use garden soil or purchase fresh, general purpose compost. Perlite can also be used.
Place each container in a location where it will get direct sun, thus allowing the plants to receive six-to-eight hours of light a day. The temperature should average around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can begin growing potatoes in containers as soon as the last local frost date has passed. If a late frost does threaten, you can move the containers into a sheltered location.
You can also begin growing potatoes in containers undercover and move outside once any danger of frost has passed.
Place a layer of drainage material such as small pieces of Styrofoam or broken clay pots or crocks on the bottom of your chosen pot.
Mix a handful of slow-release general purpose fertilizer into your soil. You can also mix in homemade garden compost if you want to enrich the soil. Moisten the soil and place it in the container. You are aiming to create a layer roughly five inches deep.
Place the sprouted tubers on the surface of the soil. Larger seed varieties with multiple eyes can be cut in half or into 2-inch sections. Smaller varieties can be planted whole.
Cover the tubers with a layer of soil and water well.
After a couple of days, you will notice that the shoots are continuing to grow, emerging through the soil. When the sprouts reach 4 inches above the surface, add more soil, covering all but the top tips of the leaves. This is known as earthing up or hilling.
Continue to earth up the plants as they grow, keeping the soil moist during this period. The process of covering and watering will need to be constantly repeated until the plant comes close to the top of the container.
CARING FOR THE CROP
You will not need to dig or weed the crops at all. If weeds do appear, they can be pulled up or treated with an application of homemade weed killer.
Growing potatoes in containers, though, requires more water than the same crop growing in the ground. This is because the root system of the plant is unable to work though the ground seeking moisture.
When the plants reach the top of the container and their foliage begins to thicken, they will require even more water. Harvesting rainwater to reuse in the garden is a great way to keep plants irrigated without racking up the water bill.
The plants will also benefit from an occasional application of a liquid feed as they grow. Well balanced organic fertilizers such as seaweed extract are ideal. Alternatively, you can try making your own.
HARVESTING THE CROP
Continue to water your plants until they begin to flower. Once the plants have flowered and the foliage is starting to yellow, cease watering. After a week, you will be able to harvest the crop.
New potatoes can be harvested before the plants flower. Watch the foliage carefully for any sign of blooms emerging. When you see buds, harvest your crop.
Flowering is a sign that the plants are ready to harvest. This is the most difficult part of growing potatoes in containers. You will need to dig through the soil looking for any tubers that feel the right size. These can then be harvested.
Alternatively, you can harvest the entire crop in one go. To do this, cut away the remaining foliage. Then empty the soil, picking out your tubers.
STORING YOUR POTATOES
Once harvested, clean the tubers. If you are keeping the spuds for use during the summer or winter months, cure for two weeks before storing.
Stored correctly, tubers will keep for up to several months. However, if you do find yourself with some extra tubers, why not try using them to root rose cuttings?
The practice allows everyone to enjoy the lush foliage and great taste of homegrown potatoes.