Growing potatoes in containers can make gardening accessible for the small space gardener. When you grow potatoes in a container, harvesting is easier because all the tubers are in one place. Potatoes can be grown in a potato tower, garbage can, Tupperware bin, or even a gunnysack or burlap bag. The process is simple and something the entire family can enjoy from planting to harvesting.
When to Plant Potatoes in Containers
Timing for planting potatoes in containers is not much different than when planting them in the ground. The general recommendation for in-ground potatoes is to plant them about two weeks after the last frost in your region.1 You may be able to cheat the planting date forward a little when planting in containers, since the soil will warm up faster when exposed to the sun above the ground. However, be prepared to cover or bring your potato containers indoors if a late spring frost is predicted.
Working With Potatoes
Although some people try to do it, it rarely works to use grocery potatoes for planting in the garden—unless they are organic potatoes that have not been sprayed to retard sprouting. Generally speaking, you should use “seed” potatoes sold for the purpose of garden planting. Seed potatoes are available from nurseries or specialty, organic growers such as Wood Prairie Farm, which has a great selection of interesting varieties.
It is possible to grow potatoes in any large container, from large pots or nursery containers to big garbage cans. Even trash bags or stacks of tires will do, though you have to be cautious about these because they can get very hot in the sun. Smart Pots are a fantastic option for potatoes as well. These growing containers are lightweight, environmentally friendly, and made of fabric, so your potatoes get air as they grow. They also have great natural drainage, ensuring your potatoes will never sit in water and rot.
Whatever you use for a container, make sure it has good drainage. If it doesn’t come with drainage, add some by creating holes in the bottom.
Whether it is in the garden or in containers, the process for growing potatoes is a little different than it is for other vegetables. Potatoes are grown using a “hilling” technique in which the stems are gradually buried by heaping additional soil around the plant as it grows upward. The lower buried stems will develop additional root structures (potatoes) as the hill grows higher. For this reason, hilling is essential to getting the maximum harvest from each potato plant. Burying the stems also prevents the potatoes from being exposed to light, which makes them turn green.
When growing in containers, the hilling process looks a little different, but the basics are the same. When first planted, the seed potatoes are just barely covered with soil. As the plant grows, additional soil is heaped around the plant at regular intervals until the container is filled.
Tips for Growing Potatoes in Containers:
Buy seed potatoes
Whether you bought seed potatoes or supermarket potatoes, you should make sure to choose the healthiest potatoes to grow. Don’t use any potatoes that have signs of bruises or rots. Once you have chosen the potatoes to grow, put them in a dark cool environment until they develop eye buds. This may take a few days. When you see the buds, you can start planting your potatoes.
You should plant only the potatoes that have 2 to 3 eye buds. If a potato has more than 3 buds, you can cut the rest of the buds and leave only the 3 strong ones.
Cutting the potatoes
Use a clean, sharp knife to cut each tuber into several sections, being sure each section contains at least one “eye” and an inch of flesh. Let the cut potatoes rest for 24-48 hours before planting. This rest period enables the cut area to callous over and helps keep soil-borne diseases from rotting the tuber before it can grow.
This is not an essential step either but it can boost the growth your potato seeds. You can keep your potatoes seeds in a cool and dimly lit environment for a couple weeks until the potato seeds develop strong sprouts.
Choosing a container
You need to use large containers for growing potatoes. Potatoes require depth rather than width. An ideal container should be at least 24 inches deep. Every two potato seeds should be grown in a 5-gallon container. If you want to grow 4 potato seeds per container, you should use a 10-gallon container.
Potatoes like warmth so any plastic container that can provide warmth is an excellent choice. Thus, you can use buckets, dustbins, sacks, and tires to grow potatoes. It is essential that any container you use should contain a lot of drainage holes.
Planting Seed Potatoes
As we mentioned earlier, potatoes require warmth. Thus, you shouldn’t start planting until the last frost has passed. It is crucial that the soil is warm enough to allow potato seeds to grow. The soil temperature should be above 40F (4 C) otherwise your plants will not grow.
You can use your garden soil if it is a good quality soil. If it is not, it is recommended that you buy some good quality soil. Fill 4 to 5 inches of the container with soil. Put the potato seeds on the top of the soil with the eye buds facing upward. Then, add another 5 inches layer of soil to cover the potato seeds.
Growth requirements of potatoes
The only negative when you grow potatoes in small spaces like this is the constant need to water. Potatoes need to be consistently moist, so a daily dousing during summer’s heat is an absolute must.
Potatoes are not heavy feeders, thus applying a natural fertilizer is enough. Well-rotted manure and compost are sufficient to provide your potatoes with the nutrients they need to grow. However, for optimum growth, you could apply an organic liquid fertilizer. You shouldn’t fertilize your plants more than once a month.
Potatoes need a lot of potassium to grow. Therefore, you should avoid applying too much nitrogen fertilization to them. Nitrogen fertilizers will promote foliage growth rather than potato growth.
When the leaves are yellow and you start seeing blooms, you can start harvesting your potatoes. Don’t wait too long to harvest otherwise you will be harvesting dry potatoes.
This is how to grow potatoes in containers successfully. Follow these steps and you will enjoy a heavy yield of sweet delicious potatoes.