How to Grow Potatoes in Pots or Containers in 9 Easy Steps
If you are trying to grow potatoes in containers or pots this year, there's a few very specific steps you'll want to follow. Growing potatoes in containers can be a bit tricky, but there's a few best practices you can implement to maximize your potato yields. In this article, gardening expert and former organic farmer Sarah Hyde shares 9 easy steps to grow potatoes in containers or pots this season!
The French call potatoes “la pomme de terre” or apple of the earth, and for good reason. Only when you eat freshly dug tubers from your garden do you understand the nuance of this phrase! The taste of freshly harvested potatoes is unrivaled by grocery store potatoes. You will taste potato flavors and textures you never knew existed! But can you actually grow potatoes in containers if you lack the garden space? Is it a good idea?
Fortunately, potatoes can be great container-grown crops. They are easy to grow and a joy to harvest. Even if you only have a small garden space to work with, you can find varieties of potatoes to grow in pots or containers.
So, where do you start? We’ve put together a comprehensive how-to guide outlined with 9 simple steps to help you grow potatoes in pots or containers. Let’s jump in!
Step 1: Choose The Right Variety
With hundreds of varieties of potatoes to choose from, it can be overwhelming to choose what will work best for your container growing needs. There are generally two major things to consider when choosing a variety – harvest time and culinary/storage uses. Pretty colors and fun names are a bonus!
Seed potatoes are generally sold as early, mid, or late maturity. Maturity ranges from early harvest at about 50 days, to late, which can be up to 100 days. Consider how long you want to be tending the potatoes, when your fall frost occurs, and when you want to harvest. Late potatoes should have time to mature before a heavy fall frost kills the top growing portion of the plant.
If you have multiple containers, consider planting one or two varieties from each harvest period, (early, mid, and late) to give you a continual harvest of fresh potatoes. One other important consideration if you are planting long-season potatoes is that the time for potential disease and pests is greater.
The second major thing to help guide your choice of which potato to grow is how you plan to cook them. Most varieties include their best culinary uses in their description. The flesh texture, waxy or starchy, and the thickness of the skin will inform best cooking uses.
Waxy potatoes tend to work well in potato salads, whereas drier, more starchy potatoes fry and bake better. Some potatoes have particularly smooth flesh, making them great for mashed potatoes. You can also decide what variety to choose based on how well the potato stores.
Step 2: Prepare Seed Potatoes
Potato plants sprout and root from the eyes of potatoes. You can increase the number of potato plants you have by cutting up the seed potatoes and planting the pieces. Observe the seed potatoes. If there are many eyes per potato, more than 5, you can safely cut the seed potato into halves, thirds, or quarters. After cutting, lay the pieces cut-side up in a dry, protected location to allow them to dry up before planting.
Each piece should have at least 2 eyes; more is better. The pieces should still be large enough to provide sustenance for the growing potato plant. Tiny chunks or slivers of potatoes (even if they have more than 2 eyes) will most likely rot before the plant is able to establish itself.
Chitting is the term used for intentionally pre-sprouting potatoes. Leave the seed potatoes in a warm location for a few days until they sprout. If you plan to cut the seed potatoes into pieces, cut them first and allow the sdes to dry over.
Many times chitting happens naturally when you do not get to planting the seed potatoes as soon as you planned! It is completely fine to plant those that have already sprouted. Planting pre-sprouted potatoes takes more time than non-sprouted because you have to carefully plant them without breaking off the sprouts.
Step 3: Use a Large Container
Potatoes grow up from the seed potato, forming new potatoes on top and around the seed potato. Roots form under the seed potato. Choose a deep container that you can continually fill as the potato grows.
The container should be somewhat wide, 12” minimum to ensure adequate space for the plant. Even a 5-gallon bucket with drainage holes in the bottom can work! Be sure to use a food-grade bucket.
Always use a container with drainage holes. Proper drainage is essential for good plant health. No drainage will cause water-logged soil and your seed potatoes will rot and most likely die. Using a container that’s too small is one of the most common mistakes potato gardeners make when first attempting potted potato gardening.
Step 4: Mix Fertilizer & Soilless Potting Media
Potatoes are heavy feeders, meaning they need lots of fertility to produce big, healthy potatoes. Add a balanced vegetable fertilizer in with the soilless potting media and mix it in well.
Compost can also be incorporated into the soilless mix, but be frugal with it, since too much can cause the soil to lose its drainage capacity and become mucky. Do not use garden soil for your container since it will not drain properly. They do not grow well in heavy or water-logged soil.
Step 5: Plant The Potato at the Bottom
Plant the seed potato (or multiple if your container is big enough) near the bottom of the pot on a 2-3 inch layer of soil. Cover the seed potato with another 2”-3” of soil. If your soil mix is extremely dry, water lightly to moisten but do not soak the potting soil.
Ideal soil moisture for planting feels like a damp sponge. If the soil mix is already moist, do not water more until the potato has sprouted and is actively growing.
There is plenty of water stored in the tuber, to supply the first green leaves, so moist soil mix works well to avoid rot. There is little risk of the young sprouts dying of lack of water (unless you live in an extremely arid climate and the potting media is bone-dry).
Step 6: Hill as They Grow
Add soil and/or straw to cover the bottom of the potato stems as they grow. This helps the potatoes near the soil surface from turning green and allows them more soil space to grow. Yes, you can do this in containers.
This isn’t just a garden grown requirement, and will help your potted potatoes flourish. The best time to hill your potatoes is in the spring.
Step 7: Water Occasionally
Potatoes need adequate water, but not so much that the soil is constantly soaked. Check the soil moisture with your finger before watering and only water if the soil feels dry to the touch. Water until the excess runs through the drainage holes in the pot.
Step 8: Harvest After the Plant Has Died Back
The green growing part of the potato plant will naturally die when the plant has reached maturity. Now is the time to dig your potatoes! When potatoes are grown in a container, digging with a shovel is generally not necessary. Gently brush soil away from around the stem and use your hands to feel down in the container for the potatoes.
Harvest them when the potting soil is on the drier side. If the soil is stuck to the sides of potatoes in big clods, it is likely too wet.
Wait a day or two for the soil to dry out a bit before digging. Harvest carefully to avoid scraping the skin or bruising. Allow them to dry out of the direct sun in a protected location. Once the soil and skins have dried well, gently brush off any excess potting soil.
It helps to know the approximate days to maturity of the potato variety, in case the plant dies off suddenly early in the growing season. You will know that the plant died back for a cause (disease, lack of water, water-logged soil) other than reaching maturity.
Step 9: Store Your Unused Harvest
Potatoes store best when unwashed. After digging, allow the potato skins and remaining dirt to dry, then brush the excess dirt off gently. Store your homegrown potatoes in a cool, dry place with good ventilation. Wash before preparing for cooking.
Potatoes are a fun, easy crop to grow in pots or containers, especially when you follow these 9 steps. Growing your own allows you to choose interesting varieties and experience the excitement of unearthing treasures for your kitchen table. Fresh potatoes have an outstanding flavor unrivaled by grocery store russets and you will only want to eat homegrown potatoes from now on!