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Growing Potatoes In A Bucket: Small Space Spuds

Potatoes are a huge staple crop of many different cultures and peoples. People have grown potatoes for centuries all over the world. There are at least one hundred varieties of seed potatoes and many different ways to eat them. Better yet, there are many ways to grow them, and among those is the topic of the day: growing potatoes in a bucket!

Store-bought potatoes are cheap and plentiful, but they may contain some trace amounts of pesticides. New potatoes are the most at risk for this because they’re harvested closer to the time pesticides are applied. This is just one reason many people decide to grow their own potatoes.

‘Yukon Gold’ and ‘Pontiac Red’ are varieties you can easily find at the grocery store. Sprouted potatoes left in the bag might be too old to eat, but they’re easy to propagate. If you start with these, it’s virtually free to grow spuds. Some don’t have space outdoors or the tools needed to grow potatoes. 

Novice gardeners may be deterred by the care potatoes take to grow, but it’s not as hard as it may look. Thankfully for them, potatoes live well in containers, bags, pots, buckets, or in the ground. 

If you’re interested in growing potatoes, but you’re not sure if it’s right for you, cultivating potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket is a great way to experiment. This method doesn’t require a lot of prior gardening knowledge, nor does it require a lot of effort. As long as your soil is amended with compost, you’re good. In buckets, you can grow potatoes in a multitude of settings.

Why Grow Potatoes In A Bucket?

Growing potato plants in 5-gallon buckets is great for people who live in dwellings where an in-ground garden is not possible, and it’s an excellent way to make your potato plants portable. If you’ve placed your bucket in an area with inadequate sun, move it. It’s a wonderful way to experiment with your first crop of potatoes and get to know how potatoes grow. 

Growing potatoes in buckets makes caring for your potato plant a lot easier too. By providing your potato plants with fresh disease-free soil mixed with compost, you run less risk of attracting fungal, bacterial, and viral infections to your crop. Potatoes in containers make looking for your output a lot of fun too. Just tip that baby over and hunt for the apple of the earth! 

The buckets you choose are of huge importance. Although non-food grade buckets will work just as well, a food-grade bucket is best because plastics won’t leach into your soil. When you harvest the potatoes from a food-grade 5-gallon bucket, you eliminate the risk of consuming plastic as well. 

Setting Up For Success

Potato and plant in bucket
A single seed potato can spawn an entire bucket of potatoes. Source: Andy2Boyz

Here’s what you need to get started with your bucket potato garden. 

  • 5-gallon food grade bucket
  • Drill with a decent sized bit (wide enough for drainage)
  • Good well-draining fertile soil mix (topsoil and compost works here)
  • Straw or mulch
  • A ruler, yardstick, or tape measure
  • A permanent marker
  • Seed potatoes or store-bought chitted potatoes
  • Landscaping fabric, sponges, or an old t-shirt
  • A well-draining location, like a concrete porch or wooden deck
Growing potatoes in a bucket
When growing potatoes in a bucket, only plant 1-3 per container to allow root development. They will produce more! Source: Andy2Boyz

Drill at least 10 drainage holes in the bottom of your spud bucket, and more if it does not compromise the integrity of the bucket. These drainage holes are an essential part of gardening with potatoes in a container. All plants in pots need drainage, and most plants that don’t live in an aquatic setting don’t like wet feet, where their roots are consistently submerged in water. Drill a good number of drainage holes to keep potato roots from rotting. If you don’t have a drill, you can borrow one from a friend or rent one from a hardware store. 

After you drill holes for drainage, use the ruler and permanent marker to mark the outside of your bucket at multiple fill lines. Just like potatoes grown in the earth, potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket require that you add more soil as the plant grows taller. This process, called hilling, gives more room for more potatoes to grow as soil depth increases. Draw the first line at 4 inches, and the second at 10 inches. 

While some tutorials for growing potatoes in 5-gallon buckets suggest layering the bottom of the bucket with rocks to promote better drainage, this is not the best course of action. Layering rocks at the base creates a water table that will do just what we talked about previously: your potato roots will rot. Instead, shield holes with a piece of landscaping fabric, kitchen sponges, or an old t-shirt. Then cover that with dirt. 

Before you plant your spuds, fill the bucket up to the 4-inch line with a soil mix amended with compost. The dirt you use could be as simple as good topsoil with organic compost included. Don’t compact the dirt too much to keep it well-draining. If you’d like, sprinkle on some bone meal granules that will deteriorate and fertilize the soil when you water or when it rains. Finally, place the buckets on a concrete porch, or on another surface that will allow water to drain away with watering. You have time to play with this a bit during the growing season if you find your location doesn’t have enough drainage.   

Planting And Growing Your Bucket Of Potatoes

Healthy potato plants
Healthy potato plants will rapidly fill up the bucket as they develop. Source: Andy2Boyz

Sun, Temperature, and Water

You need a full sun location to grow potatoes in a 5-gallon container. Ideal temperatures for potatoes are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but most will do well in 50 to 80 degrees. Since you’re growing in a bucket, if you plant in early spring at a time when a freeze is predicted, you can move your bucket into a warmer location indoors. Generally, wait and plant two to three weeks before the last frost. 

Potatoes need consistent water until the foliage starts to die back. When the foliage dies back, stop watering to prevent tuber rot. When the foliage grows, water your potato container regularly to prevent the soil from drying out. Always water at the base of plants to prevent molds and mildews on the leaves. 

To check to see if watering is necessary, insert your finger in the top couple inches of the soil. If it’s dry, it’s time to water. Since you’re working with a container, it may be easiest to water properly with a watering can. If you don’t have one, purchase one at a nearby hardware store. 

Soil, Planting, and Fertilizing

As mentioned above, a basic soil amended with compost is great for potato plants. Your soil should have a pH between 4.2 and 7.0. As the potato plant grows add a little bit of mulch or straw to the top of the soil. Mulch makes it so you don’t have to water as much. 

Plant seed potatoes or potatoes from the grocery store that have begun sprouting. Give a potato with a sprout a head start by chitting. To chit potatoes, set them in a container (like an egg carton) in direct sunlight at 50 to 70 degrees. In about a week, you’ll have potatoes with one-inch sprouts that are ready to be planted. Plant seed potatoes and whole tubers at the surface of your soil which you filled to the 4-inch mark on the side of your bucket.

When planting potatoes, you’ll want to space them at least six inches apart for maximum yield. This means you’ll only have 2-3 plants per bucket, with 2 being the better choice. Then, add more soil to the 10-inch line. 

Potatoes don’t need much fertilizer but treat soil once or twice in the growing season. Apply a high nitrogen fertilizer after planting your sprouted potato or seed along with any bone meal granules you added when you built your bucket. These work together to support growth and provide assistance to root production. They also make your yield greater in the long run. If bone meal fertilizer isn’t an option for you, try a high phosphorus fertilizer after foliage begins to grow. A liquid or a granular organic fertilizer works here. Since potatoes don’t need that many extra nutrients, fertilize during the hilling process. 

Hilling Potatoes

Young potato plant
Hill the potatoes up to the base of the upper leaves for more production. Source: A Life in Balance

It’s especially important to hill your plants to keep green tubers covered. If you don’t hill potatoes, your harvest will turn green and be inedible due to the solanine in the tubers. 

Hilling involves adding a layer of soil that allows the plant to produce more tubers as the soil height grows. Some use a layer of straw or hay, but it’s best to keep the same quality soil you used to plant potatoes on hand for hilling in buckets. In 5 gallon buckets, wait until green foliage reaches the height of the bucket or grows to 6-8 inches tall, and add about three inches of dirt above the surface of the soil. Most potatoes won’t produce more than 1 foot to 1.5 feet above your initial planting area. 

You will only need to hill a few times in the growing season. If your soil surface begins to creep near the bucket lip, add some cardboard to extend the depth of the planting area. Once your potato plants flower, it’s getting close to harvest time. We’ll touch on how to harvest in a moment!

Pruning and Propagation

When the foliage begins to brown and die back, prune it away in preparation for harvest. Of course, if any leaves are damaged in the time your tubers are growing, remove them as needed. You can keep the cycle of growth going by sprouting some of your harvested spuds. The best way to sprout potatoes is to do nothing. Wait for them to sprout, and you’ll be on your way to the next potato growing season. Wait too long, though, and they’ll rot.  

Harvesting Your Bucket Of Potatoes

Newly harvested potatoes
To harvest, simply tip the buckets out on a tarp and pick out potatoes. Source: Andy2Boyz

After the plant flowers and the green foliage dies back in your 5-gallon buckets, harvest your potatoes. New potatoes are available as early as the plant flowers, but they should be eaten right away. They don’t last as long as regular potatoes due to their thin skin. People who grow potatoes in the ground generally harvest their crops with a potato fork, but it’s not needed here. When gardening this way, you don’t run the risk of damaging potatoes with fork prongs. Dump the entire container and search through the dirt to find tubers. Empty the soil on a tarp if you want to reuse it for another garden project.

Frequently Asked Questions

Buckets full of potato plants
You can have multiple kinds of potatoes in a very small space. Source: Ruth and Dave

Q: How many pounds of potatoes can you grow in a 5-gallon bucket?

A: A five-gallon bucket will give you about two pounds of potatoes. It’s a fun and no-fuss method of gardening! 

Q: How long does it take potatoes to grow in a bucket?

A: It takes about two to three months from the time you planted potatoes to harvest. It’s even sooner if you’re interested in new potatoes.


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