Growing potatoes in containers is a great idea if you are 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.
This is ideal for container gardens. Their lush green foliage is a perfect partner for more showier ornamental plants. It is also a great way to make the most of an empty corner of your balcony or patio.
Easier than growing tubers in the ground, learning to grow potatoes in a container requires little digging or manual effort. You also don’t need perfect soil to enjoy fresh, home grown tubers and new potatoes. This process will also help to protect tubers from soil-borne diseases and pests such as scab and eelworm.
There is nothing quite like the taste of freshly harvested, home grown potatoes. Learning to grow potatoes in containers is not only suitable for gardeners with limited space, it is also less labour intensive than other methods.
This guide will take you through everything you need to know about how to grow potatoes in containers. We will discuss everything from selecting the best varieties to preparing your container through to plant care and harvesting your crops.
Selecting Potato Varieties For Container Growing
All varieties of tuber are suitable for growing in containers. Ultimately your choice is down to your own personal taste.
Many gardeners find, when growing in containers, that the best results are delivered by first and second early varieties. These are types that will mature early. First and second earlies will usually mature in 70-90 days.
Planting first or second early potato varieties also enables you to harvest your crops before blight arrives in the summer. The variety Swift is a particularly early tuber that is well suited to this process. Nicola, a second early variety, is another popular choice that continues to grow if harvested late.
While early maturing varieties are preferred, all varieties are suitable for container cultivation. This allows you the freedom to select whichever variety you prefer. You can even grow different varieties in separate pots.
Salad varieties also work particularly well. Varieties such as the Charlotte, Rocket, Lady Christi or Anya are all popular choices.
Whichever variety you decide to grow make sure that you select certified seed varieties. Your chosen variety should also be disease free.
Selecting a Container
You can purchase purpose made Potato Planter Bags. These make harvesting new potatoes a simple process. Each bag will accomodate three to four tubers.
Alternatively, any large container can be used to grow tubers in. You can use a number of small pots, planting one plant in each or you can use a larger container. You can even use an old dustbin or water barrel. Heavy burlap bags make an ideal container because the material breathes and drains well.
While you can purchase purpose made bags, old burlap sacks provide the ideal conditions for tuber plants. Breathable and well draining, the material is also sturdy enough to safely hold the garden soil and plants.
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 dustbin. The only noticeable difference is that the smaller containers will require less compost.
When it comes to growing 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.
How Many Plants Can I Fit in a Container?
Overplanting a container will lead to small or deformed fruit. Plants will struggle to thrive and may even fail to produce a crop.
Each seed potato needs around 2.5 US gallons of garden soil to grow in. This equates to roughly 10 litres.
Large containers, such as old barrels, will provide up to 4 plants with enough room to grow and flourish. However using a large container will require more soil than cultivating the same number of plants in 4 separate, small containers.
Containers 1ft in diameter will hold one plant. 2ft containers can hold up to 3 plants. A purpose made potato growing bag will comfortably hold 3-4 pants. A larger bin or bucket will hold 4-5 plants.
Your chosen container should have enough room for the soil to be built up around the plants as the plants grow. This is key to encouraging more tubers to form.
Preparing Your Potatoes
Before you begin you will need to prepare the tubers. The preparation process to grow potatoes in containers is similar to cultivating in the ground. Basically, before planting the potatoes need to chit or sprout.
To chit your tubers place them in an old egg box with their eye or eye facing up. Place the egg box in a cool but light location. The eyes will grow into stubby, green shoots. These can then be planted as seed potatoes.
Before planting, allow your chosen varieties to chit. Once the sprouts are strong and noticeable you can plant the tubers or seed potatoes in the soil.
Selecting the Best Growing Medium
Your chosen soil should be well draining. You can use garden soil or purchase fresh, general purpose compost. Perlite can also be used. Potatoes grow best in acidic, fertile soil.
Where to Position Your Container
The ideal position will be a full sun location. A full sun position will allow the plants to receive 6-8 hours of light a day. The temperature should average around 60℉ or 16℃.
Growing Potatoes in Containers
You can begin growing 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 undercover and move outside once any danger of frost has passed.
Place a layer of drainage material such as broken up polystyrene 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 some 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 5 inches deep for your potato plant.
Place the chitted 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.
When planting potatoes, cover the tubers with a layer of soil and water well.
After a couple of days you will notice that the chit or sprouts are continuing to grow, emerging through the soil. When the sprouts reach 4 inches above the soil add more soil, covering all but the top tips of the leaves. This is known as earthing up.
Continue to earth up the plants as they grow. Keep the soil moist during this period. This process, of covering and watering, will need to be constantly repeated until the plant comes close to the top of the container.
Caring for Your Crop
Growing in containers is far less labor intensive than cultivating them in the ground. 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.
Watering and Feeding
Growing in containers 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 out they will require even more water. Harvesting rainwater, to reuse in the garden, is a great way to keep plants well watered without racking up your water bill.
As the plants thicken out be careful to ensure that they receive enough water. As plants flower they will require more water. Use a watering can to penetrate the foliage, ensuring water reaches the soil.
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.
Don’t apply nitrogen rich fertilizers. These will encourage the formation of foliage, often at the expense of a large, healthy crop.
How to Harvest Potatoes
Continue to water your plants until they begin to flower. Potatoes grown in containers need a lot of water. Once the plants have flowered and the foliage is starting to turn yellow cease watering. After a week you will be able to harvest the crop of new potatoes.
New potatoes can be harvested before the plants flower. Watch the foliage carefully for the sign of blooms emerging. When you see buds harvest your crop. Small potatoes can be harvested earlier.
The emergence of flower buds is a sign that your crop is nearing maturity and is almost ready to be harvested. For small, new tubers harvest before the buds can flower. If you desire large tubers allow the plants to flower and begin to die back before harvesting.
Flowering is a sign that the plants are ready to harvest. This is the most difficult part of growing in containers. You will need to dig through the soil looking for any tubers that feel the right size. These can then be harvested.
If you are growing a variety such as Nicola the process will be slightly different. Carefully feel through the soil, disturbing the roots and soil as little as possible. After you have harvested the crop the plant will continue to grow, producing more potatoes.
Alternatively you can harvest the entire crop in one go. To do this cut away the remaining foliage. Then empty the potting soil, picking out your tubers.
Storing Your Crop
Once harvested, clean the tubers. If you are keeping the crop 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?
Little tastes better than freshly harvested, home grown tubers. Growing in containers enables gardeners of all abilities to enjoy this experience, even if space is at a premium.
Growing potatoes in containers is a great solution if space is at a premium. Like no dig gardening, it is also far less labor intensive than other methods. A great way of making use of seed potatoes that would otherwise go to waste, growing potatoes in containers allows everyone to enjoy the lush foliage and great taste of home grown tubers from your potato plants.
Armed with this guide, try to take advantage of the next growing season to grow your own potato plants!
Elizabeth learnt to love gardening as a child in her grandparents backyard. Today, she is a trained horticulturist and has maintained a productive allotment for over 10 years. When not growing her own, Elizabeth enjoys helping other people with the plant problems. An experienced writer and editor, away from gardening Elizabeth is also a keen bird watcher, local historian and genealogist, meaning that she can often be found with her dogs exploring an overgrown graveyard.