Container Gardening Is Perfect for Big Potato Yields
For many, a limited garden means you have a limited choice of what you can grow. Well, if you are anything like me then you know that when there is a will, there is a way. For example, last year I grew potatoes not in a garden but in a laundry basket. My Mom thought I was crazy, but surprisingly it worked pretty well.
I just had a reader ask me how it went so I thought I would give an update. While we are on the topic, it seems like a fitting time to talk about some other fun and inventive ways of growing potatoes in containers. It’s actually a lot easier than you might think. If you want to try growing potatoes in containers, then you’re going to want to read this article.
Not only will you get some new and creative ideas, but you will be able to grow everything from Yukon Gold, to Red Pontiac, and even Russet brand potatoes.
Update: Growing potatoes in a laundry basket
If you’re interested in my laundry basket growing adventure from last summer, check out my article here – Yes Mom, You Can Grow Potatoes in a Laundry Basket! My harvest from this basket was about 1.5 pounds of potatoes. Unfortunately, I was so excited I didn’t get a picture. During this process, there were a lot of things I learned along the way.
For example, one of the starts died while we were on vacation. So I learned that consistent watering is necessary when you are planting potatoes in pots. We will talk a bit about how you should properly water your potato plants in this article as well.
Besides the laundry basket, this year’s batch is going in the garden in my fancy potato grower. It’s basically just a long sheet of black plastic. It’s rigid so it will stand up and has holes in it so the potatoes can grow out the sides. Think of it as a large laundry basket that was made for growing.
I love that I can make it as small or as large as I want. I’ve used it for making compost in the past and have had it for at least 15 years. It stores well in the off-season, all I have to do is roll it up and secure it with zip ties.
Creative Tips for Growing Potatoes in Containers
The first step in growing potatoes in containers is to buy seed potatoes. Unlike the potatoes you can find in a grocery store, seed potatoes (tubers) are grown for the sole purpose of replanting (not meant for consumption). Certified seed potatoes are typically disease-free. Although you can also use “table stock” potatoes for planting purposes, they typically don’t produce a strong potato crop.
You can purchase seed potatoes at any gardening store. You want to make sure to buy them 2 to 4 weeks in advance of when you would like to plant them. This is roughly the amount of time it will take for the potato to sprout. Once you get the seed potatoes, you will want to take them out of the bag as soon as possible. Leaving them in bags for a long time may lead to fungal growth.
Pick potatoes with more than one eye bud. Ideally, you should choose those that have three buds. More eye buds mean more spuds (potatoes). However, it should be noted that more spuds also means potatoes that are smaller in size. To remove any excess eye buds, simply dig them out with a sharp knife.
Potato growing involves a considerable amount of preparation. Pre-sprouting or chitting potatoes is a step that you can skip. But if you want to harvest early or if you’re living in a climate with a short summer, then this is recommended. This step is done 2 to 3 weeks before planting.
To start your potato plants, place the seed potatoes in an open container. A cardboard egg carton can work well for this. Next, you will want to store it a cool, dark place. 50 °F (10 °C) is the ideal temperature when sprouting seed potatoes.
Position the tubers with the “eyes” facing up so that the sprouts grow in an upward direction. After some time, you will see a white or green growth coming out of the potato skin. See my post “Chitting Potatoes” for directions.
What Should You Use for Growing Potatoes in Containers?
When you are selecting the proper container for potato plants, you will want to consider the size of your harvest. Select a 10 US gal (38 liters) container to plant 4 to 6 seed potatoes. At the very least, the pots should be 16 inches high. If you want to plant more than six potatoes per container, then you will need a bigger pot.
Plastic pots are ideal for growing potatoes in containers because they are easier to move and reuse. You can buy plastic pots at any garden center. They are typically black in color (to hold warmth). You will also find that they usually come with built-in drainage holes which can be super helpful for a healthy harvest.
What Is the Best Soil for Growing Potatoes in Containers?
Potatoes can grow and be planted on almost any type of soil. The only exception is alkaline and saline soils. Naturally loose soil, which offers less resistance to the enlargement of potato tubers is preferred. Potatoes grow well in loamy soils rich in organic matter, with good aeration and drainage.
You will want to fill the container with at least 4 to 6 inches of potting soil. Then, mix in organic fertilizer. Because fertilizers all differ, be sure to follow the directions on the package.
Growing Potatoes in Containers Vertically
Throughout my potato growing adventures, I have found that you can grow massive amounts of potatoes in very little space. Sometimes even as much as 40 pounds. The key is to grow them vertically instead of in rows.
Once you have your seed potatoes and soil ready, you are ready to start growing potatoes in containers. In this method, we will show you how to grow your potato plants vertically. To start, simply follow these basic guidelines.
- Clear the soil to adjust to the size of your container. The soil needs to be light, not compact, or you will have deformed potatoes.
- Place the sprouted potatoes in a circle. You can also plant them in a row if you’re planting that way. Once planted, adequately cover them with soil.
- Water your potato plants and wait for the foliage to get 8 inches high.
- Cover the leaves with compost, soil, or straw, leaving just 2 inches of leaves above the soil.
- Continue adding soil, compost, or straw (leaving just 2 inches) every time the plant gets 8 inches high. Potatoes form tubers all along the stalk of the plant, so the taller you can get them, the more tubers you will harvest.
- Be sure to continue watering regularly. Water the potato plant when the top two inches of soil is dry. If your potato plants don’t get enough water, they will become undersized and more susceptible to pests and diseases. In warm temperatures, you may need to water the potato pots twice a day. Adjust your watering schedule based on the specific needs of your potatoes.
- Once the plant starts to flower, (this will happen after 60 days or so), little tubers will begin to form on underground stems. Some varieties either bloom very late or not at all, so check for new potatoes after 65-75 days on plants that don’t bloom.
Harvesting Your Potatoes
Once your potato plant matures and is ready for harvest, there are some key tips to follow. Before you harvest, you will want to allow the vines to grow until your tubers have reached their mature size. Frost will encourage maturing your potato tubers. To stop the growth of a vine, you will want to break the tops off at ground level. You will want to make sure that the tubers remain in the soil at least two weeks after the tops have died back or have been broken off.
Also, be sure to stop watering your potato plants. This will allow time for skins to “set.” This will increases the storage life of your potatoes. Once the leaves of your potato plant begin to turn yellow, this is a clue that you can begin digging out your potatoes.
When you are digging your potatoes out, you will want to make sure you work carefully. This way you will not damage or bruise the skins. Be sure to dig deep (up to 18in from the plant). This will ensure that you locate all the tubers.
Once you have dug them up, make sure to wash the potatoes thoroughly. If there are any damaged tubers, then these should be thrown out. Any injured or bruised tubers can be cooked and enjoyed right away.
Storing Your Harvest
Once harvested, you will want to make sure you are storing them properly as well. Potatoes will turn green and taste bitter if they are stored in the presence of light. It is recommended that your store your harvest a low temperature (35-40 degrees). Areas like cellars and unheated basements and garages are great places that maintain this temperature. For optimal storage, it is recommended that you stash your tubers in brown paper bags.
When you keep your tubers at a cool temperature, you increase the storage life all while deterring sprout development. Never store your potatoes in the refrigerator. A refrigerator is too dry of an atmosphere for your tubers to keep well.
More potato storage tips:
- Never store potatoes in plastic containers as plastic promotes moisture and rot;
- Don’t wash your potatoes before storing them, leave some dirt on them;
- Potatoes need plenty of ventilation so keep them on racks or in containers that allow plenty of air circulation;
- Some people use shredded paper as a buffer when storing potatoes;
- Check your potatoes every couple of weeks or so; remove any spoiled spuds as a single bad potato can spoil an entire batch;
- Freshly harvested potatoes need to be cured for a couple of weeks before being stored; just leave them on newspaper in a dark place for a couple of weeks until their peel hardens;
- Choose only properly sized potatoes without major marks or blemishes for storage;
- Store potatoes away from apples, bananas, onions and other ethylene-producing produce; ethylene gas prompts potatoes to ripen faster;
- A properly stored potato should last up to 8 months.
To read more on proper harvesting and storage of your potatoes, check out how White Flower Farm grows and harvests their potatoes. See the full article here.
Other Fun Ways to Grow Potatoes
In a bag:
It may sound strange, but growing potatoes in a bag are actually quite feasible. Take Food52 for example, they are growing potatoes right in the bag they purchased. If these urban gardeners can do it, so can you!
You will want to start by finding the right bag. You can use a heavy bag like the one you would get from purchasing a dog or cat food. You can even grow right out of a topsoil bag. Just make sure that the bag you are using is plastic.
Paper bags will not hold up for the duration of the growing season. You can also use grow bags to plant potatoes. Grow bags are large plastic bags filled with a growing medium used for growing different varieties of plants.
In a tire tower:
Troy Brooks, of American Preppers Network, takes his old tires and repurposes them as a gardening tool that you must have. He washes them thoroughly to remove road grime and then uses them as planters. This is a handy re-use / re-purpose for tires you might have around the yard. Not only is this a neat way to grow your seed potatoes, but it’s a great way to display your potato plants as well.
Check out their link above if this is a way you might want to start growing potatoes in containers. Their article goes into all the details you need to know, including chemical leaching.
Use a plastic (or wooden) barrel or trash can:
Using a plastic or wooden barrel or trash can is another great way for growing potatoes in containers. This inexpensive method is likely sitting around in your yard already. All you need to do in order to prep it is to have proper drainage. To accomplish this, simply drill holes in the bottom of your barrel or trash can.
Use a 5-gallon bucket:
If you are just starting out, or are limited on space, then this is a great method for growing potatoes in containers. The downside to this method is that it will not provide as great a yield. Before you start planting, it would be a good idea to drill big holes in the side as well as opening the bottom to the soil. This aeration will increase the harvest and make sure you don’t get any rot. To try out this method, check out the directions from Five Gallon Ideas.
If you like verticle planting, then you will love this idea. A simple google search for “images of growing potatoes in towers” gave me a ton of ideas! You can find great websites with instructions using chicken wire, wood, fencing, bamboo and swimming pools.
Here are a few links to get you started.
One Hundred Dollars a Month – potato tower update.
Feeding Big has directions for chicken wire towers.
The Daily Wild used reclaimed pallet boards and made a simple potato tower.
The options are really endless when you decide to grow your potatoes in a vertical tower. One reason I love growing potatoes in containers this way is that the options are endless and you can tailor it to the style of your garden.
Use straw added into the layers:
This neat method when growing potatoes in containers will allow you to have a super easy harvesting season. Instead of having to dig out your harvest from the ground, you will instead dig it out of the staw. Colorado State University has directions for growing your potatoes in straw here. Be sure to check this out because you can incorporate straw into your towers too.
Here are two of my related posts on star bale gardening:
The possibilities are endless!
Use a potato grow bag or tub:
This next method is a convenient way of growing potatoes in containers. You will simply need a Potato Grow Bag. Take, for example, the 20-inch deep flexible Potato Tub (pictured above). It’s easily cleaned and folded away when not in use. Better yet, you can use this grow bag time and time again. You’ll recognize the sturdy material. And if you are someone who has an ounce of creativity and sewing skills, then you will be able to easily create your own as well.
Final Thoughts on Growing Potatoes in Containers
Some might be wondering why they should start growing potatoes in containers when they can just buy them right at the store. Well, there are a variety of reasons. For starters, I can get Russet potatoes at the grocery on any day. But if I want to add heirloom varieties to our diet I’m going to need to grow them myself.
Price is another reason. I absolutely love Fingerling potatoes, but they can be cost prohibitive on my budget. Purchasing a few Fingerlings and planting my own, goes a long way in stretching our monthly grocery dollar.
Lastly, I will have a supply of seed potatoes for next year, which is perhaps the best reason of all. My initial investment will keep me in potatoes for years to come.
Want to try out growing potatoes in containers, but not sure where to start? Check out this comprehensive list of potato varieties from Washington State University and find your new favorite potato. When they say comprehensive, they really do mean comprehensive!
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How do you grow your potatoes? Share your ideas in the comments section below.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do potatoes take to grow in containers?
In most cases, the potatoes should mature somewhere between 70 and 90 days. Be aware that some potatoes take 120 days until harvest, so you need a long growing season for these types of potatoes.
How many potatoes can you plant in a 5-gallon bucket?
If you want to plant potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket, you should consider only planting one or two potatoes maximum. This is to ensure that the potatoes have enough room to grow naturally without any hindrance.
Can I grow sweet potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket?
Yes, you can grow sweet potatoes in 5-gallon buckets. That’s the short answer. The first order of business with growing sweet potatoes is getting a nice crop of sweet potato slips. Place your single seed potato in a 5-gallon bucket of moist soil, tops exposed. This is your “slip nursery” – an intermediate step between your grocery store shelves and your garden plot.
The process of planting sweet potatoes in a bucket is similar to that of planting regular potatoes. However, you will need a 100-day growing season. As with anything planted in buckets, make sure to drill adequate drainage holes in the bottom. Before long, your “slips” will start rocketing out of your sweet potato.
Do potatoes keep growing after the plant dies?
The plants will continue to grow and flower for several months, and eventually, they’ll naturally begin to die back. Mature potatoes are ready to dig just a few weeks after the plants have completely died.
Do potatoes grow back every year?
Sadly, potatoes do not grow back every year, unlike perennials. They complete their life cycles in a single growing season, so you have to plant them year after year. With that said, you might want to consider another plant if you’re the comfy type of gardener.