Growing potatoes in a container is a great way to enjoy fresh potatoes while saving space in your garden. Plus, it can be a fun project for both kids and adults. But how do you go about growing potatoes in a container?
Growing potatoes in a container involves the following steps:
- Choosing the right materials for planting
- Chitting or pre-sprouting seeds
- Preparing the potting mix
- Planting the potato
- Watering the potato plant
- Fertilizing the potato plant
- Harvesting the potatoes
- Storing the potatoes
With a little planning and care, you can successfully grow potatoes in a container and enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious, fresh potatoes. Read on as I go in-depth on these steps so you can get started growing healthy and vigorous potatoes in containers.
1. Choosing the Right Materials for Planting
The first step in growing potatoes in a container is choosing the right planting materials. This includes selecting the potato seeds and growing container.
Get it right, and you’ll be on your way to a bountiful harvest of fresh potatoes. Get it wrong, and you may end up with no potatoes or a sickly plant.
Selecting the Right Seeds
When selecting potato seeds, you have two choices: seed potatoes or true potato seeds.
Seed potatoes are small, whole potatoes that are used for planting. You can purchase them from a garden center or online.
True potato seeds, also called botanical potato seeds, are microscopic potato seeds found in the potato plant’s flowers. These seeds are tiny, about the size of a tomato seed, and are difficult to handle. You can buy them online from seed companies specializing in true potato seeds.
When selecting seed potatoes, look for ones that are:
- Certified to be disease-free
- The right size for your container
- Free of blemishes or cuts
When selecting either seed potatoes or true potato seeds, choose a potato variety that is well-suited for container growing. Some good choices include ‘Baby Red,’ ‘Cherry Gold,’ and ‘Yellow Finn.’
If you are growing potatoes from true potato seeds, choose seeds that are plump and uniform in size. Avoid seeds that are shriveled or have discolored spots. These potatoes will not last as long in storage and may not produce as many potato plants.
Choose the ones that have started sprouting, as they will be the most viable. For the home gardener, seed potatoes are the best option as they are easier to find and easier to plant. Plus, they have a higher success rate than true potato seeds.
Pick the Right Container
The success of growing potatoes in a container depends on choosing the right container. The selected container should be at least 2-3 feet (0.61-0.91 m) tall and have drainage holes in the bottom.
A too shallow container will not allow the potato plant to develop a strong root system and may result in a smaller harvest.
When selecting a container, ensure it is clean and has been disinfected to prevent the spread of disease. You can do this by soaking the container in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water for at least 30 minutes.
You can also purchase potato planters that are made specifically for growing potatoes. These often come with a built-in water reservoir and drainage holes, making them ideal for growing potatoes.
Some of the best materials for growing potatoes in a container include:
Plastic Storage Tubs
Plastic storage tubs are inexpensive and lightweight, making them easy to move around. Plus, they retain moisture well, which is ideal for growing potatoes. Be sure to drill several drainage holes in the bottom of the tub before using.
Wooden barrels make great potato planters, as they are deep and have plenty of room for the potato plant to grow. You should line the barrel with a heavy-duty plastic bag to prevent the wood from rotting.
Burlap bags are breathable and allow the potato plant to grow without becoming waterlogged. You can place the bags directly on the ground or in another container. Be sure to poke holes in the bottom of the bag for drainage.
Unlike other materials, metal chimney flues do not rot and are very durable. They also have good drainage and can be placed directly on the ground.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Container
Put the following into consideration when selecting a planting container:
- Depth: A container at least 2-3 feet (0.61-0.91 m) tall is ideal for growing potatoes. This will allow the potato plant to develop a strong root system.
- Drainage: The container you select must have drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. Without proper drainage, the roots of the potato plant will rot.
- Material: The material of the container you choose will affect the drainage and the temperature of the soil. Some materials, like plastic, retain moisture better than others. Also, the UV rays can heat the soil in a black plastic container, so if you live in a hot climate, choose a white or light-colored container.
- Weight: If you plan on moving the container around, choose one that is lightweight and easy to handle.
- Capacity: Choose a large container to accommodate the number of potato plants you want to grow. A general rule of thumb is to allow 1 square foot (0.09 sqm) of space per plant.
2. Chitting or Pre-Sprouting Seeds
The selected potato seeds will need to be chitted or pre-sprouted before planting. Although it is not a must to do this step, it will help to ensure a higher success rate and a bigger potato harvest.
Chitting is the process of allowing potato seeds to sprout in a cool, dark place before planting. You can do this by placing the potato seeds on a tray or in an egg carton and placing them in a cool, dark place for 2 to 3 weeks.
Once the potato seeds have sprouted, you can continue with the planting process. If you are short on time, you can skip the chitting process and plant the potato seeds.
If you’d like a more in-depth guide to storing sprouted potatoes for planting, you can read my other article here: 7 Ways to Store Sprouted Potatoes for Planting
3. Preparing the Potting Mix
Growing potatoes in a container is different from growing them in the ground. Potatoes grown in containers will not have access to the nutrients found in the soil, so it is important to use a high-quality potting mix that is rich in nutrients.
You can purchase a pre-made potting mix from your local garden center or make your own.
If you choose to make your own, use a mixture of:
- 1 part peat moss
- 1 part compost
- 1 part perlite.
This mixture will give the potato plant the nutrients it needs to thrive. If you purchase a pre-made potting mix, ensure it is labeled as “potting mix” and not “garden soil.” Garden soil is too dense and will not drain properly, leading to root rot.
Make Your Own Mix
To make your potting mix, combine equal parts peat moss, compost, and perlite in a large container. Mix the ingredients well and make sure there are no clumps.
- Peat moss is an organic material that helps retain soil moisture and nutrients.
- Compost is rich in nutrients and helps improve the potting mix’s drainage.
- Perlite is a type of volcanic glass that helps to improve the drainage and aeration of the potting mix.
Mix a slow-release fertilizer into the potting mix before planting. This will provide the potato plant with the nutrients it needs to grow. Be sure to follow the instructions on the fertilizer package for the correct amount to use.
If you are using a pre-made potting mix, it is likely that it already contains a slow-release fertilizer. If this is the case, you will not need to add any additional fertilizer to the mix.
You will have to continue fertilizing the potting mix throughout the growing season to ensure that the potato plant has access to the nutrients it needs. You should fertilize the pot every 2 weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer.
Potatoes grown in containers need to be fertilized more often than those grown in the ground because watering the plant will wash away some of the nutrients in the potting mix.
4. Planting the Potato
You can plant potato seeds directly in the potting mix or start them indoors and transplant them into the container later:
Planting Directly Into the Potting Soil
If you plant the potato seeds directly in the potting mix, wait until the soil has warmed to at least 60 °F (16 °C). This usually occurs 2-3 weeks after the last frost date in your area.
This will give the potato plant time to develop a strong root system before the hot summer weather arrives. T
o plant the potato seeds:
- Dig a small hole in the potting mix about 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) deep and place 3-4 seeds in each hole.
- Cover the seeds with 1 inch (2.54 cm) of potting mix and water the area well.
- As the potato plant grows, you will need to hill up the potting mix around the plant. This means adding more potting mix around the base of the plant.
Hilling up the potting mix will help support the potato plant and prevent the potato tubers from being exposed to sunlight. Exposure to sunlight will cause the potato tubers to turn green and taste bitter.
If you live in an area with a short growing season, you may want to start the potato seeds indoors. This will give the plant a head start on the growing season.
To start the potato seeds indoors:
- Plant them 4-6 weeks before the last frost date in your area in a seed-starting tray filled with potting mix.
- Place the tray in a sunny location and water the seeds well.
- When the seedlings are 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) tall, you can transplant them into the container.
Hardening off Seedlings
Be sure to harden off the seedlings before transplanting them. Hardening off means acclimating the seedlings to the outdoors.
To do this:
- Place the seedlings outdoors in a shady location for a few hours each day.
- Gradually increase the time they spend outdoors, and eventually, they will be ready to transplant into the container.
Transplanting Your Seedlings
When transplanting the seedlings, handle them carefully. Seedlings have delicate root systems and can easily be damaged.
To transplant the seedlings:
- Fill the container with the potting mix and make a small mound in the center. This will be where you plant the potato plant.
- Carefully remove the seedling from the pot or tray and plant it in the mound of potting mix. Continue adding potato seedlings to the pot, spacing them 1 foot (0.3 m) apart.
- Firm the soil around the base of the plant and water well.
It is best to transplant the potato seedlings in the evening to give them time to adjust to their new location before the sun comes up the next day.
Carefully Hill up the Soil Around the Seedlings
Hilling up is when you draw the potting mix-up around the base of the plant, covering part of the stem.
This is important for two reasons:
- It will prevent the tubers from being exposed to light. If they are exposed to light, they will turn green and produce solanine, which is poisonous.
- It helps to support the plant as it grows.
If you are growing your potatoes in a container less than 10 inches (25 cm) deep, you will need to hill up the potting mix every few weeks. For deeper containers, you can wait until the plant starts to flower before hilling up.
5. Watering the Potato Plant
Keeping the potato plant watered throughout the growing season is important. The potting mix should never be allowed to dry out completely. However, you also don’t want to keep the potting mix too wet because this can lead to problems with the potato tubers rotting.
An excellent way to tell if the potting mix is starting to dry is by sticking your finger into the potting mix. It is time to water the plant if it feels dry 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62 cm) below the surface.
When watering the potato plant, be sure to water the base of the plant, not the leaves. Watering the leaves can cause problems with fungal diseases like powdery mildew. Water in the morning allows enough time for the plant to dry before nightfall.
6. Fertilizing the Potato Plant
Potatoes are heavy feeders and require a lot of nutrients to grow well. For this reason, it’s important to fertilize your potato plants regularly.
There are a few different ways that you can fertilize your potato plants; they include:
- Using a fertilizer with high nitrogen content is essential for plant growth and will help promote strong growth in your potato plants.
- To fertilize your potato plants with compost or manure tea, steep compost or manure in water for some time and then use the resulting liquid to water your plants. This fertilization method will help provide your plants with essential nutrients that promote strong growth.
You should fertilize your potato plants every 2 weeks or so during the growing season. This will ensure they have all the nutrients they need to grow well.
7. Harvesting the Potatoes
You can begin harvesting your potatoes when the plant starts to flower. This commonly happens 3-4 months after planting.
Follow these steps:
- Dig around the base of the plant with your hands. Be careful not to damage the roots as you do this.
- Once you have unearthed the potatoes, brush off any excess dirt.
- Lay the plant on its side and cut off any small potatoes that might have formed near the soil’s surface.
You can also dump the entire plant out of the pot into a wheelbarrow or other container and sort the potatoes that way. This is often the easiest way to harvest potatoes grown in containers.
8. Storing the Potatoes
Once you’ve harvested your potatoes, they will need to be stored properly to preserve their freshness. You should store potatoes in a cool, dark place. An ideal potato storage temperature is 38-40 °F (3-4 °C).
If you live in a warm climate, you may need to store your potatoes in the refrigerator to keep them cool. Just be sure not to store them in the same drawer as your fruits and vegetables, as this can cause them to spoil more quickly.
When storing potatoes, be sure to check on them regularly. Any potatoes that show signs of rotting or sprouting should be removed from the storage area, as they can cause the other potatoes to spoil more quickly. With proper care, your potatoes should last for several months in storage.
Have you ever heard of curing potatoes before eating them? Check out my guide to learn more about the topic: Do All Potatoes Need to Be Cured Before Eating?
Planting potatoes in a container is a great way to grow your potatoes at home, even if you don’t have a lot of space. Following this guide’s tips, you can easily grow healthy and bountiful potato plants in containers.
Just be sure to water and fertilize them regularly and harvest them when the plant starts to flower for the best results.