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How to Grow Potatoes in Containers

BY Todd Heft TIMEMarch 16, 2022 PRINT

You don’t need a large garden bed or a field to grow potatoes. You can grow potatoes in containers on a balcony, deck, or patio and get a decent harvest to enjoy in late summer or fall.

Growing potatoes in containers or pots is easy and fun. Just choose an appropriately-sized container, give it sufficient water and 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day, and you should get a successful crop if you follow these guidelines.

Choose a variety of potatoes appropriate for containers

If you’re new to growing potatoes, you may not be aware that there are dozens of varieties you can grow. Potatoes differ by shape, size, color, texture, harvest time, skin thickness, starch content, and taste. For containers, choose a variety on the small side, as big baking-type potatoes like Russets won’t perform well, given the limited growing space. For any variety, your harvested potatoes may not be as large as those grown in the open garden.

What kind of container can you grow potatoes in?

Potatoes are tubers – they grow below ground and each plant produces multiple tubers. This makes the size of the container very important – it needs enough soil to hold the mature crop. And naturally, the size of the container dictates how many potatoes you can grow in it. For instance, Russett potatoes, typically known as “baking potatoes”, grow 4-6 inches long and 2 inches in diameter; but Fingerling potatoes are 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. Each mature plant of any variety will produce roughly 6 regular size potatoes and a few smaller potatoes, depending on growing conditions. As a rule of thumb, you’ll need about 2.5 gallons (10 liters) of soil for each plant. If you cram in more than that, you’ll just end up with tiny potatoes.

Just about anything that can hold soil can grow potatoes: Sacks, large nursery pots, terra cotta pots, grow bags, 5-gallon buckets, vertical gardening systems, barrels, garbage cans, spackle buckets, large plastic storage containers, or similar containers. If you’re creating your own container, make sure you have at least 3 drainage holes in the bottom. An ideal container for growing potatoes is 2 – 3 feet tall with a 10-15 gallon capacity, at least 15″ deep.

Don’t use garden soil in your pot, only potting soil. This avoids transporting any insects, weed seeds, or soil-borne diseases into your container, and also assures adequate drainage. Add a little peat moss for drainage and to bring down the pH, along with compost for nutrients if none is included in the potting soil (potatoes grow best in soil that’s somewhat on the acidic side).

What are the best potatoes to grow in containers?

There are literally hundreds of varieties of potatoes you can grow in containers, so creating a definitive list is next to impossible. Buy your seed potatoes from a reputable garden center or online source. I’ve had success with seed potatoes from Gurney’s and from my local garden centers. Don’t use potatoes bought from a grocery store, as they’re usually dusted with solutions that inhibit sprouting.

You’ll have the best success if you choose a variety that matures early. A shorter growing time means you’ll tend to avoid blight which will destroy your entire crop. On the other hand, potato varieties that mature in mid-season or late season allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor longer, as you can start harvesting young potatoes weeks before maturity.

Think efficiently – select varieties with a compact growth habit so the plant doesn’t overwhelm the container. You might also want to consider growing multiple varieties in separate pots that mature at different times so you can have a months-long harvest of fresh potatoes.

Potato growing tips

  • Keep the plants well-watered – they’re not in the ground, so they don’t have the benfit of growing deeper roots to reach water.
  • Make the potting soil a little on the acidic soil – aim for a pH of 5.5. This can be achieved by adding peat moss or a soil acidifer. A lower ph than neutral will help to avoid common potato diseases – plus, potatoes thrive in a slighly acidic soil.
  • Use a balanced organic fertilizer at planting time and a weekly liquid feed. Fish emulsion, greensand, kelp meal and bone meal are excellent for fertilizing potatoes.

Planting your potatoes

Leave enough room in the pot for more soil: 

A shoot will grow from each seed potato. From this shoot, a Rhizome grows, which is an underground stem. It is from this stem that the tubers will grow. That means potatoes form above the original seed potato. You’ll continue to add soil to the container as the plant grows and new rhizomes and tubers form. Potatoes must remain below soil level – they’ll turn green if exposed to sunlight during growth or while in storage.

  • Potatoes should be planted in pots in early spring, about 4 weeks before your last frost. They also can be planted mid-spring if you miss this window.
  • Fill the container with about 6-8 inches of potting soil. Then place your seed potatoes in the container, about one foot apart. Cover with another 6″ of soil. Add more soil as the potatoes grow, leaving just 6″ of foliage exposed at any time. Potatoes can never be exposed to direct sunlight or they’ll turn green. They must always be covered.
  • Do not plant the “seed” potatoes whole. Divide each into chunks that are 1″-2″ with one or two “eyes” in each. In most cases, each eye will produce a plant. To avoid rot, allow the cut pieces to dry for a day or two before planting.
  • Watering should be consistent but never soggy. The soil should just feel damp to your touch.

When to harvest container potatoes

One of the cool things about growing potatoes is that you can harvest them as soon as they’ve grown to a decent size – but the longer they’re in the pot and the closer to maturity, the more flavor they’ll have. To harvest them all at once, keep an eye on the foliage – as it begins to yellow and die back late in the season, plunge your hands below the soil surface and feel around – you should feel a bunch of potatoes in there. Remove the plant nice and easy, harvest the potatoes, and spread them in a covered area to dry (called “curing”) for about 10 days if you won’t be using them within the week. Cured potatoes can be stored in a cool, dark area like a basement for months.

Handle the potatoes gently! They easily bruise right after hravest and a bruised potato won’t keep in storage. Also, don’t wash them as you may damage the skin.

This article was first published on bigblogofgardening.com

Todd Heft
Todd Heft is a lifelong gardener and the publisher of Big Blog of Gardening. He lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA with his wife who cooks amazing things with the organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs he grows. When he isn't writing or reading about organic gardening, he's gardening. His book, Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide To Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden is available on Amazon.
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