Growing potatoes in a container has several benefits over growing spuds in the ground. Perhaps the most important is that it’s easier to protect your plant from pests that attack your plants in the garden bed, and by starting with the right potato, it’s possible to avoid most diseases. Discover how to grow potatoes in a container and start reaping the benefits of this tasty vegetable.
Few vegetables rival potatoes when it comes to versatility in the kitchen. Many important family meals involve potatoes like mash, casseroles, soups, and essential snack foods like fries and chips.
Having homegrown potatoes also allows you to harvest and then regrow new potatoes from your original harvest, creating a never-ending supply of potatoes as long as you have room for them. If you’re running low on garden space or want to start a new activity with your children, learning how to grow potatoes in containers is the perfect place to start.
- Tips for Growing Potatoes in Containers
- How to Harvest Potatoes
Tips for Growing Potatoes in Containers
The biggest downside to container growing for any plant is that soil in a container dries out faster than garden soil. Additionally, potatoes are unique in growing, no matter if it’s outside or indoors. Potatoes grow using a technique known as “hilling” to ensure maximum yield when harvesting.
There are potato varieties to choose to fill your container gardens with, ranging from fingerling potatoes to growing sweet potatoes to heirloom hybrids; research what kind you’d enjoy growing and cooking with to make your selection. You can also choose to grow potatoes in straw or soil and many different kinds of containers.
Whether you are growing potatoes in the garden or a pot, know that potatoes take several weeks to grow – up to about three months or so depending on the variety.
When to Start Growing Potatoes in Containers
The timeframe for growing potatoes in garden soil is to start sowing a few weeks following the last frost date in your area. Planting after the frost passes avoids the risk of a freeze affecting your potatoes, and the soil has usually thawed and become workable.
With container growing, plant a few weeks sooner than usual because you are not dealing with the potential of your potatoes freezing when planting in containers. As long as the sun warms the soil, your potatoes shouldn’t have sprouting issues. However, if an additional frost is forecast, bring your potatoes indoors.
The Best Way to Grow Potatoes in Containers
The process for growing potatoes involves the “hilling” technique, which means the stems of your potato plants are constantly being buried by new soil as it grows.
Hilling potatoes is crucial regardless of whether potatoes are grown in the garden, in raised beds, or bags. Hilling is the best way to grow potatoes in containers because the lowest stems create new tubers as the hill rises taller.
For potatoes grown in containers, the idea remains the same. After being planted, cover seed potatoes with soil, and as the plant grows, more soil is added around the plant until the container is full.
What You Need to Start Growing Potatoes
Potatoes are tubers; they grow storage organs that propagate to produce new shoots with the food stored in the tuber if left in the ground. When starting to grow potatoes in containers, don’t grab the first potato you find at the grocery store.
Most potatoes sold have come treated to prevent sprouting. Instead, use seed potatoes specifically sold for garden planting, certified disease-free, and sold by garden centers.
To start growing potatoes in containers, first select what container to use for your potatoes. Options for containers include 5 gallon buckets, grow bags, or a clean garbage can. Depending on the size, trash cans will likely be the tallest option available. Use what seems more affordable.
When you grow potatoes in a bucket or other container, use fast-draining soil and mix in a slow-release organic fertilizer. If you plan to use a plastic or rubber container, perlite is an option to plant your potatoes instead of potting soil.
As your potatoes grow, use additional fertilizer to ensure your spuds are getting enough nutrients, as container-grown plants require more food than plants growing in the ground.
Prepping Your Potatoes
If you’ve ever purchased potatoes and left them sitting a little too long, you’ve probably seen them start growing. These sprouts usually discourage people from using these potatoes, but this is an excellent sign to begin growing more spuds for home growers.
A more common method used by experienced gardeners is to cut the seed potato into pieces, each with at least two eyes. Potato eyes are small nodes on the outside of the potato where new shoots appear. After slicing your potatoes, wait a few days for the cut sides to dry and harden, referred to as callusing over.
If you cannot find seed potatoes and want to use store-bought potatoes, remove any sprout inhibitors applied to the tuber to aid in sprouting. Although these inhibitors are not always effective, it is possible to clean any treatment chemicals off your potatoes with alcohol.
Place your potatoes in a plastic bag with a splash of 70% ethanol alcohol for 48 hours. Remove the potatoes from the bag and rinse them before planting.
How to Grow Potatoes in a Container
When planting potatoes from eyes, position your container somewhere to receive full sun. Fill the container with four to six inches of soil and place your potato pieces with the eyes facing up.
Because your potato plants grow extensively, use a large container with proper spacing. For a container 20 inches wide, place up to four potato slices inside, each equal distance from the other.
Cover your slices with more soil, between one and four inches, but not too deep as you will add more soil as they grow. Ensure your container is in a position to receive at least six hours of sunlight each day. After planting, add mulch to your container or allow the soil to warm from the sun before mulching.
Water your potatoes regularly to keep them wet, without over-watering them. To check the soil moisture level, stick your finger into the first inch of soil. Having proper drainage holes is crucial because as you water, you want to provide them with enough moisture that the excess drains through the bottom.
How to “Hill” Your Potatoes
Once your potatoes have grown at least six inches, whether you grow potatoes in a bag or pot, it’s time to start hilling. Add a few inches of prepared soil around your plants, enough to cover any visible stems. The stems you bury produce more potatoes, making hilling crucial to a good harvest.
Repeat the hilling process during the growing season as your plant continues to grow. This is the best way to grow potatoes in containers because there is no guesswork involved, as once the soil reaches the top of your container, stop hilling.
Common Diseases for Potatoes
Many diseases that affect potatoes come from infected tubers, so purchasing disease-free seed potatoes from a garden center is crucial. The biggest concern for container-grown potatoes is early blight. Prevent this problem with fresh soil and certified potatoes.
Early blight develops on leaves in July and August as potato plants mature. It appears on lower leaves as dark circular spots. Planting in a container minimizes the risk of contracting this disease through infected debris, but use a fungicide to treat infected plants if you notice the signs.
How to Harvest Potatoes
Once your plants produce flowers, it’s time you harvest your potatoes. Reach into the soil to harvest early potatoes. As time goes on, plants turn yellow and die back, which signifies you can harvest the rest of the potatoes.
The recommended method for harvesting, and possibly the most fun for a family activity, is to dump the container. Lay a tarp out, empty the container, and dig through the soil to find all the potatoes. Your harvest includes regular-sized potatoes and some small potatoes packed with flavor despite their size.
Note: If you harvest any potatoes with green skin, toss them or cut off these parts before consuming—a chemical known as solanine causes this coloring and is mildly toxic.
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