Potatoes may not be the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think of container gardening, but you might be surprised to learn how easy it is to grow potatoes in containers.
Potatoes love growing vertically, can take up a great deal of space, and are susceptible to pests and soil contaminates. Simply planting them in a container rather than your garden beds helps maximize your yield while reducing potential problems.
Potatoes are really so easy and satisfying to grow that you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.
Choose and Prepare a Container
Almost any vessel will do with the criteria being: well draining, non-toxic, with a preference for a tall rather than squat shape.
In our own garden we’ve tried a variety of containers. For years we grew them in a repurposed garbage can with extra holes drilled into the bottom, food grade buckets again with added holes, large terra cotta pots, repurposed wooden crates, in grow-bags, and my favorite… an antique claw footbath tub with a layer of stones and brick at the bottom to ensure adequate drainage.
Once you have chosen your container, give it a good scrub and add any extra holes it needs. Adequate drainage is probably the most important factor for growing a healthy harvest of potatoes in containers.
Choose Seed Potatoes
The best part about growing your potatoes in containers is that there are so many varieties from which to choose. Potatoes come in a spectrum of colors including yellow, red, purple and blue and many different shapes such as fingerlings.
You may be able to find seed potatoes at your local nursery, gardening event, or organic co-op. It’s also very easy to order them online and some great sources of seed potato are listed at the end of this article.
If you’d rather just use potatoes from the grocery store, you can with a few specifications. These tubers should be organic, as some grocery store potatoes have been treated so they won’t grow eyes. Look for potatoes that are showing signs of sprouting and chose new potatoes over ones from last fall that have been treated for long-term storage. Gently wash them, being careful not to scrub off those eyes, as that’s where the shoots are going to grow.
This year, our selections include
Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings
and a bag of organic red potatoes that sprouted by accident
Cut & Cure
Once you have your potatoes, you’ll need to chit them, which is just getting them to sprout eyes. Putting them in a paper bag or egg carton for a few days should do the trick.
Potatoes can be planted whole or cut up. It’s a matter of personal preference. I cut mine in half. Make sure there is at least one eye per piece and then leave them in a dark spot for the cut to heal over night.
Plant Potatoes in Containers
Start by filling your container with just a few inches of soil and compost and place your potato pieces on top of the soil. Loosely cover them with another 6 inches of soil and then water.
Potatoes need at least 6 hours of sun per day and will thrive with more. I have normally tucked them away somewhere sort of cool and find they fill a less than perfect corner of the garden.
Potatoes are excellent companion plants to beans, cabbage and corn and are better off growing quite a distance from sunflowers, tomatoes, raspberries and squash.
Water & More Soil
As they grow, loosely add more soil around the plants. For every 6 inches or growth or every two weeks add a shovel full or so. Be sure to keep the soil moist and not to allow the soil to dry out.
After anywhere from 2-4 months, depending on if you planted an early, mid- or late-season variety, the leaves will turn brown and die. Nothing’s wrong, this is how you know its time to harvest! Use your hands, if possible, or a pitchfork. A trowel can really wreck the tender new potatoes, cutting into their skins. Feel free to dump the entire pot over on the patio.
Planting, growing and harvesting potatoes are all excellent activities for kids. It’s really hard to mess it up and digging for them at the end of the season is like a little treasury hunt making a great activity to show where our food comes from.
Everyone loves potatoes, especially fresh from the garden (or container garden). We especially like them on pizza with leeks; they’re excellent in soup, as a simple side dish or in a perfect summer potato salad.
Online Sources for Seed Potatoes
- Organic Gardening: How to Grow Potatoes in Containers - March 17, 2014