Potatoes are easy to grow in containers. As long as you choose a proper size container and make sure it has drainage holes, growing potatoes in pots is a pretty low-maintenance gardening endeavor. It's best to start growing potatoes in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. They like warm days and cool evenings much better than the heat of late summer and are not at all frost tolerant. If you're ready to grow your own potatoes in containers, follow the step-by-step instructions below.
1. Select Your Potatoes to Plant
You can purchase seed potatoes or simply plant potatoes from your pantry (or a grocery store or farmers market) that have started to sprout eyes. If you purchase seed potatoes, you will know exactly what potato variety you are planting. You won't have that information if you use potatoes from your pantry, but you also won't have to spend additional money. Either option is fine. Don't try to grow large baking potatoes, though. Instead, opt for smaller spuds that will do well with limited growing space.
2. Choose Your Container
You can grow potatoes in just about any food-safe container. It's best to use a 10- to 15-gallon container that's no more than three feet tall, though it is possible to grow small potatoes in containers as small as five gallons. Felt grow bags are a good option, as are all kinds of food storage containers. Using a 30-gallon plastic drum is also a good option. Just cut the container in half horizontally. Be sure to poke or drill holes in the bottom of whatever container you select to ensure proper drainage.
3. Decide Where to Put the Container
Potatoes like sun, but there is such as thing as too much of a good thing. Place the container in a location that will provide your potatoes with access to between six and eight hours of sun per day. However, you should avoid putting container potatoes in a spot where they will be exposed to direct sunlight for the majority of the day.
4. Choose Your Growing Medium
Potatoes will grow in just about anything, but the ideal growing medium for container potatoes is a 50/50 mixture of compost and either a soil-free potting mix or garden soil. If you opt to mix garden soil with compost, use well-draining garden soil that has been amended with organic matter. If your garden soil is heavy, amend it with sand before mixing it with compost. The key is to provide the potato plants with a loose, fertile growing medium in which to put down tubers.
5. Place Soil in Container
If you purchased seed potatoes that are labeled as a determinate variety, fill the container to the top with soil before planting any potatoes. If you are planting seed tomatoes labeled as indeterminate or potatoes from your pantry (which are most likely indeterminate), place soil only in the first eight or so inches of the container. With indeterminate potatoes, you will need to mound up soil around the stem of the potato plant as it grows. This is not necessary with determinate ones.
6. Prep the Seed Potatoes for Planting
You can plant the potatoes whole if you prefer, but it's generally best to cut your seed potatoes into chunks, making sure that each chunk has at least one eye. It's fine if the chunks have two or three eyes. Each eye has the potential to grow into a potato plant. If you have one chunk of potato that has three eyes on it, then that chunk can be expected to produce three plants.
7. Decide How Many Plants Per Container
Container size is the most important factor to consider when deciding how many potato plants to grow. In general, it's best to allow space of about five gallons of soil per potato plant. Therefore, if you have a 15-gallon container, you should plant enough seed potatoes to produce three potato plants. If you are using a 30-gallon container, then you can grow six potato plants in it. Adding more will result in overcrowding and reduced tuber production.
8. Plant the Potatoes
For determinate potatoes, dig a hole about three inches deep for each potato chunk. Place one potato chunk in the hole with the eye(s) facing up, then scrape soil back over the top. For indeterminate (or unknown) potatoes, place them on top of the soil in the bottom of the container with the eye(s) facing up. Then, put about three inches of the same planting mixture (or another growing medium) on top of the potatoes.
9. Water the Potatoes
Thoroughly water your newly planted potatoes so that the soil is moist all the way through without letting it become soggy. After the initial watering, check every week or so to see if the soil is still moist. Whenever the inch or two of soil feels dry, water your potatoes enough to moisten it again. Watch for water to seep out of the container's drainage holes; stop watering as soon as this happens.
10. Mound Soil on Plants as Needed
Skip this step if you planted determinate potatoes in a full container of soil. If you planted indeterminate (or unknown) potatoes in a partially filled container, watch closely for the plants to emerge. As they grow, add more soil to the container, filling in around the stem but being sure that the leaves stay above the surface of the soil. This will allow more and more potatoes to form above where the seed potato was originally placed.
11. Watch for Signs Your Potatoes Are Ready
Potato plants sometimes put on flowers or even set fruit (which is toxic and should never be eaten). This does not mean they are ready to harvest, though it is a signal that they are nearing maturity. However, this does not always happen. To know when to harvest, you need to keep an eye on the greenery on your potato plants. When the green leaves turn yellow and begin to die back, that is the signal that it's time to harvest your potatoes.
12. Harvest Your Spuds
Harvesting container potatoes is very easy. You could dig the potatoes out, but unless your container is enormous, it's generally best just to dump out all of the dirt and then pick the potatoes out. Simply lay a tarp on the ground and tip over the container. Everything will spill out, and you'll be able to easily pluck out the tubers to eat fresh or to preserve or cure for pantry storage.
Container Gardening Success
Now that you know how to grow potatoes in a container, it's time to start growing some of these tasty tubers for yourself! Even if you have just a tiny outdoor area, surely you can find room for at least one container of potatoes to grow. Once you've had success with container growing, you just might be ready to grow even more vegetables in a container garden.