Planting potatoes in pots is the best growing method for the busy gardener who lacks space and good garden soil. It’s fast, easy, and gives you more control over the potato growing conditions. And, with the right grow guide, you will find that using pots for your potatoes is a failproof method to ensure a large crop.
In this guide, we’ll tell you why growing potatoes in containers is usually better than growing them in the garden soil and how to grow them in 10 simple steps.
We’ll also look at the best potato varieties for containers and provide you with a few tips and growing methods that will make your potatoes more productive and easier to harvest.
Pros & Cons of Growing Potatoes in Containers
Out of all the vegetables you can grow in containers, potatoes are one of the best choices. In fact, growing them in pots is not just easier but also better for the potatoes.
A quick look at the pros and cons of growing potatoes in pots will explain why.
- It takes up less space. You can grow potatoes even on a patio, deck, or a small balcony.
- No digging is required. You’ll save a lot of time not digging your garden soil and working in compost, manure, and other soil-loosening amendments.
- You can control the type of soil you use. It allows the possibility of growing potatoes even if your garden has very poor soil or no soil.
- Containers keep the soil warm, which gives you a head start in the growing season compared to the traditional garden trench method.
- Easier to hill or earth up. Say goodbye to your rake and garden hoe. When growing potatoes in containers, it only takes a couple of minutes to add more soil on top.
- Easy to move. If your container has handles, you can pick it up and move it around.
- Fewer pests and weeds. Containers keep your potatoes safe from weeds, harmful pests such as slugs, snails, larvae, worms, soil-borne diseases such as scab, Alternaria (early blight), Verticillium wilt, and nematodes.
- Easier to harvest. Just tip the container over, and then pick your potatoes by hand.
The only disadvantage to growing potatoes in pots is that you’ll need to be careful about watering. The soil in containers tends to dry out faster, so you’ll need to water your potatoes frequently.
However, if the container doesn’t have drainage holes, the soil will become soaked or waterlogged, and your potatoes will start to rot.
How to Grow Potatoes in Containers – Step by Step Guide
Step 1.) Pick the Right Container
The first step to growing potatoes in containers successfully is using the correct type of pot.
Look for a container at least 16 inches wide and 2 feet tall or any container that can hold at least 3 gallons of soil. This could be a plastic or terracotta pot, an old dustbin, a bucket, or a grow bag.
Always check that the container you’re using for potatoes has drainage holes at the bottom. Otherwise, use a drill to make holes for the water to drain at the bottom.
Step 2.) Choose the Right Potato Variety
You can grow any potato in a container. But, for best results, go for an early or second early variety that produces small plants and tubers.
Early and second early varieties mature in 10 to 12 weeks, have a compact growth habit, and allow you to plant more potatoes in a single pot.
On the other hand, maincrop potatoes need more space to develop, are better suited for large containers, and can take at least four months to mature.
We’ll take a closer look at the best potato varieties for containers further down in our guide.
Step 3.) Sprout Your Seed Potatoes
After you buy your seed potatoes, it’s time to start sprouting or chitting them. The easiest way to do this is by using an egg carton.
Place one seed potato in each slot with the stem sprouts (or eyes) pointing up. Keep the carton in a cool, dry room, away from direct sun.
The potatoes should sprout in about 2 or 4 weeks. To ensure that your plants are not overcrowded, use your fingers to rub off the weaker, smaller stems, leaving just three shoots on each potato.
Tip: If your seed potatoes weigh 1.5 to 3 ounces, you can leave them whole. If they’re between 3 and 5 ounces, cut them in half, and allow the cuts to callus over for a couple of days before planting.
Step 4.) Find a Sunny Location
Put your container in a part of your garden that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Potatoes need a lot of sun to grow and produce a large harvest.
Providing them with full sun also reduces the risk of fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.
Tip: If you’re growing potatoes indoors, pick a room with southern, south-eastern, or south-western exposure. If your home is too dark, you may need to supplement their light requirements using grow lights.
Step 5.) Prepare the Soil
The ideal soil mix for potatoes should be well-draining, nutrient-rich, loamy, and slightly acidic. A great mixture you can try includes equal parts peat moss, organic potting soil, and cow manure or compost.
You can also add some sand to your mix, which will improve drainage.
Potato plants need nitrogen when they’re young, which encourages stem, stolon, and leaf growth. To give them a head start, mix a slow-release organic fertilizer, such as bone meal, into the soil before planting.
Step 6.) Plant Your Seed Potatoes
Fill your container with a 4-inch layer of soil. Place your sprouted seed potatoes on top with the shoots pointing up. Cover them with another 4 inches of soil and give them a good watering.
How many potatoes can you plant in a container?
Each potato needs about 1.8 gallons (8 liters) of soil for a large harvest as a rule of thumb. A small, 2.5-gallon pot can fit a maximum of 2 potato seeds.
A 10-gallon container can hold 5 or 6 seed potatoes, but planting four is ideal. Keep in mind that the tubers need space to grow, so if you fill the container with too many seed potatoes, you will have a smaller crop.
Tip: If you’re planning to grow potatoes in containers outdoors, wait at least two weeks after the last frost before you start planting.
Step 7.) Water and Fertilize
Potatoes growing in containers need more water and fertilizers than those grown in the garden soil. Therefore, a regular watering schedule is essential, especially in the first six weeks.
Test the soil with your finger, and if the top 2 inches feel dry to the touch, give your potatoes a thorough watering. You’ll know that your potatoes have received enough water when you can see it pouring through the drainage holes at the bottom of the container.
After planting, your potatoes will benefit from a regular fertilizer application. However, you’ll want to avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers and provide them with more potassium and phosphorus.
Use a liquid fertilizer with a 10-20-20 N-P-K nutrient ratio once every three weeks to keep them thriving.
Step 8.) Earth up Your Potatoes
Earthing up or hilling is the key to a large potato harvest. The main stems will send out underground stems called stolons as you cover the plants with soil.
These stolons will swell and thicken until it becomes a potato tuber. So the more you keep the plant under the soil, the more stolons it will produce, and the more potatoes you will harvest.
When the potato plants are 6” tall, cover them with a 4-inch layer of soil or compost. Leave only the top of the leaves above the soil level. Repeat the process as many times as needed until the container is full.
Tip: If you want to skip this step altogether, try growing determinate potato varieties, which don’t require hilling.
Step 9.) Check for Pests and Diseases
Potatoes grown in pots rarely suffer from pests and diseases, but they can be susceptible to aphids and Colorado beetles.
They can be infected by a fungal disease called powdery mildew during hot, humid summers. In a worst-case scenario, they can be struck by the potato blight (Phytophthora infestans). But if you’re growing early varieties, they should mature before July or August, when late blight usually strikes.
Check out our in-depth potato growing guide for more info on common pests and diseases and how to treat them.
Step 10.) Get Ready to Harvest
Harvest your container-grown potatoes after the plants have flowered.
You can harvest new or baby potatoes by digging into the container with your hands and picking some of the top ones.
New potatoes have a sweeter aroma and are best enjoyed boiled or parboiled, then fried in a bit of oil.
If you want a larger potato crop, wait until the haulm (the potato stems) has died down. Then tip the container over and harvest all your crop at once.
The longer potatoes spend in the soil, the more they become floury or starchy. Older potatoes are ideal for baking, mashing, or turning them into French fries.
Tip: Potatoes that have been exposed to light will start to turn green and produce a substance called solanine. If you find any green potatoes in your containers, throw them away. Eating green potatoes can cause gastrointestinal problems and, in large quantities, can lead to solanine poisoning.
Best Potatoes to Grow in Containers
The best potatoes for pot or container growth are determinate early or second early varieties.
Early potatoes can be planted in early spring and usually take 70 to 85 days to harvest. Second-early potatoes can be planted a couple of weeks after the early varieties but take the same amount of time to mature.
Both these types are what gardeners and consumers refer to as “new potatoes.” The plants have a compact shape, with fewer stems and leaves, which doesn’t take up too much space. They also produce smaller tubers with a sweet, buttery taste and creamy texture.
On the other hand, maincrop potatoes are usually planted in mid to late spring and can take around 130 days before they’re ready to harvest.
This is because they produce larger haulms (stems) and need more soil space for the tubers to grow. In addition, these potatoes have a thicker skin which makes them better suited for long-term storage.
When shopping for seed potatoes, the label will mention whether it’s an early or maincrop variety. But unfortunately, it won’t always say if it’s a determinate or indeterminate potato type.
Why is this important, though?
Apart from early, second early, and maincrop varieties, potatoes can also be determinate or indeterminate. Determinate potatoes grow to a predeterminate size, and they produce crops in as little as 70 days, and — the best part — they grow in just one layer, which means they don’t require hilling.
Indeterminate potatoes grow in several layers, need regular hilling, and produce late crops, usually after about four months.
If you’re not sure which potato varieties to grow in a pot, we recommend a list* of cultivars.
*All potatoes in this list are early and second early varieties.
- Yukon Gold
- Dakota Pearl
- Maris Bard
- Pentland Javelin
- Red Duke of York
- Purple Majesty
- Vales Emerald
- Fingerling potatoes such:
- Russian Banana
- Ruby Crescent
- Purple Peruvian
- French Fingerling
- Lady Christl
- Russet potatoes such as:
- Russet Nugget
Of course, if you have a large container (at least 10 gallons), you can grow any type of maincrop potatoes you want.
This includes popular varieties such as Dutch Cream, Maris Piper, Désirée, Valor, and Red Pontiac.
Other Container-Growing Methods You Can Try
Growing Potatoes in Layers
This is a fast and easy way to plant potatoes to maximize yield. Fill ⅓ of your container with soil or compost, place your sprouted seed potatoes on top, add another ⅓ layer of soil, then place some more seed potatoes on top.
Fill the remaining space with soil and water and fertilize regularly. Then, harvest your potatoes when the plants begin to die down.
Growing Potatoes in a 4 Sq Ft Box (The Lutovsky Box)
Several years ago, farmer and businessman Greg Lutovsky from Irish Eyes Garden Seeds made the headlines with a very bold statement.
He claimed that it’s possible to grow 100 pounds of potatoes using just a 4-square-foot wooden box.
Start with a 2 x 2 wooden frame (cedar or redwood is ideal) about 6 inches tall. Fill it with soil, plant your seed potatoes, and water well. When the plants are about 12 inches tall, add another 6-inch tall frame, and fill it with soil.
Repeat the process until you have about 5 or 6 stacked frames.
You can harvest baby potatoes by removing some of the side boards and picking a few tubers by hand, or wait until the haulm has died off to harvest your main crop.
Growing Potatoes in Containers With Straw
You can use this method to make it easier to hill and harvest your potatoes.
First, fill ⅓ of a container with soil and compost, and plant your seed potatoes. As plants emerge, cover them with straw instead of soil. Then, simply dig into the straw to harvest your tubers when it’s time to harvest.
The only thing you need to pay close attention to when using this method is fertilizers. Straw contains minimal nutrients, so use a 10-20-20 liquid fertilizer once every 2 – 3 weeks to help your potatoes grow.
Using Potato Grow Bags
Potato grow bags are specially designed containers made from a breathable fabric, such as cloth or plastic (usually low-density polyethylene).
They are ideal space-savers and reduce the risk of overwatering your crops by allowing the water to drain through the fabric.
Often, they will include a flap at the bottom, which makes it easier to harvest your potatoes, and handles, which allow you to move the grow bag if needed.
Growing Potatoes in Containers in Winter
Potatoes are not frost-tolerant and need a minimum temperature of 40°F to sprout or germinate.
If you live in USDA hardiness zones 9 and higher, you can plant potatoes outdoors in winter. Otherwise, it’s best to grow them indoors or in a greenhouse in a sunny location.
For best results, try growing early potato varieties with a higher tolerance to cold and mature faster. You can start them indoors, then move the containers to the garden two weeks after the last frost.
Or, for a winter harvest, plant second cropping varieties such as Maris Peer, Nicola, and Charlotte in containers in August, and you’ll have new potatoes ready by Christmas.
Potatoes are one of the easiest vegetables you can grow at home, but planting them in a pot makes your job easier and faster. By picking the right type of container and potato variety, you can enjoy a large harvest with very little work.