Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
I am ever wondered how to grow potatoes in containers. It’s pretty easy, and several approaches work well.
Growing potatoes is simple with suitable potting soil, smart watering, full sun, and the correct container. Even beginners or gardeners with limited space and time can grow container potatoes successfully.
More About Potato Plants
Potatoes are a cool-season crop in EPA Crop Group 1: Tuber and Root Vegetables. Potato plants tolerate a light frost in early spring and flourish at temperatures around the lower sixties (15.5 -18°C). Potato plants become inactive at temperatures above 80°F/27°C.
Potatoes should not be planted when soil temperatures are below 40°F/4.4°C. Wait for soil temperatures at a depth of 4 inches (10 cm) to rise to above 45°F/7°C before planting seed potatoes. Cold, wet soil is this vegetable crop’s nemesis and can cause complete crop loss.
Although potatoes produce fruit similar to a green tomato, the seeds are seldom used for sexual propagation as there’s high variability in product and germination – mainly because some are pollen sterile. North Dakota State University has an exciting piece of potato propagation.
If you’re interested in exploring potato breeding programs, the University of Wisconsin has made The Evolution of Potato Breeding available online.
Seed Potato Propagation
Potatoes are generally propagated asexually using seed potatoes or tuber stem cuttings to clone parent plants. Seed potatoes have nodes called eyes, from which the new growth begins.
The new stems growing from each eye are called chits and are potential new plants. Seed potatoes can be a whole tuber or a cut section with a chit. The physiological age of seed is influenced by growing conditions, handling, storage and cutting procedures and impacts new crop growth.
The potato belongs to the same Solanaceae family as tomato, pepper, and eggplant vegetables. The whole family, also called the nightshade family, is day-neutral, and their foliage contains a toxic, bitter chemical called solanine.
Potatoes turn green when exposed to light while still growing. Keep growing potatoes covered with soil or a thick layer of straw. Avoid eating green potatoes.
Buying Seed Potatoes
If you are growing potatoes for the first time or are trying new potato varieties (you should), you will need to purchase seed potatoes. Several specialized or University Extension farms run trials and produce various potato varieties.
Some States regulate bringing seed potatoes in from out of state in fear of introducing pathogens into local commercial crops. Check with your local extension office. It is often better to grow potato varieties tested for local conditions.
Always put certified and scab-resistant varieties on your seed potato shopping list. Homegrown potatoes may develop viral infections that will escalate in following crops, producing small potatoes and declining yields.
Store-bought potatoes are frequently treated to prevent sprouting, so using them as seeds rarely yields good results. However, if you have a local farmer that doesn’t use maleic hydrazide to extend shelf life (prevent sprouting), you can use their potatoes as seeds.
While you can cut potatoes (see my Maximizing Your Potato Harvest: The Truth About Cutting Seed Potatoes article), small seed potatoes are more likely to produce a more robust crop.
Potato Types – Determinate and Indeterminate
Not all potatoes growing in containers form tubers in horizontal layers up the buried stems. Imagine your disappointment if you conscientiously keep hilling your potato plant throughout the growing season in the hopes of a bumper crop of potatoes, only to find a couple at the bottom of the bucker (or grow bag).
Like tomatoes, potatoes have determinate and indeterminate varieties, often sold as early- and mid-season (determinate) and late-season (indeterminate) varieties.
Determined potatoes increase in one layer, making them more prevalent in the cooler North. This explains why hilling determinate potato cultivars do not affect your yield.
For gardeners in cooler climates, determinate potato types yield earlier than indeterminate types.
I have added an asterisk behind each variety best suited for growing potatoes in containers.
24 Determinate (Early and Mid-Season) Potato Varieties include:
|Alta Blush||Chieftain||Rode Eersteling*|
|Alta Rose||Dakota Pearl||Roko|
|Caribe||Purple Viking||Yukon Gold|
Indeterminate Potatoes for Your Container Garden
Make sure you purchase a suitable variety of potatoes to grow them in many vertical layers. Indeterminate potatoes take 90 to 110 days to be grown successfully.
Try planting your potatoes early in the growing season and capitalize on your longer, cooler climate to grow a multi-layered container filled with potatoes. o the future as feasible if you intend to make a large pot or bag of potatoes.
Don’t add layers to your large potato container over the summer only to empty it in the fall and be dissatisfied with the meager number of giant potatoes it produces.
Indeterminate (Late Season) Potato Varieties Include:
|All Blue||German Butterball|
|Excellency||Rose Finn Apple*|
|French Fingerling*||Russian Blue|
Inexplicably, potato vendors don’t always seem to label their products as “determinate” or “indeterminate” but rather “early,” “mid,” or “late season.” It’s impossible to distinguish between determinate and indeterminate potatoes physically.
The fingerling potato varieties (Russian Banana, French Fingerling, Rose Finn Apple) are favorites when growing potatoes.
Ideal Soil for Growing Potatoes in Containers
You first want to look at your soil when growing potatoes. Potatoes prefer slightly acidic soil, with a pH between 5.5 – 6.5. You may want to pick up a pH tester at your local garden center or hardware store.
Adding organic matter will go a long way to creating excellent loose soil with good water drainage and retention. To optimize water retention and drainage, you must balance organic matter with inorganic matter.
- Inorganic (inert) materials have a limited cation exchange capacity (CEC), and water exerts little adhesive force on them, flowing right past.
- Organic materials are negatively charged and attract and hold onto cations. There is an adhesion between organic materials and water, so water flows slower.
A half-and-half mixture of organic and inorganic materials is a good starting point and allows you to add the materials needed. Don’t add garden soil to your mix unless you use a raised bed, and it works in raised beds because the microorganism population diversity allows them to create soil aggregates.
Organic Soil Materials (Improved Water Retention Capacity)
- Leaf Mold
- Coconut Coir
- Sphagnum Peat Moss
- Shredded Forest Products
Inorganic Soil Materials (Improve Water Drainage and Aeration)
- Pea Gravel
- Expanded Shale
- Chicken Grit
Organic material also introduces microorganisms that benefit soil health and potato plant resilience. Compost should not include high-nitrogen chicken manure or wood ash that may contribute to potato scab formation.
Use a lightweight potting mix to plant potatoes, ensuring good drainage and keeping the soil moist but not wet. A typical potting soil would work, but what is familiar? It’s better to make your potting mix and know what’s in it.
The Best Potting Soil for Growing Potatoes
My potting soil continually changes to use what I have and to find a blend that works well – another reason why a gardening journal is handy. A good rule of thumb is to use a third cured/finished compost/leaf mold blend, a third coconut coir, and a 33% blend of inert materials (perlite, pumice, vermiculite).
Peat moss is good because it adds acidity, a key to planting potatoes in containers. The risk is that if it dries out, it takes effort to rehydrate, often needing double- or triple wettings. Coconut coir is also more sustainable (though I’m unsure of the impact shipping it across the world has on the environment).
Boost acidity by adding some sulfur to your potting mix – about 0.3 oz (8 g) per TEN pots.
How to Grow Potatoes in Containers
You can make growing potatoes in containers as complicated or simple as you choose, learning as you go. There is no such thing as failure in gardening, only learning opportunities. If, at first, you fail, tip the bucket and start again, changing what didn’t work.
Planting potatoes in containers (buckets or grow bags) is, in my opinion, the best way to produce them. Below are all the essential elements to planting potatoes in containers and harvesting your homegrown, fresh-dug potatoes.
Choose the Best Growing Container
As I mentioned in my Best Containers for Growing Potatoes post, the best container is the one that does the job, looks good, and is still affordable.
Growing Potatoes in Buckets
I’ve tried different formats (grow bags & buckets) and sizes. After extensive testing, the best one is a 30-liter recyclable HDPE plastic bucket from Oakland Gardens in the UK. That would equate to a seven or 8-gallon bucket in the United States.
Drainage holes should be on the bottom sides and the bottom of the container. I place my 32 cm (13 inches) deep container on wood chips that allow them to drain well and absorb moisture using osmosis when levels run low. See my YouTube video showing how.
Growing Potatoes in Grow Bags
That said, grow bags are cheaper and work well for growing potatoes, but I like the sturdy material buckets offer and better drainage visibility. It’s a subjective personal preference, not science. Whatever growing containers you choose, make sure they have enough (and well-positioned) drainage holes.
Grow bags have the added advantage of aesthetic appeal as they come in many colors. Grow bags have a dominant brand called intelligent pots.
Pre-Sprouting Potatoes for Planting
Each potato seed piece should be blocky, have at least one “eye,” and weigh between 1.75 and 2.25 ounces (50-64g). Ideally, you want to use uncut seed potatoes as cuts require energy to heal the wound that could be used for growth.
The cut surfaces should all be clean. Any rough or ripped surfaces will encourage seed piece decay. Seed can be newly cut and placed into the soil if the soil isn’t cold and wet.
If there’s a planting delay, keep seeds cold at 38°F/3°C. Warm the seed pieces to room temperature for the last two weeks before planting. This will trigger the sprouting of the potato. Keep seed pieces cold until planting time if sprouts exceed one inch.
To promote early development, use “chitting” or “green sprouting.”
- Spread out seed potatoes in a single layer in a well-lit location. If it doesn’t get too cold outside, you can do this on a floor indoors or out.
- The best condition to chit potatoes is 70°F/21°C with high humidity. In the early spring, even a barn or garage will suffice.
- The potatoes should be turned over to promote uniform sprouting.
- Chitting helps potatoes emerge faster and promotes a more robust, productive potato plant.
How to Grow Potatoes in Containers (Determinate/Early Potato Varieties)
- Make sure the container is clean, even sterile. Wiping the bucket with EM (effective microbes) is best for making Bokashi.
- Mix some potting soil with a bone meal, fish meal, and blood meal blend – enough to cover the container’s bottom 6 inches (15 cm).
- Place your seeds about 6 inches (15 cm) apart on the layer of soil.
- Cover the seed potato with fresh potting soil, leaving about an inch at the top for straw mulch (without weed seeds).
- Water the pot with a mixture of water and fish emulsion until the water drains freely from the bottom.
- Keep the soil moist (water only) for the next few weeks until the plant emerges.
- Watering is essential (but less critical) until the potatoes in containers start blossoming.
- Ensure regular watering during the blossoming season to optimize tuber formation.
- Remove most of the blooms to make more energy available for tuber formation. Leave some as indicators of the growing process.
- Once the fruit starts forming, remove and discard these safely, remembering they are poisonous.
- You can begin harvesting new potatoes after fruit formation. Leave tubers in the soil for mature potatoes until 50% of the plant’s foliage has died.
- You start harvesting more mature potatoes once more than half of the plant has died or leave them in the ground until the whole plant is dead for a maximum harvest.
- Harvest potatoes by removing foliage, soil surface debris, and mulch. Tip the bucket over and use your hands to work through the soil to find your treasure trove.
- Reuse the potting soil for growing plants unrelated to the nightshade family. Never use the same potting mix to grow potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or eggplants again.
- Alternatively, include the used potting mix in your next batch of quality compost.
How to Grow Potatoes in Containers (Indeterminate/Late-Season Varieties)
The Easy Way of Growing Potatoes in Containers
Follow the same steps as with the determinate varieties. Thanks to Mother Nature, I have successfully grown a large crop without direct care, and I produced 235 lbs of Potatoes in a 200 sq ft Without Watering YouTube video.
You can grow more potatoes in pottery even without layering the soil every three weeks. Potatoes grown this way need enough direct sunlight once they emerge to boost plant nutrition and help the potatoes thrive.
Double-Pot Potato Planters
My in-ground planting has always been less successful than my potato planters. The large pots (7-gallon) have served me well, as long as they have access to full sun. The double pot system, with the inner pot holding the potatoes, allows access to baby potatoes (new potatoes) and makes potato growing fun.
The Conventional “Hilling” Method of Growing Potatoes in Containers
Follow the same steps as with determinate (early- and mid-season potatoes), but don’t add more soil than is needed to cover the spuds. Repeat the process every three weeks once the plant has grown about four inches, covering only the bottom third of the stem with a fresh layer of soil.
Potatoes planted this way produce excellent results.
FAQs on Mastering Container Gardening: Growing Potatoes Made Easy
What potatoes are easiest to grow in containers?
Small, early-harvest, and determinate potato varieties are easiest to grow in containers. Some popular container potato varieties include Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac, and Fingerling potatoes. When growing potatoes in containers, it’s important to use loose, well-draining soil, provide adequate water and sunlight, and fertilize regularly for a successful harvest.
What is the best fertilizer for potatoes in containers?
A balanced fertilizer with an NPK ratio of around 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 is recommended for potatoes in containers. Look for a slow-release fertilizer that will gradually release nutrients over time. Alternatively, you can use organic fertilizers such as compost or well-rotted manure. Avoid using high-nitrogen fertilizers, as they can encourage leafy growth at the expense of potato production.
How many potatoes does it take to grow in a container?
The number of potatoes to grow in a container depends on the size of the container. For example, a 5-gallon container can hold 3-5 seed potatoes, while a 10-gallon container can hold 5-7. It’s important not to overcrowd the container, as this can lead to smaller or no potatoes.
Poor soil no longer needs to hold you back from growing vegetable crops, and neither should an absence of a garden. Non-gardeners are running out of excuses not to plant potatoes. Containers of all shapes and formats allow gardeners to grow potatoes en masse. Growing potatoes has never been easier.
Plant potatoes when the soil has warmed to above 45°F and reap a harvest in just over two months. Grow potatoes of every variety, and find what you love. I love both ends of the spectrum – fingerling potatoes and record breakers (over 11 pounds/4 kg).