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Get the Best Results: How to Harvest Potatoes in Containers

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As the adage goes, “You Harvest What You Sow,” so does potato harvesting closely follow potato crop husbandry.

Here’s how to harvest potatoes in containers—tip the container and use your hands to sieve through the soil to find the spuds. What you find depends on several potato planting and growing factors; variety, soil, sun, moisture, temperature, and space.

Table of Contents

Growing Potato Plants

Potatoes should be a default crop for any vegetable garden; they’re easy to grow, and even if you have poor soil, containers allow you to do wonders in limited space. 

Homegrown potatoes offer great value; few things are as delicious as freshly-dug potatoes. If you live in warmer climates, keep your potato plants well-watered.

Tony O'Neill is holding a small, brown potato in his hand, ready to plant it in a container bucket. His fingers gently grip the potato, which has visible sprouts emerging from its surface.
“Ready to grow some spuds! 🌱🥔 Tony carefully prepares a small potato for planting in a container bucket, excited to watch it sprout and grow into a bountiful harvest.”

Potato Growing Season

Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are a cool-season crop that prefers temperatures between 50°F/10°C and 75°F/24°C. Grow potatoes in full sun and soil rich in organic matter that drains well. Ideal temperatures are in the lower sixties (15 – 18°C)

Growing Potatoes in Containers

Containers are ideal for growing potatoes as they allow gardeners to make and use soil best suited for potato plants. Whether grow bags or buckets, potato plant containers should have ample drainage holes and be at least 12 inches deep. The ideal size is 30 litres or 8 gallons.

Potato Growing Soil

Idaho is the top potato-producing state in the United States, offering a semi-arid climate (Zone 6), volcanic soil that drains well, and an abundant water supply.

Potatoes do well in those conditions. Most important is soil that drains well yet retains quite a bit of moisture. In potting soil, that’s a balance in organic content and inert materials, the former to retain moisture due to a higher CEC, and the latter to promote better drainage and soil aeration.

Varieties of Seed Potatoes

Hundreds of potato varieties are not yet generally available, a niche for small-scale and homegrown potato growers. Whether you grow red, blue, purple or fingerling potatoes, there are options to keep you buddy for the rest of your gardening days.

Early varieties allow you to plant potatoes indoors two to three weeks before the last frost and harvest before summer. Young potato plants can tolerate light frost, more so than older vines.

Tony O'Neill kneeling inside his shed, pointing towards a container bucket that has been planted with potato seeds. The bucket is partially filled with soil and the young potato plants can be seen growing out of it
“Tony O’Neill demonstrates easy potato planting with a container bucket filled with soil and seedlings. #HomeGardening #PotatoPlanting”

Baby potatoes are harvested before they reach full maturity. They are often small and tender, with delicate skin that does not need to be peeled. New potatoes are often boiled and served with butter and herbs.

Average Potato Yields 

The number of potatoes that the average potato plant produces can vary depending on several factors, such as the variety of potatoes, growing conditions, and the size of the planted seed potato.

On average, a single potato plant can produce between 5 to 15 potatoes per plant, but this can vary widely depending on the abovementioned factors.

Here are some factors that can affect the productivity of potato plants:

  • Variety of potatoes: Different potato varieties have different yields, so choosing a variety well-suited to your growing conditions and desired yield is important.
  • Growing conditions: Potatoes grow best in cool temperatures with good drainage and fertile soil. Factors such as excessive heat, drought, or waterlogging can reduce yields.
  • Seed potato size: The size of the planted seed potato can affect the number and size of the potatoes the plant produces. Generally, larger seed potatoes will produce more and larger potatoes.
  • Planting density: Planting density can also affect potato yields. Planting potatoes too close together can result in smaller potatoes, while planting them too far apart can result in fewer potatoes overall.
  • Fertilization and soil management: Proper fertilization and management practices can help ensure the plants have the nutrients they need to grow and produce healthy potatoes.

Overall, many factors can affect the productivity of potato plants. You can maximize your potato yields by considering these factors and providing the plants with the right growing conditions.

10 Ways of Telling When to Harvest Potatoes

Tony O'Neill is in his garden, kneeling among several containers filled with potato plants. He appears to be checking on the progress of the potatoes and determining whether they are ready to be harvested. The garden is lush and green, with other plants visible in the background.
“Harvest time! Tony O’Neill checks on his bountiful potato plants in the lush garden.”

Potato plants ready to harvest will have edible tubers and have ceased growing.

When mature potato plants are ready to be harvested, they appear weak and dead because they have reached maturity and have ceased growing. Their leaves will fall off, and their stems will dry off.

1. Potato Plants have Stopped Blooming

Even if you’re not interested in your potato flowers, you must view them before you can begin digging for potatoes. The blossoms do not cause tuber production but signify that the plant has matured and will soon be ready for harvesting.

The flowers will fall after successful (or unsuccessful) pollination. Fruits may form if properly pollinated, but you’re more interested in tubers. Depending on the type, your potato plants will be ready to harvest two to four weeks after the last bloom drops.

2. The Potato Plant Stops Growing

The fact that all tuber-growing plants stop growing when they are ready for harvesting is something that they all have in common. The plant will immediately cease developing new leaves, and you may notice a drop in the number of leaves.

When you see that your potato plants aren’t sprouting new leaves, getting higher, or becoming thicker in their stems, you know it’s time to harvest them. You only need to wait a few weeks longer to collect the tubers.

3. Yellowing Leaves and Leaf Dropping

The leaves of your potato plants will fall off or turn yellow when they have completed their annual life cycle. The yellowing of your potato leaves that occurs a few weeks after flowering is beneficial since it indicates that you only need a few more days before harvesting your potatoes.

The yellowing of your potato leaves, which indicates that your potatoes are ready to harvest, will most likely occur just before the beginning of a new season. Yellow leaves in potatoes can also signal pest infestations, bacterial blight, nutrient deficiencies, and other issues with your potato plants. This means the leaves should only become yellow after the plant has flowered successfully.

4. Potato Plant Die-Back

The remaining components of the potato plant will shrink and dry out once the leaves turn yellow and fall. The plant may even tumble off the trellis or support. This indicates that the plant’s annual life cycle has been completed, and you may begin looking for tubers because they are ready for harvesting.

Do not be concerned if the plant dies, especially if the plant dies after it has matured (i.e., produced flowers and fruits). It is almost time to start digging for potatoes, so gather your harvesting and storing gear.

5. Mature Sized Potatoes Near the Soil Surface

When the plant appears dead and has few or no green leaves left, brush off the soil around its root region using a brush. Large potatoes should be seen surrounding the root, not far from the soil’s surface, and this implies you can begin collecting potatoes.

Keep in mind that size is relative when it comes to tubers. This means that the size of your potato tubers will vary depending on the variety, with faster-growing kinds producing smaller tubers. Also, remember that the number and size of tubers generated by potatoes are affected by their growing conditions.

6. Time of the Year

When to harvest depends on the time of year. It would be best to consider the kind you are collecting, as this affects the growing season of your potatoes. Harvesting timeframes vary based on the type of potato desired size.

7. Diminished Plant Resilience

Plants that are healthy and young are less vulnerable to pest infestations. Keep the plant vibrant until it flowers, then allow it to die. Don’t let tubers stay in the ground longer than they have to. It’s a balancing act between storability and risk management.

The leaves will have holes or white patches. The culprits can also be seen on the leaves, especially early in the morning or late in the evening. If your potato plants have successfully flowered, you must only wait a few weeks before harvesting their tubers. If the plant doesn’t fully die back, consider cutting it back.

8. Planting Duration

The number of days it takes for your potato plants to grow before you can harvest their tubers is the length of planting. You can identify when your potato plants are ready for harvesting if you know how many days to wait.

Here are the potato varieties and the number of days to wait:

  • First Earlies: You should wait 70 to 90 days before harvesting your first early earlies.
  • Second Earlies: These potatoes require 90 to 110 days to mature before being harvested.
  • Main Crops: The main crops are potatoes, which generate the most tubers. Harvesting should be done 110 to 135 days following planting.

9. Monitoring and Optimize Potato Growth Stages

Potato growth stages are the stages your potato plants must reach or pass through before being harvested. Emergence, blossoming, and maturing are among them. You can know when your potato plants are ready to harvest if you have seen them through all stages of growth.

Here’s how to determine which of the five stages your potato plants are in:

  • Plant Emergence: When you plant potatoes, they must establish roots and push the stem through 4 inches of soil. This stage is when the plants start growing.
  • Early Vegetative Stage: The plants produce a lot of leaves in this stage. They also initiate tubers just before flowering.
  • Flowering and Fruiting: Mature potatoes will develop blossoms. If the flowers pollinate successfully, they may produce fruits. The fruits contain seeds that may be used to generate new plants, though these are seldom plant-identical to the parent plant.
  • Tuber Bulking: The plants spend more nutrients on developing larger tubers at this stage. Because they no longer develop new leaves or other organs, they devote all their nutrition and energy to tubers.
  • Foliage Decline and Tuber Maturity: This usually happens at the end of the growing season, and plants begin to shrink and die. At this point, the potatoes are ready for harvesting.

10. From What Other Gardeners Are Doing

Joining gardening forums and organizations is a stress-free approach to determining when your potatoes are ready to harvest. You won’t need to ask questions to determine when your potatoes are ready to harvest because a few people have already started the conversation.

You can use forum recommendations to know when you can harvest your potatoes as long as you planted them at the same time as other gardeners and cared for the plants. Attend meetings regularly and comment on posts.

How to Harvest Potatoes

Tony O'Neill is shown shearing potato leaves on his container bucket garden in preparation for harvesting.
“Tony O’Neill preps for harvest on his container potato garden, trimming leaves for growth. 🥔🌿 #urbangardening #potatoharvest”

To harvest the tubers of mature potatoes, carefully brush the dirt and extract the tubers with your fingers or a spading fork. After collecting the tubers, let them air and sun dry them for a few minutes, especially if the soil is wet.

Harvesting Potatoes from Grow Bags and Buckets

You can harvest your potatoes if you plant them in sacks or bags, as bagged potatoes are the easiest to harvest. Roll down the sack to uncover the roots and soil. Before you sprinkle the soil, you should observe huge tubers of potatoes. Scatter the earth and roots with your fingers, then collect the tubers.

You can flood the open dirt with water if you want. The water swiftly washes away the soil from the potato tubers, allowing you easy access to the tubers. The gathered potatoes can now be removed from the sack and cured.

Harvesting Potatoes in Raised Beds

Ready-to-harvest potatoes in raised beds are similarly simple to harvest. Because their growing medium is elevated, you can expose the roots with your fingers, a trowel, or a spading fork. When digging the soil, don’t injure the tubers; you don’t have to dig very deep to find the tubers.

The dirt should be fairly easy to dig if you are growing your potatoes on the proper substrate (i.e., a loose one). After exposing the tubers, pull them from the soil with your hands or a spading fork.

Harvesting Potatoes From Garden Beds

Potatoes grown on level land are the hardest to harvest because you must dig deeper into the dirt to get the potatoes. Dig potatoes out of the soil gently to avoid damaging them.

Continue digging until you can’t locate any more potatoes in the soil. Remember to cure your potatoes by exposing them to sunlight. This is critical for preserving potatoes for an extended period. Isn’t it simple to harvest potatoes?   

How to Store Potatoes

Red potatoes sit in a rustic wooden basket, arranged in an orderly manner. The basket is placed on a wooden surface, and there is a faint shadow underneath it. The potatoes are ready for storage, with their smooth skin and uniform shape indicating their freshness.
“Farm-fresh red potatoes, ready for storage 🥔🌾”

roper storage of potatoes is essential for maintaining their quality and preventing spoilage. Here are some tips on how to store potatoes:

  • Store in a cool, dark place: Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. A temperature of around 45-50°F (7-10°C) is ideal. Avoid storing potatoes in direct sunlight or areas that are too warm, as this can cause them to sprout or spoil.
  • Keep them dry: Moisture can cause potatoes to rot or sprout, so keeping them dry is important. Wipe any dirt or moisture off the potatoes before storing them, and avoid washing them until ready to use them.
  • Avoid plastic bags: Potatoes need to breathe, so storing them in plastic bags can trap moisture and cause them to spoil. Instead, store potatoes in brown paper bags, a mesh bag, or a cardboard box with ventilation holes.
  • Don’t store potatoes with onions or other ripe fruit. These release ethylene, a hormonal gas that can cause potatoes to sprout faster, so storing them separately is best.
  • Check regularly: Check your potatoes regularly for any signs of spoilage or sprouting. Remove any potatoes that have gone bad to prevent them from spoiling the others.

Following these tips can help ensure your potatoes stay fresh and tasty for as long as possible.

How to Store Potatoes Long-Term

Potatoes stored in a dark room for long-term storage. The image shows wooden pallets and net sacks filled with potatoes stacked on top of each other. The potatoes vary in size and are in different stages of growth. The room is dimly lit, and the sacks and pallets create a pattern of shadows on the floor.
Potatoes were stored long-term in a dimly lit room, creating a striking pattern of shadows from the stacked wooden pallets and net sacks. #HarvestPreservation

The time that fresh potatoes can be stored depends on several factors, such as the type of potato, the storage conditions, and how mature the potatoes are when harvested. Here are some general guidelines for storing fresh potatoes:

  • Mature potatoes: Fully mature potatoes can be stored for several months if stored in ideal conditions. Potatoes properly cured and stored at cool temperatures (around 45-50°F or 7-10°C) with good ventilation can last up to 5-6 months.
  • New potatoes: New potatoes are young potatoes that have not yet fully matured. They are more perishable than mature potatoes and should be used within a week or two of being harvested.
  • Sprouted potatoes: Potatoes that have sprouted can still be eaten, but they should be used as soon as possible, as the sprouts can drain nutrients from the potato and make it less flavorful.
  • Green potatoes: Potatoes turn green when they’re exposed to sunlight while they’re still growing. The green pigment is chlorophyll and is harmless. Still, in the Solanaceae family (potato, tomato, eggplant, and pepper), chlorophyll is linked to a bitter and toxic chemical called Solanine and should be avoided.
  • Damaged potatoes: Potatoes that have been bruised or damaged can spoil more quickly and should be used as soon as possible.
  • Cooked potatoes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Overall, the best way to determine if a potato is still good to eat is to check for signs of spoilage, such as a soft or mushy texture, a foul smell, or visible mould. If a potato looks or smells bad, it should be discarded.

FAQs on Get the Best Results: How to Harvest Potatoes in Containers

In Summary

When potato plants start dying back, potatoes are well-formed but not yet mature. You can start harvesting potatoes once 50% of the foliage has turned yellow, but wait for the plant to die to harvest potatoes that will store better. 

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