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How to Successfully Grow Potatoes in Containers from Seeds

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Buying or preparing container potato seeds is essential to successful potato gardening, and it’s more than science; it’s an art.

Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are cool-season perennial plants that store carbohydrates and water in their tubers as a resource for post-dormancy growth. Potato growers harvest these tubers for food or to grow new potato plants. 

Table of Contents

All About Potato Plants

Potato Varieties and Family Traits

  • The UK, Canada, and the U.S. have about 500 unique potato varieties. The United States Potato Register (link above) includes over 350 types.
  • It takes about 18 years from cultivar hybridization to varieties being commercially available.
  • Potatoes are not root vegetables; potato roots are fibrous masses that grow lower than the tubers, though some adventitious grow higher up the underground stem.
  • Potato tubers are distended stems that form at the ends of rhizomes growing from the underground part of the stem. Tubers start creating five to six weeks after planting, around the same time potato plants start blooming. 
  • Potatoes are members of the Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
  • Common to all members of this family is a chemical called Solanine that co-develops with chlorophyll and is mildly toxic and bitter. It is present in all the green parts of all four plants, including green potatoes (caused by sun exposure during growth).
In the photo, Tony can be seen holding a potato in his hand. Beside him, there is a zoomed-in image of a potato with small sprouts, also known as seedlings, growing on it.
Growing our own potatoes from seedlings Excited to see what harvest season will bring 🌱🥔 homegrown organicfarming potatoseedlings
  • Like all nightshade family members, potato plants are day-neutral, i.e., blooming and fruiting aren’t related to day lengths. Some research indicates that, with potatoes, blooming is associated with a variance in day- and night temperatures.
  • Although potatoes produce seeds, the primary means of propagation is cloning (asexual propagation). True potato seeds are mostly infertile and unreliable in producing true-to-kind plants.
  • Seed potatoes are the whole, or parts of, the plant’s tubers harvested for reproduction. If left in the ground, potatoes regrow after winter when soil temperatures warm to above 40°F/2.22°C. Potato foliage is not frost tolerant, though younger plants will survive a light frost.
  • Depending on the potato variety, potatoes take between 70 and 160 days to mature.
  • Indeterminate potatoes take the longest and are the only varieties that benefit from hilling the soil up the stem.
  • Potatoes prefer at least six hours of sun daily and soil draining well.
  • Ensure that your container-grown potatoes (bucket or grow bag) have good drainage, i.e., that the soil drains most water while retaining some, and that the container has adequate drainage holes.
  • The potato plant has varied soil moisture needs as the plant develops.
    • Plant potatoes in pre-wetted soil but keep hydration lower between planting seed potatoes and their emergence.
    • Systematically increase watering rates from 65% field capacity in week 3 to 90% in week 8 of the potato plant’s growth.
    • Sustain a 90% field capacity from the start of blooming (and tuber expansion) until the fruits have formed and the potato plant starts dying back.
    • Maintain a 60% field capacity up to harvesting.
    • Read more about watering potatoes in containers here.
  • Remove the fruit from the plant as they start developing. The potato plant shouldn’t spend energy on anything but maximizing tuber health and growth. Some gardeners suggest you remove the flowers, but plant trauma affects tuber development negatively.

All About Seed Potatoes

Seeded potatoes arranged neatly in a green egg carton, placed next to a window with natural light shining on them.
Homegrown beginnings ☀️🌱🥔
  • Most potatoes are grown from tuber cuttings (or, more ideally, small whole tubers) called seed potatoes.
  • Dormant seed potatoes must be removed from dormancy by slowly increasing temperatures and exposing them to light. This is called chitting.
  • Seed potatoes need to be chitted before planting. In other words, they should already have tiny green sprouts.
  • Planting potatoes that have not been chitted is risky as soil temperature and moisture levels need to be ideal for unchitted potatoes to emerge from dormancy underground.
  • The best option for growing potatoes is to grow them in containers, and I share why below. I have run several experiments (which I share on YouTube) that show potatoes grow better in containers than in garden soil.
  • Another good practice is to buy certified seed potatoes. Look for varieties that are also disease resistant. The Potato Variety Management Institute’s Defender comes to mind. This late-harvest Russet is blight-resistant and a U.S. top performer.
  • Repeatedly growing potatoes for the seed potatoes you produce increases the risk of virus infections and crop failure.

Preparing Seed Potatoes for Planting

A photograph of two trays with potatoes. The tray on the left is blue and has raw potatoes placed inside it, while the tray on the right is orange and has potatoes wrapped in newspaper inside it.
Raw vs Resting Two Ways to Store Potatoes 🥔

Preparing seed potatoes is important in growing healthy and productive potato plants. Here are the steps to prepare seed potatoes:

  • Choose the right seed potatoes: certified seed potatoes from a reputable source. Seed potatoes should be disease-free and not treated with sprout inhibitors. Most store-bought potatoes are treated to prevent sprouting and extend shelf-life.
  • Whole-seed potatoes (single drops) are the first prize. Cut the seed potato: Use a clean, sharp knife to cut the seed potatoes into pieces, ensuring each piece has at least one “eye” or bud. Ideally, each piece should be around 2 ounces. After each cut, sterilize the knife with rubbing alcohol or a 10% Clorox solution.  
  • Cure and chit the seed potatoes: Let the cut seed potatoes sit in a dry, cool place with good ventilation for a few days to allow the cut surfaces to dry and heal. This helps to reduce the risk of infection and rot.
  • Choose the correct potatoes: Select healthy, disease-free seed potatoes from a reputable source. Avoid using potatoes from the supermarket, as these may not be suitable for growing.
  • Prepare the potatoes: Lay the potatoes in a single layer in a cool, dry, and well-lit place. It is best to place them in an egg box or a tray with the end with the most “eyes” facing upwards.
  • Wait for the sprouts to appear: After a few weeks, the potatoes will sprout small green shoots. These are the sprouts you want to encourage to grow.
  • Maintain the sprouts: Keep the sprouts cool and well-lit, but avoid direct sunlight. If the sprouts become too long and spindly, it may be a sign that they are not getting enough light, so move them to a brighter location.
  • You can give them a head start and increase your chances of a successful potato crop by chitting your potatoes.

Seed Potato Physiologic Age

The physiological state of the tubers is pivotal to successfully growing potatoes. Older potatoes grow faster but produce fewer tubers. The converse applies to fresh, healthy, unbruised seed potatoes; they are slower to emerge but grow more vigorously and give a better potato yield.   

Preparing Your Potato Container for the Planting Process

Step 1: – What You’ll Need to Grow Potatoes in Containers

  • A bucket or grow bag that is at least 12 inches deep. I have tested several sizes and found that a 30-litre (almost 8 gallons) bucket works best. Bigger buckets don’t produce more potatoes, and you’re limited to a 12-inch (30 cm) spacing per plant for optimal airflow to reduce risks of pathogens having a party.
  • Potato-friendly potting soil. Potatoes like loose soil, so a mix of 50% organic materials (cured compost, leaf mould, forest products, coconut coir) and 50% inert materials (pumice, sharp sand, perlite, chickpea, LECA, expanded shale) is ideal. More on this later, or check out the article dedicated to potting soils. 
  • Seed potato pieces—as discussed above.
  • A blend of bone-, fish-, and blood meal for all the base nutrients potatoes need.
  • Some sulfur boosts acidity (drops the pH) to the required levels (around 5.0 pH).
  • A tarp would help, but it isn’t essential.

Step 2: – Prepare to Plant Seed Potatoes

Make sure that the soil temperature is above 50°F/10°F. The ideal growth temperature is in the lower sixties (17 -19°C). 

Mix the whole bucket of potting soil with a tiny bit of sulfur to drop the pH to about 5.0. Unlike other vegetables, potatoes thrive on a pH between 4.8 to 6.2 – about a spoonful per 8 gallons of soil. Still, it’s best to have pH test strips to check the ground and increase the application incrementally, giving you more control.

A picture of Tony kneeling outdoors, demonstrating how to prepare potatoes for planting. He is holding a potato, while an orange tray with more potatoes wrapped in orange paper is placed beside him on the ground.
Tony shares his potato planting tips from selecting the right spud to preparing it for the soil Ready to grow your own potatoes

Note that as the pH drops, the cation exchange capacity drops, too, letting the water flow through the soil more freely. You want to balance acidity and water retention to maintain a 90% field capacity during the tuber formation stage.

Mix at least two gallons of soil (quarter bucket) with the bone, fish, and blood meal mix. This is the bottom four inches of soil your seed potato will rest on.

Ensure you don’t block drainage holes with pebbles or the like. Use empty tea bags or coffee filters instead. It’s critical that the water can drain freely, so If you can avoid using anything, it’s better.

Step 3: – Planting Potato Seed Pieces

Use the two gallons of soil you mixed with the plant nutrients to line the bottom of your container, and the soil surface should be at least four inches above the bottom. Potato plants grow medium-deep roots to access a better water supply, but you’ll make water access easy, so they’ll produce less deep. 

I sometimes reach six inches deep if I have an 18-inch-deep pot. You need at least 8 inches of pot space for plant growth and mulching.

Place the seed potato on top of the well-draining soil, with the sprouts facing upwards and the cut side facing downwards.

Lightly press the seed piece down into the soil, ensuring good seed/soil contact.

Cover the seed piece with about four to six inches of the sulfurized potting soil. This depends on your seed variety, so check your packaging for advice.

Thoroughly water the container, allowing all the possible water to drain. Field capacity is the quantity of water remaining in the soil after it has drained. Ideally, we want a 60% level at this stage, so wait before watering again. Sixty per cent is half-dry soil. 

Ten Benefits of Growing Potatoes in Containers

A picture of Tony O'Neill standing next to a bucket filled with potting soil, holding his right hand on top of the bucket.
Getting my hands dirty with some gardening today 🌱🌿

Whether you’re thinking of starting a container garden or merely growing a plant in a pot, here are ten reasons why growing plants in pots is a good idea. Of all the gardening formats, container gardening for beginners is the best.

1. Space-Saving

A container garden allows you to grow plants in a limited space, making it an excellent option for people living in apartments or with small yards.

If you use vertically stacked containers, per-square-foot productivity is even further improved. Growing salad greens indoors have never been more accessible.

2. Flexibility

You can quickly move plants around to optimize their exposure to sunlight, temperature, and weather conditions. Container vegetable gardening allows earlier crop starting.

Whether growing vegetables, small plants or fruiting vegetables in a large container, container gardens allow you to grow many plants in glazed pots, hanging baskets, or small pots. Fabric pots offer further flexibility in colours and formats.

3. Accessibility

Container gardening is an ideal option for people with mobility issues or limited access to outdoor spaces. Raised beds offer easy access, reducing the need to bend.

Whether growing edibles in window boxes or leafy greens in your kitchen, a container garden can make fresh produce readily accessible.

4. Control

Tony prepares to plant potatoes in container buckets by shoveling soil and putting it into a container. Lush green plants can be seen growing in rows in the background of his garden.
Ready to grow some spuds Tony preps his container buckets for potato planting surrounded by a thriving garden backdrop

Growing plants in containers allows you to control the quality of the soil and the amount of water and nutrients your plants receive. Matching light needs and plant temperature and humidity specifics is infinitely more accessible with a container garden. 

5. Reduced Risk Of Pests And Diseases 

Container gardening reduces the risk of pests and diseases commonly found in soil. Controlling pests with covers is also easier.

The root diseases common to vegetable plants linger in garden soils for years. These risks are eliminated in garden containers as potting soil is easy to refresh.

6. Extended Growing Season

With container gardening, you can start planting earlier and extend the season by moving plants indoors when the weather turns colder. You can use cold frames or hot boxes, depending on your container garden format.

7. Decorative

Container gardening is an easy way to add colour and texture to your outdoor living spaces. You can use containers of different sizes, shapes, and colours to create exciting and attractive displays.

Ceramic pots can be beautiful but offer poor water management and tend to become waterlogged. Always place a smaller pot that provides better drainage inside glazed ceramic containers. Consider using a clay or terra cotta pot as the inner pot.

While wooden containers can be attractive, these are generally less long-lasting, and certain woods can impact soil health. Check out my The Latest Trends in Gardening: Say Goodbye to Wooden Raised Beds. 

8. Variety

Container gardening allows you to grow various plants, including fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs. See below for more details on the plants that can be grown in garden containers.

9. Low Maintenance

Container gardening requires less maintenance than traditional gardening, as there is less weeding and less need for fertilizing and pest control. Choosing the suitable containers, managing water well, and providing proper light, and you’re 90% towards 

10. Cost-Effective

Container gardening can be a cost-effective way to grow your food and flowers, as you can use recycled materials such as old buckets or pots and save money on water and soil amendments.

Potato Plant Container Yields

Tony shows off his freshly harvested potatoes, piled up on the ground. He kneels beside the potatoes, with a proud smile on his face. The potatoes are various sizes and shapes, with earthy dirt still clinging to some of them.
Harvesting the Fruits of Labor Tony proudly shows off his bountiful potato harvest

You can get quite a lot of potatoes from an 8-gallon bucket. Generally, a potato plant will produce between 5 and 20 potatoes per seed potato planting, and older seed potatoes grow smaller potatoes but more of them.

Younger, fresher, uncut, cared-for potato seeds produce a higher quality potato, usually bigger but less. The average potato yield by weight from a single bucket can be around 6 kg (13 lbs), which is a good deal in any language.

FAQs on How to Successfully Grow Potatoes in Containers from Seeds

In Closing

Potatoes are easy to grow and nutritious. Plant seed potatoes indoors about three weeks before the last spring frost for the earliest harvest, around the end of spring. I hope these articles are helping you get excited about growing your homegrown potatoes. All the best.

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