Growing Potatoes in Containers | Almanac.com

Growing Potatoes in Containers

Potato plants in three brown bags
Photo Credit
Angela Lock

How to grow potatoes in a container or pot.

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Potatoes can take up quite a bit of space in your garden. One solution is to grow potatoes in containers! Gardeners have had success growing spuds in everything from trash cans to burlap bags. Learn how to plant potatoes in pots and, importantly, how to harvest these tasty little treasures!

You can start growing potatoes in pots in early spring! Wait at least two weeks after the last spring frost in your area. See the Almanac’s Frost Calculator.

Start With Seed Potatoes

If you have never tried growing your own potatoes, nothing could be easier. Pick up some certified seed potatoes at your local garden center. (Seed potatoes are not seeds; they are very small potatoes used to grow potato plants.)

They have many colors and types of potatoes to choose from. Many container gardeners do tend to prefer small “new” potatoes in pots versus large russet types.

Potato varieties are also distinguished from one another by how soon they are ready for harvest. Early varieties are good because you get your rewards sooner but late varieties will produce higher yields if properly cared for. 

Learn more about choosing the best potato varieties to grow.

These sprouts have gotten way too long! They are brittle and probably will break off during planting.

Planting Grocery Store Potatoes

If you aren’t fussy about type of potato and have some in your kitchen that are sprouting in their bag, they can be planted. Many folks say to avoid grocery store potatoes, but we’ve grown some excellent crops of potatoes from grocery store spuds. There is a greater chance of disease since they aren’t certified to be free of pathogens. Plant the whole potato if it is small or cut them into pieces with at least two “eyes” in each one. 

One rule of thumb is to plant seed potatoes that are about the size of a hen’s egg whole and to cut the larger ones.

Preparing the Seed Potatoes for Planting

A week or two before planting, spread your seed potatoes out, one layer deep, in an open box placed in a warm bright spot to green up and begin to sprout. This encourages the development of short strong sprouts that are not easily broken off. 

These potatoes have formed sturdy sprouts that won’t break off when planted.

Chitting Your Seed Potatoes

For really good results try a process known as chitting a day or two in advance. This is the process of dividing (larger) seed potatoes into smaller pieces to create more plants! As long as there is at least one “eye” in your potato (the dimpled area with the bud), this will work. The sprouts that will form the stems of your plants will grow from these eyes. We chit 24 to 48 hours in advance to allow the cut pieces to dry and avoid rotting.

After chitting, these fingerling potatoes have formed stubby sprouts and are ready for planting.

Types of Containers for Potatoes

Any large container can be used for growing potatoes as long as it has good drainage and opaque (and doesn’t let light through). Trash cans are great, especially ones on wheels. Just be sure to drill lots of drainage holes in the bottom and a few inches up the sides. See our humorous video showing out editor planting potatoes in a trash can!

Potatoes in a large container. Credit: Jean Faucett

The container needs to be at least 14 inches deep with a 10 to 15 gallon capacity. Avoiding getting much larger as it gets difficult to water evenly. You’ll need five gallons of soil volume for each plant. If your container has a diameter of 20 inches, you can assume 4 plants. 

Below are grow bags being marketed specifically for growing potatoes; they’re a little pricey but you can create a similar thing from a plastic “burlap” bag or by using landscape fabric to form a container. 

We have used these generic grow bags for potatoes and they worked great! 

Some folks grow successfully in old tires adding a new tire to the tower as the plants grow. Just beware that tires can leach undesirable chemicals into the soil. Some folks line the tires to avoid this issue.

How to Fill Containers

To fill your container, you’ll want to use half “soilless” potting mix and half well-rotted compost to enrich the soil. You can find bags at garden centers. Never use fresh manure.

Also, if you’re not planting in the ground, do NOT use soil. It compacts in a container, doesn’t drain well, causes rotting, and often carries weed seeds or disease. Potting mix retains moisture but also drains well; compost adds fertility. 

How to Plant Container Potatoes

Position your potato pots where they will get 6 to 8 hours of sunshine a day. 

  1. Fill your container with 4 to 6 inches of soil. Potatoes prefer a slightly acid soil so leave out the lime, which encourages scab. 
  2. Plant each piece and cover with another 2 inches of soil. 
  3. Plant pieces 5 to 6 inches apart and 3 to 4 inches away from the sides of the container.  
  4. As the plants grow, gently add soil around the base of the plants; it is okay to cover some of the leaves as long as the top 2/3 or so of the plant still sticks out of the soil. 
If you don’t have any large plant pots, a trash can with holes drilled in the bottom and a few inches up the sides for drainage will work great for growing your potted potatoes.   

It is important to keep the stems of the plant covered as they grow because your potatoes grow on short runners which are called stolons that are formed on the sides of the underground stalk. The longer the stalk the more potatoes you’ll get, especially if you are growing a late season variety. If you are using a really big container like a trash can you can substitute shredded paper, peat moss, or straw for some of the soil to lighten things up; this is important if you are growing on a deck or balcony. 

Topping off potatoes with compost. Credit: Graham Corney/Shutterstock 

How to Feed and Water Container Potatoes

Fertilize the plants with diluted fish emulsion every two weeks or so. Stay away from high nitrogen fertilizers that will encourage leafy growth instead of potato formation. 

Water whenever the top 1 to 2 inches of potting soil feels dry to the touch, and apply enough water for some to escape out of the bottom drainage holes. The aim is for “moist,” not soggy.

After the plants have blossomed, potatoes will start to form.

When to Harvest Potatoes in Containers

If you can easily dig around the plants without disturbing the roots too much you can pick some of these small new potatoes to eat. They’re tender and delicious!

Or, wait until the tops of the plants completely die down in the fall to harvest the full crop. Or harvest after the first frost in the fall. 

If you wish, you can gently tip the entire container or trash can onto a tarp, then gently sift through and unearth those treasures. Do this in a shady area as tubers should not be exposed to light. Don’t be too rough; potatoes can bruise. 

Also, do not wash your potatoes until you are ready to eat them or you risk rot. Just brush off most of the soil before storing in a dark, cool place such as a basement or root cellar. 

For a minimum amount of effort you can treat your family to the gourmet delight of home-grown potatoes. Their flavor and texture is far superior to store-bought spuds.

See the Almanac’s complete Guide to Growing Potatoes if you have more questions.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

2023 Gardening Club