Learning to grow potatoes is a wonderful skill to master, whether you’re gardening for food security, or just for pleasure. If you’re limited on space, as many of us are, learning to grow potatoes in containers is a game changer!
Benefits of Growing Potatoes In Containers
One of the biggest benefits of growing potatoes in containers is that it’s easier to manage. Traditionally potatoes are planted in long rows, and as the sprouts grow, more dirt must be continually mounded atop the plant. This can become quite a job if you plant a large potato crop.
Another benefit is that you can control pests more easily. Potatoes are a root crop, and can fall prey to voles. By planting them in containers you are able to protect them from burrowing pests. But what about insects? They can definitely wreak havoc on your potato plants. It’s a bit easier to keep your eye on a few plants at a time in each container, though. You can tell quickly if your leaves are being devoured, and combat the issue.
Possibly my favorite benefit to growing potatoes in containers is the ease of harvest. In traditionally planted potatoes, when harvest time comes you have to dig up the rows and sort through to find your potatoes. Don’t get me wrong, I looove harvesting root vegetables. Carrots, onions, potatoes, there’s something so satisfying about pulling your food from the earth and being surprised by its size and beauty. But I’ve also chopped some potatoes in half when harvesting them, simply because I couldn’t see what I was digging into. When harvesting your potatoes from containers, all you have to do is dump the bucket out and sort through the soil to find your potato gems!
The Downside of Growing Potatoes in Containers
As appealing as I’ve made it sound, there are some negatives to growing your potatoes in containers. The first that comes to mind is watering. As with anything you grow in containers, you will have to water these much more frequently. Containers dry out much more quickly than in-ground gardens, so you have to really stay on top of watering them. You also have to be sure not to overwater and waterlog your crops though. It’s a fine balance, but if you pay attention to your soil you’ll find the sweet spot.
The only other negative is that, unless you have a lot of containers, planting your potatoes this way will produce a smaller yield than planting them in an in-ground garden.
How to Plant Potatoes In Containers
1. Prepare Your Potatoes
It’s important to plant the right type of potatoes. Seed potatoes can be purchased from your local farm supply store or neighborhood nursery. These are potatoes that have not been sprayed with a sprout inhibitor. Now, that being said, when you watch my video below you’ll see that I decided to plant what I had on hand, and that was organic potatoes from the grocery store that had sprouted “eyes”.
To prepare your potatoes for planting, you will want to cut the sprouted potatoes into sections with a couple of eyes on each one. Then you allow them to dry out for a couple of days in a sunny, airy spot. This process creates a toughened layer over the flesh of the potato that has been cut to prevent diseases that can be found in the soil.
2. Prepare Your Soil
Speaking of soil, it’s a pretty crucial part of your planting. I use about a 50/50 mix of soil and compost. When planting potatoes in containers, or plant for that matter, it’s important to make sure that your soil drains well. Soils with poor drainage can cause the plant to become waterlogged.
Also keep in mind that since you’re using containers and will be watering more frequently, nutrients can leach from your soil more quickly. This means that you will probably need to fertilize your plants throughout the growing season.
3. Plant Your Potatoes
I began by scooping about 5 inches of my soil/compost mixture into the bottom of each container. I then placed 3-4 potato slips, eyes up, into each container. After each slip was placed, I covered them with a couple of inches of soil and leaf litter, and watered them generously.
4. Tend to Your Potato Plants
As I mentioned earlier, you will want to stay on top of watering your container potatoes. This doesn’t mean just wetting the surface, but really making sure that your water penetrates deep into the soil. When you see water draining out of the bottom of your container, you should be good. Keep an eye on your soil each day and water as needed.
5. Hill Your Potatoes
As your potato plants grow, shoots will sprout up out of the soil. Once these shoots are 6-8 inches tall, you want to gather soil around the base of the plant, covering the bottom leaves and leaving about 2/3 of the stalk still exposed. You will have to do this a few times as your potatoes grow. The section of the plant that’s buried is the part that will actually produce potatoes, so you want to stay on top of keeping your potatoes hilled. You can do this until you have soil all the way up to the top of your container.
6. Harvest Your Potatoes!
This is the fun part! Once your potato plants flower, they are ready to harvest. You can collect a few at a time by simply reaching down into the soil, or you can wait until the leaves begin to turn brown. At this point, you can just dump the entire container over onto a tarp and dig through to collect your potato harvest!
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