Growing vegetables can be a tricky task, mainly because every plant has such different needs. You may be considering growing potatoes but not sure where to start. Here we’ll explain why it’s best to grow your potatoes in a container.
Reasons to grow potatoes in containers: By growing potatoes in containers you free up space in your garden and also have the opportunity for more patio gardening. Critters such as voles can’t access your potatoes and the process provides a fun science experiment for kids. There are certain steps to take when growing potatoes in containers, such as watering often and hilling the soil to encourage more growth, but these don’t take up too much time.
Do potatoes grow well in containers?
Yes, potatoes grow really well in containers. They love the warm space that a container provides.
Planting potatoes in containers involves the same steps as growing in your garden, so if you have any experience, it is an easy transition. Even if you are new to the idea, the steps are simple to follow.
Reasons for growing potatoes in containers
Potatoes grow underground so you can’t simply pick them from a branch when they are ready. This means more work, so any way to make the process easier is a bonus.
When your potatoes are ready to harvest, all you have to do is dump the container out and you will have access to all your hard work. This is especially useful as potatoes from one plant will be ready at the same time so you won’t have to worry about digging up potatoes one at a time.
One of the perils of having a garden is you want to plant everything. But, unless you have a giant backyard, you will inevitably have to pick and choose what goes in.
The solution to this is to get creative and learn what has to go in the ground and what can be grown in containers. When you have the option of container gardening, you have more moveable space and can even grow plants on a balcony or deck.
As potatoes can grow quite well in a container, this frees up your valuable in-ground real estate. It also means that even if you don’t have a massive garden, you can still grow the potatoes you love.
Protection from critters
Just because you love potatoes, doesn’t mean other creatures don’t also love this underground tuber. Unsuspecting critters, especially voles, can tunnel under your garden in search of potatoes.
Growing them in a container provides a barrier for such intruders. You can rest easy knowing that you don’t have to share your precious crop with anyone else.
Fun with kids
Getting your kids excited about gardening is a real delight. By growing potatoes in a container, you can make a special project out of it.
If you have multiple children, you can assign them a container each that they are responsible for. There are a few steps to follow when growing potatoes, so there are plenty of ways to involve your kids.
From selecting potatoes to watching for the eyes to start sprouting, kids will have a better idea of the life cycle of potatoes. Then, during the growing process, they will need to monitor the plants and add extra soil, which extends the process.
Finally, most kids love potatoes so getting to eat your favorite side dish that you grew is a real treat.
How to grow potatoes in containers
Unlike other crops, you can start planting potatoes relatively early in the year. This should be two weeks before the last frost in your area. This timeframe will vary depending on where you live but will be between February and April.
If you plant earlier and then have an unexpected frost afterward, don’t panic. Just pay attention to the weather forecast and if frost is expected, cover your container or even bring the whole container indoors.
Even though there are potatoes in every grocery store, it is not wise to use these. Grocery store potatoes may not be native to your region and they may require extra effort to grow.
Instead, head to a local gardening center and purchase seed potatoes. You will find different varieties so there is still plenty of choices.
Prepare the container
It’s best to use potting soil to grow potatoes. Not only will there be extra nutrients in the soil but it will be light and airy so the roots of the potatoes can grow easily.
You can also mix in some organic material such as compost at this step. The key, however, is to have soil that doesn’t easily compact.
Add extra fertilizer in this stage to properly prepare the soil. You can add a slow-release fertilizer and then every two weeks add a liquid fertilizer to help replenish the nutrients that are washed away from water.
Prepare the potatoes
There are a few ways to prepare potatoes, so you may want to try a few methods. While you can wait for the potatoes to sprout and plant them whole, you can also cut them into pieces.
If you choose to cut your potatoes, make sure each potato has at least two sprouts on them, called eyes. After cutting the potatoes, leave them to dry out for a day or two before planting.
Plant the potatoes
Depending on the type of container, you should be able to plant about four potato pieces. Spread them out by a few inches.
Start by placing 4 to 6 inches of soil into the bottom of your container. Then, place your potatoes on top with the eyes facing up.
After placing your potatoes, you can then cover them with 2 to 4 inches of soil. It may seem counterintuitive, but you don’t want to completely fill up the container with soil.
Monitor the potatoes
Potatoes need the right ratio of sunlight and water to grow. Keep your container in a sunny area that gets at least six hours of sunlight each day.
You will need to water your potatoes well, especially right after planting. If you have a dry spring, you may need to water it every day or two.
For watering, try to keep the soil moist but not saturated with water. Too much water can lead to rot but too much dryness can lead to potatoes that don’t grow.
Hill the potatoes
No matter if you plant your potatoes in the ground or in a container, you need to engage in a process called hilling. This is when you continually add soil as the plant grows.
After your potato plants grow to be about 6 inches high, add a thick layer of soil. It should be a mixture of potting soil and compost.
Hill the soil so that it covers the bottom third of the exposed plant. This activates the plant so that it will produce more potatoes underground.
Aim to hill your potatoes three to five times during the growing period. This is why you only start off with a few inches of soil when first planting your potatoes.
At their peak growth, you may be hilling your potatoes every two weeks, so check in with the plants daily to monitor their progress.
Harvest the potatoes
You may be wondering how to know when to harvest potatoes if you can’t see underground. The trick is to pay attention to signs above ground.
Your potato plants will start to flower in late summer. Any time after they flower, you can harvest your potatoes.
You can harvest a few at a time or all at once. To harvest just a few, use your hand and not a shovel to reach into the container and pull out once you need.
As the season gets colder, you can then harvest them all at once. Simply turn the container over and pick through the soil to find the potatoes.
Your potatoes may be different sizes, but that’s okay. Some can be used for baking while others can be used for stews.
What container is best for potatoes?
Choose a container that is a dark color as this will retain heat from the sun and keep the soil nice and warm. Don’t worry that you can’t see the potatoes growing underground as the plant above will tell you when they are ready.
While you need a deep container you don’t want it to be too deep. This can cause an uneven distribution of water and lead to potato rot.
There are specially made bag containers to grow potatoes in. These are a nice option as they collapse and are easy to store.
Other options include garbage bins, burlap sacks, wooden half-barrels, and large plastic storage bins. Just make sure any container is cleaned properly to stop the accidental spread of disease or mold.
Growing potatoes in containers are quite simple. While there are multiple steps to follow, they don’t take a lot of time and you will be rewarded with a nice, delicious crop.