The first time I tasted homegrown potatoes from our garden, I was hooked on their superior texture and flavor. Growing potatoes is great for many reasons, not least of which harvesting them is like unearthing treasure as a much-earned reward for your hard work in the garden. Most varieties come late in the summer, after months of watching lush green vines sprawl all over the place and allude to great riches beneath the soil.
Potatoes are easy to grow, but they take up tons of space in the garden. By summer’s end, the dying vines create one crazy mess. Since I want to get as much food as possible from my main garden’s eight raised beds, I’ve found growing potatoes in containers separately works best for me.
The best containers for me are these Potato Grow Bags from Gardener’s Supply. The fabric construction ensures good drainage and they are perfect for adding soil gradually as you unfold the top of the bag to ensure potatoes keep forming along the more of the vines’ length. At harvest time, you simply dump the whole bag out and get your potatoes. Starting with fresh soil each year means no pests or larvae are harbored over winter, and they fold right up for storage, taking little space in my crammed-to-the-brim garden shed.
You don’t need a garden at all to grow potatoes in containers. All you need is a sunny place. Potatoes also store well in a cool, dry place for months, so you can experience a taste that can’t be beat even well after you’ve put your garden to rest for the winter.
Steps for Growing Potatoes in Containers
- Start with organic seed potatoes. I know a lot of people like the idea of planting supermarket potatoes, but it is possible that these commercial potatoes have been treated to prevent sprouting which would affect your yields. I prefer seed potatoes because they are no more expensive than supermarket potatoes and you’ll have a greater variety of potatoes from which to choose. One of my biggest reasons for gardening is that I can get tasty varieties that can never be found at the supermarket.
- Potatoes should be planted about one week prior to the last frost date in your area so the vines will not emerge and face danger of a damaging frost. A few days before you plant, cut your seed potatoes into pieces if they are large. Be sure that each piece includes at least one eye. Put the potato pieces on a plate and leave them on your windowsill or a counter. This process is called “chitting” and yeah, I giggle every time I say it. The cut surfaces of the potato will form a callous which will help prevent rotting once planted. You also may get the beginnings of sprouts from the eyes, and that’s OK.
- On planting day, locate your growing container in a full sun spot. If you are using a fabric bag like my Grow Bags, fold down the edge so the bag is shallow. You can unfurl the edges gradually as you add soil later as described below. Fill it with a few inches of good quality organic potting soil (I buy this one from at my garden center) and place your seed potatoes on the soil surface, ideally with an eye pointing up. My Grow Bags are 25 inches in diameter, and I plant about six seeds spaced evenly apart. Cover the seeds with about two inches of soil and water thoroughly.
- Water the soil regularly and wait for the sprouts to appear. The Grow Bag ensures you won’t overwater since it drains well. When the vines reach several inches long, add more soil and bury most of the foliage leaving just about an inch exposed. Burying the vines this way encourages the plant to produce lots of potatoes along the underground vines. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much you can harvest from a container!
- Keep the plants watered all summer and continue adding soil to cover the growing vines until you’ve reached the top of your container. The vines will be vigorous and will flower. Near the end of summer, they’ll start looking pretty tatty. They get yellow and begin flopping over. If you can’t help yourself at this point, dig a hand into the soil and feel around for potatoes. Once the vines are mostly dead, stop watering for about two weeks.
- Dump the bag and claim your treasure of creamy garden-fresh potatoes. You can compost the spent soil or just put it somewhere in your yard as I do. Stow your containers away for the winter.