Grow Potatoes In Containers

In just 12 weeks you could be harvesting your very first crop of potatoes… even if you don’t have a huge garden. Growing potatoes in pots and containers is easy, rewarding and will save you money. While potatoes will grow easily in pots there are a few things you can do to significantly increase your harvest.

This guide will show you how to grow potatoes in containers successfully step by step.

Types Of Potatoes For Growing In Containers

If you want to grow potatoes in containers, you need to know about the different types. There are three types of potatoes: earlies, second earlies and main crop. Earlies are very quick growing plants and usually the best new potatoes.

Main crop take longer to mature, are much bigger plants but have the advantage of storing very well. While second early potatoes and main crop potatoes can successfully be grown in pots, first earliest are what we recommend you grow in containers.

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Pots For Growing Potatoes In

To grow potatoes in containers successfully, you need the right pot. To get started, I recommend you begin with a 40 litre pot, these are the perfect size for planting 4 or 5 seed potatoes (depending on the variety) in. From a pot like this you can harvest a very worthwhile crop just 10 weeks from planting.

There are a lot of different containers for potatoes that you can buy, but it’s very important to make the right choice. Large plastic pots (available at most garden centres) are the most common for growing potatoes and are pretty cheap to buy, usually these are made of cheap plastic though so do break.

Old compost bags are also good for growing potatoes in. The main advantage of using old compost bags to grow your potatoes in is that they are totally free. The disadvantage is that they don’t exactly look very good in a garden. Be sure to make holes in the bottom of the bag though or you will quickly find the compost is waterlogged.

Recommended Option #1 – Reusable Potato Bags

I’ve been growing my potatoes in reusable potato bags for several years now. I use Tenray Home Plant Grow bags. They are heavy duty and last for a few years. They are good quality and the flap makes it easy to harvest the potatoes without mess. Because they are quite thick, they keep the soil warmer, which is good for growing potatoes.

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I put five to six seed potatoes in one of those bags and get a really good crop.

Recommended Option #2 – Potato Grow Pots

If you prefer to have proper pots rather than bags, these Agralan Potato Grow Pots are great. You have one pot in another, with the inner pot having big holes in the sides. So when your potatoes are ready to be harvested, just lift the inner pot and remove your potatoes.

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You can leave smaller ones to grow bigger if you want. Because they are proper plastic pots, they will last longer and look nicer on the patio than the bags.

Planting Potatoes In Containers

potatoes on the floor

Now let’s start our guide about how to grow potatoes in containers and go to the first step.

Planting usually begins in March for the first early varieties. Second earlies and main crop potatoes should be planted from mid-March.

However, before you can plant them, you might want to chit the seed potatoes. Chitting means to encourage the seed tubers to sprout. This will help the potatoes to grow quicker once planted and you can harvest them earlier.

To chit your seed potatoes, put them in an empty egg box and place them on the window sill in the sun. After a week or two, they will develop sprouts. Once they have sprouted, you can plant them out.

Begin by placing a layer of potting soil in the bottom of your container, filling the pot half full is usually a good guide. On top of this begin planting your potatoes, in a large 40 litre pot you can plant 5 first early seed potatoes. Plant them evenly apart but try not to plant too close to the edge of the container.

Before covering the potatoes in compost you may want to add some fertiliser to help the potatoes grow. There are a lot of fertilisers around (some organic, some not) that you can use for potatoes. I use Envii Seafeed Xtra, it’s organic and it’s amazing.

You can buy specialist potato feed. But if you grow more than just potatoes, you might want to get a fertiliser that is suitable for all vegetables and fruits, as it will be cheaper.

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Once this is done, cover the potatoes with 6 inches of compost. If the compost is dry, now would be a good time to water, if the compost is already damp you don’t need to water any more.

Usually about a week from planting you will see the green tips coming through the compost. As these shoots begin to grow you can add more soil potting to your container until it’s full. Always leave the tips of the leaves showing through the new soil level.

Caring For Your Potatoes

When you grow potatoes in containers, they only have two real growing needs, they need to have sunlight and must be kept watered. As the potatoes are in pots, you will need to water the potatoes regularly. Don’t overwater, having the soil just damp is ideal. On the hottest days, you may need to water everyday.

Harvesting Potatoes From Pots

Now we come to my favourite part in this guide about how to grow potatoes in containers, harvesting them.

As a rough guide, first early potatoes take 12 weeks to be ready for harvesting, second earlies take around 15 and main crop usually take 20 weeks. The harvesting time does vary depending on the weather, your location and the care you have given them. The good thing with containers is you can usually dig a little hole in the compost and try feel if there are any potatoes ready.

Depending on which pot you chose you grow your potatoes in, harvesting can either be be easy or very dirty. If you are growing in a potato barrel you can just open the sides and get your fresh potatoes.

In a large container or compost bag, this will be a lot more dirty. Most of the potatoes will be near the bottom, so you will have to empty the entire pot or bag. When you grow potatoes in containers, you have to get ready to get your hands dirty.

Harvest, cook, eat and enjoy.

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Diseases and pests

No guide about how to grow potatoes in containers would be complete without a section about pests and diseases.

The main disease that affects potatoes is blight, but they can also suffer from other diseases such as potato scabs and potato black leg. The most common pests that attack potatoes are slugs and eelworms.

Diseases that can affect potato plants

potato plant with late blight

The most common and most devastating disease that affects potatoes is late blight. It is also called potato blight or tomato blight, as those two plants are the main hots for the disease. So, if you want to grow potatoes in containers successfully, you need to know about blight.

Late blight is a fungal disease and it is most prolific in warm, wet weather, especially in late summer. This is bad news for British gardeners, given that our summers have become warmer and wetter in recent years.

Early signs that your potato plant is infected, are brown spots on the leaves. The leaves will start to curl and die. As the disease progresses, you will also see white fungal growth on the underside of the leaves and brown marks will also appear on the stems. Eventually the plant will die.

The spores are airborne, so can infect other plants nearby. They can also get washed into the soil, where they will infect the tubers and destroy your crops.

There is no cure for potato blight, however, you can slow down the progress. As soon as you spot the first signs, remove the infected leaves and destroy them. Don’t compost them, as this could infect your compost. Move the infected plant away from other potato and tomato plants to prevent the disease from spreading.

While blight can’t be prevented, you can take measures to minimise the risk:

  • Plant your potatoes in a breezy spot so that the leaves can dry quicker after rain.
  • Give your potato plants space to improve air circulation.
  • Water your plants from below to keep the foliage as dry as possible.
  • Crop rotation is very important with potato plants, because the spores can overwinter in the soil and infect next year’s potato plants. Include tomato plants in your crop rotation as they are also affected by blight.
  • Don’t use tubers of affected plants as seed potatoes as the spores might have overwintered in them.
  • If you grow potatoes in containers or bags, discard all the soil in the pot if the plant has been affected and destroy it. Don’t use the same soil again.
  • There are some blight resistant potato varieties such as Sarpo Mira (main crop), Orla (first early), Carlous (early main crop) and Valor (late main crop). There is evidence that the disease is adapting though and these varieties might not be blight resistant in the future anymore. You can check the Potato Variety Database to find out which variety is resistant to which diseases and pests.

Another disease that can affect potatoes are potato scabs. There are two varieties, common scab which is caused by bacteria and powdery scab, which is a fungal disease. Scabs are only visible on the tubers.

Common scab manifests itself with rough, scabby patches on the potato skins. Potatoes that are infected by powdery scab show irregular brown raised areas or dents. Common scab can occur when the soil is dry as the tubers form. In contrast, powdery scab is more likely to attack your potatoes in wet conditions.

While potatoes that are infected by scabs don’t look very nice, they are still edible, just peel them and enjoy.

Here are some tips to prevent scabs from affecting your potatoes:

  • Make sure you use seed potatoes that aren’t infected by scabs. There is minimal risk of infection with commercially bought seed potatoes. If you save your own, make sure you don’t save any that are infected.
  • Keep the soil in the containers or bags damp and don’t let it dry out. Make sure you don’t overwater them, especially if it’s raining a lot. Adding organic matter, such as mulch, will improve the water retention of your soil, as well as also adding nutrients for your plants.
  • Common scab is more likely to occur in alkaline soil, which means the pH levels are high. Not sure what the pH level of your soil is? Get a DIY soil pH test kit to check your soil. Ideally, you want a pH level of around 5.2 – 5.3 and no higher than 6. This range will still be ok for your potatoes but less chances of common scab to develop. If you need to acidify your soil, you can use material such as sulphur. You can buy Sulphur Pallets, which you mix with the soil to bring down the pH level.
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  • There are also potato varieties that are resistant to scabs, such as ‘King Edward’. Check out the Potato Variety Database to find more scab resistant varieties.

If you want to know more about soil tests and why they are important, read our article about how and why to test our soil.

Another bacterial disease that can affect potatoes is potato blackleg. It usually occurs as early as June and can stunt the growth of stems and destroy your crop. Signs of this infection are pale green or yellow curling leaves. The stems at ground level are black or brown. The tubers will have rotten flesh.

potatoes with bacterial disease

There is no cure for this disease, once a plant is affected, destroy it and all the potatoes that might be in the soil.

The infection usually starts in the seed potatoes, so when you buy them, make sure you use a reputable seller to avoid purchasing infected seed potatoes. There are things you can do to lower the risk of infection with potato blackleg:

  • If you save your own seed potatoes, don’t save them from infected plants. Store your seed potatoes in dry conditions to minimise the risk of infection during storage.
  • Whether you use pots or bags to grow your potatoes, make sure they have good drainage as the bacterial love warm and wet conditions.
  • Harvest in dry weather when the soil is dry. Never harvest when the soil is wet.
  • If you spot any sign of potato blackleg, remove and destroy the infected plant and any tubers. Even if the potatoes themselves love fine, they will have the bacteria in them.
  • If you normally reuse the soil from your potato containers, don’ t use if for potatoes as the solid is likely to be infected too. Potato blackleg only affects potatoes, so you can use the soil for other plants.
  • There are varieties that are resistant to potato blackleg, such as ‘Charlotte’ or ‘Pixie’. Check the Potato Variety Database to find other resistant varieties.

Pests that can affect your potato plants

One pest that might attack your potatoes are eelworms, worm-like animals that feed on the roots of plants. They can undermine the plant’s health and damage yield, as they take nutrients from the plant.

If your potato plants show signs of yellow wilting leaves (also called chlorosis) and poor growth, they could be under attack from eelworms.

As the eelworms live in the soil, you will have to lift out the plants to check for signs of an eelworm infestation. You should be able to see tiny round objects on the roots with your naked eyes. Or use a magnifying glass to be sure.

What you will see if your plants suffer from an eelworm infestation, are the dead bodies of female eelworms that are full of hundreds of eggs each. They can be white, brown or yellow. A heavy infestation can lead to your plants dying prematurely and a poor crop.

If you grow potatoes in containers, you ideally want to prevent these pests.

There are things you can do to minimise the risk and spread of this pest:

  • Crop rotation is one important thing to avoid the risk. If you are planting your potatoes in pots or bags, don’t reuse the soil anywhere as this would spread the eelworms to other parts of your garden. Destroy the soil and any ‘volunteer’ potatoes (potatoes you have missed during harvest), but don’t compost it.
  • Harvest as soon as the tubers are ready.
  • You can plant resistant varieties such as ‘Maris Piper’. Check the Potato Variety Database for more eelworm resistant varieties.

Cutworms, caterpillars of some moths, also like potatoes and in summer they could feed on your tubers. They are greyish-brown, pale green or creamy-white.

To avoid cutworms from nibbling on your potatoes, keep them well watered, as these creepy crawlies are vulnerable to rain or irrigation.

There are other pests that like potatoes, but if you grow your potato plants in containers, these won’t affect you.

Potatoes Recommended For Growing In Containers

potato varieties

Potato Rocket – Rocket is a first early variety that grows well in pots, will give a good crop of tasty potatoes and grows quickly. Highly recommend if you enjoy eating new potatoes. You can begin harvesting these potatoes while they are still small or leave until they mature.

Potato Swift – this variety is well known for growing a large crop of potatoes on a very compact plant. It’s ideal for containers and will give you a crop of perfectly round potatoes. Good disease resistance. Matures very quickly if grown in the right conditions.

Potato Red Due of York – this first early variety has a red skin and yellow flesh. They are ready to harvest in 10-12 weeks. These are my favourite potatoes for chunky chips.

These varieties have been proven to give good crops in containers. Other varieties you might try are: Charlotte and British Queen.

Frequently asked Questions

Didn’t find what you were looking for? Find out more about how to grow potatoes in containers in our FAQ section.

Can I use supermarket potatoes as seed potatoes?

potatoes from the supermarket

Opinions on this subject are divided, with some saying you can’t and others you can.

First you need to know that ware potatoes (eating potatoes) that are sold in the supermarket are not meant to be used as seed potatoes. They tend to be too big for seed potatoes. But more importantly, they might not be as low risk in terms of diseases and pests.

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There are regulations for seed potatoes that ensure that diseases and pets are not spread. So you can be sure that commercially bought seed potatoes won’t be infected with any diseases.

Ware potatoes can contain diseases, which won’t make them unsafe to eat, but could affect any plants that you grow from them and could also spread the disease in your garden if no counter measures are taken.

Eating potatoes from the supermarket might also be treated with certain chemicals to prevent them from sprouting, which will render them unusable for growing.

However, I have used ware potatoes before as seed potatoes. Our seed potatoes chitted prematurely, so we thought we would try some small ones from a bag we bought at the supermarket.

They chitted ok, so we planted them. We didn’t have any issues with diseases and got a reasonable crop. One issue was that we couldn’t choose what variety to plant. But then, we had the potatoes anyway, so didn’t spend any extra money.

I think, if you are out of seed potatoes, have a go and see what you get!

Can I grow potatoes indoors in winter?
Yes you can, and because you already know how to grow potatoes in containers, you will find it easy.

All you have to do is ensure the potato plants have the right conditions to grow and produce crops.

You will need to get the right seed potatoes though. Tubers are dormant for a certain time after harvest before they will sprout. You can buy seed potatoes especially for this purpose, such as ‘Charlotte’, ‘Nicola’ and ‘Maris Peer’.

If you want home grown potatoes for Christmas, then plant your seed potatoes in August and they will be ready in time for a super delicious feast.
The advantage of growing potatoes indoors is that they are less likely to catch any of the diseases. However there are some things you need to keep in mind:

  • Keep your potato plants well watered, but don’t overwater them. Indoors they won’t need to be watered as much as outdoors in summer. Make sure that your pots have good drainage, potatoes won’t grow in wet soil.
  • Like any plants, potatoes need light to grow and produce tubers, so place them in a location that provides them with several hours of sunlight per day. If you have a greenhouse, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you want to grow them in the house, then you might want to invest in some grow lights to improve your chances of a good crop.
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  • Feed your potato plants regularly with a liquid fertiliser.
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  • Seaweed plant fertilizer promotes strong growth, increased crop yields and lush foliage
  • Multi-purpose fertiliser which includes extra iron and plant based amino acids that feed garden plants and improve yield
  • Suitable for use on lawns, fruit, vegetables, flowers, trees and all garden plants
  • Frost can damage the foliage of your potato plants, so if you grow them in a greenhouse, ensure that it stays frost-free.

You should be able to harvest your Christmas potatoes in late autumn. To keep them until the big day, re-bury them in dry compost.

If you want to find out more about how to grow potatoes for your Christmas dinner read our Christmas Potato Growing Guide.

Do potatoes need full sun or do they grow in shade?

potato flower

Potatoes can grow in a partly shady spot, but to get the best yield, your potato plants need at least six hours of sunlight per day. The leaves use sunlight to grow the tubers, so the more sunlight, the more potatoes you get.

When you grow potatoes in containers, you can move them around in your garden to give them as much sunlight as you can. That’s the beauty of container growing.

If all the space you have is partly in the shade some of the day or only gets filtered sunlight, you can still grow potatoes, but you are likely to get fewer potatoes.

So for the best potato yield, choose a sunny spot!

Now that you know all you need to know about how to grow potatoes in containers, you are set and ready to try it out. Enjoy your home grown potatoes!

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