Photo by Agence Producteurs Locaux Damien Kühn on Unsplash
The humble potato has been a staple of the British diet since the end of the 16th century, it has earned its place in the pantheon of British dishes by adding tantalising delicacies such as mashed potatoes and roast potatoes, along with many others, to our palette.
It should come as no surprise then that, potatoes are one of the UK’s most farmed crops and have become a favourite among those who grow their own food. Normally potatoes require a lot of space to grow. When planted in the ground, it is recommended to leave at least 45 cm between each row.
This space requirement is off-putting for many gardeners as it means either removing plants to make room or giving up on the idea of eating tasty, homegrown potatoes.
We are excited to introduce you to a method of growing potatoes that doesn’t require a lot of space and is, arguably, easier than growing traditionally. This method is growing potatoes in pots, as mentioned previously the biggest benefit of this method is that it does not need a lot of space.
But this is just the first of the benefits, growing potatoes in containers will allow you to harvest them without hours of backbreaking digging, and the plants are much less susceptible to disease as well as harmful pests.
Before we embark on our potato-growing adventure, there are a few ground rules to cover to help ensure healthy growth and a plentiful harvest.
- The first and most critical rule is knowing how many plants a container can support and to not overload it. As a general guide, a 10-litre bucket can support one potato plant and adding any more will result in either tiny potatoes or no potatoes at all.
- For large containers which will hold multiple plants, it is important to give each plant as much room to grow as possible so avoid placing the potatoes too close to each other.
- The type of potato you will grow also has an impact on the end result, most gardeners prefer growing early potatoes in pots. The early type are ready to harvest by mid-summer, this means they are not affected by the late summer potato blight like other varieties.
- The last rule is the same for all plants grown in containers. Keep them well watered. Keep in mind that, normally, plants can extend their roots deep into the soil in search of water, but when grown in containers the roots are confined and as such are reliant on you to keep the soil moist.
Now that the boring rules are out of the way, it’s time to move on to the guide for growing potatoes in pots.
What you will need
- A container. Almost anything can be used as a container for potato plants, 10-litre buckets, large plant pots, an old bin. Whatever can hold enough soil can be used as a container. It is vital that your chosen container has adequate drainage, otherwise, the potatoes will rot. If it doesn’t have any holes for water drainage, then make some yourself.
- Potting soil. For the best results, you should use the highest quality soil that you can, look for soil which is suited to container gardening as this type allows water to drain easily. If you aren’t sure which is the best compost for growing potatoes in pots, your local garden centre will be able to help you choose the right soil.
- Seed potatoes. The great thing about growing potatoes at home, apart from them being tastier than usual, is that you can grow your favourite variety or a selection of different varieties. You may be thinking “How do I grow Maris piper’s in pots?” or “How to grow new potatoes in pots”, don’t worry. The process is the same regardless of the variety of potato planted.
- Fertilizer. The decision to use fertilizer comes down to personal choice. Some gardeners prefer to mix slow releasing fertilizer into the soil during potting, whereas others prefer to use natural liquid plant feed once the foliage has developed. Regardless of what you choose, read and follow the fertilizer instructions and do not overfeed the plant.
- Water. All living things need water to survive, however, potato plants need extra care and attention when watering. The soil should be kept at a relatively consistent level of moisture, not too wet and not too dry. If the ground is allowed to dry up the plant and foliage will die but if there is too much water in the soil your potatoes will rot in the ground.
- Sunlight. Place your potato containers in an area that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day.
How to prepare potatoes for planting
When you have gathered the needed supplies it is almost time to start planting. First, you will need to prepare the potatoes. There are few ways people use to prepare their potatoes but none seem to have much of an effect on the eventual harvest, so choose whichever method you prefer.
- Planting whole. This is the most common method, simply plant the whole potato once it has started to sprout.
- Cut potatoes in half. Following closely in second place is the cutting method, this is good to use if you don’t have many seed potatoes. There is some variety within this method, some people don’t plant them for a couple of days after cutting and others plant immediately after cutting. But as we said before, none of this has a real impact on your harvest.
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How to prepare the soil
Now that your potatoes are prepared it is time to plant them, follow the steps below to ensure this is done correctly.
- Fill the bottom of your container with 8-12 cm of soil.
- If you are going to use a slow releasing fertilizer, mix it into the soil now, if not skip to step 3.
- Place your seed potatoes on top of this layer of soil while making sure there is as much space as possible between them. Don’t try to cram more potatoes in, remember that a 10-litre bucket can only support one plant. So if you have a 30-litre container you can plant a total of three potatoes.
- Cover the potatoes with approximately 5-10 cm of soil, don’t worry if this doesn’t seem like enough you will understand why it should be done like this later.
- Add water until the soil is moist. An easy way to tell if you need to add more water is to stick your finger in the soil until it is around two knuckles deep if it is moist stop watering but if it is dry add more water.
What to do while they grow
So now that the potatoes have been planted that’s it, right? Wrong. There is more work to be done during the growing process. This additional work is called hilling.
When your potato plants have sprouted and grown to around 12cm in height, it is time to start hilling the soil. This is basically adding more soil to the container. See, we told you there was a reason why you should only cover the potatoes with a shallow amount of soil in the beginning.
Add 4-5 cm of soil around each plant so that they are all surrounded by a small hill which covers around one-third of the showing plant. Don’t worry about the covered leaves dying, the plant will grow more.
Repeat this process as the plants grow, and potato plants grow very quickly so check them regularly to make sure you aren’t left behind. Keep repeating the hilling process until the soil reaches the top of the container.
You will know that your potatoes are ready for harvest when the plants begin flowering, although some people wait for the foliage to start dying. After all of that hard work, care and attention it is finally time to claim your reward.
Normally, harvesting potatoes is a back-breaking task but with container potatoes, it couldn’t be easier. The best way to harvest is to lay a plastic sheet on the ground and empty the container directly onto the sheet, this way you can easily sift through the soil to pick out the buried deliciousness. Another method is to empty the container into a wheelbarrow or simply just stick your hand into the container and root around until you find potatoes.
We recommend the first option as it is the easiest and the whole family can get involved in the grand potato hunt.
How to grow potatoes in bags
Rigid containers aren’t the only things which can house potato plants. Bags will work just as well and the process is a little less involved. Many garden centres carry a stock of both plastic and natural growing bags but you can also use heavy duty bin bags, just be sure to add some drainage holes.
- To grow your potatoes in bags just follow these steps.
- Fill the bag with soil until it is around 2.5cm from the top.
- Plant your seed potatoes at a depth of 10-12cm.
- Cover them with soil.
- Place the bag somewhere warm and sunny.
- Water regularly.
That’s it, there is no need to follow up with the hilling process. Harvesting works the same as outlined above, but you can also cut the bag open if you prefer.
So there we have it, who knew that growing potatoes in pots could be so easy. By following this guide and a little bit of work you will be eating tasty homegrown potatoes in no time.
Did we miss anything? Do you have any tips for growing potatoes in pots or bags? Let us know in the comments below or give us a shout on social media!