Potatoes are one of the easiest foods to grow in pots. Either potatoes or sweet potatoes can be grown in containers, but they have different growth habits and requirements. Potatoes grow upright and most varieties only get to be 3 feet tall, while sweet potatoes are long vines which spill over the sides.
Seed potatoes for either are normally available at your local nursery or through the mail from early March through May. Potatoes come in many shapes, and many colors, including yellow, purple-blue, and red. Cooking turns most colors of potato varieties off-white, but there are exceptions. Potatoes thrive in cooler weather and will be ready to harvest from late June through November, depending on the variety, your temperature zone, and the weather.
Any potato variety can be grown in a container, but some will be more upright while others tend to spill over the side. To have potatoes all through the summer and fall, as well as some to store for winter and spring, choose several varieties. Early-season potatoes mature in about 70 to 90 days, mid-season in 90 to 110 days, and late-season in 110 to 140 days.
How to Chit Potatoes
When you get your seed potatoes, any that are bigger than a small egg and have at least four eyes can be cut into pieces which each have 2 to 3 eyes. Chitting is the process of allowing the potato to dry and/or sprout before planting. It is an not essential step, but if you choose to do so, rub off all but the two strongest sprouts before planting. To chit, put the potato pieces in an egg carton in a cool, bright room, but away from direct sunlight. Potatoes can be planted out about 3 weeks before your last frost, and a light frost will not hurt them when they are young.
How to Plant Potatoes in a Container
Potatoes can be planted out about 3 weeks before your last frost, and a light frost will not hurt them when they are young. Use a large, deep container which is a light color to reflect the sun. Make sure it has adequate drainage, and cover the drainage holes with a coffee filter to allow water out while keeping soil in.
How Many Potatoes to Plant in a Container
Fill the container with 6 inches of good-quality potting soil amended with compost. If the container is extra large, you can plant five pieces of potatoes, but for large containers plant three. Plan on 3 gallons of soil for each potato piece. Cover the potatoes with 2 inches of soil, and water well.
When the potatoes get to about 6 inches tall, add more soil to cover up all but the top 3 inches of the plants. If the height if your container allows, you can repeat this process until the container is full except for 1 inch, to allow for watering. When you first plant up your potato container garden you can also plant fast-maturing plants like lettuce, spinach, scallions, and radishes, and then harvest these before adding soil.
Potatoes, like all tubers, require adequate water, so daily watering may be necessary. Water whenever you can insert your finger into the soil to 1 inch and it feels dry. Over watering can result in cracked potatoes, but this usually results from watering too often rather than watering too much at a time. In areas where it gets hot, it would be best to locate your containers on the east side of the house or to provide shade during the hottest time of the day. Bone meal is a good fertilizer for potatoes.
Yam, Potato, Sweet Potato: Which is Which?
Common potatoes, which are often called spuds, are a member of the Solanaceous family, which also includes tomatoes, eggplants, and sweet and hot peppers.
Sweet potatoes are a member of the Convolvulaceae family which also includes morning glories. A sweet potato is not the same thing as a yam, although both are orange and similar in shape, and the terms sweet potato and yam are used interchangeably in some areas.
Yams are of the Dioscoreaceae family, which is commonly grown in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where it is harvested for its starchy root. Sweet potatoes have firm flesh which is easily peeled while yams have tough flesh, but both are cooked in similar ways.
How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Pots
Sweet potatoes are rambling vines, so are best planted in an elevated container or allowed to trail over a balcony or somewhere that they can have lots of room. They will root wherever they touch the ground. They have attractive, heart-shaped leaves, and sometimes bloom white and pink flowers, so can look quite ornamental. Although orange sweet potatoes are the most common, there are also white, yellow, and purple varieties.
Sweet potatoes prefer heat, and will not tolerate frost, so they should planted out after the soil has warmed and there is no chance for frost. They can be started inside about the time of last frost to be planted out at about the same time as tomatoes, and require 3 to 4 months of hot weather to mature. Sweet potatoes are started from slips, which may be available at your local nursery. Simply cut the sweet potato so that it has two eyes and plant in potting soil in a sunny window.
Plant sweet potatoes in a good quality organic potting soil and do not not fertilize, especially with nitrogen, which will cause excessive foliage growth at the expense of producing a larger tuber. Be careful when harvesting sweet potatoes since they are easy to damage and grow close to the surface of the soil. If an early frost has killed the foliage, just make sure you harvest them before too long so that they will not spoil in the ground. Do not wash them, since this will promote faster spoilage.
A good variety of sweet potato to grow in containers is Bush Porto Rico, since the plant stays smaller. It is an orange variety which matures in about 100 days. Georgia Jet is a good choice for shorter growing seasons and has reddish skin and orange flesh., and matures in about 90 days.
How to Harvest and Store Potatoes
Stop watering potatoes and sweet potatoes 2 to 3 weeks before harvest to give them a chance to harden off for better storage. To harvest potatoes, wait until the plant naturally dies back and then gently dig them out of the container with gloved hands. If you do not get around to digging your potatoes before the first few frosts, this will not hurt them, and will actually make them store better. If you garden in zone 7 or warmer, they can be left in the ground all winter.
You can cheat and harvest new potatoes when the plant begins to bloom its little yellow flowers. Gently run your hands through the soil and pinch the small potatoes away from the roots. Some people call these “grabblings” or baby potatoes.
To store potatoes, do not wash them. Let them dry out in a warm, dry place for a few days and brushed off soil. Use any that have been damaged immediately. Store others in paper bags or cardboard boxes, or hang them in clean re-purposed panty hose.
Bad Neighbors and Companion Plants for Potato Plants
Potato plants should not be grown near tomato plants, since they both attract similar insect pests and are susceptible to the some of the same diseases. Avoid planting potatoes with squash and cucumbers since these plants seem to increase potatoes’ susceptibility to blight. If you are planting potatoes in the ground, avoid planting anywhere that you have grown other Solanaceous crops in the previous two years. Some of the same soil borne insects and diseases affect all of these plants.
Companion plants repel harmful insect pests. Good neighbor plants include horseradish or catnip. These should be in containers because they tend to be invasive, and catnip blooms and leaves should be harvested for your favorite feline friend. Tagetes marigolds and nasturtiums are attractive, and will also repel pests. Be sure to harvest some Nasturtium flowers and leaves to brighten up your salads and add a peppery zing.
Potato Varieties for Containers
Since you can grow potatoes in pots, no matter the variety, choose for nutrition, disease resistance, yield, color, good storage and texture.
Rio Grande potato has higher levels of antioxidants, higher yields, and stores longer than most potatoes. It is a all-purpose russet which gets 4-5 inches long with creamy white flesh. This disease resistant potato matures and 90 to 110 days and stores well.
All Blue potato is an heirloom potato variety colored blue to purple and maintains its color through cooking, so makes interesting mashed potatoes, french fries and potato salads. It is best roasted or baked, but you can adding a tablespoon of vinegar to the water to help maintain color. This potato is sold under many names including Black Russian, Eureka Purple, and Fenton Blue due to its popularity and marketing efforts. It matures and about 110 to 135 days.
Mountain Rose potato matures in 70 to 90 days and has reddish skin and flesh which is retained during cooking. This productive and highly nutritious variety is suitable for mashing, chips, fries, and potato salad.
German Butterball potatoes are a late-season variety maturing in 110 to 135 days. They have a buttery yellow flesh and can be prepared by any method. They are disease resistant and the plants get rather large, producing many tubers which are good for storage.
Choosing a variety of potatoes can keep you in potatoes nearly all year long and will be fun for everyone. You will be surprised how much better fresh potatoes taste that the ones at the grocer, which have been harvested months in advanced and stored. Your loved ones will be surprised at a potluck when you bring a red, white and blue potato salad. Get your kids in the habit of trying new and colorful vegetables by making colorful french fries and mashed potatoes.
Source for seed potatoes and information: