Growing potatoes in pots and containers

- by Sue Ryan

See also: Growing potatoes for Christmas dinner

fresh potatoes

Many vegetables can successfully be grown in pots when space in the ground is short and potatoes are no exception. Here is an easy guide showing how you can grow your own potatoes even if you don't have a garden.

I grow early potatoes in buckets (potatoes that mature in May or June, depending on how warm your local climate is) as these can easily be moved if the need arises, although maincrop varieties will be better suited to deeper and wider pots (an old dustbin will do, as will empty compost sacks) to give enough room for the tubers to swell.

Here, I describe my method for growing first early variety potatoes in buckets, but the principle is the same for whichever container you choose, as long as they have drainage holes made in the bottom. All the growing times I have given relate to what works for me in the warmer climes of the southern UK; for those of you who live 'up North', it would be best to delay for 3-4 weeks. Planting and harvesting times for other types of potatoes.

First of all, I place the seed potatoes out to chit (start sprouting) around the middle of January.  Any frost free place with plenty of light can be used. I place them in cardboard egg boxes with the part showing the most amount of 'eyes' at the top as this is where the chits will form. Our landing windowsill is a good place as there is no nearby heating and it stays quite cool.

You can usually start planting first earlies from the end of February, but I have the advantage of a heated greenhouse and plant the first ones up from the middle of February and these are moved outside at a later date.

The buckets have around a dozen holes drilled into the bottom for drainage. I have also painted numbers onto the buckets, which comes in handy for when they get moved around so I know which order they were planted up, as I spread the planting out so we have a steady supply, rather than having all the potatoes ready at the same time.

I use a general multi-purpose compost and place about 10cm of compost in the bottom of the bucket, then place either two large, or three small seed, potatoes on the compost with the chits facing upwards, then half fill the bucket with more compost and water it well.  

When shoots are growing strongly, I then fill the bucket with more compost, leaving enough room at the top to allow for watering. I keep the compost just moist, as potatoes dislike being either very wet or very dry.

The potatoes will be ready for harvesting around 10-12 weeks after planting. Some varieties flower and some do not but, for those that do, I usually find that once they have flowered, they are ready for harvesting around two weeks later. Another indication of when they are ready is when the foliage suddenly flops over the bucket and will begin to turn yellow.

Potatoes growing in containers

This picture shows a few of my buckets and the foliage has flopped on the

left-hand side of the picture, these are ready.

Of course, if you are impatient like me, you can have a gentle root around inside the bucket to see how big the potatoes are. I usually find that the uppermost potatoes can be found at about a quarter of the depth into the bucket and therefore they have not been exposed to the light which would make them go green (green potatoes are poisonous).  

I have read that some people cover the surface of the compost with black plastic, at the stage of filling the bucket with compost, to stop the light getting through, but I find it is not necessary to use the plastic as the tubers are not harmed with out it and it also encourages slugs and snails to hide underneath it.

Harvesting is easy, tip the bucket out and collect all your potatoes. The compost can be re-used elsewhere around the garden or added to the compost bin/heap.

First Rocket potatoes ready

This picture shows the harvest from one bucket of potatoes - a rinse under the tap and they were ready for the pan.

Planting Guide for Potatoes


First earlies - plant from the end February to late May and will be ready for harvesting 10-12 weeks from planting.


Second earlies - plant from the middle of March to late May and will be ready for harvesting around 13 weeks from planting.


Early maincrop - plant from the end of March to late May and will be ready for harvesting around 15 weeks from planting.


Late maincrop - plant from the end of March to late May and will be ready for harvesting around 20 weeks from planting.

See also: Growing potatoes for Christmas dinner

  Copyright Sue Ryan 2008




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