Growing potatoes in containers is a great way to cultivate this versatile vegetable, especially if you have limited space or poor soil quality. By growing them in a tub or even bags they can be grown on any patio or balcony. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:
Choosing your container
Firstly, select a suitable container. Choose a large container that is at least 40 litres with a minimum depth of 12-18 inches. This will provide enough room for the potato plants to grow and develop tubers. The container should have good drainage holes at the bottom to prevent waterlogging. Alternatively, you can opt for a sturdy rubble bag, hessian sack or you can buy specific potatoes bags. As with the tub, prick a few small holes in the bottom of the bag/sack to allow drainage and ensure the tub or bag can be placed in a sunny spot where frost isn’t likely to get to it.
Which type of potato to choose
Potatoes have a wide range of planting times and are mainly sown from February to May. Choose a seed potato variety used for garden planting, ideally that is well suited for container gardening. Some of the best, are early and second early varieties such as ‘Maris Bard’ ‘Vales Emerald’ and ‘Sharps Express’ as they produce smaller plants and need less room. How long the potatoes take to grow does depend very much on the variety you choose. Some second early potatoes such as ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Red Duke of York’ can be planted in August for harvesting at Christmas time if you have a frost free Growhouse, conservatory or porch you can put them in.
The method for growing in tubs/sacks for winter potatoes or summer potatoes is exactly the same. The potatoes require chitting. This involves allowing the seed potatoes to sprout before planting. Place the seed potatoes in a cool, well-lit area on either trays or egg boxes for a few weeks before planting. This encourages early growth and short green chits will form in a few weeks. Once the sprouts are 2 centimetres long the potatoes are ready to plant.
How to plant your potatoes
Fill the container with 10cm of multi-purpose peat free compost at the bottom then place three to five chitted seed potatoes with sprouts facing up. Space them evenly on the surface leaving about 15cm between each seed potato. Cover with 8-10cm of a good draining potting mix. You can mix in some compost or rotted manure to enrich the soil. Potato plants grow best in acid soil with a pH 4.8-5.5. You must water the container thoroughly after planting, make sure the soil is not waterlogged, but just consistently moist through the growing season. Place the container in a spot where it will receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day and if planting in Autumn ensure they are in a frost-free spot.
When to harvest
As the potato plant grows, they will produce stems and leaves. When the shoots have reached 10cm cover with more compost to the tips. Keep doing this as the stems grow until you reach the top of the pot. Soak the pot thoroughly every two to three days. When the potatoes start to flower stop watering. Harvest your potatoes when the plants have flowered, and the foliage starts to yellow and die back. Then simply empty the pot to reveal your crop. The potatoes can remain in the compost for 2-3 weeks, after the foliage has died off, if you need to delay harvesting.
After harvesting allow the potatoes to dry for a few hours. If you don’t want to use them right away store them in paper sacks in a cool dark place. Do not store them in polythene bags because this can cause them to rot. Regular monitoring and care will ensure an abundant harvest and you could be enjoying your home grown roasties and new potatoes on Christmas Day! Happy Gardening!