It is possible to grow potatoes in a bucket, but it is easy to make a small mistake that could cause a big problem. However, if you follow some key steps, you will get lots of delicious potatoes from your plants.
So, what is the best way to grow potatoes in a bucket? After you get your sprouted potatoes, prepare a bucket with drainage and fill it with good soil. Next, lay out the potatoes and bury them under 4 inches of soil. Then, hill up the plants as they grow to protect the tubers from sunlight. Finally, harvest your potatoes when they are ready!
Of course, there are lots of different choices when it comes to bucket size, soil type, and potato variety. Even so, the principles remain the same.
In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the best way to grow potatoes in a bucket. We’ll also mention some things to look out for as you go along.
Best Way To Grow Potatoes In A Bucket (7 Steps To Take)
There are 7 key steps when growing potatoes in a bucket:
- Get your sprouted potatoes ready
- Find a bucket of the right size
- Prepare a good soil mix to fill your bucket
- Lay out the potatoes on the soil (eyes up!)
- Bury the potatoes
- Hill up potato plants as they grow
- Harvest your potatoes when they are ready
Let’s start at the beginning, with the source of all new potato plants: a sprouted potato tuber.
Get Your Sprouted Potatoes Ready
To get potatoes, you need a potato plant. To get a potato plant, you need a sprouted potato to bury.
Remember that it takes time for potatoes to sprout (you can learn why potatoes sprout and how to speed it up in my article here).
There are two main ways to get potatoes for sprouting and planting:
- Use sprouted potatoes from the grocery store (store bought potatoes)
- Use certified disease-free potatoes from a seed company (seed potatoes)
Growing Potatoes From Store Bought Potatoes
The first method is one you might be familiar with. This involves waiting until store bought potatoes sprout and then using them for planting.
Although this method will work, just keep in mind that store bought potatoes are treated with clorproham, which is an herbicide and sprout inhibitor.
Clorproham makes potatoes last longer in grocery stores and in your home. However, it also means you will have to wait longer for these potatoes to sprout.
It might be possible to find a store that sells organically grown potatoes that are not treated with sprout inhibitors. However, even these potatoes can carry diseases (like early or late blight), which can spread to your garden.
Growing Potatoes From Seed Potatoes
Many reputable seed companies sell certified disease-free seed potatoes for planting in the garden. These potatoes are never treated with sprout inhibitors.
As a result, they will sprout more easily. In addition, their growth will not be stunted.
Certified disease free seed potatoes will not spread blight or other potato problems to your garden. This alone may be worth the extra cost, since plant diseases can linger in the soil for years.
You can find certified disease-free seed potatoes from reputable seed and plant companies such as:
(If you growing tomatoes in the same garden area, choose blight-resistant tomato varieties as well, since both types of blight can spread between tomatoes and potatoes).
Find A Bucket Of The Right Size
No matter where you get your sprouted potatoes from, you will need a place to plant them. There are lots of different buckets you can choose from, but don’t pick a shallow bucket.
For one thing, potato tubers grow underground. For another thing, you will need some extra depth in the bucket so you have space to “hill up” potato plants later in the season (more on this later).
Whichever bucket you choose, you will need to put some holes in the bottom to improve drainage. A power drill works well for drilling drainage holes in plastic buckets (the hole saw attachment will be helpful).
Remember: you can always add more water to the bucket if the soil gets dry. However, if the soil stays wet for too long, your potato plants could get root rot.
A standard size 5 gallon bucket is about 14.5 inches tall. This should leave you enough room for growing potatoes, but more depth will not hurt.
Here is my recommendation for how to use the space in a standard size 5 gallon bucket:
- Bottom 4.5 inches: this is where you will put the “base layer” of soil mix for your potatoes. The roots of your plants will move into this layer to get nutrients and water, and 4.5 inches will leave enough room for growth. The potatoes themselves will rest on top of this layer.
- Next 4 inches: this layer of soil is used to bury the potatoes. I recommend burying potatoes 4 inches deep, but you can go shallower if you want, since you will be hilling up the plants later in the season.
- Top 6 inches: this layer is used for hilling the potato plants. Hilling just means piling up soil around the base of the plants as they grow (more detail on hilling later!)
If you have a deeper bucket, leave a little more space at the bottom for soil, or leave a little more space at the top for hilling (or both!)
Wider buckets will be able to hold more plants, but having several smaller buckets makes each one easier to move. It also makes is easy to quarantine a group of plants if disease should take hold in one bucket.
Prepare A Good Soil Mix To Fill Your Bucket
Now that you have a bucket ready for your potatoes, it’s time to get the soil ready for planting.
A good mix of topsoil, aged compost or manure, and perhaps some fertilizer will help to get your plants off to a good start.
When it is aged properly, compost or manure make a great addition to garden soil. “Aged properly” means you won’t be able to tell what materials the compost was originally made from (they will be broken down and decomposed by bacteria and earthworms).
Aged compost or manure add nutrients to soil, which helps to restore what last year’s plants used up. It also adds organic material to soil, which helps with watering (sandy soil retains more water, while clay soil drains better).
Organic material also attracts soil organisms such as beneficial bacteria and earthworms.
If your soil is a little acidic, don’t worry. In fact, it might be a good thing, since potatoes prefer soil that is a little on the acidic side (7.0 is neutral, while the ideal pH for growing potatoes is around 6.0 – they can tolerate down to 5.0).
Once the compost or manure is properly aged, mix it in with some of your topsoil. If you want to add a small sprinkle of fertilizer, it should be ok, but don’t overdo it without getting a soil test first!
When the soil mix is ready, put a layer in the bucket (for a standard size 5 gallon bucket, this means about 4.5 inches from the bottom – more for taller buckets).
Set aside some of the soil for burying the potatoes and for hilling later in the season.
Lay Out The Potatoes On The Soil (Eyes Up!)
Now that you have a bucket with a good soil mix, it’s time to lay out the sprouted potatoes. The key is to plant them with the sprouted eyes facing up.
They can still grow the other way, but why make things harder for them?
The recommended spacing for potato plants is 12 inches between plants. However, this is difficult to do in a bucket.
If you have lots of buckets, you can just put one plant per bucket. However, I think you could get away with 2 plants on opposite sides (the diameter of a standard 5 gallon bucket is about 12 inches).
If you plant more (perhaps 4 plants: 2 pairs of 2 plants across from each other), just remember that they might compete for water and nutrients, and the plants could be a little smaller, with fewer tubers to harvest from each one.
It’s up to you though. Do an experiment to see how the plants do with more or less competition in a single bucket!
Bury The Potatoes
Now that the sprouted potatoes are resting on top of the bottom layer of soil in the bucket, it’s time to bury them in a layer of soil. A 4 inch layer of soil should do, but you could plant a little shallower if you like (and you might want to in a shallow bucket to save space).
In a standard size 5 gallon bucket, this still leaves you some space at the top of the bucket for watering without washing the soil over the top edge of the bucket.
It also leaves space at the top of the bucket for hilling later in the season. In fact, let’s get to that part now, since I’ve left you in suspense long enough.
Hill Up Potato Plants As They Grow
Hilling is an essential (but often overlooked) aspect of planting potatoes. Hilling just means piling up soil around the base of the potato plant (near the stem) as it grows.
You can do this 2 or 3 times throughout the season as the plant grows taller, perhaps adding 2 to 4 inches of soil, mulch, or straw each time you do so.
If you want to use straw for hilling potatoes, you can buy it online in bales from Ace Hardware.
This is why I recommend leaving space at the top of the bucket. You can easily hill up potatoes 6 to 12 inches above the surface of the soil during the growing season!
Hilling has many benefits for potato plants, including:
- Plant stability – hilling up the base of a potato plant keeps it from falling over due to wind or its own weight at it grows taller.
- Weed control – hilling covers the soil with a layer that smothers existing weeds or prevents new ones from growing.
- Frost protection – hilling protects potato plants from frost (at least the parts that are covered!), just in case of an unexpected spring frost later in the season than you hoped.
- Sunlight blockage – this is one of the most important benefits of hilling potato plants. The hill protects developing potato tubers from sun exposure. Potato tubers that are exposed to sunlight will eventually turn green, and may produce the toxic substance solanine, which makes them inedible. https://greenupside.com/why-do-potatoes-turn-green-in-sunlight-3-ways-to-prevent/
Harvest Your Potatoes When They Are Ready
The last step is to harvest your potatoes when they are ready! You don’t want to wait too long, or you’ll miss out on your potatoes at their prime.
There are two types of potatoes you might want to harvest:
- New potatoes – if you want “new potatoes” for immediate use in cooking, then harvest your potatoes a little bit earlier. These potatoes are smaller, with thin skins, and they don’t store well.
- Mature potatoes – if you want “mature potatoes” for storage, then harvest your potatoes later in the season, after the plant vines turn yellow and start to fall over. These potatoes are larger, and they store better because they have thicker skins.
(By the way, you can learn about why and when potato plants flower in this article).
According to the University of Minnesota Extension, you can harvest new potatoes 7 to 8 weeks after planting. Keep track of your planting dates on the calendar so you know when to expect your new potatoes!
If the plants don’t manage to flower or you forgot to record your planting dates, don’t worry. You can just dig in the soil near the plants to find a “sample” potato to try.
If you can’t find any potatoes in the ground, there might not be any ready just yet. In that case, you’ll have to wait a little longer and try later in the season.
You can also harvest new potatoes from some of your plants, and let the rest of the plants continue growing to produce mature potatoes for harvest later in the season.
To get mature potatoes, look for the tops of your potato plants to turn yellow and begin to fall over. Usually, mature potatoes are ready for harvest 2 to 3 weeks after the leaves and stems start to turn yellow.
However, there is one exception. If the weather forecast calls for frost, dig up your potatoes before then.
Don’t wait too long to harvest mature potatoes at the end of the season, or they could rot in damp soil.
Remember that you should not wash potatoes right after harvest (unless you are going to cook and eat them right away). Getting potatoes wet makes them more likely to rot in storage, even if you think you dried them off well.
Instead, use a brush (a clean paintbrush would work) to dust off the soil. If the soil is wet, wait a little while and let it dry out before brushing the dust from the potatoes.
Now you know the best way to grow potatoes in a bucket and what steps to take to get started.
You might also want to read my article on transplanting established potato plants.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.