Everything You Need To Know About Growing Your Own Potatoes

Everything You Need To Know About Growing Your Own Potatoes

Everything You Need To Know About Growing Your Own Potatoes

Potatoes are a versatile and beloved staple in many Australian households. While traditional garden plots are the norm for potato cultivation, you can just as easily grow your own in containers and pots. Not only does container gardening offer an easy maintenance method of growing your own food but also makes it accessible to urban dwellers and those with limited outdoor space.

Store-bought v’s Seed potatoes

Potatoes are formed on specialized underground stems known as stolons. Stolons are horizontal stems that run along or just below the soil surface. These stems develop from the base of the potato plant and give rise to the tubers. The tubers, which are the edible part of the potato plant, grow at the nodes of the stolons.

Although store-bought potatoes can be used for cultivation, there are a few considerations. Potatoes from the grocery store are often treated with sprout inhibitors to prevent them from sprouting and growing new and healthy shoots. Additionally, there is a risk of diseases in store-bought potatoes that can affect the success of your cultivation.

Seed Potatoes are specially cultivated and certified potatoes intended for use as the planting material in growing a new crop, and are carefully selected to ensure healthy and disease-free propagation. Authentic seed potatoes are only sold at specialised nurseries and garden stores.

Selecting Suitable Potato Varieties

Australia's diverse climate requires careful consideration when choosing potato varieties. Here are some potato types well-suited for container cultivation in various regions:

Kipfler: Known for their nutty flavour and waxy texture, Kipfler potatoes thrive in temperate climates (not too warm or cool). They are well-suited for containers due to their compact size and adaptability.

Nicola: Characterised for its long, oval shape with yellow skin and flesh, this all-purpose potato variety is known for its buttery taste and is well-adapted to container growing. Well-suited to most climates and can withstand warmer temperatures, although it prefers temperate to cooler climates. Nicola potatoes are suitable for boiling, baking, or making potato salads.

Dutch Cream: With a creamy texture and rich flavour, Dutch Cream potatoes are well-suited to cool and temperate climates. They are a versatile choice for boiling, mashing, or roasting.

Sebago: Creamy flesh, versatile, and all-purpose potato.Suitable for a wide range of climates, including temperate and cool regions. Good for boiling, mashing, or baking.

Desiree: Red skin with yellow flesh. Versatile and good for various cooking methods. Grow well in temperate climates. Also ideal for boiling, mashing, or roasting.


Chitting (Optional):

Chitting is the process of allowing the seed potatoes to sprout before planting. While not mandatory, it can give your plants a head start.

Place the seed potatoes in a cool, well-lit area with the eyes (small indents on the surface of the potato) facing upward. This encourages the development of sturdy sprouts.

Cut Larger Potatoes:

The process of growing potatoes typically involves cutting the seed potatoes into smaller pieces, each containing one or two "eyes" (small indentations on the surface of the potato). Allow the cut surfaces to air-dry for a day or two before planting to minimize the risk of rot once placed in moist soil.

While it is possible to plant a whole potato directly in the soil, cutting the potato into sections tends to be a more common and successful practice. Each eye has the potential to sprout and develop into a new potato plant increasing your harvest yield.

Choosing the Right Containers:

Before diving into planting, it's crucial to select the right containers for successful cultivation. Potatoes need space for the roots to develop and tubers to form, so a larger container is generally preferable.

The container must have good drainage holes to prevent waterlogged soil. Half-barrels, grow bags, and large plastic or fabric pots are popular choices for container gardening.

Ideally, aim for a container that provides a good balance of width and height. For singular potatoes, the container should be around 40 litres in size, but increase it to around 70-80 liters if you are planting multiple in one pot.

Planting and Caring for Container-Grown Potatoes

Season: The best time to plant potatoes depends on the climate and growing conditions in your specific region. Potatoes are a cool-season crop, and they generally thrive when planted during specific seasons. However, Australia's seasons can be a bit unpredictable so you can start planting when temperatures reach around 7 to 13°C.

Avoid planting potatoes during the peak of summer. Potatoes are sensitive to high temperatures, and hot weather can lead to stress and reduced tuber development.

Soil: Use a well-draining, nutrient-rich potting mix with added organic matter. Potatoes prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil, so aim for a pH level between 5.8 and 6.5. The mix should be loose and light, allowing for good aeration and drainage. Avoid heavy garden soils, as they can lead to waterlogging.

Planting: Plant the potato eye pieces about 10-15 cm deep in the soil with the eyes facing upward. The pieces should be spaced evenly within the container around 20cm apart, allowing enough space between each one to accommodate growth.

If you choose to plant a whole potato, make sure it is small to medium-sized, as larger potatoes might take longer to sprout. Plant the potato about 10-15 cm deep in the soil, with the majority of the eyes facing upward.

Cover the seed potatoes or the pieces with soil and lightly tamp down to ensure good contact between the potatoes and the soil.

As the potato plants grow and the greenery above ground reaches a height of about 15 to 20 cm, begin Hilling the soil around the plants. Mound soil around the base of the plants, covering the lower stems and a portion of the lower foliage. Hilling encourages the development of additional tubers along the buried stems.

Watering: The consistency of the soil is crucial to the successful cultivation of tubers.

Potatoes prefer well-draining soil that is consistently moist. Excessively compacted or poorly-draining soil can lead to waterlogged conditions, increasing the risk of diseases like rot and negatively impacting root development.

Containers may dry out faster than garden beds, so check the soil regularly and adjust watering accordingly.

Sunlight: Although the edible portion of the plant is grown under the soil, the potato leaves above the soil require at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. These green leaves conduct photosynthesis, converting sunlight into energy, fuelling the plant's growth, and, importantly, producing and enlarging the tubers underground. The plant will produce tiny flowers if exposed to sufficient quantities of sunlight. 

Fertilising: Use a balanced, organic fertiliser when planting and provide additional feeding throughout the growing season. Avoid excessive nitrogen, as it can encourage excessive foliage growth at the expense of tuber development.

For more spacious outdoor areas, consider adding mixed well-rotted compost to add a boost of organic matter and nutrients to the soil before planting. Compost improves the soil structure and provides essential nutrients for potato growth. However, this is not a necessity for container grown potatoes.

Mulching: Mulch with wood chips, straw, hay, shredded leaves, or grass clippings. Mulch helps retain soil moisture by reducing evaporation, and acts as a barrier, suppressing weed growth around potato plants. It helps regulate soil temperature by providing insulation and keeping the soil cool. Protects exposed potatoes growing near the soil's surface from sunlight, and lastly, will beak down over time adding organic mulch to the soil. 

Harvesting Container Grown Potatoes

Potatoes are typically ready for harvest 12-20 weeks after planting, depending on the variety. However, you can also tell when the above-ground foliage starts to yellow and die back. At this point, the tubers are fully developed and can be harvested from the soil.

  • About two weeks before you plan to harvest, stop watering the potato plants. This helps the skins of the potatoes to set and improves their storage quality.
  • Have a digging tool ready, such as a garden fork or a spade. Choose a dry day for harvesting to minimize soil sticking to the potatoes.
  • Gently loosen the soil around the base of the potato plants using your hands or a digging tool. Be careful not to damage the tubers during this process.
  • Use the garden fork or spade to carefully lift the entire plant from the soil. Start a bit away from the plant to avoid damaging the tubers.
  • Once the plant is lifted, search through the loosened soil for the potatoes. They will be scattered around the base of the plant, connected to the stolons (horizontal stem that grows above or just below the soil surface).
  • Gently remove the potatoes from the soil. Use your gloved hands to feel for the potatoes in the soil, and carefully lift them out.
  • Inspect the harvested potatoes. Remove any damaged or diseased tubers. Healthy potatoes will have a firm skin and should be undamaged.

Storing Your New Potatoes

For improved storage, consider curing the potatoes. Place them in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated area for about two weeks. This allows the skins to thicken and any minor injuries to heal, enhancing their storage quality.

After curing, store the potatoes in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. Avoid exposing them to sunlight, as this can cause the potatoes to turn green and develop solanine, a natural toxin.

Crop Rotation

While it is possible to attempt a second harvest by replanting the potato plant, it is important to note that the yield from this process may be smaller than the initial harvest. For a more reliable and robust approach to growing potatoes, it's generally recommended to start with fresh, certified seed potatoes for each planting season.

It is recommended to alternate crops after each harvest. Crop rotation is essential for sustainable agriculture, preventing soil degradation and minimizing the risk of pests and diseases. By alternating crops, nutrient balance is maintained, soil structure improves, and the overall health of the ecosystem is preserved, leading to increased yields and long-term viability without having to replace the soil for each new planting.

Container-grown potatoes offer a practical and rewarding option for all experience-level gardeners, especially those with limited space. Whether you are a crunchy chip or a smooth mash person, by choosing the right containers, selecting suitable potato varieties, and providing optimal care, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious, homegrown spuds right at your fingertips.