Trash Cans, Garbage Bags, and Old Tires: How to Grow Potatoes in Different Containers
Growing your own potatoes is a great way to learn how to grow vegetables of many different kinds. For very little money and outlay of time, you can grow your own tasty food. Potatoes are just one of the many possibilities and just so happen to be very easy to grow.
While traditionally grown in the ground on a hill, there are some super easy ways that you can plant your own potatoes even if you have relatively no space at all. Growing vegetables in containers gives you a better chance at keeping your plants healthy, as you bypass many of the common deterrents to home gardening like pests, weather changes, leaf diseases, etc.
The Advantages of Growing Potatoes in Containers
I have always grown my potatoes in the ground or gone to dig them at a local farm. When you grow them in the ground, however, you obviously need a lot of space. This is something I currently don't have.
When it comes time to harvest your potatoes, you also have to literally dig them up, usually with a pitchfork. This ultimately ends up piercing or breaking some of the potatoes, because it's hard to find where the sprawling vines of potatoes are underground. This is one of the reasons growing them in containers is so convenient.
To understand how potatoes grow and how they can be successfully cultivated in containers, let's look at the basics on potatoes. Then I'll show you three different ways you can successfully grow them in little to no space.
Different Methods for Growing Potatoes
Space or Medium
3 x 5 foot raised bed
30+ gallon trash can (metal or rubber)
30+ gallon black trash bag or grow bag
Tires and Rebar
2 tires to start (as many as 5–6 later on) and a rebar pole
Any drum 30 gallons or more
Giant Tree Containers
30 gallons or plant less potatoes
Barrel or Wood Box
At least 18 inches deep
Smaller Trash Can or Container
Use less potatoes but 18 inches deep
Growing Potatoes in Containers vs. Growing Them in the Ground
Growing potatoes in containers is not that different than growing them in the ground. The principles are the same.
- You start with a seed potato. (Some people use potatoes right out of the cupboard and have great success with them.)
- You plant the seed potato with 2–3 "eyes" per piece in soil about 3–4 inches under soil. Mulch, water, and wait for the plant to grow.
- Potatoes are tubers. While they send plant growth up to reach the sun, they send out sprawling tentacles beneath the surface where other potatoes form and grow.
- As the plant growth continues, more dirt and mulch are built up just below the top of the new growth, thus allowing the tubers to keep expanding underneath.
- By the end of the growing season, the potato plants will grow, bloom, wither, and die. When the plants have fully withered, it's harvest time for the potatoes. This usually takes about 2–4 months.
- The image below demonstrates how potatoes grow under the soil but also flower above ground. The above-ground changes are the clues as to what part of the cycle the potatoes are in.
What You Need to Grow Potatoes
- Seed potatoes (at least 5 per container)
- Space or medium (see table above)
- Shredded paper or newspaper (optional)
- Potting soil
- Sterilized manure (optional)
- Mulch or compost (can be straw, chipped bark, pine needles, or a combination)
- 6+ hours of direct sunlight per day
Photos of the Supplies You'll NeedClick thumbnail to view full-size
Method #1: Growing Potatoes in a Trash Bin
- Cure your seed potatoes before planting for at least a day at room temperature. If they are large, cut into pieces so that only 2–3 "eyes" remain per piece.
- Use an old trash can, giant tree container, or a drum. It doesn't have to be new. It should have a lid or makeshift cover. (A lid is only necessary should it get too cold or you want to protect the plants.)
- Drill holes in the bottom of the trashcan and along the sides 3–6 inches from the bottom every few inches to promote drainage.
- Optional: Crumple newspapers or add shredded paper as the bottom layer in your trashcan. (This step keeps the dirt from draining out of the drainage holes though.)
- Mix potting soil, manure, and mulch in a proportion to give you 1/2 potting soil, 1/4 manure, and 1/4 mulch. Mix in a wheelbarrow or in a large trashcan. You will use this later as the plants sprout.
- You can add in time-release fertilizer here, such as Osmocote, or you can fertilize when you water.
- Add about 10 inches of your potting soil mix. Now plant your potatoes about 5 inches apart and 4 inches deep. They need to be under the soil to start sending out their vines.
- Water but do not make the soil soggy.
- Ideal temperature for the soil to remain at is 60 degrees. For easy moving of your potato garden, buy a trash can roller and place it under the can. You can cover at night with the lid to prevent freezing. (I move our can to the garage when I'm worried about cold temperatures.)
- Keep moist, but not soggy, and wait for the plants to appear. Take off the lid during hours of sunlight, and they will grow quickly.
- When plants are 6–8 inches, add another layer of your soil mixture, being careful to leave leaves/top of plant exposed. Mound around the stems.
- Keep adding soil as the plants poke through.
- As the growing season progresses, the plants will develop as normal plants do. Then they will flower and have berries on them. Then the entire plant will die off, turn brown, and wither. Once the plant dies off, it is time to harvest your potatoes. (Note: Pick out new potatoes when foliage is about 1 foot high.)
- How do you harvest your potatoes? Spread a tarp out. Tip your can so that the soil and contents all spill onto the tarp. Gather your potatoes!
Tip: For new potatoes, you can reach down under the soil close to the end of the growing season and hand pick these out. Use immediately, as they are best eaten right after digging.
Method #2: Growing Potatoes in a Garbage Bag
Growing potatoes in a garbage bag is similar to growing them in a garbage can. The same ingredients apply, but your method will be slightly different.
You can also use a mixture of potting soil mixed with vermiculite, peat moss, and compost rather than the above soil mixture.
- Optional: Place a layer of crumpled newspaper or shredded paper in the bottom of the bag. (This keeps the soil from draining out of the drainage holes.)
- Fill the garbage bag with about 4 inches of your soil mixture.
- Roll your garbage bag down to within 2 inches of the soil.
- Using scissors, poke stab holes in the bag below the soil level to create drainage holes.
- Plant your potatoes—about five per bag. Place one in the center and four around it in a circle.
- Potatoes need to be covered with the soil, so press them down below the surface.
- Water but do not make the soil soggy.
- When the plant sprouts are about 4 inches high, add soil again until the plant is almost covered.
- Roll out the bag to keep up with the soil addition. Water.
- Keep doing this until the shoots reach the top of the bag.
- Let the plants bloom, develop berries, and die off.
- Once the withered leaves are brown, place a tarp nearby and dump out your trash bag full of potatoes—or simply cut open and harvest.
Method #3: Growing Potatoes in Old Tires
This method is basically the same concept as growing potatoes in a trash can or in a garbage sack. It is a great way to grow them in a small area and an interesting way to use old tires.
You will need the same ingredients as the previous two methods, as well as two old tires and a piece of rebar (optional).
- Prepare your potatoes exactly the same way as for the methods above.
- Find a spot in your yard that receives 6–8 hours of full sun per day.
- Place one old tire on top of the ground.
- Pound piece of rebar into the ground.
- Fill the tire with your dirt mixture.
- Plant your potatoes (about five per tire "tower"). Place one in the center and four around in a circle.
- Make sure potatoes are covered with 3–4 inches of soil mixture.
- Water but do not make the soil soggy.
- After some growth of the potato plants, add another tire. Add another layer of dirt, just leaving the tops of the plants exposed.
- Keep adding tires and more soil mixture until the plants grow, bloom, develop berries, and then wither. Plan on using 4–6 tires max.
- Once the plant has died off up top and withered, the potatoes are ready to harvest.
- Take apart your tower and harvest your potatoes.
Tip: You can reach in and grab out a few of your new potatoes just before the plants wither and die.
How to Store Potatoes After Harvest
- If using the methods above, you should have no broken or pierced potatoes. But if any are broken, use them right away.
- Wipe as much dust and dirt from the potatoes as possible, but do not wash them.
- Store in a cool, dry place out of the light to keep your fresh as long as possible.
- Wash only as you use them.
Causes and Solutions to Problems With Potato Plants
Chewed or depleted foliage
Beetles or aphids
Use eco-friendly spray
Scabs on potatoes
Plant scab-resistant varieties
Red wire worm
Rotate crops; don't reuse soil
Burn leaves; harvest in 2 weeks
Consider Trying Different Varieties
As you can see, there are many options for growing potatoes in a relatively small space. The yield is incredible and the effort minimal.
There are many great varieties of potatoes out there to try. I love growing white potatoes or Yukon Golds, but the new rage is the Peruvian purples (for their antioxidant properties).
I'm going to be ordering some seed potatoes of the purples to give those a try. But for now, I'm planting my old standbys. By fall, I hope to have enough potatoes to put away for the winter.
For planting potatoes in small spaces, try the method you think will work best for you. In my case, I'm going to be trying all three this year just to see which one works the very best.
If you have more suggestions or comments on growing potatoes, please leave your comments in the space provided below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.