How to grow potatoes in bags

Bags for life make ideal containers for potatoes. Roll the sides up as they grow.

Potatoes are fun to grow. They only need four or five hours sun, you can get a reasonable crop from a bucket sized pot (1 – 2 kg / 2 – 4 lbs), and, if you have kids, you will have great fun harvesting them together!

What sort of pot?

Potatoes do well in bags – bags for life are ideal – as you can roll up the sides as they grow. But any pot that is bucket size or bigger will do (just check it has drainage holes).


Bags for life make ideal containers for potatoes. Roll the sides up as they grow.
Bags for life make ideal containers for potatoes. Roll the sides up as they grow.

What type of potato?

“First Early” and “Second Early” potatoes (as gardeners call them) are best in small spaces as they mature fastest (usually ready in 10 – 12 weeks after planting).  They will also give you delicious new potatoes, that taste amazing freshly picked.

But it is also possible to grow Main Crop potatoes. They will need larger pots (ideally 40 litres or more) and will take longer to mature (around 15 weeks or more).

Only one seed potato needed in a small bucket. These are different varieties (mostly Earlies) - you can see the harvest from each bucket in the photo at the top.
Only one seed potato needed in a small bucket. These are different varieties (mostly Earlies) – you can see the harvest from each of these buckets in the photo at the top.

How to grow potatoes

  1. Add 8 – 10 inches (20 – 30cm) of potting mix to the bottom of your pot. Potatoes are not too fussy and will usually grow ok in old potting mix as long as you add fertiliser (a handful of blood fish and bone or other general purpose fertiliser will do the job).
  2. Put your seed potatoes on top  (one seed potato in a bucket, two or three in a large bag for life, 4 in a 50 litre container), then cover them with a further six inches (15cm) of compost.
  3. Put them in a sunny place. They need at least four hours sun – the more the better. Then water once to make sure the potting mix is damp.
  4. Water as needed in the coming days to keep the soil damp (but not too wet – or the seed potato can rot). Green shoots will usually appear after three to four weeks.
  5. When your potato plants are about a foot tall, roll the bag up about six inches and top up with potting mix. Keep doing this every couple of weeks until the bag is completely unrolled.
Roll up the side of the bag and top up with potting mix as the potatoes grow.
Roll up the side of the bag and top up with potting mix as the potatoes grow.

7. As the potato grows bigger, check more regularly for watering.  Baby potatoes may only need watering once or twice a week, but mature potatoes (when the leaves are big and bushy) can need watering once, even twice a day, particularly in hot or windy weather.

When to harvest

Flowering is one sign that your potato might be ready for harvest. But the only sure way to tell is to put your hand into the soil, rummage around a bit, and pluck out a potato! If the potato has reached a decent size, it is ready, if not, leave for a week or two longer. If your potato hasn’t flowered after twelve weeks – check anyway.

The small flowers on this potato (in the foreground, not the plant behind!) are sign it might be ready for harvesting.
The small flowers on this potato (in the foreground – hard to see – not the plant with lots of yellow flowers behind!) are a sign it might be ready for harvesting.

How to harvest potatoes

The easiest way is to tip the whole bag out and go through the compost to find the potatoes. (Kids love this!).

Your turn

I’d love to hear your tips for growing potatoes in containers in the comments – and any varieties that you particularly like to grow?




34 thoughts on “How to grow potatoes in bags”

  1. Maybe a dumb question, but can you explain a little more how large (or small) your buckets are? I was going to plant two tubers per specialist potato bag but having read your article I think I should maybe only put one in each? I tried preparing a plastic bag the compost came in, cutting it in half and rolling down the sides a little, but found the sides were really flimsy and spread outward rather than staying upright if that makes sense, so that there was a greater surface area but less height than I needed.

    1. Hi Sue, to answer your question, the buckets I planted one seed potato in were only about 10 litres, the bags for life probably about 20 litres or maybe a bit larger. That said, these things are often not an exact science as it will depend on several things, including what potato variety you are growing. Either one or two seed potatoes in each bag is probably fine. If you have two bags it would be interesting to try two potatoes in one and one in the other to compare how they do. If you try that, do please come back here and let us know!

      1. Oh good idea Mark. I will try that and let you know how I get on. I have some Charlotte and some Maris Peer, currently chitting in my cool greenhouse. Will come back to you later in the year ….

    1. It’s a good question, Jane – and an area it would be great to have more scientific research to base an answer on. In the absence of this, I cannot offer definitive advice, I can only share what I have picked up. In general, bags for life hold together well for at least a year or two but after that they can deteriorate and are so are best replaced. Growing in plastic is a complex issue as there are lots of different plastics, and how they break down varies. It’s generally recommended to only grow in food safe plastics – you can find lists of these online. It’s a complicated area because even if toxic chemicals are released they can sometimes be broken down and neutralised by microbes in the soil and at other times may not be absorbed by the plant. Many people do grow in plastic all over the world and I’ve not heard of any health problems arising as a result. However, if it concerns you, I’d recommend researching the issues more to see if you can find more information to help you make a more informed decision. There are people who do avoid growing in plastic because of possible safety implications, but I’ve personally never seen a study that says it isn’t safe to grow in food safe plastics.

  2. We grow ours in the bags the compost comes in. Just cut around the middle and deftly flip the top half over, use a bit of compost elsewhere so there’s room to loosen it a bit. Stick a few spuds in and you’re away.

  3. I’m growing Arun Pilot and Rocket first earlies in plastic bags specially made for growing potatoes. I bought the bags several years ago but they are robust and last well. I’ve run out of compost so I’m going to top up the bags with vermiculite and fertilize with an NPK mix.

  4. thank you, heart-felt, from a human being. your expert and kindly offered info is available only because you took the time and effort to share with the whole of humanity. what you know is about Life and we all need to be fed.. only some of us are called to make an effort to feed others. thank you for your work.

  5. brendan byrne

    Great article Mark and easy to follow instructions.
    Ive grown several in containers (pots)
    This year Ive chosen Winston as first early and international kidney as main.
    Ive also sown a few drills on my allotment which have been the victim of heavy frost.I hope they will survive.Should sprout up again

  6. What, you mean for real.. grow potatoes in the bag, this sounds so funny, definitely must be great fun. Didnt know about this, thats creative gardening. Just starting around looking for inspirations, thanks for sharing. Godbless.

  7. When talking of ‘bags for life’, do you mean the relatively thin plastic ones or the woven rectangular bottom ones? Potatoes grow well in the latter, which have the advantage of being able to be stiffened. I made holes in these using a ‘red hot poker’ method so the woven material doesn’t shred. Your choice of ‘fire’ and ‘poker’. If you have a real (or allotment) fire or perhaps a gas ring, and a metal rod, that’s just fine!

  8. I have grown potatoes like this b4. Ur step by step guide is very simple n precise.
    I like 2 grow Charlotte n Vivaldi 4 salads n King Edward’s 4 my main potato. Der’s only me so I grow just 1 bag o each. (u know, those green woven plastic 1’s specific 4 growing vegetables).
    Thank u. I look 4ward 2 future hints n tips, if dey’re as straightforward as ur potato 1.

  9. At the moment I am growing my potatoes in straw one in a large wooden container, which are coming on in leaps and bowns, when you see the tubers coming through just keep topping up with straw, I placed manure on the bottom first, and I then planted the same way in 2 large vegetable bags which I got from pound land and did the same process as before.

    1. David Langford

      I’ve got 120 varieties in pots in the garden , I’ve grown up to 300 varieties before ,my best tip is always water under the leaves to stop the risk of blight, and if there’s a lot of collage then put a few canes in the side of the pot and tie the collage up to stop the built up of desease underneath

      1. I was going to cite you as the ultimate authority Dave. Hope you are keeping well up in the north west
        Someone asked where they could get Hermes. Do you have it or know who would have small quantities? Person growing it near me for crisps has moved to a different variety

      2. Annette Avery

        Going to do some in a couple of bags for life today. My question is do I need to put holes in the bottom of the bags please.

        Many thanks,

  10. I really like your suggestion to use bags for life for growing potatoes.
    I have accumulated quite a few during this lockdown as no-one wants to take the bags back after deliveries.
    I will give it a go.
    Regards JanG

  11. Just to explain the whys and wherefores of supermarket v garden centre potatoes. The garden centre potatoes are certified disease free stock, supermarket potatoes may come with interesting diseases. But for container growing who cares? If you are growing them in the ground then any you miss when you dig them can carry disease on to future seasons, but this isn’t going to happen if you are planting in containers. The caveat, of course, is that you should thoroughly clean the container between growing seasons (those blue bags go through the washing machine with no problems except they feel a bit more flexible afterwards in my experience), and that if you are re-using compost – and who isn’t these days – you shouldn’t grow spuds in compost you’ve used to grow potatoes before. I don’t know what the rules are in the UK but here in Ireland it is illegal for farmers to grow potatoes in the same piece of ground more than one year in four, because four years is the traditionally accepted maximum length of time tubers can survive in good conditions. In fact I’ve logged tubers surviving five, admittedly in very small and straggly form after that long. But it only happened once. Anyway, for the ordinary joe soap, rather than a potato research station, four years is fine and supermarket potatoes are fine and if you happen to find half a dozen sprouting Sarpo Uno in a bucket as I did this morning you can give a cheer and go straight out and plant them. I’m particularly happy because I’m surrounded by potato farmers here so there are a lot of blight spores around and Sarpo Uno is pretty well bomb proof. And it eats well too, both as a second early and as a main crop potato.

  12. Potatoes grow anywhere! I remember one year we cleared an old orchard of moss, and put the moss in a big heap over where I’d been ditching potato peelings. In the spring the whole heap came alive with potato plants and yielded a fantastic harvest. Presumably the ‘eyes’ on the peelings sprang into life.
    I must mention a potato variety which I would grow again if I could get any. One day in the supermarket I bought a tray of four baking potatoes called ‘Hermes’. We ate two, and so enjoyed the taste that I planted the other two in the allotment and kept them going from the offspring. The potatoes are large, long and formed close to the stem so I didn’t have to search all over for them, and each plant yielded upwards of eleven baking size tubers. This variety would be my choice for some maincrop spuds in a container if they are well fed. Sadly I didn’t leave any to grow here at home when I left the allotment and I have never seen them again. I understand that they are ‘manufacturing’ potatoes, but if anyone knows where they can be obtained, please let me know!

    1. I’d suggest asking one of the big seed potato producers such as JBA if they can help you. I’ve found them good for that sort of situation in the past. There’s an awful lot of Hermes planted for the crisp industry, so someone should have them in small quantities, though it is being superseded by varieties that produce less acrylamide when fried.

  13. I use recycle empty compost bags By turning them inside out so that the black side is outside and plant 3-4 seeds in there I love growing and harvesting potatoes. This year I’ve grown Maris Piper and Desiree both mains.
    I’ve also grown sweet potato for the first time.
    Good luck. Priti

  14. Hi Mark
    We grow ours in those big blue carriers that the Swedish furniture company(mentioning no names!) have. We pierce holes in the bottom of them and you can use them for several years. We only grow Charlottes and have 2 layers of 5 potatoes in each, so layer of compost then 5 potatoes, another layer of compost, then 5 more potatoes and a top up of compost. Then as you do layer the compost when the shoots appear until the bag is full. We only harvest the potatoes as we need them when the haulms die off and never water them after that. This keeps the soil dry unless of course it rains. It is like a lucky dip after that. The compost is a mix from our compost bins and bought.

  15. Christie Roberts

    Hi Mark, I have a couple of questions: where do you get “Bags for Life”, can you grow sweet potatos or yams this way? I happen to love potatos and I love sweet potato vine. I have purchased the vines and they come in green and green and purple. The vines in your pictures are lovely. Would I just cut the vines from the potatos and then plant them?

    1. Just pull the vines off and pot them up. you can take cuttings too. I stand sweet potato tubers by the range in spring in a jar with just half an inch of water in the bottom and they root nicely like that. Yams root but don’t produce for me. Too cold I think
      The shoots aren’t eaten nearly often enough.

  16. Many thanks for this, Mark. I’ve been thinking about how to go about growing my own spuds for a while, and you make it sound so doable. Also thanks to Kathryn for the tip. Just one question: I have some supermarket-bought potatoes that have sprouted – is it ok to try growing those?

  17. Hi Mark, yes it is great to grow your own spuds and you can find millions of ideas to do it all over the web. The help we ‘really’ need is in the current crisis is what, when all the garden centres are shut and all the online retailers are over run with demand, can we use if we can’t get seed potatoes?

    1. You can grow from shop bought potatoes. I’ve done it lots of times and often get a better crop! You may want to choose organic potatoes and a particular named variety as sometimes the contents can be a mix. Maris Piper and Charlotte are usually pretty reliable.

  18. Just one tip that sometimes gets them to grow faster at first. A few days in the salad drawer of the fridge persuade them its winter so they leap forward as soon as they are in the warmer surroundings of the pot. You get them a week earlier if they’ve been chilled. But not on a shelf in the fridge – it’s too cold and they may rot. I just put them in there in a paper bag. The salad drawer is often the gardeners friend when it comes to things that need to go through a winter. A great place to store home saved seeds etc.

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