Grow Potatoes in a Trash Can

June 23rd, 2008

Potatoes in a Trash Can
I recently blogged about growing your own food to save money and did not mention potatoes in that post because by a pure dollars per acre metric potatoes tend to not save you as much money at the market as other crops. However, what if you could grow potatoes without needing to sacrifice any garden space to do so? Suddenly, it makes more sense.

This is where the trash can comes in, there are many tips and tricks to growing potatoes, but they all seem to center on one rather unique characteristic of the potato plant. You see, potatoes aren’t technically roots, they’re swollen stems or tubers, they grow off the stem of the plant, technically speaking. So, generally what you do to grow them is you plant them and then, as they grow, you mound dirt, or compost, or straw, or all three up around the stem, constantly burying the stem and building a little hill around it. This will allow the stem to create more potatoes as it ends up being buried deeper at the end of the season than it could have ever been buried (and still grown) at the beginning of the season.

Now, lets say you don’t want to mess with a hill though, you don’t need too. One method I’ve seen is to use tires and rebar. Pound a rod of rebar into the ground and put 1 tire over it, fill with dirt and plant the potatoes, after they’ve grown, add a second tire, fill more dirt, rinse repeat as they gain height. Then to harvest take it all apart.

But I like the trashcan method better. You get a 32 gallon trash can, or use one of those giant black plastic containers trees come in from the nursery. Make sure there is good drainage, drilling copious amounts of holes if you need to, and fill the bottom bit with maybe 10 inches of soil, plant your spuds 4 or so inches deep. Then, as they grow throughout the year, continue to add more soil (potting mix, it is technically a pot), compost, or whatever. At the end of the season when you want to harvest simply dump the whole thing out onto a tarp and pick out the potatoes, no digging required.

Your trashcan does best in full sun, and if it is black plastic the added heat from that seems to help as well. It isn’t recommend to reuse the same soil every year because potatoes are so vulnerable to pests and diseases, so after harvest toss the soil into your garden or use it to plant something unrelated to the potato in it. Its like crop rotation, but in this case you’re rotating out the soil, not the location.

This is a great way to recycle/reuse old things as well. If you have a trash can that has been scraped on the cement so many times it has huge holes in the bottom… make it a potato planter. Those big tree pots from the nursery, potato planter. You get the idea.

As for what kind to plant? What kind do you like? I wanted to plant peruvian purple potatoes this year because of the added antioxidants and the fact that I can’t find them locally to eat (they taste the same, are just dark purple with the same type of antioxidants as blueberries), but I couldn’t find the seed potatoes. So I’m growing plain old yukon golds, if you’d like to learn more about the different types of spuds though and what they’re best for, try here at my not-so-actively-written cooking blog.

26 Responses to “Grow Potatoes in a Trash Can”

  1. Emily  Says:

    What an awesome idea! Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Garden Furniture  Says:

    Can you please tell me when the right time to plant potatoes is? Have I missed the beginning of the “potatoe season” or does this vary from make to make?

    I am new to the growing of vegatables and just learning what to do. Your advice is excellent and I am looking forward to trying this idea out.

  3. Administrator  Says:

    it depends on your climate. Potatoes are a cool season crop and form best in temps between 60-70 degrees (f). If it is still that temperature where you live, you could still plant them.

    If it is warmer, they may not work out as well for you.

  4. James Mann  Says:

    I was watching a gardening show a few months ago and they were talking about container gardening which really go my attention.

    I saw it as a great way to have a garden when you are short on property to grow them on.

    I decided this year I would plant a few things in containers and see how it goes. I have some tomatoes, strawberries, and some herbs.

    I like the idea of being able to move them to spots that work best for a particular plant.

    One thing I saw on Jamie at Home was his gardener friend using a bag of dirt to grow potatoes in. He just poked a few holes in the bag and stuck in the potatoes. Pretty cool.

    Just shows that just about anything can be used as a container.

  5. Shady Gardener  Says:

    Wonderful idea!!! I’m going to print this, so I can try it next year! 🙂

  6. Garden Tool Kit  Says:

    I couldn’t convince my husband to grow potatoes this year – maybe next year, as the strawberries turned out so well.

  7. Chris West  Says:

    Awesome directions for potatoes in a container. Taters are an awesome way to teach kids easy gardening down here in the southwest and a great way to augment emergency supplies for long term disasters!

    Thanks again!

  8. Norma  Says:

    Thanks for the idea’s. But I would love to grow potatoes all year long. What if you put your container in a cooler spot? would that make a differents.

  9. Administrator  Says:

    I hear potatoes actually put on the most spud in cooler weather (50s and 60s).

  10. Pomona Belvedere  Says:

    In my area, potatoes are a winter crop, more or less; I lived with a guy who grew up growing potatoes in Maine, and he planted them in January in our zone 8 climate. If the gophers hadn’t gotten 2/3 of them, it would have been a good crop. This post’s update of an old potato-growing method would be a good way to avoid that, but it would also make the soil warmer in summer. I think it’s easiest just to wait until the time is right, rather than fuss endlessly over something that wants different growing conditions. The plants usually turn out better when you serve their needs. Your county ag advisor could tell you when.

  11. Ishrath  Says:

    I saw that episode on Jamie at Home where he showed how to grow potatoes in a bag. That was some good lesson. Love that show… there are many tips n tricks in there.

  12. Yolanda  Says:

    Hi, I am growing purple potatoes this way, but something unexpected has happened, The part of the potatoe plant that has grown above the container is taller than the 32gal. bin. In other words these things are like 11 feet tall and growing! They are poatato trees! any ideas/suggestions? Is this what they normally do?
    Thank you,
    Yolanda T.

  13. Frank  Says:

    I’d like to give this a try in an old trashcan I have but I have a couple of questions.

    1. I assume I leave the lid off, correct?
    2. How does the plant get sunlight when the sides of the can are so much higher than the 10 inches of surface soil that you suggest we start with? Is there a trick on how/where to place it?
    3. We have a south facing side yard, should I place it there?


  14. jllebow  Says:

    For really easy and CLEAR directions on how to do this try this link. It gave really good information about not only growing them but the parasites that normally grow in potato plants and what can be done with the soil (which is still really good and rich when it’s done). One idea was to use the soil after digging the potatoes out for your herb/flower garden. The site suggests piling compost around the stems as they grow. I will definently be trying potatoes this year! Any idea if it’s bad to mix types of potato in the same container? I have some sweet potatoes, yukon gold, red, and purple poatoes which all (somehow) ended up with eyes before I could cook them. LOL BIG ONES.

  15. Alan Jones  Says:

    I am doing this for the first time this year. I am in southern California with a year round growing season. Will the potato plants every stop growing? One website said to harvest when the plant dies down and turns brown. I am not sure mine will ever do that. How do I know when to harvest? Mine has no flowers. This variety is Burbank Russett.

  16. Deb Kincaid  Says:

    This is such a great idea! I’d love to do this. I live inthe PacNW and we haven’t reached 60 degrees here, so I think potatoes would do well. I have one concern, tho’. Toxicity from the trash can. If the sun beats down on a plastic trash can the toxins from the plastic will definitely permeate the soil, and, naturally, the potatoes. Plastic trash cans are not made of #1 and #2 plastic (food grade). Similar problem with an aluminum trash can. Is there a safer container within which to put this idea into practice? I’m wondering about sono-tubes (I think that’s what they’re called) used as forms for pouring concrete columns. Would that work, or would the sono-tube material break down before harvest?

  17. Jeff  Says:

    I am currently growing potatoes in a trash can and have been filling in around the green stems as they are growing, but I have reached the top of the can and after I just covered the stems again, they haven’t poked through the top again. Should I take some dirt out or just be patient and wait for the stems to show up again? Also, if planted in April/May when will they most likely be ready for harvest.


  18. Chas  Says:

    My problem with wanting to grow purple potatoes is finding seed or tubes in my state. Can seed potatoes be ordered off line?
    I like you idea of trash can growing and will sub for tubs with holes however I normally use lazy beds beneath straw and each year it seems to work ok in my zone. Last year I got approx 100# from a small area, now I willing to get the purple a try.

  19. Joel  Says:

    I read some where the type of white potatoes matters in container growth.
    The two main reasons for using a 32 gallon can instead of a 5 gallon can, is that the under ground stem has more feed roots & tubers can grow up the stem. I also read that one type of potato has tubers on the bottom of the stem ONLY, no matter how high you pile soil(28-30 inches in 32 gallon can).
    There is a potato that will grow tuber on the bottom & up the stem also.
    This second type is the one I am looking for.
    Can any one help?

  20. tammy  Says:

    i use 5 gallon buckets and as the potatoes grow up I will add another 5 gallon can on top of the previous one, of course with the bottome cut out so it can grow. AND, the first bucket must have plenty of holes for drainage

  21. Tim  Says:

    I wish they would have videos on how they do this. I did mine for the first time this year in a 55 gallon plastic food grade barrel. While the plants grew to the top as I kept mounding the soil the spuds seemed to stay only around the bottom. I seen small buds towards the top but you couldn’t use them for anything. I know this article is back from 2008, but it would be nice if someone could answer questions people have posted.

  22. Julia Gray  Says:

    I thought your trash can idea for potatoes was an excellant idea. Simply great!

  23. Shana  Says:

    I just ordered some Peruvian Purple see potatoes from

    I can’t get them locally, either, but I really want to try them. The best part is that they are GMO-Free!!

    Check it out… prices are reasonable.

  24. Brad  Says:

    I wonder if this same approach can be used with onions? Can you grow sweet potatoes in northern climates? (i.e. New York)

  25. Administrator  Says:

    Yes Brad, but that is besides the point. Potatoes do good with this method because, to encourage tuber development, you need to hill your potatoes, continually adding soil as they grow, and the trash can provides the container for that.

    Onions don’t need that, you just plant them, so no need to put them in a trash can, just toss them in the soil. Yes you can grow onions in northern climes, but you tend to get stronger flavored smaller storage type onions than big sweet onions. And yes you can grow sweet potatoes in the north too, but the growing season isn’t long enough for them to get super big.

  26. Stathis Kallos  Says:


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