Planting potatoes in potato towers with straw and soil is an excellent alternative growing option to avoid having to dig up your potatoes (and risk injuring the potatoes in the process). This modified raised bed method also helps to save garden space, making it a great choice for small gardens.
Growing Potatoes in Potato Towers
What you need:
- Field fencing 4 ft wide
- Straw (not hay)
- Compost or garden soil
- Seed potatoes (about 2 lbs per tower)
What Varieties of Potatoes Work Best in Towers?
To get the most out of your potato tower, look for longer season varieties (sometimes referred to as indeterminate potatoes). These types of potatoes will continue to set more potatoes over a longer period, so they're a better fit for the tower method.
Some indeterminate and late season potato varieties include:
- All Blue
- All Red
- Blue Mac
- French Fingerling*
- German Butterball
- Green Mountain
- Irish Cobbler
- Pink Fir Apple*
- Russian Blue
- Russet Nugget
- Russet Burbank
- Ranger Russet
- Umatilla Russet
*indicates fingerling potatoes
Preparing the Potatoes for Planting for a Bigger Harvest
Whether you're using the traditional method or towers, if you use whole seed potatoes, they will grow, but you will be wasting a lot of potential potato plants. To maximize your seed potatoes, you’ll want to cut them up.
A day or two before you plant, cut your seed potatoes into 2 inch chunks with at least 2 eyes on each chunk. It takes a little bit of time and practice to get a feel for where to cut each potato. If you’re unsure, leave them on the bigger side because fewer potato plants are better than no potato plants! Lay them out on a baking sheet, tray, tarp, etc. and place in a breezy and dry location to sure for 12-48 hours. This will help the cut sides scab over so they are less likely to rot in the ground before sending up sprouts. You will need 12-24 seed potato pieces per tower.
Preparing the Potato Towers
Start unrolling your field fencing to form an upright cylinder. Its best to keep the cylinder around 2-3 feet in diameter because anything smaller may fall over easily and anything bigger won’t fall over easily enough! (we’ll get to that a little later). Cut the wire with wire cutters and fold the wire back on itself to catch the other side.
Planting the Potatoes in the Potato Towers
Start by choosing a spot for your towers. I have kept mine together in the past but I recently realized that (duh!) if I separated them they would be less likely to all go down if there was an insect or disease problem. So if you are doing more than one tower, consider placing them in different locations (and away from tomatoes too).
Once you’ve chosen your spot start by lining the bottom of the tower with straw.
Then begin filling your potato tower with a foot of soil. Arrange your seed potatoes around the edges about 3-4 inches from the edge and about 6 inches apart. Be sure to point the eyes outward as the plants will be growing out the side of the tower. You should be able to use 4-6 seed potatoes per layer. Keep in mind that the farther apart they are the potentially larger your potatoes will be.
Arrange more straw and add another foot of soil. Arrange another layer of potatoes. Water each layer well. Continue like this until the tower is full. I like to add calendula or marigold as a companion plant to the top, which can help with pest control and looks pretty! Learn more about companion planting here. Some people like to grow salad greens on top.
How many potatoes will I get from a potato tower?
It really varies depending on the variety you choose, how close you plant them and how rich the soil is. A good estimate is 10-20 lb per 1 lb of seed potatoes.These potato towers can produce around 50 pounds of potatoes.
NOTE: If you live in a warm, dry or windy area, the tower method may not be a fit for you. As noted in the article, “A Simple Way to Get High Yields of Potatoes“:
“…researchers in tropical climates have found that when soil temperatures rise above 75°F (25°C), potato plants signal their roots to stop making tubers. Instead, the plants may rev up other reproductive strategies, like developing more fertile flowers, or popping out little green potato-like organs on the main stem. Daytime heating of roots is one reason why potatoes grown in above-ground containers may fail in warm summer climates. Potatoes can take warm air temperatures, but when the roots warm up too, productivity plummets.
A second problem with growing potatoes in towers, pots or bags is the dwarfing effect caused by the containers. The plants sense that they are growing close together, which makes them produce numerous small tubers rather than a few large ones.”
Growing potatoes with mid-afternoon shade may help with keep them from overheating. but those with high temperatures may need to either grow a different starch or try potatoes in their cool season.
Harvesting Your Homegrown Potatoes
When your potato plants have started to dry up and die back you can begin harvesting. Get a large tarp and lay it on the ground next to the tower. Push the tower over and gently pull the soil and potatoes out. This part is really fun for kids young and old. It’s one of my favorite end of summer activities! Because dumping the soil out loosens it, you can comb through the soil with your hands, making it easier to grab potatoes without harming them.
What to Do with the Soil from the Potatoes
Now that you’ve dumped a bunch of soil onto a tarp, what should you do with it? It’s not a great idea to use the soil, as is, for next year’s potatoes since it could hold insects or diseases, so you have a few options:
- Solarize your soil to kill insects and disease
- Use the soil in the plot in your garden rotation that will have legumes next year
- Add the soil/straw mix to your compost
- Give the soil/straw mix to your (or somebody’s) chickens
If you want to skip the fencing, you can try potato grow bags for container gardening. Same concept!
Do you plan on growing in potato towers? Let us know how it goes in the comments!
More Gardening Information
Did you know we have over 100 gardening articles on the website, all sorted by category on the Common Sense Gardening page?
- How to Start a Garden – 10 Steps to Gardening for Beginners
- Free Printable Gardening Journal Templates and Planting Calendar
- How to Grow Garlic – From Planting to Harvest
- Starting Seeds Indoors – 11 Steps to Help You Plant Seeds with Confidence
- Growing Asparagus – Planting, Care and Harvesting a Perennial Favorite
Mindy Wood is the voice behind Our Inspired Roots, where she shares tips to slow down, simplify, become more self sufficient and live a healthier, happier life. As a wife, mom of two, writer, and aspiring homesteader, she’s always looking for ways to encourage others in living a joyful and authentic life.
Originally posted in 2016, last updated in 2019.