In a recent gardeners’ survey, the tomato took first place in the homegrown vegetable popularity contest. And, no surprise, it wasn’t even a close contest—cucumbers and peppers, in second and third place, were 40 points behind! The fresh-picked tomato experience is not just for those who own a sunny plot of rich soil.
You can successfully grow tomatoes in containers on a patio, deck or even a fire escape, as long as it captures at least six hours of sunlight a day. Another option is growing indoors under artificial lighting. Here are some tips on growing tomatoes in containers.
Find a Large Pot
Even small tomato varieties have substantial root masses. The minimum container size for a patio tomato should be 14 in. in diameter, with a capacity of at least 5 gal. For best results, go with a 17-20-in. pot that holds 15-20 gal. And try to avoid black; it may cause the soil to overheat. The larger the pots, the easier it will be to keep your plants from drying out, which will help prevent blossom-end rot. A large pot will also help prevent you from becoming a slave to the watering needs of your potted tomatoes.
Use a Suitable Soil Mix
Be sure to purchase a potting mix that is specifically designed for tomatoes. Or you can make your own mix. Ohio University recommends 25% each potting soil, perlite, peat moss and compost. Several healthy handfuls of worm castings also help.
Choose an Appropriate Variety
There are many tomato varieties suitable for container growing, with new patio tomatoes being introduced each year. Look for varieties labeled determinate, or those described as bush, dwarf or short-season tomatoes. Some container varieties, sometimes referred to as tumbler-type tomatoes, are cascading rather than bush growers, which eliminates the need for staking. These are suitable for window boxes.
It is possible to grow tall, vining indeterminate garden favorites in containers, but keep in mind that large vines require roomy quarters—at least a 15-20-gal. pot—to sustain the roots and to accommodate stakes or cages. In general, varieties with small- to medium-sized fruits are better container choices than large beefsteaks, and choosing a hybrid variety with good resistance to diseases is helpful.
Don’t wait to stake potted tomatoes. Include 2-3-ft. stakes or cages when you plant your container, as even bush varieties will need support for their branches and heavy fruit sets.
Start your tomatoes off with a slow-release fertilizer (certified organic as well as conventional fertilizers are available at garden centers and nurseries) mixed in with the top several inches of the soil. It should have a balanced ratio of N-P-K (5-5-5, for example).
When your plants begin flowering, this is your cue to begin supplemental feeding every few weeks. Look for a balanced, soluble fertilizer that will provide both the macro- and micronutrients your tomatoes need; a combination of fish emulsion and liquid seaweed is a good, non-chemical, inexpensive standby. Be sure to properly mix and apply the fertilizer according to the label’s directions.
Try not to let your tomato plants wilt. Water your seedlings well, and keep the soil moist, but not sopping wet. Early in the season, this might mean watering once or twice a week, but once your plants size up and the weather heats up, you’ll probably be watering every day. If you plan to go away, it might make sense to purchase an inexpensive container drip system and a timer.
Source: Home Garden Seed Association | ezfromseed.org