Gardening Tips for Growing Tomatoes in ContainersBy
Growing tomatoes in containers doesn’t require a big vegetable garden or even a small garden bed. Tomatoes are perfectly happy growing in a pot on the patio or in a few containers on a sunny deck. All you need to grow delicious tomatoes successfully on a porch is a big pot, the right tomato plant, lots of water, and a few minutes each day for watering and maintenance.
Start with the right pot and a big bag of rich potting soil with lots of loam for good drainage. The best type of container is a large plastic or clay pot; at least 15 or 16 inches across at the top, and larger if you can manage it. The pot should have a hole in the bottom for excess water to drain, and a saucer to keep it up off the ground.
Place some gravel or small stones in the bottom of your pot and then add some potting soil and a bit of manure to about one half of the way full. Place your plant tomato on top of that mounded soil and manure, then add potting more soil.
Leave a couple of inches of space at the top. Don’t bury the stem of your tomato plant. Stop filling the pot when you get to the place where the stem meets the roots.
Water your tomato immediately after planting with a high phosphorus root stimulator. Then check for water daily by sticking your finger about an inch down into the pot. The soil should be evenly moist but not waterlogged. Aim for consistently moist soil, and don’t let the tomato dry out or get too wet.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders and they like acidic soil conditions. Buy a good all-purpose vegetable fertilizer and follow the instructions on the label for feeding tomatoes in containers. Miracle Grow and Fertilome both make excellent fertilizers for container vegetables.
Anything you would do to enrich ordinary vegetable garden soil will also make your potted tomato happy. If you already make your own compost at home, work a little into the soil around your tomato each week, or make a tea out of compost or a few teaspoons of bagged manure and water with it every so often.
Tomatoes also appreciate a little blood meal worked into the soil before you water them, or a little fish meal. Bone meal is good for them too, as it helps them to establish and maintain a strong root system.
Tomatoes need lots of air circulation or else they can develop blight. Some tomato diseases cause tomato leaves turn yellow and drop in large numbers, giving the plant a scraggly appearance. Crowding and over watering will also do this, so avoid both. One tomato per pot is plenty.
If you have a little space around the base of the plant, you can plant some lettuce, however, without hurting the tomato a bit. That way you get two vegetables with one effort.
Another way to prevent wilt and other tomato diseases and pests is to buy a disease resistant tomato right from the start. You should look for a ‘patio tomato’ with a thick stem so that you don’t have to stake the plant. These are easy to find at almost any garden center.
Second, look for the initial ‘V’ and/or ‘F’ on the little tag that is stuck into the soil (the one with the varietal name of the tomato on it). The ‘V’ means the tomato is resistant to Verticillium wilt, a common tomato virus, and the ‘F’ means the plant is fungus-resistant.
Tomatoes aren’t troubled by very many insect pests, but should you find some, a single application of Sevin (a mild insecticide) will usually be enough to discourage the unwanted visitors. Patio tomatoes are especially hardy, and the likelihood of an infestation is small.
If you do get a few bugs, don’t overreact. You can usually spray aphids off with a garden hose or discourage them with a single spray of warm water mixed with a little dish soap. Caterpillars can be picked off by hand and squashed. Most bugs are not harmful to you or the tomato, so try not to worry about them.
Choose the largest bedding tomato you can find (bred for patios). You’ll have more success buying a patio tomato in a six inch pot and transplanting it to your large container than you will a one of those tiny bedding plants that come in a teaspoon of soil four to a pack.
One word of warning: Though heirloom vegetables are coming back and are wildly popular, you might want to choose a more conventional variety your first time out. Heirloom tomatoes often don’t have the disease resistance that conventional hybrids like Big Boy and Early Girl do. Cherry tomatoes are especially easy to grow in pots and are a great choice for beginners.
Whichever type of tomato you finally select, give it the richest soil and the sunniest driest home you can find. Check out some of the great resources online at gardening web sites and plant suppliers for tips and tricks from the seasoned gardeners and horticultural pros.
Then take the plunge, and enjoy your patio tomato. A homegrown tomato fresh off the vine in July or August is a rare and special pleasure.