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A summertime garden is a great place to be, whether you're relaxing, puttering, or preparing to plant or harvest tomatoes. Depending on your location and the temperatures there you might be preparing to do either.
If you don’t have a big backyard, you might not grow a garden in the ground. Yet, you can still enjoy the taste of home-grown vegetables. Growing your garden in containers has become a standard means of gardening. While growing tomatoes in containers is not new, it is still easy and productive. Here I’ll share my secrets on how to grow tomatoes in containers.
How to Grow Tomatoes in Containers
Container grown tomatoes may grow as close as your back door if a sunny spot is available. Most varieties of tomatoes need full sun, at least six hours per day. Eight hours is sometimes better.
Once you’re sure of your spot, decide what type of tomato your family wants to eat. I’m always a fan of yellow tomatoes, but there are purple types, some that are almost black. Tomato colors sometimes vary from year to year and even from one harvest to the next. These may be orange or pink at harvest time. Varieties of red tomatoes change color also, but the taste remains similar.
There are many tomatoes adaptable to container planting. Usually, it is best to choose a determinate (bush) tomato to grow in a pot. But, the harvest from this kind of plant usually comes heavily during a short period. Canning, making sauce, or sun-drying are great ways to preserve the determinate harvest.
If you desire a few tomatoes for an extended period, plant an indeterminate tomato (vining) plant. You can prune to save space but the plant will need support. Both varieties will benefit from support, so add a cage or a stake after planting. You can also hold them up on a trellis of twine.
Best Tomato Varieties For Containers
There is no shortage of tomato plants for containers. Choose from Patio, Pixie, Tiny Tim, Early Girl, Big Boy or many others. Purchase small plants from a local nursery or start tomatoes indoors from seed if you get started early. Bonnie Plants offers a Tomato Chooser to help you pick a variety.
Planting Your Tomatoes
Plant tomatoes deeply, covering as much as 2/3 of the plant. This builds a sturdy root system. Plant in fresh, well-draining potting mix instead of potting soil. While this soil is slightly more expensive, it contains nutrients that help produce big, healthy tomatoes. Never use garden soil for container planting. Add a basil plant or two in the container with your tomatoes to help repel insects.
Plant in a pot that is big enough to allow for robust growth. When learning how to grow tomatoes in containers, start with at least a five to six-gallon size pot. Use a 20-gallon pot for the greatest development or for more than one plant. You want big plants that will continue to produce into autumn.
A black pot might not be best when you’re growing tomatoes in containers, depending on where it will live. While the plant needs sun and heat, it is best to keep the roots cool when possible. Add a two-inch layer of organic mulch on top to help with this. It will provide more nutrients as it decomposes. Use a light colored container for growing tomatoes if possible.
Disease and Insects of the Tomato Plant
Blossom end rot is common and an issue when growing tomatoes in pots or in the ground. It is wasteful and bothersome for the gardener. Consistent watering and the addition of calcium by working garden lime into the soil helps reduce the problem.
Feed your tomato plants regularly. Start with high nitrogen fertilizer so they will develop healthy stems and foliage. When you see blooms switch to low nitrogen, high phosphorus, high-potassium food.
When watering, including Epsom salts or aspirin occasionally in the water. This adds magnesium and sulfate, helping to control fungal disease.
Most tomato plants eventually succumb to blight. Prune your plants to make them last longer. They need good airflow between the branches. When possible get them growing on a single stem and don’t be afraid to prune suckers and secondary branches.
Always take off damaged or dry leaves. Rejuvenate your entire plant in summer by cutting back up to 1/3 if it begins to look scraggly. Clean pruners between cuts to avoid spreading any disease that is present.
The Correct Way to Water Tomatoes
Watering is important, keep the soil moist at all times. When it is dry two inches down, it’s time to water. Since you’re using well-draining soil, check the plant for moisture every day. The plant will need more water as it grows and gets bigger. Remember, consistent moisture is essential. Water around the same time every day. Water the soil, not the foliage.
Many online sources recommend drip irrigation systems for containers. If you find your plants wilting regularly and they are getting enough water, move them to a slightly more shaded spot. Alternatively, don’t let the soil remain soggy.
Growing tomatoes is a favorite summertime hobby for many. There is no shortage of uses for the tasty fruit. Plan ahead for preserving the harvest, so you’re not overwhelmed with too many tomatoes.
Written by Becca Badgett
Becca is a long- time gardener with a passion for growing organically in the vegetable garden and sharing her experience. She believes everyone should grow a herb garden, inground or in containers and use those herbs on a regular basis to improve overall health. Her passion for growing led her to attend a Horticulture Program at a local community college and share what she’s learned with numerous articles on the web. She is certified in Greenhouse Management and Operations, Landscape Design and is licensed as an NC Pest Control professional. Take advantage of her expertise through our gardening articles and get your garden growing. She contributed to the book “How to Grow an Emergency Garden”, available on Amazon. Read it free on Kindle Unlimited