Tomato plants are one of the most popular choices for home gardeners. They are easy to grow and require relatively little care since they are such hardy plants. Plus, tomato plants generally produce a good crop of fruit, especially if they have been planted properly.
For those home gardeners who have little space for growing, tomato plants can be grown in containers in almost any room of the home as well as on patios and doorsteps. All you need is enough space for the container and plenty of sunlight.
Selecting Your Container for Tomato Plants
One of the most popular choices for container gardening is the terra cotta pot since it is attractive and readily available. This type of container provides drainage holes that help to prevent root rot in the plants. Plus, they come in a variety of sizes, so it is easy to find one that your home can accommodate.
In general, you should select a growing container with a 12-inch or larger diameter so that your tomato plant has plenty of room for the roots to spread out and the plant to grow. If your container does not have enough room for a strong root system, your tomato plant cannot get the support it needs or the nutrients it must have in order to grow and flourish.
Wooden barrels are another popular option since they are roomy and can be purchased with drainage holes already set into them. Some home gardeners prefer to use plastic pots for growing their tomatoes since the soil does not dry out as quickly in this type of container.
This is an exceptionally good idea for someone who travels and might be away from home for more than one day at a time. Of course, you still need to provide drainage holes so that the plants do not develop root rot. Most nurseries and online garden shops sell plastic trays that can be used beneath the growing containers to catch the runoff.
Seeds or Plants
If you have experience as a home gardener, then you have probably already made your choice. It is a personal one that is often dictated by the amount of time you have available for gardening as well as the amount of space that you have to use. In general, many home gardeners grow their tomatoes in containers simply because they do not have room for a full garden or do not have the time to commit to it.
If this is the case, buying tomato plants for your containers is going to be the easiest strategy for you. You can purchase plants for your container as soon as they appear for sale in the nurseries.
Planting from seed can be easily accomplished as long as you start early enough (approximately 6 weeks before the last frost of the season.) In general, you should plant your seeds around the middle of March or as late as the beginning of April. If you plant seeds, start them in peat pots or small individual containers and transplant them in the beginning of May.
Determinate or Indeterminate Varieties of Tomato Plants
Since your space is limited and you are planting your tomatoes in containers, it is a good idea to plant varieties that will not exceed the space of their home. Determinate varieties of tomatoes provide a self-regulated growth system through which they cease growing on their own. They continue to produce fruit throughout their growing season despite the fact that the tomato plant itself is no longer increasing in size.
That being said, indeterminate varieties of tomatoes will do just as well in larger containers as long as you care for them properly. It is a good idea to read up on how to prune your tomato plants in order to produce healthier crops while moderating the size of the plant.
If you are planting your tomatoes in a hanging container, indeterminate varieties are excellent choices for you. This type of plant grows in a vine-like manner and will provide the added length in the size of the plant that makes it so popular for growing in hanging containers. Varieties that produce small fruit are especially suited for this purpose.
Location of Your Tomato Plants
Tomato plants should get at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. If possible, more sunlight is better for the growth of your tomato plant. Take the time to determine which area of your home or apartment can provide this amount of sunlight. Without it, your tomato plant will struggle to grow as well as to produce a crop of any kind.
It is also a good idea to place your container away from heavy traffic areas of the home to avoid accidental damage or knocking off of the fruit once your tomatoes begin to grow.
Drainage of Your Tomato Plants
Even though your container might have drainage holes set into it, it is a good idea to place a layer of clean stones in the bottom of the pot to assist with drainage. Unlike outside gardens, the drainage in a container is a bit restricted and the soil can become compacted around the drainage holes interfering with the outflow of excess water.
You also have the option of placing a piece of fiberglass screen in the bottom of the growing container in order to prevent dirt from leaking out. One of the added benefits of doing this is that it also helps to prevent insects from entering the container through the drainage holes, protecting your tomato plant’s roots from harm.
Soil for Your Tomato Plants
The soil composition for containers should provide maximum growth for a good crop. The soil needs to be loose so that the roots can grow easily. Therefore, you should mix together a combination of one part each of the following: sphagnum, potting soil, compost, and perlite.
This type of soil mix provides nutrients without any of the garden pests so typically found in outside soil. You should avoid using sand in your soil mix as it has a tendency to dry out quickly.
Once your seedlings sprout, you can add a quality slow-release fertilizer using the directions that accompany it. Slow-release fertilizers provide essential nutrients over a period of time ensuring that your plants get the nutrients they need to grow slowly rather than all at once.
Staking Your Tomato Plants
If you intend to stake your tomato plants, it is a good idea to place the stakes in the pots prior to actually filling the container. Some home gardeners prefer to use tomato cages to support the growth of their plants.
Planting Your Tomato Plants
Once you are ready to begin placing your plants in the containers, prepare them with the stones or fiberglass screen. If you are using a stake, it should go into the container at the same time as the plant. Pinch off all suckers or branches and leaves below the first flowering branch of your plant and cover the plant with soil within an inch of this flowering branch.
When you fill your container with the soil mix, it should reach just below the top of the container. You should aim for just under an inch of the lip of the pots. Remember that the first time you fill the pot, the soil might settle, especially after you water it. Check the level of the soil at this point and adjust it as necessary.
Watering Your Tomato Plants
In general, your tomato plants should be watered as needed. If the top inch of the soil is dry to the touch, your plants need water. One rule of thumb that you can use is to look at your plants and see if they look wilted. If they do, chances are that they need to be watered, especially if they are wilted in the early morning after a cool night’s rest.
Rather than watering your tomato plants every day, try to do so every other day or as needed to discourage the potential for root rot. This is also a more practical strategy for people who lead busy lives.
Watering needs can be reduced using some of the hydrogels or water holding gels that are currently on the market. The gels retain water in the soil minimizing the risk of having the soil dry out too quickly. Some potting soil mixes contain this type of substance in them premixed. If you plan to use hydrogels, you should mix it into your soil prior to filling your pot.
Once your tomato plants begin to produce, you can look at your tomatoes as well for signs that the plants need watering. If your tomatoes develop blossom end rot, then the plants are not getting enough water. Simply water your plants a bit more thoroughly every other day.
Water your plants gently so you can avoid splashing them with any of the soil as this might lead to some type of plant disease. Additionally, if you are watering your plants while they are in direct sunlight, avoid splashing any water directly on the leaves of the tomato plants.
In general, it is best to water your plants early in the morning so they have sufficient water throughout the hottest part of the day. Alternatively, you can water your plants at the end of the day so they can wake up refreshed in the morning.
If you place a light layer of mulch on the top of the soil, it helps to retain moisture in the soil. This will reduce the amount of watering that you need to do.