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Growing Tomatoes in a Container

Your chance to have fresh tomatoes from your own plants doesn’t have to depend on your yard space! Many of us do not have gardens or raised beds available to us but with some containers and a sunny spot, we can grow veggies all summer long.

Tomato Types

“Determinate” tomatoes condense their harvest into a short period of time, four to five weeks, and then they’re done. They’re great for people who want to preserve tomatoes or who want a lot of fruit initially, but who also grow other varieties that give a more prolonged harvest. They are also known as “bush” tomatoes. Compact growth with uniform fruit emergence.

“Indeterminate” varieties will produce less fruit on a weekly basis but once they start, they keep producing until cold weather kills the plants late in the season. Indeterminate usually get tall enough to require staking or some other kind of support like a tomato cage. Also known as “vining” tomatoes.

“Hybrid” tomatoes are crosses between two parent plants with desirable traits like flavor, vigor or heavy fruit set. They’re also likely to have increased resistance to disease. Initials like VFTN on the plant label indicate specific disease resistance that has been bred into that strain.

“Heirlooms” are the tomatoes our grandparents grew. They’re big and luscious and full of flavor, but are more prone to common tomato diseases.

Early-season varieties take from 55 to 70 days. “Bush Early Girl” and “Fourth of July” are two popular early-season tomatoes.

Mid-season varieties include “Celebrity,” “Big Girl” and “Brandywine,” among many others. Expect them to need 70 to 80 growing days.

“Days to harvest” indicates roughly how long that tomato plant will take from the time you plant it until it begins to produce fruit. And those need to be “growing days.” Cool, cloudy days may not count or could delay production.

Plant Requirements

Container- We recommend a 5 gallon container for one tomato plant.

Sun- Tomatoes love the sun. Place the container in a spot where plants will get six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Eight hours of sun a day yields the best results. Southern sun exposure is ideal. Not too hot and not too cool, just the most sun during the longest part of the day.

Soil- Look for a good quality potting mix for your container; never use garden soil. Garden soil tends to retain too much moisture when used in containers. Good potting mix that drains well while holding some moisture is one of the keys to successful tomatoes.

Water- Consistent moisture is critical, whether you’re growing tomatoes in beds or in pots. “Blossom end rot” (B.E.T) is one of the most common problems with tomatoes. It appears as a dry, leather-like patch at the base of the fruit.

B.E.T. is a sign of inconsistent watering usually indicating that the plants got too dry, although over-watering can also cause the condition. Water your tomato plants well once the top few inches of soil dries out. It’s best to use a watering wand or soaker hose right at the base of the plant, keeping the leaves as dry as possible.

Fertilizer

Tomatoes are considered to be “heavy feeders” especially in pots. Start out with 1 heaping teaspoon of Bone Meal per potted plant. Mix it into the soil at the bottom of the plant hole. Bone Meal supplies phosphorus, a nutrient your tomato needs to produce lots of fruit. It also helps make calcium available to the roots, which addresses blossom end rot. If your potting mix has food, you don’t need to add food right away. If not, after your plant is in the pot, water it in with a good fertilizer. We recommend an organic for anything humans or pets will consume. Start with a grow formula (high nitrogen) and follow application instructions on the bag. Once the plant starts blooming, use a bloom formula (high phosphorus, and potassium).

N = Nitrogen helps make plants greener, and helps them grow faster. Nitrogen can be depleted over time by plants, or by being washed away.
P = Phosphorous is good for root growth, disease resistance, seed and fruit growth, and for blooming and flowering.
K = Potash (or Potassium) can help with increasing root growth, with drought resistance, and with disease resistance. It is important for overall plant health.

Reminder: All of these growing recommendations will apply not only to tomatoes, but to peppers and eggplant as well, since they’re in the same family.

Pests and Other Problems

A variety of insects and diseases can attack tomato plants, but Gulley Greenhouse has lots of options to help you fight back. We’d urge you to bring a sample of the affected plant or the suspected insect culprit in a zip sealed bag to our plant experts at Gulley’s for diagnosis and advice. As always, cell phone pictures (especially close-ups!) are a big help in identification.

“Common Tomato Problems” from the CSU extension website is a great resource with names, pictures & solutions. Read more here.

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