Tomatoes are loaded with water, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Eating tomatoes often can improve your eyesight, prevent cancer and make your skin more beautiful. However, if your garden is not large enough to grow tomatoes, what can you do? Don’t worry, because today there are many varieties of tomatoes which can grow perfectly well in pots. We will provide you here with some detailed tips which you should keep in mind when you want to start growing tomatoes in pots.
How to Grow Tomatoes in Pots?
1. Decide between Seeds or Seedlings
First and foremost, before you begin growing tomatoes in pots, you need to consider whether you prefer seeds or seedlings.
If you are an impatient person, it’s probably best to get seedlings because they give instant gratification and quicker results. Plus, seedlings are not as susceptible to disease or drought as seeds, so they are really helpful for first-time gardeners.
One the other hand, seeds are much more economical in the long run, but they do require the skilled selection of which variety of tomato you are going to grow.
Besides that, you can grow tomatoes from cuttings by using a cloning machine. This method requires more techniques, therefore I will present it in other post.
2. Choose the Best Tomato Variety for You
Tomatoes come in many varieties, in many different colors, shapes and sizes, but we would like to mention two varieties from each of the two main groups that are particularly suitable for growing tomatoes in pots. Determinate tomatoes grow just 60-90 cm tall and produce fruit after just 4 to 6 weeks. They are quite compact and do not need staking. They often set fruit at the same time, and die down right after. Some determinate tomatoes you can give a try are Patio and Celebrity.
In contrast, indeterminate tomatoes need cages or stakes because they are bigger and heavier than determinate ones. Their average lifespan is also longer, and will last until frost kills them. If you prefer the indeterminate, Sungold or Black Cherry are both worth your attention.
3. Choose the Best Container for Your Variety
The biggest mistake many first-time container tomato growers make is selecting pots that are too small. Maybe people think that this small size is correct to use with small tomato varieties. However, even the smallest varieties do better in larger pots because tomatoes have extensive root systems, and they need room to grow properly. Therefore, the larger the pot, the better quality your tomatoes will be. The minimum pot size is about 27 cm (5 gallons). Some suggested tomato varieties for this kind of container are Baxter's Early Bush Cherry, Elfin, Lyana, and Patio F in particular, and determinate tomatoes in general. For the indeterminate, the larger ones, you’ll need at least a need 35 cm (7 gallon) container. Remember that the smaller your pot, the more often you’ll need to water it, too.
Additional factors to consider are the color and material of the pots. Light colors reflect light and heat, and dark colors absorb them. Heavy materials like ceramics retain heat for longer, while light materials like wood and plastic release heat faster. As a consequence, if your pots are in a hot location, opt for light colors and materials.
4. Plant Tomatoes at the Correct Time and in the Correct Way
Are you wondering when the best time to start growing tomatoes is? The answer depends on the geographical location in which you are living. On the other words, tomatoes are heavily influenced by climate conditions. Tomatoes can’t thrive in temperatures below 10°C. Accordingly, it’s important to wait until the night temperatures are 10°C or more. Another sign to know the correct planting time is via the soil temperature. If a thermometer reads over 16°C, it’s time to start your crop.
How deep should we plant tomatoes? If you start from seedlings, they should be sturdy, straight and 6 to 8 inches high. Tomatoes are likely to grow roots along their stems laying underground, so when planting baby tomato plants in pots, plant them deeply to encourage a larger and healthier root system. A good rule of thumb is that 2/3 of a seedling should be completely covered by soil.
5. Ensure Good Drainage
One key to success in growing tomatoes in pots is a perfect drainage system. A simple way to keep your plants from haviving the roots wallowing in water is to drill some holes at the bottom of the pots. Each hole should preferably be about 2cm in diameter. The more holes there are, the faster water will drain out. The problem is that your potting soil can be lost through these holes too. One way of preventing this is to line the bottom of the pot with plastic window screening. Cut pieces to fit correctly into the bottom of the pot. A simple way of keeping your soil inside, yet still allowing the water to drain!
6. Pick a Good Location
Tomatoes love sun and heat, so look for a spot with both in which to place your containers. An ideal place is where the tomatoes can receive at least six hours of sun each day, and over 8 hours is even better. However, seedlings are vulnerable to damage from the cold and from strong winds. Therefore, make sure that the place you choose is sheltered, or that it will be easy to move the pots once the weather changes. It’s also worth considering how you’re going to group your pots. It’s good to place them next to one another to provide shade for the roots, yet not too close as this will encourage the spread of disease. A gap between the pots will allow you to check for pests more easily.
7. Use High-quality Potting Soil
Garden soil is freely available, so it would seem to be the most convenient to dig up some garden soil and fill your pots with that. However, garden soil is usually too compact to soak up water. It’s also likely to be infested with fungi, weed seeds and pests, which will spread disease to your tomatoes, and make your potted gardening plans fatally flawed from the start. A word of advice: use premium quality potting soil such as the Miracle-Gro brand, or another reputable brand of potting mix rather than garden soil. How does one pick a good potting mix? Look for one containing peat moss, compost, vermiculite, and sand, which are all ingredients helping to retain moisture without staying too soggy. There are many types of potting mix with different prices, such as standard mixes and premium mixes. To save money, you could make your own mix using the ingredients mentioned above.
8. Supply Enough Water
Over 95% of each tomato is water, so water is one of the most essential things we need to provide as they grow. The biggest challenge with growing tomatoes in pots is to always maintain a sufficient amount of water- not too much or too little. On the one hand, watering too much will cause the tomatoes to drown and the roots to rot. On the other hand, providing too little water will make the tomatoes wilt and die of dehydration. Moreover, your tomatoes will show the telltale signs of blossom end rot when there is an unstable supply of water, like sometimes too much and then too little. For these reasons, be regular with your watering and keep checking the soil moisture levels. If you touch the surface of soil and see that it is dry, it’s time for you to add water.
One useful tip for container gardening is to irrigate your pots in the morning. According to many experts, the morning is the best time for any plants to absorb and use water efficiently. Also, remember to pour water directly onto the soil rather than from above onto the leaves, because wet leaves are one cause of some fungal diseases.
A faster and easier way of saving yourself all this hassle is to use self-watering containers. No matter where you are, self-watering containers do their job efficiently, giving a consistent amount of water directly to the roots. How convenient and time-saving!
9. Cover the Soil
Another method of retaining your soil moisture is to use mulch. Water will evaporate much more slowly when the soil has been covered. Stay away from the inorganic mulches and take advantage of organic mulches that are right there at home, such as newspapers, pine needles, wheat straw, or compost. This layer of mulch will function as a blanket, shielding leaves from the splashes of soil and water, thus helping to prevent diseases. It will also retain moisture in the soil and help keep a more constant soil temperature. Additionally, when the mulch decomposes, it will provide a valuable source of humus, providing nutrients to the soil. Be sure to keep the mulch at least one inch below the pot rim and sprinkle it on loosely enough to let water flow through.
10. Stake Your Tomatoes
In planting tomatoes in pots, stakes or cages help your plants grow vertically, saving space in the garden, keeping fruits off the ground, and preventing rot. By inserting the stake into the pot before the plant is fully grown, you’ll avoid disturbing the root system when it is bigger. If the products you purchase directly at stores are too flimsy to satisfy you, build your own low-cost tomato cages. There are many designs for tomato cages, but we would like to tell you about the simplest method, called “folding wooden tomato cages”. Please google this so that you can see what they look like. They consist of two ladders, three rungs and a brace to stay still despite strong winds. Two ladders are connected to each other by a piece of wood at the top, allowing this cage to be removed for storage at the end of the season.
11. Feed Your Tomatoes
Watering at least twice a day will quickly wash away any nutrients that are in the soil. Consequently, fertilizing your tomatoes is a staple part of the growing process to ensure that your plants have enough nutrients to take up and flourish. All vegetables need NPK, meaning Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium, in order to flower and fruit. Tomatoes are not an exception. Look for one fertilizer that supplies all three.
Plus, in a good fertilizer, the content of Phosphorous should be higher than the other two nutrients. Too much Nitrogen will cause the plants to produce more leaves than fruits. To begin with, mix a slow-release fertilizer into your soil to let the nutrients gradually disperse. Then, once the seedlings have begun growing, dissolve a soluble fertilizer into water according to the package instructions. Pour it onto the soil surface regularly in a consistent amount, and even more often when flowers begin to form. The best time to give food to your plants is in the early morning. Each variety has different nutrient requirements, so take time to figure out the best schedule for your tomatoes. If your plant produces more leaves than fruits, this means that you need to lessen the amount of feeding. If the leaves start to yellow, more fertilizer is probably required.
Of course, organic fertilizer is always the best for planting tomatoes in pots. It is both environmentally friendly and cost-effective. Seaweed, one of the most common organic fertilizers, won’t disappoint you.
12. Protect Your Tomatoes
Tomatoes are not only a nutritious food for humans, but are also a favorite food of many pests and wild animals. Hence, if you don’t protect your crop carefully, you could end up with nothing for yourself. Our first tip is to sprinkle eggshells on top of the soil. This is because soft creatures like snails don’t like the shell’s sharp edges, so they will stay away from your tomatoes. Secondly, you can hang your pots on a porch or a balcony to keep the tomatoes out of reach from animals like dogs. Thirdly, protective sprays are also useful. These sprays don’t harm your tomatoes and they do deter insects from devouring your plants. You also can make your own by combining pepper and water. Certain kinds of bird really dislike this mixture. Remember that there is no one solution for all pests, so try many different methods until you find what works best for you.
13. Clean up at the End of the Season
Pot-grown tomatoes are more vulnerable to diseases than ground-grown ones. That is the reason why it’s vital to clean your materials both at the beginning and at the end of the growing season. Using the same pot in the next season is not a problem, but you will need to give them a good clean with soap and hot water. Throw out all remaining soil and purchase fresh soil for the next season.
After reading this article, you may know how to grow tomatoes in pots. To recap, here are the keywords to keep in mind when growing tomatoes in pots: seeds/ seedlings, sunlight, water, drainage, fertilizers, and materials. We really hope that these tips will give you confidence to try your first tomato crop!