Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Container Tomatoes

by National Gardening Association Editors

Tomatoes will surprise you! They can withstand mighty close quarters and still deliver. If you don't have space in the ground, but you do have a hanging planter or a bushel basket and a sunny spot somewhere indoors or outside, prepare to grow your own tomatoes!

Container Pointers

Sun. Container tomatoes, like those in the garden, need at least six to eight hours of sunshine a day to produce a worthwhile harvest. If you grow them indoors, put them where they'll get maximum sunshine, moving the container from window to window if you must.

Soil. For hanging planters and small pots, regular potting soil is fine. With larger containers, you may want to use a lighter-weight, soilless growing mix, such as Jiffy-Mix or Pro-Mix. It retains moisture well, which is important for tomatoes. Garden soil is okay to use, but needs to be lightened with peat moss, vermiculite or perlite to improve its drainage.

The Right Container. Almost anything will do. You can have a great crop from a plant in a five-gallon bucket or pot, a smaller hanging planter or even a bushel basket. Just be sure that the container you choose has holes in the bottom for drainage.

Line bushel baskets with plastic bags or old nylon stockings to keep the dirt in and retain moisture. Poke a few drainage holes through the plastic bags to help drainage. Three tomato plants in a bushel basket, supported by short stakes, look beautiful on a deck.

The Best Varieties. Dwarf varieties are the best ones to grow in containers. If you're trying container growing for the first time, try a cherry patio type such as Tiny Tim or Pixie II. They need little support (or you can let them trail from a hanging container) and they'll produce very early.

Container Plant Care

Planting. Choose sturdy, stocky transplants and set them in the bushel baskets, pots or hanging planters up to the bottom set of leaves. For fall pot plantings, take six- to eight-inch suckers or "slips" from tomato plants in the garden (smaller varieties preferred), set them in a deep pot and water heavily for a day or two. They'll root in one to two weeks and start growing soon afterwards. When you bring these pots or baskets indoors and give them a sunny home, you can extend the tomato harvest for many weeks.

Water. Container tomatoes need watering often because the plant roots can't reach for extra moisture as garden tomatoes do. In the heat of summer, when the plants are big, water them daily.

Fertilizer. Mix a small amount of soluble, balanced fertilizer into the plants' water every week or so. Tomatoes like regular feedings of small amounts of fertilizer rather than infrequent, large doses.

Pollination. When the plants have flowered, give them a little shake in the middle of the day to help pollination along.

Pest Care. Whether they're on the back porch or in the house, tomatoes need protection from insects and diseases just like garden plants.
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