Growing Container Tomatoes

It is so easy to grow a healthy, productive tomato plant in a container right on your porch or deck completely avoiding the requirement for an backyard garden plot. So much so that more and more weekend gardeners are taking their plants to the patio or tiny sidewalk outside the front door, even if they have a large space in which to garden.

As you can imagine, there are numerous advantages to raising a tomato plant in a portable container. It is ideal for individuals who happen to be short on room that a “proper” backyard garden entails. Because of their portability, containers can be placed anywhere that is convenient.  These include south facing apartment decks or patios and even small paths of ground in the city. Or, as in my case, a few pots on the sill of my dorm room window.  Given that tomato plants call for a minimum of 6 hours of full sunshine daily, pots may be moved from position to position to guarantee that the plants receive the ideal amount of sunlight. This does away with the requirement for one particular especially sunny place.

Yet another advantage to growing tomato plants in smaller compact pots is the fact that it practically eliminates the time hassles of weed pulling – a big plus for a busy student or homeowner!

Determinate or indeterminate?

Now while it is true that nearly all varieties of tomatoes can be successfully grown in pots, some varieties are better suited to growing in containers. For instance, you may want to grow tomato plants that do not get too large or “viney”. The more viney plants are classified as indeterminate.   These can grow to heights of 6 or more feet and bear fruit from mid-summer on.

Their more compact cousin is classified as a determinate.  Determinates tend to stay compact and bushy – ideal for container growing but they also bear fruit all at once.  The advantages to bearing fruit all at once mean you have a crop of tomatoes ready to can or freeze all at once, rather than  peace meal through days.  You may plan your harvest better.

So look for determinate tomatoes which typically grow to a smaller, more compact size (these are like the Romas, cherry or pear style tomatoes which can grow and bush out to about 1 to 2 foot at best).
You will want to keep in mind that determinate tomatoes, as a rule, bear fruit all at once.  A well tended tomato plant can bear 20 pounds of tomatoes.  Deciding upon the more compact tomato types, like Romas or cherry types, will help you when harvest time comes with way to many tomatoes than you know what to do with.

Watering your container plants – Easier said than done!

As a rule, tomato plants grown in the ground need to have around 1 inch of water per week maintaining damp soil but not soaking wet. But because these plants are being grown in a pot, keeping the soil moist can be tricky. The key to keeping your soil moist is to choose the right kind of container and soil for the tomato plant.

You must never let the soil dry out, so check them daily by putting you finger down into the dirt about an inch to feel if there is a dampness to the soil.  Tomatoes like moist soil – not too wet and definitely not dry.

An ordinary terracotta pot provides you with enough room for the root base to spread out is perfect for your plant.  Make sure you buy a pot that is approximately the diameter of the size of a mature plant – 12 or more inches around.  Garden centers provide many sizes and styles and really can add beauty to your patio or back deck.

Proper soil

You should also utilize an appropriate soil. Tomato plants grown in a container thrive in a soil-less potting mix of peat moss and other ingredients.  This comes in bags at your garden center.  It makes sense to take the time to plant your tomato garden in this kind of soil that encourages moisture retention.

Just to make sure, I called my local nursery to ask what they recommended.  They said a potting soil of peat and vermiculite or Perlite will help maintain a more even moisture.  Nurseries and garden centers provide bags of suitable potting soil formulated particularly for container gardening.  There are some products that you can add to amend the soil to act like little sponges to hold the water in the soil longer, too.

Suitable drainage is critical therefore it is a good idea to layer in about half an inch of some pea gravel or small rock in the very bottom of the container. Good water drainage which defends against root rot.  Some folks will place their containers in a dish to catch the water run-off.  This is fine if the dish is no deeper than the depth of gravel in the pot.  Remember that tomatoes like moisture but not wet “feet”.  If the dish is too deep it allows water to stay up higher in the container which encourages root rot.

It’s also advisable to put in a portion of natural and organic fertilizer (I like to use composted chicken manure) to the potting soil mix and combine this in thoroughly just before planting your plant.  Tomato plants are known to be heavy feeders which means you really should put in a fertilizer which is slow acting. You can add more fertilizer every a couple of weeks – read the package directions.

Growing your own tomatoes is a real kick. Get ready to experience garden fresh tomatoes that taste so much better than what you can get from the local store. With the ability to grow tomato plants in a pot, condo dwellers and people who’re reduced on area can enjoy the same rewards as those with use of a full backyard garden.