Container gardening tomatoes can be very productive-if you do it right. Otherwise, the results can be frustrating and fruitless- literally.
The thing about tomatoes is that they grow really large. Especially the indeterminate varieties, the ones that will keep producing all season. They are very thirsty too.
But their container has to have good drainage or they won't do well. So what's a gardener to do?
Tomato Gardening Containers
There are two approaches you can take. You can decide to go with having small plants in 14 inch or 5 gallon pots. Patio and cherry tomatoes taste just as wonderful right off the vine as full sized tomatoes.
They will produce so many that the yield may be almost as much in weight as a full sized plant can produce. It would be hard to cover a sandwhich with them, but they make a great side condiment.
So if just having that wonderful flavor and aroma, even on the side or on your salad is what you are after, then they will be just right for your garden.
You might also be able to grow a determinate like Celebrity in the 5 gallon pot if you keep it watered and fertilized too.
Just pinch the top back when it hits 4 feet or so, and prune off any suckers. Those white food grade buckets work well for this. You will need to drill drainage holes in the bottom of the bucket.
Large Indeterminate Tomatoes
For those who want that whole "completely fills your hand, look at the size of this thing, one slice covers the bread" kind of tomatoes, you will have to do a bit more work.
It's still possible, even on a balcony. As long as your balcony or deck can take the weight. Make sure before trying this-you don't want a disaster on your hands. Especially if there is another balcony below you!
For the big tomatoes, like Big Boy, Beefsteak, and even a large crop of Early Girl, you need really big grow pots for tomatoes, and stakes or trellises.
A great planting medium is essential. Full sun and fertilizer are also needed.
The minimum size for one of these plants, with a trellis or cage added, is about 10 gallons. You will get better results with 18 gallon size.
Some people have drilled holes in the bottoms of storage tubs like those rubbermaid rectangular ones and used those. Some garden centers have planter boxes large enough, or half barrels work well too.
Self watering pots are a big plus. Otherwise you will have to water every day-twice a day if it's really hot. But it's worth it!
Container Gardening Tip-Tomato Soil Mix
To keep those big boys happy in their big pots, you need a container soil mix that will drain well but not dry out too quickly.
You never want the soil to pull away from the edges of the pot, or it will be very hard to get water to the roots of the plant. A slightly acid soil made up of this mixture will work well.
1 part compost
2 parts potting soil
1 part sphagnum peat moss
2 parts horticultural vermiculite
2 parts perlite
Mix all the soil components well. If using organic fertilizer, mix in well. Use a premixed organic fertilizer blend of your choice, preferably one with trace minerals and microbes.
Container Gardening Tomatoes-Planting
Before planting, take a large plastic cup and cut the top 4 inches off as a circle. Put this around the stem of your tomato plant, widest end down.
You can cut it from a plastic 1 liter water bottle too, but it should be at 3-4 inches across and 4 inches high. Use masking or duct tape on the edge if it is too sharp and jagged and might injure the stem.
Either work it up over the root ball, or if it won't fit, then cut it open and use some duct tape to close it after it's on the plant.
This is a 4 inch high ring that goes around the stem of the tomato. Be careful not to injure the plant.
Plant the tomato at least 3 inches deeper than it was in the original pot. Remove any leaves that would be below the soil.
Make sure the stem is in the center of the ring and of the pot. Setting your plant deeper into the soil will allow it to grow more roots along the stem and will strengthen it.
Slide the ring up so that it remains above the soil. Water the tomato plant in it's new pot, enough to evenly moisten the soil, but not make it soggy or very wet.
Cover the soil around the outside of the ring to the edges of the pot with at least 2 inches of mulch to keep the soil cool and moist.
Watering Tomato Plants
Set the plant in a sunny spot. If the pot is a dark color, then you might want to put a board or a piece of cardboard in front of the pot so the soil and roots won't get too hot.
When container gardening tomato plants, water is critical. Check your plant daily before you water. You must check the soil for moisture; do not wait until the plant wilts to water it.
Never water your tomato plants from overhead. This can cause sun scald if done while the plant remains wet in direct sun.
It can also interfere with the blossoms, knocking them off, damaging them so they won't set, and causing other potential problems.
Keeping the leaves clean and dry will reduce the potential for disease too.
Early morning or late evening is the best time to water. In a container, you especially need to be consistent.
If you let it dry out and then flood it, it could cause blossom rot. If you have fruit and water that way, the fruit may split and crack. Consistently moist soil is what is needed.
Water until it begins to come out the drainage holes, after checking the moisture level an inch into the soil. The mulch will help to keep it from drying out completely, but you must check regularly below the mulch to see how much water to use.
In a garden, an inch a week is normal. Containers dry out much faster. Plants that get bone dry and wilt may come back two or three times, but their fruit will suffer and they may die after that.
In case it happens that the soil dries out, you might have to bottom water, by setting the plant in a larger tub with water about 3 inches deep so it can be taken in from underneath. Let it sit an hour and check to see if there is moisture near the top.
Don't leave it in the water for more than an hour or so at a time. See if it will even out before doing this a second time.
If using chemical fertilizer like Miracle Grow, use it at 1/4 strength twice per week. Increase to 3 times per week during blooming until fruit is set. Once the fruit has set cut back to once per week on fertilizer.