Tomatoes are some of the most versatile vegetables (or fruits, botanically speaking) out there, with more than a thousand varieties in terms of colors, shapes, and sizes. Whether raw or cooked, they add a vibrant look and taste to any dish or sauce. Most importantly, they are packed with nutrients that are linked to various health benefits, including reduced risk of cancer as well as heart and bone diseases.
Want to enjoy tasty, fresh-picked tomatoes right in the comfort of your home? Thankfully, tomatoes are easy to grow on your own. You don’t even need a big space or know how to grow a vegetable garden to get started, either. Check out this quick guide on how to grow tomatoes in pots.
Benefits of Growing Tomatoes in Pots
Don’t worry if your gardening space is limited to a balcony or patio. Although traditionally they may be cultivated in a vegetable garden, tomatoes also thrive in pots. Using this method even poses multiple advantages compared to planting directly in the soil, and will help you save on the best fertilizers.
With containers, it’s much easier for you to protect the plants from critters like rabbits and deer as well as their roots from pesky pests and diseases. You’ll also be able to control how much water the plant gets, making it possible for the soil to avoid getting soggy or sandy. Additionally, there’s the convenience of adjusting the pots’ location to just about anywhere the sun is and keeping them easily within reach for harvesting.
The size of the pot should match the size of the plant. For tomatoes, specifically, it’s better to go for bigger, deeper containers. Those tomato seedlings may seem small, but a full-grown plant requires a lot of room in order to develop a strong root system. Dwarf varieties can do with pots sized 8 to 12 inches or a hanging basket, while typical bush types will grow in 5-, 8-, or 10-gallon buckets. Vining varieties, on the other hand, will do best in 15- to 20-gallon tubs to ensure maximum support for their lengthening stems and heavy fruit production.
When it comes to pot material, there are many options available. Containers crafted from plastic and other artificial materials are fine choices as they do not dry out quickly. Wine barrels, fabric pots, and galvanized metal troughs also make excellent vessels for growing tomatoes. Terracotta ones, although beautiful, can quickly lose moisture through the clay’s pores. No matter what type of pot you plan on getting, it must have drainage holes (except fabric) to let the water drain freely and make way for air to reach the roots.
Use the Best Soil for Growing Tomatoes
Soil from planting beds can be heavy for containers and possibly contain disease organisms. We recommend using a premium-quality potting mix, particularly the light and fluffy type so there’s plenty of space for moisture and air to move through the soil.
It’s a rule of thumb to wait to plant until your region’s last frost date has passed. Fill the pot with soil at least one inch below the rim so you can easily add a layer of mulch for maintaining moisture. Dig a hole so that most of the seedling is deep under the soil (about two-thirds of the stem) while keeping some leaves sticking out at the top. Any leaves or branches below the soil line must be removed. In time, roots will develop and strengthen and are more likely to yield healthier plants. To avoid disturbing growing roots, insert a support when planting and secure it firmly into the soil. Depending on the type of tomato, you can use a stake, cage, or trellis.
Pick the Right Location and Arrange the Pots
Pots must ideally be placed on a spot where they’ll be exposed to the sun for at least six hours. Tomatoes need consistent moisture so you might also want to place them near your garden hose reel, unless you don’t mind lugging a watering can around. When arranging pots, group them to shade root zones but leave enough space in between to prevent leaves from rubbing each other (which can spread diseases). One thing to note: Avoid placing them directly on asphalt and other baking-heat surfaces (especially metal and black plastic pots), since it can cause the roots to burn and interrupt plant growth. You can move them to different spots if you think they aren’t getting enough sun in one location.
Water and Feed Regularly
Proper watering is key to growing tomatoes in pots successfully. The soil must retain consistent moisture, but be careful not to saturate it. Do a simple finger push test; if the top inch is dry, it means the plant needs a drink. It also helps to have a saucer beneath the container to catch excess water. This will enable the plants to absorb extra moisture which is especially ideal during hot days. A good garden hose can help make this easier.
Some potting soils already have nutrients in them, but you’ll want to continue feeding to produce stronger plants and juicier tomatoes. The general recommendation is to fertilize the plants about once every other week for the early growing period, and then tone down once the tomatoes start to ripen. Go for well-balanced fertilizers specially formulated for tomatoes and other summer crops.
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