Today’s Reader Question comes from Chad in Virginia:
I’m planning on growing tomatoes in containers this year as my yard is quite small and I have dogs to contend with. Can you give me some tips and things that I need to consider?
Congratulations on not using your space limitations and dogs as an excuse to not grow your own food. It’s so important that people take charge of some portion of their food production; plus those tomatoes will be the most delicious that you’ve ever had. Let’s dig right into the ins and outs of growing tomatoes in containers:
- The container – make sure that the container you will be using is large enough to sustain a tomato in July. That 12″ tall tomato that you buy from the garden center will grow to be a 3′-6′ giant, depending on the cultivar. I think that the container should be at least 12″ in diameter…the bigger, the better.
- The soil – when growing any plant in a container, it is imperative that you not use garden soil. When garden soil is placed in a container, it creates an aeration and drainage problem. Check out this article for more information. So what should you use? If you can afford it, use a pre-mixed soilless media that is specifically formulated for containers. If your pockets aren’t that deep, use compost (bagged or from your own pile) mixed with vermiculite, perlite or another amendment to provide greater aeration. If you are using bagged compost, mix several types together at the very least.
- Watering – this is going to be one of the most important factors to take into consideration when growing in containers. While that little tomato plant from a 6-pack is cute and easy to maintain now, it is going to require a great deal of moisture when it’s producing tomatoes for your salads and sandwiches. Daily watering will be the norm and in the hottest parts of summer, you may have to water in the morning and evenings. To extend the time between waterings, consider putting a rotting log in the pot to create a hugelkultur container. Read this article for more information on how hugelkultur can reduce or eliminate the need for watering.
- Fertility – your tomatoes will be hungrier in containers than they are in the ground. When they are in the ground, they have all of the soil around them to garner nutrition from. In your container, they are limited to the soil in which they grow so you will need to supplement with additional nutrients. Consider making compost tea from your compost pile or using a fish fertilizer. There are many fish fertilizers like Neptune’s that have less smell than others.
I want to take a moment to discuss some of the benefits of growing tomatoes in containers. When the sun is beating down and it’s 98+ degrees outside, you have the ability to move your containers to a shady area for a bit of a respite. If your containers are heavy, use a hand truck or dolly to help with the move. Another benefit of growing in containers is you can avoid the first frosts of fall. Move your plants to the garage for the evening a couple of times and you’ll have fresh tomatoes long after your neighbor’s have bit the dust.
I hope that I’ve offered you some helpful tips for growing tomatoes in containers. Don’t limit yourself to just tomatoes, unless that’s the only veggie you enjoy. Consider peppers, cucumbers, watermelons, muskmelons, okra and leafy greens like spinach and lettuce. What other vegetables have Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers grown in containers? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at email@example.com. Happy gardening!