When it comes to growing vegetables in the garden, whether for an expert gardener or a beginner, tomatoes are always on top of their list. Besides being one of the easiest plants to grow, tomatoes are one of the most satisfying crops to harvest, too.
If you don’t have a large garden, or a lot of extra space, you can still grow tomatoes successfully. If you have limited space, you can grow tomatoes in pots or containers.
Growing tomatoes in buckets can be an adventure: You can either be wildly successful and be rewarded with an overabundance of fruit or it can be a disaster.
There are even times when your failure happens because of uncontrollable situations like too much rain or the season is cooler than normal or the pests are worse than usual.
To avoid failure, it’s important for you to know the basics and the secrets of growing tomatoes in containers. The more you know, the more mistakes you can avoid. This also increases your chances of growing and harvesting a bevy of tomatoes.
To help you with your tomato growing journey, here are some guidelines you can follow to improve your chances of having success in growing tomatoes in planters.
One of the most important things to know before you start planting tomatoes is that you need to use a big container. The bigger the container is, the better for tomatoes as they have extensive root systems and the better the root system, the better the harvest and the healthier the plants are.
Avoid overcrowding. Putting a lot of plants in one pot may save you space, but it will make for weaker, smaller plants or the overcrowding can actually kill your plants,
For every plant, you’ll need a container or a pot that’s at least a square foot. Make sure that the container has good drainage and fill it with a good quality potting soil. A 5-gallon bucket will work nicely, too.
Tomatoes are warm-weather plants. While there are gardeners who plant them as soon as possible, planting them earlier will not guarantee an early harvest.
Planting tomatoes, especially during chilly weather, can also expose the plants to unexpected late frost, which might result in the death of your tomato crop.
It is also important to keep in mind that tomatoes will not grow if the temperature is below 50 degrees. Take note also that weather in the upper 90’s to over 100 will cause your tomatoes to slow down on their flowering, which means no tomatoes until it cools back down a little.
Before you start planting, know the best time for your planting zone.
It is best to plant tomatoes when the night time temperature is consistently above 50 degrees. This will also allow them to mature before they start to bear fruit.
The garden soil should also have a temperature of at least 60 degrees. This is easy to determine. Just stick your finger in the soil and if it feels too cold then it probably is, wait until it warms up a bit before planting your seedlings.
While you can grow any tomato variety in 5 gallon buckets or containers, certain varieties do better than others. In general determinate tomatoes are better for container growing over indeterminate. The reason for this is that determinate varieties don’t sprawl as far as the indeterminate.
Another thing to consider when deciding which variety to plant is the fruit size. Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and roma tomatoes are smaller than beefstake tomatoes and don’t need as much support.
Tomatoes flourish when planted deeply, unlike other plants you may have had experience growing in the past. This will allow the roots to develop from the stems, resulting in a healthier and stronger plant.
When growing and planting seedlings, you’ll notice the “hairs” running down the main stem. Those “hairs” will actually all result in a great root system if they are planted in soil. So the message here is the deeper you can plant them the bigger root system you’ll have.
Many people find success by laying the tomato plant on their side and covering them over with soil while allowing just the top few branches to be out of the soil. Just remember to remove any lower branches that are on the stem that would be under the soil.
Healthy roots and good drainage go hand in hand. You can buy pots and containers with drainage holes at the bottom and you can also layer pebbles at the bottom of each pot.
There are self-watering containers that come with saucers or you can line the bottom of the pots with a layer of plastic window screen and the soil will drain well, too.
The key to growing successfully is to give the plants a consistent amount of water. However, this can be challenging, especially if you are planting in containers and pots. They need to be watered more often than plants that can go deep into the ground to drink when needed.
When watering container tomatoes, the goal is to keep the soil moist but not wet. If you water the plants too much, this will cause them to drown and the roots to rot. However, if you give them too little water, they will become weak. Plus, if you water them inconsistently, it might result in the fruits splitting or worse, exploding. When tomatoes get dry and then all of a sudden get more water than they can handle the fruit will split open.
The easiest way to make sure that you are consistently watering the plants is by using self-watering containers. You can also check your tomatoes daily to see if they need watering, if the top one – two inches of soil is dry then it’s time to water.
If it is summer or if it is too hot or windy, you can water your container crops twice a day. The best time to water them is in the morning. When watering, make sure not to wet the leaves, just water at the base of the plant as water and soil splashing up on the leaves can encourage fungus and blight.
It is essential for plants growing in pots to be fed regularly. Since they are not in an in-ground garden, they are not getting as much of the nutrients from the soil as they otherwise would.
Feed your tomatoes by mixing fertilizer into the potting mix when planting. If your potting mix doesn’t have fertilizer included, you can also use a slow-release fertilizer.
Tomatoes need an abundant supply of sun. They need at least 6 hours of full sun but 8 hours is better.
You can check the amount of sun your plants are getting by just keeping an eye out and counting the hours they are in full sun. If your crops are not getting enough, move them to a more appropriate location during their growing season.
Add support to the plants during the early stages of their growing season. Doing this later on, once your plants are already growing, can disturb the branches, fruit, or even their roots to the point of being detrimental to the plant.
You can use a traditional tomato cage or stakes. String trellis, sturdy cages, tomato towers, and tall stakes also work well.
If you are on a budget, you can also create your own tomato cages from hog wire and bent wire fencing. Form the materials into a cylindrical shape then insert them outside the pot or container.
Due to their sweet aroma, tomatoes can easily attract insects and pests.
Once the pots are filled with soil, you can use a cylinder cage made from reinforced wire and attach a black nylon netting that can also act as a defense against pests. Or enclose your plants in a net then secure everything in place with clothespins.
Growing tomatoes in containers and 5-gallon buckets isn’t complicated and it can be quite rewarding. All you need to do is get started and watch those beauties grow before your eyes. You’ll be glad you did.
Do you have other tips to make growing tomatoes a success?