You know the tomato: round, red, and juicy. The tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, is a fruit that is eaten by people all over the world. The tomato can be eaten in a variety of ways, including fresh, cooked, or in sauces. It can also be canned for later use. Tomatoes are found in many popular dishes from different cultures, each utilizing the fruit in different ways to create a variety of unique flavor combinations.
The garden tomato comes in many shapes and sizes. The classic tomato shape is a sphere, and it is typically red, but tomatoes can come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Tomato plants can produce fruits in many colors, including red, pink, burgundy, orange, yellow, gold, green, purple, black, blue, or variegated. Tomatoes can be many different shapes, sizes, and textures. They can be near-perfect spheres, long and slender, bite-sized, burger-sized, smooth, or lumpy. There are many types to choose from!
Although there is no definitive answer for what types of tomatoes work best in a raised bed garden, all tomato plants do require some additional specialized care. If you’re short on space, go for dwarf varieties or determinate tomatoes for your raised bed. If vines are trained to grow on a trellis, they can be grown in a narrow space while still reaching a high height.
How to successfully grow tomatoes in containers
- Choose the right type of tomato.
Determinate types of tomato plants are usually the best to grow in containers since they don’t get too tall (usually no more than 3-4 feet) and they set flowers and fruits all at once, making them more reliable and predictable in a smaller space.
You can still grow indeterminate tomatoes, even if they don’t have a lot of space to grow. All they need is a large container and something to hold up their vines. A good way to determine which type of tomato to grow is to consider the length of your growing season, when you start planting during the season, and the amount of space you have.
If your growing season is good and you have enough space, you can grow indeterminate tomatoes. They will give you a lot of fruit all summer and can be grown in containers.
- Start with a strong and healthy transplant.
Tomato plants that have been repotted and hardened off are ideal for living outside in the sun.
Transplanting your tomato plants helps them develop larger root masses, which allows them to better resist pests and diseases, and grow stronger overall.
If you are buying transplants for your home, look for those with thick and strong stems, and healthy looking green leaves that don’t show any signs of damage from insects, sunburn, or yellowing (which could indicate problems with watering or nutrition).
- Don’t be shy about container size, and choose a fabric pot over a plastic pot.
The larger the pot you have, the more tomatoes you can grow.
Determinate varieties of plants should be planted in 10-gallon containers at a minimum, while indeterminate varieties need at least 20-gallon containers to thrive.
Your plants may not be as productive as they could be if the sizes are smaller than the ones mentioned.
I really like fabric pots, especially the ones from Root Pouch. There are two types of garden pots, biodegradable and non-degradable. I prefer the non-degradable pots because you can reuse them.
Pots made of fabric are good for plants with large root systems. This is because the roots are naturally trimmed when they get air.
Plants in breathable fabric pots are pruned by the air, which is best seen when compared to plants in plastic pots.
The roots in plastic pots will keep growing in a spiral pattern if they continue to hit the sides of the pot, eventually becoming rootbound.
This results in the formation of stronger, healthier roots that are better able to support the plant. Fabric pots that expose roots to air result in stronger, healthier roots. Exposure to the sun “burns off” the tips of plant roots, which stops them from growing long and spindly. The roots branch off and form new, shorter, fibrous feeder roots.
Because the growth is distributed evenly throughout the soil volume, the dense network of branched roots is able to increase the plant’s uptake of water, utilize all available nutrients, and aid in its natural defenses.
- Use high-quality potting soil.
To ensure that your plants remain healthy in their containers, it is important to find a balance between allowing the plant to breath, allowing the plant to absorb water and nutrients, and retaining moisture.
The topsoil in your garden is generally too dense for potted plants, which increases the risk of your tomato plant picking up a soil-borne disease. However, this disease is easily preventable.
A high-quality potting soil or potting mix is recommended, and reuse of potting soil from past seasons should be avoided if pests or diseases were present in the plants.
Put 3 to 4 inches of potting soil on the bottom of your container.
- Feed your tomato plant well.
Tomatoes require a lot of nutrients to grow well and produce fruit for a long time.
Before putting the tomato transplant in its final planting hole, add the following amendments to the soil and stir them around a bit:
- 1/2 cup of tomato/vegetable fertilizer
- 1/4 cup of fish meal
- 1/4 cup of bone meal
- 2 aspirin tablets
- A handful of crushed eggshells
After adding the amendments, add 2-3 more inches of potting soil on top.
- Bury the stem of the tomato plant.
Pinch or snip off the lowest sets of leaves from the stem, leaving a bare stem on the bottom one-third to one-half of the stem.
The tomato plant should be placed in the center of the pot. The pot should then be filled with potting soil until it is level with the bottom set of leaves on the plant. To add more soil, gently shake the pot to settle the previous layer of soil, and continue until the pot is filled to the desired level.
Add 1/2 cup of all-purpose fertilizer to the soil around the base of the stem.
- Water thoroughly and consistently.
Water the roots until the soil is evenly moist. After every ten minutes, I water the plant again until the water starts dripping from the bottom of the pot.
I have found that it takes at least a gallon of water to saturate the soil the first time. Do not think that because the water disappears quickly when watering the ground for the first time that the soil is completely wet.
The key to successful tomato growth in pots is proper watering. Having the wrong amount of water can negatively affect your plant’s growth, cause blossom end rot, or make pests more likely during warm weather or when the plant is under stress.
Tomato plants like to be watered deeply, so water them until the soil is saturated and water drains out the bottom. Water your plant only when the top 3 to 4 inches of soil feel dry.
- Protect young transplants from frost with “walls of water.”
Tomatoes should not be planted outside until nighttime temperatures are regularly above 45°F.
In climates with short or unpredictable growing seasons, it is often necessary to get plants outside sooner to avoid frost damage. Even though it’s the middle of summer, it’s not uncommon to get frost in Central Oregon.
I use “walls of water” to protect my transplants in late spring to early summer.
Heaters like these are great for keeping plants nice and toasty. You don’t need to take frost covers on and off each day, which makes them super easy to use.
Tomatoes planted near walls of water can be exposed to colder temperatures earlier and for longer periods of time than those not near walls of water. This is because walls of water are rated to withstand temperatures as low as 16°F.
- Add your support structure.
To avoid damaging the roots, add the tomato support now before the plant gets too big.
If you are growing determinate tomatoes, the metal conical cages that are found in most garden centers will work well. I generally don’t like cages for indeterminate tomatoes because I find they’re too weak to support the long, sprawling vines.
It is important to install support before you actually need it. If you wait to put a cage around a mature tomato plant, it will be more difficult than if you put the cage around the plant when it is young.
- Mulch the soil.
Mulching is an important gardening technique, but it is especially beneficial for container gardens. Mulch helps maintain moisture in the soil, which is essential for plant growth.
Organic mulches like straw, shredded bark, or arborist wood chips are a great way to protect your plant’s roots. Make sure to cover the soil with at least 2 inches of mulch, taking care not to bunch it up against the stem.
A thick layer of mulch should last you the whole summer, and you can compost the straw with your spent tomato plants at the end of the season.
- Fertilize your tomatoes consistently throughout the season.
Even with all the good nutrients you put in the planting hole, your tomato plants will need another shot of nutrients about six weeks into the season.
Use low-nitrogen fertilizers to get lots of flowers and fruits.
There are bound to be problems with your plant, as it is just part of the tomato-growing process. There are several issues that can affect your future harvest and you should be prepared for them.
If you water your plants too much or too little, either can become a big problem.
If you water your tomato plants too much, the roots can start to rot from the fungus or the tomato can split. If you don’t give the plant enough water, the fruit will stop growing and the plant will become less healthy and strong. If you don’t water your plants enough during the summer, they could end up wilting.
Fluctuations in watering can also lead to blossom end rot in tomatoes.
Water your vegetables regularly, but only enough to keep them healthy. To ensure excess water can flow away, provide good drainage. A layer of mulch in addition to good drainage can reduce soil moisture evaporation.
If the temperature is higher than 90°F, the flowers on tomatoes will fall off. You’ll have less produce overall. You can help your yellow flowers last through the summer and promote healthy plant growth by providing shade cloth. You should search for something that provides at least 40% shade in order to protect your tomato flowers best.
Aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies feed off the sap of plants. Pests can be treated with neem oil or insecticidal soap. If there is a severe infestation, pyrethrin can be used to reduce the number of pests. Treating these keeps them away from other vegetables, too!
There is no other insect pest that does as much damage to tomatoes as the Tomato hornworm. Other larvae, such as cutworms and tomato fruitworms, can also destroy your garden. BT can be used to treat all of these. You can find hornworms on your plants at night by using a black light, as they will glow in UV lighting. Once you’ve found the pests, manually remove as many as you can, and the BT will take care of the rest.
Flea beetles and the Colorado potato beetle will both feed on tomato leaves. This will reduce the tomato’s ability to photosynthesize because there will be lots of holes in the leaves. These both attack other vegetables as well. Some oils derived from plants can reduce the tendency of insects to feed. Dusting the leaves with diatomaceous earth also helps. Pyrethrin should be used for severe infestation.
This last pest is more difficult to find because it is not easily spotted by a visual search. Root-knot nematodes are a type of parasitic worm that lives in the soil and feeds on plant roots. If there is yellowing foliage, it could be a sign that there is a root nodule problem. The plant is try to heal itself, but the nodules are a sign that something is wrong. Beneficial nematodes will feed onroot-knot nematodes, preventing themfrom doing damage.
Early blight is a fungal disease that causes leaf yellowing, bullseye spotting, and stem lesions, and can damage the fruit. This disease can be prevented by rotating crops, planting resistant cultivars, and maintaining good plant health. If it appears, an OMRI-rated copper fungicide can be used to treat it.
Water mold causes late blight. This rule is most common in plants that are in cool, humid conditions without enough space between them. The rule begins with dark, water-soaked spotting on leaves. The spots grow quickly and a white mold starts to form around the edges. To prevent the spread of late blight, it is important to practice good gardening maintenance. Copper-based fungicides can also be used for treatment.
Septoria leaf spot is a fungus that causes yellowing leaves with small brown spots. Late blight typically begins low on the plant due to spores splashing up from the soil. Conditions that are favorable for late blight promote the spread of the disease. Bacterial spots caused by Xanthomonas spp. bacteria can also thrive in similar environments. Fungicides that contain copper can effectively treat problems like this, but it is also important to keep up with maintenance in order to prevent them from happening.
Pests can transmit a number of viruses, including mosaic viruses, tomato spotted wilt, and tomato leaf curl. There are no treatments for these viruses. Get rid of the sick plants by taking them away and destroying them–don’t compost them. Plant tomatoes that are disease-resistant cultivars.