Growing tomatoes in containers offers a convenient way to get around soil born tomato pests and achieve healthy tomatoes in spite of these challenges. Plenty of people who grow tomatoes in the garden run into issues with tomato wilt, nematodes and other problems.
Prepare Your Tomato Container
The healthiest containers are made of natural materials, such as redwood planter boxes and terracotta pots. For durable and lightweight alternatives, you may want to try using food grade plastic half barrels in various sizes, which can be very inexpensive to source at local food wholesalers, restaurants and grocers, or even free for the asking.
If you’re planning on using a raised bed, choose an area that is outside the regular garden to prevent contamination from previous tomato plantings, and lay down a mesh of 1/2″ hardware cloth to keep out ground tunneling pests, if needed.
Other containers can be scrubbed clean with a mixture of vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide, then rinsed clean and left to dry before planting.
We like to use a mix of good organic potting soil, some of our homemade compost and about one third well composted manure, either from our own chickens or the neighbor’s horses. Just make sure that manure is at least a year old and has been properly composted to remove weed seeds and any other unwanted baceteria. A handful of worms from the worm-bin are the top dressing for this great mix, but don’t add them until just before you are ready to plant up your tomatoes.
Tomatoes will grow as deep as they are given room to grow, so don’t use anything smaller than a 7 gallon container. Good drainage is essential and can be achieved using a rock layer under a container or by setting containers in a gravel area of your yard or patio. Raised beds that are at least 18″ tall should not need additional drainage, so long as they are not sited in swampy areas.
Plant Your Tomatoes
Plant tomato starts so that the bottom half of the start is under the soil line and water in very well. Then do not water for at least several days, unless it is very hot, to encourage the roots to seek the water deep in the container. Water tomatoes deeply when the soil is dry to 1/2″ depth but do not over water. Tomatoes are a desert plant, and tolerate drought much more readily than over watering, which can lead to blossom end rot and other forms of blight. However, plants in containers are extremely susceptible to drying out completely, so don’t let that happen.
Good air circulation is also important to tomatoes, so trim excess leaf growth now and then to allow air flow around and through the plant. For tastier tomatoes, throw a few carrot seeds into the pot when you plant the tomato in, you’ll get a few carrots as well, but more important, your tomatoes will do better.
When you’re done planting, remember to put a cage around the young plant so it has the support it needs. Happy growing!