Growing tomatoes in containers is a wonderful option for anyone with limited gardening space. Whether you have a small yard or just a balcony or patio, you don't have to miss out on a bountiful harvest.
But you need to know what you're getting into before you begin.; if you don't have a general understanding of growing tomatoes, things can go awry. Here are some of the most common mistakes, and how you can avoid them.
Whether you're growing from seeds or purchasing seedlings, before you start, you need to know what works best. Take a few minutes to research the ideal tomatoes for your lifestyle. Begin with deciding whether you want determinate or indeterminate plants, which are the two main classifications. Determinate tomatoes are bushier and grow well on decks, whereas indeterminate tomatoes are vine-like and grow upwards.
Next, you want to figure out if heirloom or hybrid plants suit your needs. Heirlooms provide future seeds. Hybrids are better resistant to pests and diseases, which container plants are especially prone to due to their stand-alone environment. Know what suits your space best before committing yourself.
Seedlings shouldn't remain in their starter trays for long. It's best to transplant them as soon as they're strong enough to survive the move. Have a battle plan ready and waiting to go once they show signs of outgrowing their first home.
Bigger is always better when it comes to transplant containers. Some people choose to grow their plants in reusable shopping bags. This is the minimal size you'll want per plant. Anything less has the potential to bind the roots, which causes premature fruiting and a lackluster crop.
Never overcrowd your tomatoes. Unless you have a massive container, distribute one plant per pot. The seedlings may seem small at first, but they'll grow rapidly. Remember that even determinate tomatoes will end up being several feet tall. Overcrowding will stunt growth and cause unruly survival competition.
It's absolutely critical for tomatoes to have adequate drainage. With the amount of water they take in throughout their season, trapped or stagnant water can accumulate quickly, causing root rot and decay. One way to avoid problems and control water distribution is to use a grow box or self-watering container.
Hardening off is an essential period for your tomatoes — it should last a week or more. It's an important process to get your seedlings used to the outdoors. Whether you grew them from seeds indoors or purchased them from a greenhouse, it's vital to gradually acclimate them to their new home. Otherwise, the shock could stunt or even kill them.
Don't let your plants get out of control before staking them. Regardless of whether you tie them, use cages, or go with a trellis, it's crucial to set your tomatoes on the right path sooner rather than later. If they aren't properly supported, they can break or end up on the ground, making them more susceptible to disease.
Tomatoes require full sun. Always monitor a potential outdoor area first to see if there are at least 6-8 hours of direct light per day. Take some time to study sun patterns for the best growing environment.
Also, light and water don't necessarily mix well together. Make sure to avoid saturating the plant's leaves when watering, as they can scorch in direct sun. Overall though, it's best to keep light and water separated. Unless it can't be avoided, only water your plants early in the day or in the evening to avoid speedy evaporation.
Watering your tomatoes is something you have to fine-tune, taking into account heat, humidity, wind, and precipitation. Make sure your plants always have moist soil. If it's too soggy, this may cause blackened or split fruit. If it's too dry, the plant will wilt. A nice saturation should perk it back up if it hasn't been neglected for too long.
Generally, tomato plants are hungry. The more they grow, the more they need: don't be surprised if you have to water them more than once a day on occasion. But cut back on watering once the fruiting cycle is in full force; this will create a better maturation process.
Nutrients are key to maintaining full and healthy plants. Not only should you start your seeds or seedlings in a rich environment, but you need to fertilize them throughout the flowering and fruiting cycles. But make sure you find a fertilizer that's right for your plants. Study what's out there, since some can actually be harmful or encourage more leafy growth versus fruit.
Once your plants are up and running, don't neglect them. Continuous monitoring and care are integral for an ample amount of fruit. Biodiversity helps keep tomatoes in a healthy ecosystem. However, since your plants being in containers and not in a vast garden, they have the potential to single themselves out. Watch for any pests or diseases, and treat the plant accordingly by removing all affected areas.
Pruning is another maintenance factor that often gets overlooked. While determinate varieties don't require cutting, indeterminate tomatoes need to be pruned to maximize output. Removing some stalks will lighten the plant and create more fruit. Plus, the cuttings can be rooted to start new plants.