By: Jaime Haines
Container gardening is a fantastic option for people who do not have space for a garden or want to garden on a small scale. Tomatoes, being one of the most popular vegetables for Colorado gardens, are a great option for container gardeners. Here are a few tips and tricks to ensure a successful container-grown tomato.
When choosing your tomato plant, determinate varieties with small to medium sized fruit such as cherry or paste tomatoes are ideal. Determinate tomatoes will stay smaller and more compact, thus being more manageable in a container. If you’re feeling creative, search for varieties like “Tumbling Tom” that will trail out of a hanging pot. Once you locate your tomato variety, look for a sturdy plant, as indicated by a stocky stem without flowers or fruit. If only lanky plants are available, do not despair! Simply snap off a few of the lower leaves and bury the stem more deeply into the dirt to help it grow a larger root system.
Pots come in a variety of materials, all of which will host a tomato plant happily. The key is to select a pot with adequate space. If the tomato will be alone, look for a minimum of a 14” diameter and a 12” depth. Be sure to have more than one drainage hole as tomatoes do not like sitting in too-wet soil. Also, don’t forget to buy a cage or stake to support your tomato plant!
The easiest method for getting a well-balanced soil is buying prepackaged potting soil. Look for contents of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite or perlite to ensure a well-balanced mix. If you’re an ambitious gardener or have several pots to fill, making your own soil can be more economical and calls for a mixture of similar ingredients to the prepackaged soils.
Tomatoes love the sun! While they prefer eight or more hours, they can grow in conditions as low as six hours of sunlight. When first bringing your tomatoes outside, be sure that the nights are reaching a minimum of 50 degrees and it is at least a week after the last chance of frost. To avoid shock, it is best to spend a week hardening off your tomatoes to prepare them for nature’s wind, direct sunlight, and changing temperatures.
Also check that your tomato receives the right amount of water. Because containers dry out quickly, you will likely need to water thoroughly every day to keep the soil moist (not saturated). On the other hand, tomatoes are sensitive to overwatering, so put them in a covered location if you know a downpour is coming. When watering, do so in the early morning so the tomato has time to soak up the water. Be sure to water the soil, not the leaves, to prevent blight and fungus.
When buying a fertilizer, look for a 5-10-10 blend (5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, 10% potassium) that is slow-release. The nitrogen helps develop healthy foliage; the phosphorus helps with roots, buds, and fruit; the potassium helps with seed production; and the slow-release feeds the tomato for an extended time. While you can fertilize more frequently, there are three key times that you won’t want to miss. First, fertilize your tomato plant two weeks after planting with one fourth of the package’s recommended amount. For this first fertilization, a 10-10-10 blend is ideal, but the 5-10-10 blend you use for the other fertilizing times will work as well. Then, fertilize when the tomato begins flowering. Finally, fertilize when the tomato begins growing fruit (not after you start harvesting). Follow the package directions to know how much to use.
Stop by Fort Collins Nursery to find all of the supplies you’ll need!