It is a tad late in the season to be planting tomatoes, but in most of the U.S. there is still time. Planting and growing tomatoes in a container garden is pretty easy once you have the basics down. But before we discuss the basics, make sure you start with the right tomato, and if your season is short, here are some tips to pick out a tomato that will produce fruit before your first frost.
Pinch Those Suckers and Lower Leaves!
After you’ve picked out the perfect tomato and brought it home, it’s time to prepare it for planting. Do you see the leaflet that is growing in the spot where mature branches attach to the trunk of the plant? No? Look right above my pink thumbnail in the photo. See it? Ok, good. Pinch those suckers off! Continue to be on the lookout for suckers for the life of your tomato.
You should also pinch off the lower branches of the tomato so that you have about six to ten inches of bare trunk at the bottom of the plant. More on why in the next step…
The reason you pinched off the lower branches is so that you can plant your tomato deep! Most of the time, when you plant a plant, you want to keep the crown of the plant level with the soil line. Not true when you plant tomatoes. Tomatoes will actually grow roots out of their stems. When you plant them deep, the part of the trunk that is below the soil line will develop roots and make your plant super sturdy.
Fertilize Early and Often
Tomatoes are heavy feeders. You will probably not have good results if you don’t fertilize. And fertilize often. Most organic liquid fertilizers are too weak for tomatoes (you can use them, but you’ll need to fertilize on a weekly or biweekly basis). For tomatoes, I prefer to use a blended fertilizer meant for fruits and vegetables (when in a pinch, all-purpose will do). Sprinkly the fertilizer liberally on the surfaceof the soil and gently mix it in. Water deeply.
Be sure to reapply fertilizer once a month for the entire growing season. Nutrients are quickly washed out of containers, so you need to fertilize them more frequently than you do in-ground gardens.
Pick a Pretty Cage
Don’t forget a tomato cage or some other type of support! While your tomato looks diminutive now, it will likely be a beast in a month or two. In their natural habitat, tomatoes sprawl on the ground, which is a great way to provide a buffet lunch to pests and diseases. One neat tip I picked up from Steve Goto is to match the color of your tomato to the color of the cage or support. Since my tomato is a ‘Cherokee Purple’ I spray painted my cage purple so I’d remember which tomato this is while I’m waiting for it to fruit.