Complete newbie. Starting Container Tomato Garden

ejh805(8b)May 30, 2012

Hi everyone :)

I'm completely new to growing tomatoes and will be purchasing small starter plants to transplant into 5 gallon plastic pots. I just want to know if anyone could tell me what brand/type of soil to use for a container tomato plant.

I have plenty of perlite to mix in to prevent the soil from compacting too badly.

Also, what balance of NPK should I look for in pre-mixed soils?

Thanks for your help!


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I can't give you much of an advice as to what soil to use since we don't share the same market, but keep in mind that tomatoes are heavy feeders, so whatever you do choose will have to be accompanied by regular feeding through out the season.

As you are completely new, i'd suggest to get some liquid soluble fertilizer with a higher potash (K) value, something like say 19-19-25 or similar. It's not the most efficient solution, but it will get you through the season just fine as it has everything your plants need at any stage of growth (if you follow instructions on the label of course).
As you grow them, you will gather experience and knowledge and you will learn to recognize different stages of growth, based upon which you can apply certain fertilizers according to the plants variable nutrient needs at given time ;)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 4:41PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Agree and Emily you might want to read through all the discussions that are already here about growing tomatoes in containers. There are many of them that the search will pull up for you and they cover all the basics. I linked several of them below -just scroll down to the blue bars.

You'll also find a great deal of info that has a focus on growing them in containers over on the Container Gardening forum here. Container growing is very different from growing them in ground and has its own unique set of problems and needs you will need to learn about.

As to your specific questions, while 5 gallon plastic buckets is the MINIMUM size recommended, 5 gallon pots are much smaller. 5 gallon buckets work ok for very small plants like the dwarf and small determinate varieties rather than full size plants. You'll see several recent posts here about the problems with using 5 gallon buckets.

10-15 gallon containers if you are growing regular tomato plants will be worlds better. So I strongly encourage you to use larger containers if possible or limit yourself to very small varieties. Your choices will be quite limited this late in the season since it is well past planting time in your zone. In 8b it will soon be too hot for the plants to set fruit if it isn't already so you might want to wait until closer to fall and try planting then.

Soil-less potting mix only is recommended for any container, no soil (dirt) and there are many brands available. They will have MIX as part of their name, not soil. As to the NPK rating, it makes no difference. They are all about the same and none is made that will feed them for more than a couple of weeks regardless of what it says on the bag, so you will have to feed them weekly using a supplemental fertilizer as Djole said above.


Here is a link that might be useful: Growing tomatoes in containers discussions

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 6:27PM
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I would use 15 gallon pots.
Mix Miracle Grow "potting Mix" with moisture control and Moo-nure which is a cow manure compost mix.
put about 2-3" of mulch on top.
Drill several holes in the bottom, you need really good drainage.
Water every day.
Fertilize every 9-14 days.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 10:57PM
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Welcome Emily, (newbie)

Every early spring all are 'new' to growing tomatoes. Disagreements of best practices are common.

Not had good experience with Miracle Grow Moisture Control, so I would not recommend it. I mix Miracle Grow Peat with the bagged moo, and you always want perlite, so you have got that right.

I do agree that 5 gallon pots can be restrictive depending on what plants you are growing.
For dwarf determinates you can get by with 5 gal.

For compact indeterminates like Bush Big Boy, Celebrity, Jet Star, a 10-15 gal. would be an ok minimum.
You will have a better chance at success by using Espoma� Tomato-Tone or similar organic, so as not to over use or burn the delicate roots. This is an after planting
balanced nutrient placed in a band around the plant, usually before mulching.

Any mulch will work, but I have found pine bark to less desirable. -Randy

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 11:48PM
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So, I ended up purchasing a very healthy looking Husky Cherry (Bonnie) tomato plant at the store, and also a pretty big Sweet Banana Pepper plant.

The cherry tomato plant says that it is an intermediate, and is currently at about 1.5ft tall. The pepper plant is probably right under 4ft.

Currently the weather here has been in the low 90s/high 80's during the hottest part of the day, with nighttime lows between 65-75 degrees. They are both set out in full sun.

The tomato plant doesn't have any flowers on it. Am I right to think that it may not begin flowering and giving fruit until the nights begin getting cooler?

As for the pepper, there are no mature fruits on it as of yet, but it has lots of flowers and several small peppers starting to grow (from buds to about 1.5 inches in length).

For potting medium I used Miracle Gro potting soil mixed with a good amount of perlite and some sand. I'm going to be getting mulch later today. Still not sure what I will use. I mixed some bone meal into the soil following instructions on the box, and a little bit of time release fertilizer (osmocote- the kind with the pink top).
I planted the tomato deep, not 2/3rds deep, but buried several inches of the main stem. With the pepper I planted it level like with most things.

I watered them both very well after transplanting, and they are both staked and have cages. Sprayed both with a neem oil/water mixture this morning just to stave off any possible bugs or fungi wanting to set up camp.

From what I've done thus far, does this setup sound all right? Or are there any major mistakes that I should correct before it kills my plants off?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 4:13PM
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Did the math,and each pot I'm using is about 9.5 gallons.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 4:32PM
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Use a pro mix and mix in 25-30% worm castings. before you plant the tomato put a medium size handful of bonemeal at the base below the roots, mix in a little but not too much. don't allow bone meal to be anywhere in the top 4inches of soil. This is the organic way.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 5:56PM
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I'll get worm castings and mix some in whenever I get the chance :)

I already mixed in some bone meal it the base near the roots, and there isnt any bone meal in the top 4 inches.

And, does anyone know if I could put actual earthworms in the pots with the plants? Would it damage the roots or hurt the plant?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 6:01PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

No earthworms needed and millions of us grow tomatoes in containers without any worm castings too. If you start trying to add everything everyone recommends you'll end up with a mess in your container. :)

You have an ok mix already - many use it quite successfully with no added perlite or sand or bone meal or anything else - so no need to get carried away adding things for now. See how they do first. Except as said above you will need to feed them regularly.

Take care with spraying them with Neem or anything else when there is no problem. Sprays have their own side effects so are used when needed, not routinely.

Am I right to think that it may not begin flowering and giving fruit until the nights begin getting cooler?

Possibly but only time will tell for sure. Have you read through all the FAQs here? Lots of good info on all this. The one called "why are my blooms falling off" explains all about temperature effects.


Here is a link that might be useful: Growing Tomato FAQs

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 6:53PM
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dickiefickle(5B Dousman,Wi.)

Yes dont go mixing every thing you 've read about into your container.No need to add worms or manure,sand ,compost ,keep it simple. Basic potting mix and some perlite is suffecient, Also mulch containers to retain moisture.
For fertilizer I use MG for tomatoes .Dilute to half or quarter strength and feed weekly

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 10:56PM
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"Posted by Nunyabiz1

Water every day.
Fertilize every 9-14 days."

Wouldnt that overwater the plants?

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 1:23AM
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Once they are fully established and situated in full sun, it's by no means overwatering. I had to water mine twice a day last season.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 7:28AM
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This is my banana pepper plant. With the closeup of the leaves, I showed the worst. Overall, the plant looks healthy. But because of the condition of several of the leaves, I'm hoping ya'll can help me identify the problem so it doesn't get a lot worse and kill the plant. I bought it yesterday from a big box store and it was in this condition in the "garden center". I'm hoping that my transplanting and fertilizing will with time, correct however they screwed it up.

This is my Husky Cherry Tomato plant. Purchased at same big box store. Was the healthiest looking on the rack, and it's one of the VF Bonnie Hybrid tomatoes (I believe). I'm hoping that ya'll can help me identify the issue with this one as well.

thanks in advance for the help!
and thank you everyone for the suggestions and advice you've given me so far. :)

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 2:04PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

First thing, for future reference you really need to downsize your pics before posting them. At this size they take far too long to load even with DSL and won't fit in the browser windows. 600x400 is the recommended max limit for this forum.

All in all your plants look fine for as old as they are. Transplanting at this size always leads to some leaf failure and loss.


    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 4:00PM
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When spraying neem oil, it's a good idea to spray plain water the next day after spraying neem to help wash off the oil residue. Sometimes the oil can inhibit the leaves to "breathe" so spraying plain water (spray to dripping) helps to wash off the residue. In the 24 hours between sprayings, the neem is doing the work it needs to and can then be washed off the next day.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 4:10PM
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I apologize to you and everyone else for the huge size of the pictures.

I'll definitely make them more compact next time I post any.

Thank you for the advice. I didn't know that I was supposed to do this. But, I know it wasn't the neem oil or the transplanting that made the leaves like this. They already looked like this when I brought them home from the store. I just want to prevent it from getting worse.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 4:54PM
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