First time grower

saint357June 7, 2012

hello i recently became very interested in learning to grow my own vegetables. and since I've never done any gardening before, i decided to start off with just a few test plants. tomato's being one of them. so i went and got a big planter, some soil and a tomato plant from my local nursery. I've read up on tomato gardening watched some you tube videos and the such. but truth be told i don't really know what I'm doing. i didn't even know i had an indeterminant plant which meant i would have to prune it. that is why I'm turning to the one source that hasn't ever let me down, the internet. so i figure I'll post updates and questions about how my plant is doing along with photos of course.

to start off with I'm growing, it in a mix of regular potting soil and miracle grow. like i said the plants a indetererminant heirloom variety called "Cherokee Purple".

i got it as a sapling i guess from the nursery 20 days ago and after planting it looked like this.

after 12 days it grew to this.

now I've been watering it lightly everyday since the soil always seamed dry when i would check it. but fro the past five days or so its been raining, occasionally but there was always a shower at-least once a day. so in fear of over watering i left it alone. now i come back on day 20 and it looks like this.

with the bottom few branches sagging as if there wilting. again I'm new to this and don't know if this is a problem or not. i seek you help on this and anything else you can tell me about growing tomatoes. thank you in advance for the help.

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For starters, let me say I am only in my sophomore year of gardening, so I will defer to any of our more experienced gardners who say otherwise.

That said, my guess is that you might be over-watering the plant. The few tomatoes I do grow in containers I am watering like once a week at most.

I know you said the soil seemed dry, but has the plant ever seemed in distress? Also, how big is your container?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 5:29PM
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i guess it never looked in distress, how do you know if it is, dose it start turning brown or something? as for the pot size its huge. you can see it there with some six gallon buckets and its bigger then them, maybe by half. so six and half to seven gallons?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 6:04PM
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dickiefickle(5B Dousman,Wi.)

you are overwatering, the bigger the pot the less often the need to water especialy while the plant is small.
Your plant looks pretty healthy.Trim off branches where leafs are touching the soil ,you dont want to splash water from soil onto your leaves(disease).

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 6:26PM
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okay ill cut back on the watering and cut those branches. now i also have a question on pruning. when do i start and how do i identify the suckers?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 7:20PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I was brought up in a family that pruned tomatoes to one stem, so I am just the person to tell you about suckers.

You are growing an indeterminate variety. The only branches it will ever have are what are called "suckers." If you remove them, you will remove the vast majority of the plant's potential for fruit.

Some people will tell you suckers steal the plant's vitality. Not true.

Some will tell you suckers don't bear fruit. Not true.

Some will tell you the fruit will be smaller if you leave the suckers in place. Perhaps a bit smaller -- but you will have much more fruit.

If you prune to one stem, you are placing all your eggs in one basket. If anything happens to that one stem, no tomatoes! And plenty of things can happen: accidents, hornworms, hungry wildlife, hail, vine borers, kids being kids, domestic animals being domestic animals....

If you prune to one stem, there will be fewer leaves to shade your fruit and protect them from getting sunscald (sunburned bad spots).

There is only one reason to prune a tomato, and that is lack of space.

You have an indeterminate which wants to be a large plant. It's currently in a rather small pot for an indeterminate (ideally it should be 10 gallons at the minimum). If you want to know the exact size, measure the inside of the pot and calculate how many cubic inches there are. Then divide that by 231, and you'll have the size in gallons.

So you may want to prune a bit because of the size of the pot. Or repot it into a larger pot.

Something else you need to consider is how you're going to support the plant. Cherokee Purple usually grows to at least 5-6' tall; the fruit are usually in the 1/2 - 1 lb. range.

Whatever you decide, have fun!


That said, there are only three things that grow from the main stem. The first two are leaves (which are compound leaves and have their own stem, called a petiole) and blossoms (which grow in a group called a cluster which share a single stem; different varieties have clusters of different sizes). The third thing that grows from the main stem is the sucker or branch, which grows in the angle between a leaf and the main stem.

IIRC, indeterminates put out three leaves, then a cluster of blossoms, and this pattern is repeated.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 10:04PM
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okay then i guess i wont bother with pruning all that much, except for those branches that are currently touching the soil. and the bucket might be bigger then i was saying because i remember using a 20 pound bag of soil, and ten pound and then half of a 10 pound bag of miracle grow and there's still a two inch gap between the soil and the top of the bucket. so it may be close to 10. as for support I'm using a tree branch placed into the pot, but I'm guessing that's not gonna be enough support.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 10:21PM
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It would help to answer ? if you posted a growing zone- as there maybe more than one zone in New Jersey. But anyway, for Cherokee Purple I would be growing in the garden - but a 14 gal. container or grow-bag could be ok. Typically 72 qts. of soil, (weight varies). You should prune the bottom branches as already mentioned, and if you mulch the soil there is less chance of soil splashing. - RS

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 11:26PM
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i don't know the zone but i live near montclair if that helps. and i cant put it in the ground right now. my grand father was an idiot who though he was a gardener and planted a whole bunch of stuff he let grow out of control. my back yard looks like a jungle and there are three huge trees in the front whose shade has completely killed the grass. its nothing but earth and weeds. so I'm sure the soil is horribly. next year I'll try growing a determinant variety, but i think I'm still gonna stick with pots i like them better. less work. also i;m starting my own mulch at home, so hopefully it will be ready by next season.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 11:33PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

You can put in your zip code here (upper left) and find out your USDA hardiness zone:

Four different zones in NJ.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 1:39AM
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If it is in a large pot, myself I use 15 gallon pots and if you use Miracle Grow Potting Mix with moisture control mixed with a 1/2 bag if Moo-Nure which is cow manure and compost mix.
Then you drill several holes in the bottom of pot making sure it drains very well then it is almost impossible to over water.
I water mine heavy every single day, excess water runs right out the bottom, the plant takes a nice big drink and the soil is just moist in about an hour or two.

This small tomato plant bottom left of picture was on May 4th when it was about 18-20 days old, was same size as yours when you planted it. It is a Better Boy Bush tomato.

Here it is today after another 34 days.

As a "Bush" tomato it is only supposed to get 36-40" tall, and it is over 48" after 53 days, was about 3" tall when planted.
I counted 32 small tomatoes on it yesterday, largest about the size of a silver dollar currently.

To me even for a Bush tomato the container should be at least 20-24" across the top, at least 15 gallons. Preferably larger for an Indeterminate that grows 8+ feet.
Should drain like your kitchen sink.

I keep my soil Ph between 6-7.

Fertilize every 9-14 days with MG Tomato.

Your's looks like it might very well be too wet and not enough sun. Check your drainage, you should be able to flood that top few inches of pot with water and have it drain right out like you pulled the plug in a bathtub.
The plant isn't showing any signs of disease, so probably water/weather related. How cold has been in NJ lately?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 8:46AM
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That will not be sufficient, I made a mistake this year too in learning exactly what indeterminate means. I thought I would stake the tomatoes since I didn't have enough cages (but I had plenty of steel posts) and then I read a few posts on here about how ind. tomatoes will have several main leaders, with no way to keep each of them tied to the stake... So I made cages. I have 20 tomato plants, and 150 feet of concrete reinforcement wire from menards cut into 6' sections and tied together got me 20 tomato cages and several feet of leftover wire.

In my mind, if you don't prune them, then you either must use a florida weave style of staking, or some kind of cage. Just this evening I was fixing my watering problem with some stuff from ace hardware, and when I was in the store, I saw a guy with half a dozen of those funnel shaped dinky wire tomato cages that were only about 2 feet tall once put in the ground. Those would be good pepper cages, now that I think about it! But each time I see those I hear this voice in my head that says "insufficient"

Here is a link that might be useful: Homemade 5' tomato cages

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 9:06AM
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Also I might add, IF that is a 6.5 to 7 gallon pot. Looks bit smaller than that in the picture but photos are deceiving.
Then you really only have it in at best maybe about 5 gallons of soil, you have nothing but air in the top 4+" which is the largest part of the pot, probably at least a gallon of soil.

I would probably carefully dig the plant up, being as careful as possible to not disturb the roots.
Cut off many of those bottom leaves, add enough potting mix & compost/manure to fill that pot close to the top then replant it DEEP so the trunk is buried past where you cut the leaves off.
That will give you a larger root system and an extra gallon or so of soil. Water it in with MG Tomato or similar fertilizer.
Then make sure you have several holes in the bottom so it drains really well and add what ever mulch you like on top.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 9:13AM
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well first off thanks for all the help and my zone is 7a : 0 to 5 (F). not that i know what that means. to address the drainage the pot is a planter and came with holes already in the bottom but i made the mistake of not putting anything like rocks at the bottom, do you think that could be why? also i am worried about the sun my back yard, i have these growing on my back porch. i have trees taller then my two story house completely surrounding my yard. i did a test using a solar light which need 6 hours of sun to charge which is what tomato's need right. it worked but I'm just not sure. there just isn't a whole lot of light on my property. to many trees my grandfather planted. the only sun shines on a patch that's right next to a major road, do you think i should move it their. I'm worried about the plants picking something up from cars going by.

i do have some five foot length of chicken wire left over from a fence i put up could i use that as a cage?

i think I'll try digging it up and use that time to test the drainage and add more soil and mulch and stuff. as for how cold its been. it got a little cold the other day but mostly its been warm. i don't know exactly how but generally warm.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 11:24AM
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Basically you should try to get at least 5+ hours of good direct sunlight per day, more is better.
I think my plants are only getting around 6 hours a day on my back deck which is basically in the trees but does manage around 6 hours or so of direct light.

Rocks are not really necessary, I don't have any in any of my pots, all it does is take up soil space.
I have about a dozen holes in each pot and virtually no soil washes out.
Chicken wire is a bit tight weave for Tomato plants I think. you kinda need something where the plant can grow "through" easily.
A good cheap cage can be made from flat wire mesh, I think it is called "Concrete remesh wire".
Here is a video how to make in the link.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to make a tomato cage

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 11:44AM
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yeah that's the kinda of wire i have, i just call it chicken wire but yeah that's what i got. as for the sun light i guess it gets six, but only in that little spot i have it in. here see for yourself.

and here's where I'm thinking of putting them.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 1:10PM
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Id leave it where it is then if it gets a full 6 hours of good sunlight.
Sitting on the street like that seems to me like someone would drive by and say Wow throwing those maters out? thanks!

My deck is kinda the same, tall trees all around, deck is about 20+ feet off the ground.
But still manages to get decent sun.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 1:58PM
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alright I'll go ahead and leave it there for now, see how it does. now in all the gardening vids I've seen then always break of branches by hand. is their a reason to do that over say just snipping it off with shears?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 2:03PM
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well taking you guys advice i went ahead and made my own tomato cage.

i also went ahead and pruned off those branches that were touching the soil.

and I'm going to go ahead and ease back on the watering, for now and see how it goes. I'm not going to replant it however, after all this is just a test plant. i'm not expecting that much from it i just wanted to see how it would grow. i am getting a lot of great tips for next season though. I'm going to go with determinant tomatoes next year add more soil and hopefully my own homemade mulch. drill more drainage holes, and stuff like that. so keep the tips coming. oh i might fill up that gap with mulch though by the way.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 7:20PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

How large are the holes in the wire? You may have to cut some wires to reach in to remove hornworms, pick tomatoes, etc.

The USDA hardiness zones measure the lowest likely winter temps: in your case (and mine), 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit. So it's a good measure of what will survive our winters. That's not so applicable to tomatoes!

But it also gives an indication of when spring planting can probably begin, where people might live, and what the summer temps might be.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 10:15PM
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i can fit my hand through, not my fist but my hand. i guess i can cut a few and make them larger. now what are hornworms?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 10:17PM
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A big green worm that comes from a moth of which just one can literally eat an entire tomato plant by itself.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 7:59AM
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yeah i looked it up sounds nasty, I'll keep an eye out for it.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 10:24AM
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Saint, regarding sunlight - dont discount filtered light you may get as the sun passes through the trees.

Now granted, if the canopy is full then obviously you wont get any benefit. However, if there are gaps where light filters through, then that counts for something.

In my case, I only get 4 hours of direct sun. However, I also get about 3 hours of moderately filtered light, and I am averaging over 10 tomatoes on each plant thus far. Good luck to you.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 11:14AM
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thanks cdon well it seams it gets at least six hours of light shining on it a day. during the course of the day i always see a channel of light shining on the plant which is why i placed it there. i guess I'll just have to wait and see what the yield is.

now on to the topic of feeding what should i give it. i know some people said m grow tomato should i use that. also I'm growing eggplants too, i know this isn't the place for those but if i get the M grow tomatoes can i also use it on my eggplants or is it just formulated for tomatoes?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 12:07PM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

Nunyabiz1 said: "Rocks are not really necessary, I don't have any in any of my pots, all it does is take up soil space."

Rocks in the bottom of a pot are a BAD thing so you actually did good in leaving them out.

Container grown plants don't need drainage substrate in the bottom, and in fact, don't want it. In every growing medium, in the ground, and in potted plantings, there is a level at which the soil's "wicking" ability to suck water upward (think about a paper towel dipped in water) balances the downward gravitational pull. This is called the perched water table. Below the perched water table, the soil is saturated with water, which can suffocate plant roots and encourage root rot. Above this level is usable soil. By adding a gravel substrate, instead of increasing drainage, you're actually moving the perched water table UP in the container, so the plant has even less room to grow. In other words, skip the rocks.


Here is a link that might be useful: Article that shows perched water tables

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 1:17PM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

saint357, I meant to answer your question on feeding your container tomato too, but forgot to do so.

Plants that are grown in any kind of container will need feeding more often than plants that are grown in the ground because each time they are watered, the water run off carries away vital nutrients. Many container growers will use a dilute solution of a liquid fertilizer every week or two depending on the condition of the plant.

The following articles are based on growing tomatoes in the ground in a garden, but the nutrient balance remains the same whether the plant is in the soil or a pot. What changes is the frequency and strength of the feedings.

Cornell University suggests, "On most soils, you can sidedress about 1/2 cup of 5-10-5 per plant and work shallowly into the top inch of soil when fruits are about 1 inch in diameter and again when harvest begins."

Ohio State University has a good document on raising tomatoes in the garden and they recommend "tomatoes need 2 to 3 pounds of a complete fertilizer, such as 6-24-24, 6-12-18, and 8-16-16 per 100 square feet of garden area, or apply fertilizer based on soil test recommendations."

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service suggests the use of a balanced fertilizer: "For home gardens not soil tested, apply 5 pints of 8-8-8 per 100 ft of row and work it thoroughly into the top 8 inches of soil." They also suggest, "Sidedress tomato plants with 2 to 3 Tbsp. per plant of a complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 after the plants have started to set fruit and 4 to 6 weeks thereafter throughout the growing season."

If you can find a liquid that matches any of the NPK ratios mentioned, it would be a good one to use, even better if it contains micronutrients too.

Oh, and click the links, there is a lot of good info I didn't quote from all three sources.

I hope that helps.


    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 1:52PM
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wow could i have used that info five minuets ago when i bought my fertilizer. i went down to my local nursery and they didn't seam to have any liquid fertilizer so i bought one that said it was balanced for tomatoes. here it is.

so did i just flush 6 bucks and change down the toilet or what?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 3:17PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

You are learning fast and I am impressed with how well you are doing. Betsy is more of a tomato expert than I am, but I do have about 20 years of experience growing tomatoes in containers and can offer a different perspective on feeding them. I have used MiracleGro for tomatoes (both the kind you mix with water and the Shake and Feed controlled release formula), but I think Espoma Tomatotone is much better. In your situation I would add about a half cup of that to the pot every four weeks starting now. Add the same amount to your eggplants. Use your fingers to mix it in to the top inch or so of potting mix, then water well. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants grow roots near the surface, so don't dig much deeper. You can also use soluble MG tomato food at half strength if you want once a week.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 3:32PM
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alright Ohiofem I'll go ahead and do that. now i have one question on the bag it says place in a circle 6 to 12 inches around the plant. do i still do that since I'm potting or do i adjust it what? and thank you for the compliment by the way ;D.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 3:54PM
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alright i went ahead and added the fertilizer to my pots. it was kinda of a pain mixing in that stuff by hand. i think in the future ill dig a small channel out at the rim of the bucket,a bout an inch down, then just put the fertilizer in that and then cover it with top soil. how does that sound. or do i have to keep pushing it in with my fingers?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 7:51PM
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you know i was wondering. they sell these special self watering things for potted plants. basically its a glass globe with a long neck that you will with water and push into the soil of your potted plant. it acts as a water reservoir for your plant so you don't have to water it. how do you think that would work on my tomato plant. if it works it could solve my over watering problem. anyone ever use anything like this before?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 8:51PM
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The solution to over watering is DRAINAGE and proper "Potting Mix", not garden soil, make sure your mix isn't heavy.
Just drill about 10 or more 1/2" holes in the bottom of a 12-15 gallon pot.
If your soil is light and airy and the drainage is really good you basically cant over water.

If anything one of those globes will only keep your soil wet.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 7:18AM
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all right it was just an idea.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 10:52AM
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