Enthusiastic gardeners know the story well: the garden is completely planted — but wouldn’t it be nice to grow just another tomato variety or two? You always have room for another when you plant those last few tomatoes in pots.
Tomatoes thrive in pots, and you’re giving them just the conditions they need when you plant them in early summer. Warm days, warm nights, and warm soil stimulate growth. Small tomato plants set out in pots at the beginning of the summer will grow quickly and produce prodigiously.
All kinds of tomatoes are appropriate for pots, as long as the pots are of good size. Kansas City master gardener Kathy Hoggard recommends pots at least 20 inches across the top and 24 inches deep for tomatoes. Plastic pots are fine, Hoggard says: terra-cotta pots are beautiful but lose moisture through the clay’s pore; pots made of plastic (and other artificial materials) will not dry out as quickly as clay.
Find a spot that receives 6-8 hours of sun a day. Morning sun is better than afternoon sun, Hoggard says, but, in mild areas, sun in the afternoon is not as brutal as it is in the midwest. Good air circulation is important, but choose a place protected from high winds. Protecting plants from the wind also helps keep them from drying out.
Potting mixes drain well and retain moisture. Hoggard likes to mix compost into purchased potting mix, to add nutrients, and, for a further boost, she adds organic fertilizer when she plants.
Hoggard suggests planting just one tomato plant in each pot for best results. Fit each pot with a sturdy cage to support the plant. ‘Mighty Sweet’ grape tomato and other determinate varieties will produce a prolific crop; indeterminate tomatoes such as ‘Fourth of July’ bear fruit early and continue to set fruit all summer long; pruning large plants back will keep them in scale with your pots.
At planting time, there will be room for a few marigold plants and couple of small basil plants in each pot. The flowers and herbs will flourish until the tomato plant takes over the space. Or poke nasturtium seeds into the soil around the edge of the pot; they will come up, tumble over the sides of the pot, and bloom all summer long.
Hoggard recommends watering thoroughly when the soil is dry — in the heat of summer, she sometimes waters tomatoes in pots twice a day. She also fertilizes every week with a weak seaweed or fish emulsion fertilizer. Since the plants are close at hand on her patio, taking care of them isn’t a lot of work: and cherry tomatoes, especially, are so tempting that they usually don’t even make it into the kitchen. She eats them right off the plant.