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Store-bought tomatoes can never really compare with freshly grown varieties from your own garden. Imagine being able to add freshly plucked, home-grown tomatoes to your dishes! Fortunately, it’s easy to grow tomatoes in pots so you don’t have to let lack of garden space deter you.
I’ve put together the basic tips for how to grow tomatoes in pots using tomato seeds.
Growing Tomatoes in Pots Using Seeds v/s Using Plants
The decision to grow tomatoes from seed is a personal one. Many tomato gardeners prefer to purchase plants to transplant directly into their yard, garden, or containers. Others are a bit more adventurous and prefer the more hands-on process of growing tomatoes from seed.
Growing tomatoes in pots using seeds is a much more time-intensive process than simply buying an established plant from a nursery. However, it isn’t all that difficult. It just takes a little know-how to get started. In the end, it’s tough to beat the sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing the results of your patient efforts take shape.
For starters, you have to start with the right kind of seeds. You won’t get the best results with hybrid tomato varieties. They just don’t grow true to the parent plant the way a good, old-fashioned heirloom will. These detailed instructions on How to Plant, Grow, Harvest, and Save Organic Heirloom Tomato Seeds can be very useful if this is your first attempt at growing heirloom tomatoes in pots.
Understanding the basics of how to grow tomatoes in pots will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect with your tomato container gardening journey. Getting these basics right is what will make all the difference between success and failure with your crop. You can then take your skills to the next level with these more advanced books on tomato growing.
When to Start Growing Tomatoes in Pots
You’ll want to start this process indoors roughly 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost in your area. If you aren’t sure when to start, a quick Google search for “last frost in Zone 5” (or wherever you happen to live) should do the trick. You can also look online to find out when a consistent 50 degree Fahrenheit night temperatures will arrive. Then, just work backward from that estimated date and sow your seeds 6 to 8 weeks before that time.
Choosing the Right Pot
There are many different types of containers that you could use to grow tomatoes. If you’re planning on keeping the planter in the kitchen, choose a pretty container that will also add beauty to the space.
The container should meet these requirements:
• It should be large enough to hold the plant till it reaches maturity. Don’t make the mistake of planting the seeds in a small container.
• It should have small holes at the bottom to drain the excess water otherwise the soil will get waterlogged and your plant will rot.
• The external part of the container must be treated but the internal part should be left untouched so that chemicals do not leech into the soil.
Selecting the Right Tomato Variety
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to tomato varieties. However, you may not always be able to plant your favorite variety depending on where you live. When planting tomatoes in pots, you should choose a variety that will thrive in your climate and is suitable for container gardening.
Determinate varieties such as Celebrity, Mountain Delight, Patio Hybrid or Husky Red Hybrid are best for planting in pots as are cherry tomato varieties such as Cherry Gold, Tiny Tim or Red Robin.
Seeds Now is the best online store for buying organic seeds and seed pods for a wide variety of herbs and vegetables, including almost every variety of tomatoes. At Seeds Now, you’ll find seeds for Beefsteak, Big Rainbow, Rio Grande, Tigerella, Tiny Tim and Cherry Tomatoes, and many, many more tomato varieties. If you’re not sure which variety you want to buy, you can start with a smaller sampler pack of 15 seeds. If you know what you want, you can buy the larger packs right away.
Need more help with deciding which tomato variety to plant. You’ll find a lot of useful information here – How to Plant, Grow, Harvest, and Save Organic Heirloom Tomato Seeds.
Preparing Your Potting Soil
The soil is crucial to successful gardening. You will need to mix garden soil, clay, sandy soil, peat moss, and fertilizer in correct proportions to get the best possible soil to grow your plants.
I find that it’s easier, cheaper and less troublesome to buy ready-made potting mixes. It eliminates the guesswork as the proportion of each of the components is always right in the premade potting soil. It also saves you the trouble of buying all of the components individually. Fill the container with the potting media leaving 2 to 4 inches from the rim.
Planting Your Tomato Seeds
To get started, purchase several containers of sterile seed growing mix.
Moisten your containers, and make very shallow rows with a pen or pencil about 1/4 inch deep. Then, drop the seeds into those furloughs roughly 1/2 inch apart. With your thumb and forefinger, tenderly pinch together the soil to cover each furlough, placing 1/4 inch of soil over each seed. Water very gently, and then place these containers in an area that consistently reaches and holds 75 to 80-degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures.
Watering & Caring For Your Tomato Plants
Water the soil regularly but don’t overdo it. Tomato seeds only need a little water every day. Excessive watering will result in pest infestation and rot.
Make sure there is adequate irrigation by checking the topsoil. If the soil is too damp, it means the drainage is not sufficient. If the soil is too dry, it means too much water id getting drained out too quickly.
As soon as you see the seeds begin to sprout, immediately add a strong light source from either fluorescent grow bulbs or natural sunlight. Tomato plants grow best when they are exposed to sunlight for at least 5 to 6 hours daily.
After about a month you will notice the first “true” and identifiable tomato leaves begin to appear. This tells you that it is time to transplant your seedlings to bigger containers. This is known as “pricking out” your seedlings.
Transplanting Your Tomato Seedlings
With a spoon or fork, scoop out each individual tomato seedling. Transplant individual seedlings into containers at least 3 to 4 inches in diameter filled with moistened potting mix.
Gently water in the seedling after planting. When spring weather reaches and holds 55-degree temperatures at nights, move your plants out into the sun for a few hours at a time to harden them off. Gradually increase sunlight exposure daily over a week, until they can sit outside all day.
Before transplanting your seedlings, be sure to check the pH level of your soil to ensure it is not too acidic or alkaline. Scroll below to read more about pH levels and soil amendments to improve the quality and yield of your harvest.
When you’re ready to transplant your plants, remove the bottom branches and plant up to just below the bottom leaves to ensure healthy growth and a strong root system. Add tomato support in the form of cages or stakes and water gently.
Check your plants for possible problems such as aphid, mildew, bugs, or any other discoloration or rot. By keeping a close eye on your plant, you will be able to nip any problem in the bud and the problem will not escalate and lead to spreading of disease among the plants.
As your tomato plants grow, simply water soil when dry and enjoy your harvest!
There are many benefits to growing tomatoes in pots. It’s easier to keep weeds in check and you can easily transport your plant wherever you wish. Give container gardening a try and you will enjoy fresh, tasty tomatoes in no time at all.
Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomatoes – Which One Is Right for Your Garden?
While there are thousands of individual varieties to choose from, all tomatoes can be classified as either determinate or indeterminate. We rarely hear about these terms till we start looking for information on how to grow tomatoes in pots or even in the backyard.
What is the difference between these two classifications and which type should you choose for your garden? Yes, it is important to choose the right variety to plant.
Let’s take a quick look at the differences between them and then you can decide which is perfect for your garden or growing area.
One of the biggest differences between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants is how they bear their crops. Determinate tomatoes yield their entire crop all at once, while indeterminate varieties parcel out their harvest over the course of an entire season. If you are the kind of person who wants to do all of your harvesting and processing at one time, determinate varieties may be ideal. However, if you want to enjoy fresh fruit all season long, you might want to select indeterminate plants.
Determinate tomatoes are also more compact. In fact, they are often referred to as “bush” tomatoes because of their growth habit. Indeterminate tomatoes usually grow longer vines and need stronger stakes, cages, or fencing to support their stems. In most cases, determinate tomatoes are the better choice if you have limited space or want to grow tomatoes in containers.
So, if you are short on space or want to harvest all of your tomatoes at once, you’ll want to look for the word “determinate” (or the abbreviation “DET”) in plant catalogs or on the plant’s label before purchasing. Then you want to find out when you can expect your tomato plants to produce fruit. This should be listed as a number of days. Knowing this information will allow you to space out your determinate tomatoes so that you can receive early, middle, and late season yields, unless you want to do a lot of work at one time.
Gardening tip: If you are planning on making sauces or canning tomatoes, you may prefer determinate tomatoes spaced out at different times throughout the season. This way you can make big batches at different times throughout the growing season.
On the other hand, you have the prolific indeterminate tomato varieties. In many cases, just one or two indeterminate plants will take care of your entire family’s needs. When shopping, look for the word “indeterminate,” with the abbreviations “IND” or “INDET.” Indeterminate varieties are an ideal choice for fresh food lovers who want to enjoy bright and succulent tomatoes directly off the vine throughout the season.
When it comes to deciding between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants, there really is no correct answer. Instead, you’ll want to consider your own preferences and circumstances to determine which is right for you. If space allows, you may find the best solution is to incorporate both determinate and indeterminate varieties into your garden so you can experience the best of both worlds.
Soil Amendments to Improve the Quality and Yield of Tomatoes
If you are going to invest the time, money, and energy to grow tomatoes, you’ll want to achieve the best possible results for your efforts. When you start researching how to achieve this, you will no doubt come across the topic of soil amendments. Learning how to properly amend your soil is a cornerstone of becoming a successful vegetable gardener.
At first glance, however, this topic can appear very complicated. So let’s start by looking at some basic facts.
The primary goal of amending your soil is to improve its composition by either adding in missing nutrients or minimizing negative elements. Through this process of calculated addition or subtraction, you can create an ideal soil environment for your plants to thrive.
To get started, you’ll want to test your soil in order to establish a baseline starting point. This is a really important step, because if your soil is either too alkaline or too acidic, your plants’ ability to absorb the proper nutrients from the soil will be inhibited. When your soil’s pH level is out of whack, it won’t matter how much fertilizer you add later because your plants won’t be able to access the nutrients you are trying to provide.
Using a testing kit is the best way to determine the exact pH level of your soil. These are easily available on Amazon. The four shortlisted below are reasonably priced and have received great ratings from users.
When testing the pH level of soil, a reading of 7.0 is considered neutral. Like most vegetables, tomatoes are happiest when the soil is slightly on the acidic side. (A reading of 6.0 – 6.8 is ideal for tomatoes).
When your soil falls in this range, all those important nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese can be properly absorbed by your tomato plants.
If you find that your pH is not ideal after testing your soil, you’ll want to add different amendments to correct the problem. The exact amendments you choose will depend on whether you are trying to move the pH scale up or down.
As a general rule of thumb, if your soil is too acidic, you can add limestone or lime to raise the pH to an acceptable range. However, you’ll want to be careful not to over-lime your soil if you go that route.
Organic mulches, sphagnum peat, elemental sulfur, or aluminum sulfate are effective amendments for lowering the alkalinity of the soil.
You might want to talk to a county extension agent or Master Gardener before determining what amendments to use and in what quantities for your location.
For enhancing the nutrient levels in your soil, you’ll also find some beneficial soil amendments right in your own kitchen. Creating your own organic compost pile is a great way to feed your plants all season long.
Eggshells, banana peels, organic plant-based kitchen scraps and coffee grounds are great for adding potassium, phosphorus, calcium and other natural nutrients to your soil.
Eggshells, in particular, are a great way to add more calcium to your soil. It is important for your tomato plants to get sufficient amounts of this particular nutrient in order to avoid the dreaded blossom end rot. Just make sure you clean the empty shells thoroughly before adding them to your garden.
How to Banish Blossom Rot
Blossom rot, or blossom end rot, is a common problem encountered by tomato gardeners. The condition is characterized by a dark, rotten spot at the blossom end of developing tomatoes. Fortunately, there are ways to combat blossom rot before it starts, but once it appears on an individual fruit, there is no way to “cure” the affected tomato. Although you can cut away the rotted portion and safely eat the rest, it is best to eliminate the problem before it reaches that point.
So, how does blossom rot start… and more importantly, how you can prevent it from showing up in the first place?
Blossom rot first presents as a dime or quarter-sized brown or black spot on the end of the tomato opposite the stem. Unfortunately, you may find this small blossom end rot spot signifies that the tomato is totally rotted out inside. Unchecked, you can lose a large portion of your entire tomato crop to this condition.
As always, prevention is the best medicine. What causes blossom rot to start is a deficiency in calcium. In order for tomato plants to grow their fruit properly, they need an adequate amount of calcium. Even if you have plenty of calcium in your soil, your plants may not be able to effectively absorb it for a number of reasons. When this occurs, your plants are at risk of contracting blossom rot.
Therefore, the way to prevent blossom rot is to ensure your plants have access to enough calcium and are able to absorb it appropriately. Before you plant your tomatoes, be sure to have your soil tested or do it yourself with an inexpensive soil testing kit. Ideally, your soil should be slightly acidic, with a pH somewhere between 6.0 and 6.8. If your soil is too acidic, you can add some limestone or lime to increase the pH. Use caution when adding these amendments, however. If you add too much, you’ll end up with soil that is too alkaline.
If this occurs, or if your soil is naturally alkaline, you can amend it with rich organic matter, elemental sulfur or an acidifying fertilizer, such as ammonium sulfate. It can be very challenging to lower soil pH, however, because limestone in the ground is continually dissolving. If you live in an area where alkaline soil is a fact of life, you may want to build raised beds to create a more hospitable growing environment for your plants.
Once your soil is at the optimum pH level, you’ll want to ensure your plants are receiving enough water on a consistent basis. Optimal tomato growth requires regular and deep watering so that water gets all the way down to the entire root system. Tomatoes won’t flourish if you allow them to go dry between watering sessions. So, be sure your plants receive 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week but don’t go overboard and give them too much.
Fortunately, blossom rot usually shows up at the very beginning of the season as the first fruits appear. If you notice your tomatoes are showing possible signs of blossom rot, make sure your plants are watered deeply every 4 to 5 days. If it is extremely hot in your area, water them even more frequently. To deter mine when it is time to water your plants, dig down 3 or 4 inches into the soil. If the soil is moist, wait 24 hours and check again. When the soil at that level is dry, it is time to water again.
Finally, many tomato gardeners also swear by liquid kelp extract or kelp fertilizer as a way to combat blossom rot. Kelp is a very nutrient-rich form of seaweed with many useful gardening applications. The extract and fertilizer are readily available in local garden centers, large home improvement stores or via online retailers. You may want to test it out on part of your garden to see how it works for you.
Although blossom rot can be a challenging garden dilemma, a little preparation and planning will go a long way towards banishing it from your garden.