Successful tomatoes planted in pots require the right container

Many containerized tomatoes suffered this summer from failure to perform. Gardeners should consider larger, wider containers for next growing season.

Each year, many home gardeners decide to grow their tomato plants in containers rather than plant them in their garden. The reasons vary from having no garden area, to worries about what is in soil, to wanting plants to decorate the deck. For some of these people, the plants did not produce tomatoes in any quantity and for others, problems like blossom-end rot ruined much of the produced fruit.

In the great world of tomatoes, the plants can be grouped into two broad categories. One is called indeterminate. This indicates that the plant continues to grow until the first frost or when there is not enough sunlight to sustain it. This is the largest group of tomatoes that people buy and grow. Plants continue to grow and produce all summer and some even knock over their tomato cages because of their giant sizes.

Tomato pot
Tomato pot. Photo credit:

The other tomatoes are called determinate. These tomatoes grow to a certain size and produce most or all of their fruit within a short period of time. Often, gardeners know them as “patio tomatoes.” They are more suited to smaller, confined areas.

Both kinds of tomatoes have root systems that are wider than they are deep. A large indeterminate tomato might have roots that grow two feet or more on each side of the plant. In a garden, there is usually no problem, but when containers are used, often the roots run out of room before they run out of growing.

Large plants in small pots can cause difficulties. It becomes more of a problem when the plant is expending a great amount of energy-producing fruit. With a large plant in a small container, plants dry out rapidly and need to be watered several times a day or they wilt. Excessive watering can wash the nutrients right out of the pot with the constant drenching and plants may suffer from a lack of nutrients. Some of these plants did not produce many tomatoes or produced a large quantity with blossom end rot.

Blossom end rot is a physiological problem where the fruit produced have flat, black, leathery bottoms, ripen and rot quickly. It has to do with the plant’s vascular system not transporting enough water and calcium to the blossom end of the fruit. Essentially, it is caused by not enough water or inconsistent amounts of water.

Since people are not aware of the differences in tomatoes, they often select what they like to eat. Many of these are the large, indeterminate varieties. People often choose small containers not realizing that there is not much root room in a 12-inch wide pot. Roots run horizontally to the side of the pot and then are forced downwards where they grow in a circular pattern or have to stop growing. People think about the depth of the pot, not its width, and this is difficult on a tomato with a big root system that is bred to produce ample, tasty fruit.

Because of the heat and no rain in June and July, many people who have not had problems with tomatoes in containers in the past did this year. Extreme growing conditions cause small problems to become larger.

For those who had excellent results with tomatoes in containers, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For those who did, consider larger, wider containers for next growing season.

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