TOMATOES IN CONTAINERS
It is time to plant tomatoes and peppers. They both make good container plants. Obtain a container that is at least 5 gallons in volume; 10 gallons or a half whiskey barrel is even better. The smaller the container, the more disciplined you must be in watering the plants. A tomato full of fruit in a 5-gallon container requires watering twice per day in June.
Fill the container with a high quality commercial potting
soil. I have good luck with pure compost taken directly from my finished
pile. Add a half-cup of Osmocote mixed into the potting soil and then
plant the tomato or pepper.
There is a tomato variety called Patio that makes a
very attractive container plant. The fruit, however, is not in the
same league as Surefire or Merced. The Dwarf Cherry Surprise tomato
that Jerry Parsons and the Gardening Volunteers of South Texas have
been selling is another excellent choice for a container tomato. The
variety is a determinate selection that sets fruit on a small plant.
Water your tomato in a container every two days for
the next few weeks. As soon as the plant sets fruit begin watering
every day if you have a 5-gallon container. Larger containers may
allow you to go three or four days between irrigation. Irrigate until
the water begins to seep out of the drip hole.
Once per week include some soluble fertilizer in your
irrigation water. Mix it according to the instructions. Miracle-Grow,
Peters, and Schultz are all good brands.
The planting works best if you place a tomato cage
over the plant. Neighborhood nurseries have small aluminum cages that
fit easily in the container. The cage keeps the plant upright and
the fruit off the ground.
Place your container in full sun, out
of the wind if possible. Severe winds affect tomato production and
the plants can get top heavy when they are full of fruit. This is
especially true for plants in the 5-gallon containers.
Use Bt (Dipel, Thuricide, etc.) products to control
pinworms, hornworms, and other caterpillars. Malathion or Sevin control
most other insects. Check the label of your favorite organic insecticides
to see if it is labeled for tomatoes and peppers. Neem products provide
some fungal and mite control.
Tomatoes in small containers are prone to suffer from
blossom end rot. The fruit shows a black flattened bottom that looks
like it is a disease symptom. In actuality, the symptom is caused
by a calcium deficiency that is directly related to a break in the
uptake of water. Even if you are a disciplined irrigator, tolerate
a few disfigured tomatoes. Expect them to form during spells when
temperatures rise 20 to 25 degrees F. from one day to the next. A
thin layer of mulch on the soil surface may reduce the problem but
the black end can be cut off and the rest of the fruit used.
A caged tomato plant in a substantial container can
be attractive but a pepper plant is even more attractive. The plants
are disciplined, compact growers. The leaves are shiny green. If you
are slow to harvest the peppers it reduces the total harvest, but
most of them become colorful. Jalapenos become purple and green peppers
become red. Banana peppers are yellow and make an exceptionally fine
container plant. They can be mild or hot.