Weekly Express-News Article
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Saturday, March 22, 2008
“Tomatoes and Peppers in Containers”
With the change in the weather, gardeners start thinking tomatoes. Most
of us think of growing them in raised beds or enriched native soil,
but they also do very well in containers. Consider the following recommendations
to increase your chance of success.
Although you can successfully grow a tomato plant in a five-gallon container,
it is easier if the container is larger. A container of the size of
a half-whiskey barrel works better because there is more soil reservoir
for the root system. In such a container, watering once per day or every
two days is usually enough. A plant full of fruit in a five-gallon container
may have to be watered several times a day to avoid stressing the plant.
A tomato plant in a small container is also top heavy and prone to blow
Find a spot in full sun for the container. It also helps if it is out
of the wind, but that is not always possible. Fill your container with
high quality potting soil. Avoid $.99 cent specials, they are usually
mostly sand. Enrich the soil with Osmocote or a similar slow release
fertilizer for containers.
Almost any recommended variety will work as a container tomato, but
I have two favorite choices. Surefire is becoming harder and harder
to find, but a few plants will be available at area nurseries this year.
It produces a firm, tennis ball size fruit on a relatively small compact
plant. For cherry tomato lovers, look for the new “dwarf cherry
surprise” tomato. It is one of Jerry Parson’s tomatoes that
has shown outstanding warm weather and pest-resistance performance in
preliminary tests. It is especially desirable for container culture
because it is entirely determinant, it grows its foliage and when it
reaches its full size, stops growing to concentrate on fruit production.
Use Surefire or Dwarf Cherry Surprise and you are assured that your
container plants won’t be eight feet tall without any fruit.
Patio tomatoes marketed for containers are also available. The foliage
is very lush and attractive; unfortunately, the fruit quality is not
Support your container tomato with an aluminum tomato cage. Tomatoes
are heavy feeders. In addition to the Osmocote, provide an application
of a soluble container fertilizer dissolved in water every two weeks.
Watch for insects. Stinkbugs and caterpillars such as hornworms are
just as likely to attack container grown tomatoes as they are those
planted in the garden. Spinosad is a new organic option for caterpillars,
but you will probably have to rely on Sevin or malathion for stink bugs.
A second good vegetable for summer container culture is the pepper.
They are more drought-tolerant, more attractive, require less fertilizer
and make more compact plants than tomatoes, but will do very well with
the same basic care.
Peppers also produce over a longer season than tomatoes. In most cases,
your pepper will make a good show and produce until late fall while
the tomatoes should be replanted in July.
My favorite pepper for containers (and the garden) are the mild bananas
because they are wonderful to eat fresh, in salads, or cooked and they
are showy; but there is a very large choice of varieties. One habenero
or jalapeño plant will provide all the hot peppers required for
most small families. Ornamental peppers can also be eaten and they make
a great show with their selection of colored fruit.