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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Growing Tomatoes, Even When You Don't Have a Garden

By Mary Schroeder, Extension Educator — Health and Nutrition

With summer around the corner, I'm thinking about the joys of the season, including the tantalizing taste of fresh, home-grown tomatoes. But what if you don't have access to a garden? Don't worry! You can still grow tasty tomatoes in a container.

Here is what you need to get started.
  • A growing pot. Look for a pot that holds between 2 to 5 gallons of soil. The shape of the container does not matter, but you should give some consideration to the type of pot you use. There are several container options to choose from, including clay, plastic, or even wood. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but each works for growing tomatoes, as long as the bottom of the pot has holes to allow for water drainage. (For more information on types of pots to use in container gardening, check out University of Minnesota Master Gardener and University of Illinois Extension and resources below.)
  • Soil. Purchase all-purpose potting soil. Do not use 100 percent garden soil or soil from your yard as it is too dense and heavy, which can hamper growth. 
  • Plant. Select a tomato plant that is 6 to 8 inches tall, dark green and healthy looking. If desired, you can purchase tomato plants that are specifically designed to grow in containers.
Now, here is what to do:
  • Fill the pot with potting soil. Dig a hole in the center of the soil. 
  • Take the tomato plant out of the store container, gently place it in the hole, and fill in the soil around it. Pack the soil well and gently water the plant. 
  • Place the plant outside and water it every 5 to 7 days, depending on local rainfall. 
If your potting soil does not come with a slow-release fertilizer, you may want to add a water-soluble fertilizer. As your plant grows, put a cage around it and loosely tie the plant to the cage. This will keep your tomato plant growing upright and tall.
If your tomato plant starts to look sickly, the University of Minnesota has a great Choose a Symptom website that helps you diagnose and treat tomato-growing problems, such as holes in the fruit (remember that tomatoes are fruits), curled leaves, and black spots.

One more piece of advice: Plant today and enjoy luscious home-grown tomatoes in July!

For more information on growing tomatoes and other plants in containers, check out the following resources:
  • Container Tomato GardeningUniversity of Illinois Extension — This fact sheet offers advice on planting and caring for container-grown tomato plants. 
  • Container Gardening — University of Minnesota Extension — This PowerPoint presentation from Extension’s Master Gardener program tells you just about everything you need to know about growing plants in containers. 
  • Growing tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant in Minnesota home gardensUniversity of Minnesota Extension — This webpage touches on topics related to growing three heat-loving vegetables, including tomatoes, in Minnesota gardens. 

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