Grow vegetables and flowers in containers for ease of gardening access

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Container gardening lends itself to attractive plantscaping. A dull patio area can be brightened by the addition of baskets of cascading tomatoes or a colorful herb mix. Planter boxes with trellises can be used to create a cool shady place on an apartment balcony. Container gardening presents opportunities for many innovative ideas.

Container gardening is one of the fastest growing segments of gardening. Containers can be grown where traditional gardens are not possible including apartment balconies, small courtyards, decks, patios, and areas with poor soil. They are an ideal solution for people in rental situations, with limited mobility, or with limited time to care for a large landscape.

Since containers are portable, they can be placed in well-used living areas during their prime and then removed or replaced after they’ve become spent. Container gardens add an instant landscaped look and add color. Containers are generally comprised of annual blooming plants, and the look is easily changed from year to year as compared to traditional landscapes. There are a variety of plants available for containers which are more affordable than ever before.

Container gardening is also a perfect activity for beginning gardeners intimidated by large landscape projects. Container gardens are also a great solution for advanced gardeners who are interested in showcasing particular plants or gardening skills.

Growing Medium

A fairly lightweight potting mix is needed for container vegetable gardening. Soil straight from the garden usually cannot be used in a container because it may be too heavy, unless your garden has sandy loam or sandy soil. Clay soil consists of extremely small (microscopic) particles. In a container, the bad qualities of clay are exaggerated. It holds too much moisture when wet, resulting in too little air for the roots, and it pulls away from the sides of the pot when dry.

Container medium must be porous in order to support plants, because roots require both air and water. Packaged potting soil available at local garden centers is relatively lightweight and may make a good container medium. Soilless mixes such as peat-lite mix are generally too light for container vegetable gardening, not offering enough support to plant roots. If the container is also lightweight, a strong wind can blow plants over, resulting in major damage. Also, soilless mixes are sterile and contain few nutrients, so even though major fertilizers are added, no trace elements are available for good plant growth. Add soil or compost if you wish to use a sterile mix. For a large container garden, the expense of prepackaged or soilless mixes may be quite high. Try mixing your own with one part peat moss, one part garden loam, and one part clean, coarse (builder's) sand, and a slow-release fertilizer.

Make sure your planting medium drains rapidly but retains enough moisture to keep the roots evenly moist. Your compost will make an excellent potting soil. Check the requirements of the plants you grow to determine whether you will need to add sand. If compost is not available, purchase a good quality potting mixture or make your own from equal parts of sand, loamy garden soil, and coco coir. Commercial potting mixes are usually slightly acidic, so you may want to add a little lime.

Most container gardeners have found that a "soilless" potting mix works best. In addition to draining quickly, "soilless" mixes are lightweight and free from soil- borne diseases and weed seeds. These mixes can be purchased from garden centers.

When you add your soil to your container, leave a 2 inch space between the top of the soil and the top of the container. You will be able to add 1/2 inch or so of mulch later.

Potting soil should be free of disease organisms, insects, and weed seeds. It should be porous yet hold water and nutrients with a slightly acidic pH. Do not use native soil, even if you can pasteurize it. Most native soils have a high percentage of clay particles that easily compact reducing the oxygen that is available to the roots. Potting soil may contain pasteurized soil, sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, and composted manure.

Never reuse the same potting soil from the previous growing season because it may contain disease organisms.

Soilless mixes contain many of the same ingredients as potting soil, but are two to three times lighter because they don’t contain heavy soil. Common ingredients include coco coir and/or ground bark to hold water and nutrients; perlite for water retention and to loosen the mix and allow for air movement. You can add up to 10 percent of the volume with clean, coarse sand to add weight for top-heavy plants.

Soil recipe for 5 gallon container​ gardening:

​1 bucket (​2-1/2 gallons)​  coco coir
​A half bucket (​1-1/4 gallons) Perlite
A half bucket (1-1/4 gallons) compost or composted cow manure
2 cups fine sand
2 cups organic fertilizer

I also add a cup of Azomite to make the strawberries more nutritious with micro minerals

Test your soil's ph. The lower the number you get, the more acidic your soil is, with 7.0 being neutral. You can adjust your soil's pH if needed. If it is too high, mix some sulfur into the soil. If the pH is too low, add lime to the soil.

Sunshine

Your container garden will need at least five hours of direct sunlight each day, and many plants will benefit from even more. As a general rule, leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce can tolerate the most shade, while root crops such as beets and carrots will need more sun. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers need the most sun. The amount of sunlight needed by flowers varies depending on the varieties grown. Check the flower guides for sunlight requirements.

The amount of sunlight that your container garden spot receives may determine which crops can be grown. Generally, root crops and leaf crops can tolerate partial shade, but vegetables grown for their fruits generally need at least 5 hours of full, direct sunlight each day, and perform better with 8 to 10 hours. Available light can be increased somewhat by providing reflective materials around the plants, e.g., aluminum foil, white-painted surfaces, marble chips.

As mentioned before, a sunny window, preferably south-facing, is almost a must for indoor vegetable growing. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers will also need supplemental light, such as a combination warm-white/cool-white fluorescent fixture, during winter months. Insufficient light will result in tall, spindly plants and failure to flower and set fruit.

It is critical to supply the right amount of light based on the plant’s need. Follow the individualized requirements found on plant labels or in references, and don’t mix plants with different light needs.

Consider the light available in the location where containers are to be placed when initially selecting plants. Note that the portability of containers allows for moving them to different locations if plant growth falters because of too much, or too little, available light. Shifting container locations is also desirable as the amount of available sunlight changes with the seasons.

Reflected sunlight can be damaging to plants as well. Western exposures may provide a risk for sun scald on many plants and this may be increased with reflected light off lightly colored buildings and paving.

As a general guide, flowering plants, water plants, and fruiting vegetables require a minimum of eight hours of full sun each day to perform well. Root vegetables do best with six hours, and leafy vegetables and many herbs should receive at least four hours of sun. Some foliage plants are best located in filtered light or continuous shade.

Fertilizing

Since potting mixes drain water rapidly, fertilizer will be washed out of the container as you water. Lighter mixes will require more frequent fertilizing than heavier mixes. It's a good idea to use a dilute liquid fertilizer with every other watering. Liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed are great plant boosters, but remember that you need to provide your plants with a variety of nutrients. Check the labels on the products in you garden center to be sure that they contain a complete, balanced solution that includes trace elements.

If you use a soil mix with fertilizer added, then your plants will have enough nutrients for 8 to 10 weeks. If plants are grown longer than this, add a water-soluble fertilizer at the recommended rate. Repeat every 2 to 3 weeks. An occasional dose of fish emulsion or compost will add trace elements to the soil. Do not add more than the recommended rate of any fertilizer, since this may cause fertilizer burn and kill the plants. Container plants do not have the buffer of large volumes of soil and humus to protect them from over-fertilizing or over-liming. Just because a little is good for the plants does not guarantee that a lot will be better.

The rapid growth of many container plants quickly depletes the fertilizer available in the limited volume of soil. Well-drained soil mixes also result in the regular loss of fertilizer in the drainage water.

To provide the right amount of fertilizer, mix controlled-release fertilizer granules into the soil mix at planting. The large number of plants often grown in containers places extra demands on the fertilizer supplied by timed-release products. Under Colorado conditions, the fertilizer supplied by these products is generally insufficient to carry container plants through the growing season. Use fully soluble fertilizer products added to the irrigation water to supplement or replace timed-release products. Organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion or blood meal can also be used if desired, but may be available too slowly for actively growing plants, or may develop sour aromas.

A soil test should also tell you the nutrient and chemical makeup of the soil. Your soil should have a good balance of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus to yield good tomatoes.

Nitrogen will help your tomatoes grow healthy leaves. Tomatoes with yellowed leaves may have a nitrogen deficiency. If your soil is lacking nitrogen, you can add more with fertilizer. Organic sources of nitrogen include: alfalfa meal, compost, fish meal, feather meal and leaf mold. Some inorganic sources are: ammonium sulfate, anhydrous ammonia, calcium nitrate and sodium nitrate.

Potassium aids in disease resistance and helps the tomatoes grow. A deficiency in potassium may result in slower growth and weakened plants. If your soil needs potassium, you can use wood ash, granite dust, rock sand or potassium sulfate to boost the potassium level.

Phosphorus will help the tomatoes' roots and seed formation. Soil that lacks enough phosphorus can produce tomatoes that have reddened stems and stunted growth. If your test results show that you need more phosphorus, you can add some by adding bone meal, compost, super phosphate or rock phosphate to your soil.

Add a handful of powdered lime and bone meal into the planting hole to avoid end rot (a Calcium deficiency).

Containers

There are many possible containers for gardening. Clay, wood, plastic, metal are some of the suitable materials. Containers for vegetable plants must:
be big enough to support plants when they are fully grown; hold soil without spilling; have adequate drainage; and never have held products that would be toxic to plants or people.

Consider using barrels, cut-off milk and bleach jugs, window boxes, baskets lined with plastic (with drainage holes punched in it), even pieces of drainage pipe or cement block. If you are building a planting box out of wood, you will find redwood and cedar to be the most rot-resistant, but bear in mind that cedar trees are much more plentiful than redwoods. Wood for use around plants should never be treated with creosote or pentachlorophenol (Penta) wood preservatives. These may be toxic to plants and harmful to people as well.

Some gardeners have built vertical planters out of wood lattice lined with black plastic and then filled with a lightweight medium; or out of welded wire, shaped into cylinders, lined with sphagnum moss, and filled with soil mix. Depending on the size of your vertical planter, 2-inch diameter perforated plastic pipes may be needed inside to aid watering. Whatever type of container you use, be sure that there are holes in the bottom for drainage so that plant roots do not stand in water. Most plants need containers at least 6 to 8 inches deep for adequate rooting.

As long as the container meets the basic requirements described above it can be used. The imaginative use of discarded items or construction of attractive patio planters is a very enjoyable aspect of container gardening . For ease of care, dollies or platforms with wheels or casters can be used to move the containers from place to place. This is especially useful for apartment or balcony gardening so that plants can be moved to get maximum use of available space and sunlight, and to avoid destruction from particularly nasty weather.

Just about any container can be used including clay (often called terra cotta), plastic pots, wood barrels, wire baskets lined with sphagnum moss or coconut coir, planter boxes, ceramic pots (often found in bold colors), and even cement blocks. However, make sure you never use a container that held toxic materials, especially if edible plants are going to be grown.

Consider whether your pots will be moved during the growing season. When water is added to soil in an already heavy container, the weight may be too much to lift easily. Plan ahead when planting large containers and add container dollies with wheels. Keep in mind tall plants require a heavier container to avoid tipping over from imbalance or offering too much wind resistance.

The container should be large enough so the plants won’t dry out between waterings. Many vegetables, herbs, and flowers will not be productive if they are allowed to wilt. Containers of minimum size hold less moisture especially when the roots are crowded. They will need more daily maintenance during the heat of summer. Consider using a slightly larger container with more soil to hold moisture and reduce maintenance.

Pots that are porous may look more natural but can deteriorate quickly if consistently exposed to moisture and freezing temperatures. Porous containers should be brought inside to prevent cracking during the winter months.

Non-porous containers, including glazed pottery, have a longer life span but are often more expensive. They may be stored outdoors in the winter. Use non-porous containers, except glazed pottery, for growing early season plants like lettuce or pansies. They can withstand the likelihood of frost or freezing during early spring.

The size of the container should accommodate the roots of the plants when fully grown. Plant vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, pepper, cucumbers, cabbage, and beans in a minimum of five-gallon containers. Beets, carrots, lettuce, and green onions can be planted in three-gallon containers. Most herbs and radishes grow well in containers of one gallon or less. With flowers, a general rule is the larger the height of the flower, the more root mass is produced thus requiring a larger container.

Avoid containers with narrow openings. Cheap plastic pots may deteriorate in UV sunlight and terracotta pots dry out rapidly. Glazed ceramic pots are excellent choices but require several drainage holes. Wooden containers are susceptible to rot. Redwood and cedar are relatively rot resistant and can be used without staining or painting. Avoid wood treated with creosote, penta or other toxic compounds since the vapors can damage the plants.

One advantage of wooden containers is that they can be built to sizes and shapes that suit the location.

Use containers between 15 and 120 quarts capacity. Small pots restrict the root area and dry out very quickly. The size and number of plants to be grown will determine the size of the container used. Deep rooted vegetables require deep pots. Make sure your pot has adequate drainage. Holes should be 1/2 inch across. Line the base of the pot with newspaper to prevent soil loss.

In hot climates use light-colored containers to lessen heat absorption and discourage uneven root growth. If you choose clay pots, remember that clay is porous and water is lost from the sides of the container. Plants in clay pots should be monitored closely for loss of moisture.

Planting

Plant container crops at the same time you would if you were planting a regular garden. Fill a clean container to within an inch of the top with the slightly damp soil mixture. Peat moss in the mix will absorb water and mix much more readily if soaked with warm water before putting the mix in the container.

Sow the seeds or set transplants according to instructions on the seed package. Put a label with the name, variety, and date of planting on or in each container. After planting, gently soak the soil with water, being careful not to wash out or displace seeds. Thin seedlings to obtain proper spacing when the plants have two or three leaves. If cages, stakes, or other supports are needed, provide them when the plants are very small to avoid root damage later.

Watering

Pay particular attention to watering container plants. Because the volume of soil is relatively small, containers can dry out very quickly, especially on a concrete patio in full sun. Daily or even twice daily watering may be necessary. Apply water until it runs out the drainage holes. On an upstairs balcony, this may mean neighbor problems, so make provisions for drainage of water. Large trays filled with coarse marble chips work nicely. However, the soil should never be soggy or have water standing on top of it. When the weather is cool, container plants may be subject to root rots if maintained too wet.

Clay pots and other porous containers allow additional evaporation from the sides of the pots and watering must be done more often. Small pots also tend to dry out more quickly than larger ones. If the soil appears to be getting excessively dry (plants wilting every day is one sign), group the containers together so that the foliage creates a canopy to help shade the soil and keep it cool. On a hot patio, you might consider putting containers on pallets or other structures that will allow air movement beneath the pots and prevent direct contact with the cement.

Check containers at least once a day, and twice on hot, dry, or windy days. Feel the soil to determine whether or not it is damp. Mulching and windbreaks can help reduce water requirements for containers. If you are away a lot, consider an automatic drip emitter irrigation system.

Container gardens require more frequent watering than “in-ground” landscapes because the exposed sides of the containers result in more evaporation. Plastic containers do not dry out as quickly as ceramic, especially unglazed ceramic pots. Even plastic containers may require daily or twice daily watering as plants grow larger. Do not allow containers to dry completely or fine roots will die. Also, if allowed to dry excessively, the potting media will shrink away from the side of the container and be harder to re-wet.

In an exposed location, container plants loose moisture quickly. Some plants will need to be watered daily, especially during hot, dry weather.

The use of water-holding polymers or gels, mixed with the soil before planting, can increase the amount of water held and may extend the time between watering. There are also new self-watering pot systems that may potentially reduce watering maintenance.

Most municipal water systems on the Front Range are from mountain sources which are excellent and cause few problems. However, water from wells and much of the Western Slope is often high in salts or carbonates which will cause some problems. One way to prevent excessive salt buildup is to water completely where 10 percent of what is added drains out the bottom. Salt build-up is damaging to plants causing burned leaf edges, stunted growth, and fewer blooms. If saucers are used to catch drained water, empty them to prevent salt buildup. This can be done easily with a kitchen baster; however, dedicate one to the garden and don’t reuse it in the kitchen.
Water is often used to carry soluble fertilizers to the roots of container plants. Fertilizers are forms of salts, so salt management is important because of the need to fertilize container plants regularly.

Drainage

No matter what container you select the most important thing to consider is drainage. Plants will not grow successfully in soil that is continually water logged. In water logged soils, space fills with water leaving no room for air which is necessary for proper root growth. If there are no existing drainage holes in the container make multiple holes in the bottom.

Keep in mind that containers made from porous materials (like clay and wood) lose moisture quickly, but allow air movement into the root zone. However, metal, plastic, and glazed containers are non-porous – they hold water longer, but restrict air movement making drainage holes especially important. Use a container insert if you plan to use an expensive decorative container without drainage holes. Make sure the insert does not rest in water.

Consideration on vegetables to grow

Grow vegetables that take up little space, such as carrots, radishes and lettuce, or crops that bear fruits over a period of time, such as tomatoes and peppers, for best use of space and containers. Dwarf or miniature varieties often mature and bear fruit early, but most do not produce as well overall as standard varieties. With increasing interest in container gardening , plant breeders and seed companies are working on vegetables specifically bred for container culture. These varieties are not necessarily miniature or dwarf and may produce as well as standard types if properly cared for.

If you want fresh, home-grown vegetables over the winter, or if you don't have an outdoor space in which you can place containers, it is worth trying some indoor container gardening . Of course you cannot have a full garden in the house, but a bright, sunny window can be the site for growing fresh food all year. Some small-fruited tomatoes and peppers, several types of lettuce, radishes, and many herbs are among the plants you can include in the indoor garden.

Follow directions given above for preparing pots and for watering, fertilizing, etc. However, note that plants will dry out less quickly indoors and will also grow more slowly, needing less fertilizer. To make watering easy it is wise to set the pots in large trays with an inch or two of decorative stones in them. Not only will this prevent your having to move the plants in order to water them, which may discourage you from watering when you should, but it will also provide humidity, which is a major requirement, especially during winter when the house is warm and dry.

Herbs are a first choice for many indoor gardeners. Many are less demanding than vegetable plants, and cooks find it pleasant to be able to snip off a few sprigs of fresh parsley or chop some chives from the windowsill herb garden. Chives grow like small onions with leaves about 6 inches tall. These plants prefer cool conditions with good light, but will grow quite well on a windowsill in the kitchen. One or two pots of chives will provide leaves for seasoning salads and soups. Plant seeds in a 6-inch pot. The plants should be about 1 inch apart over the entire surface area. It will require about 12 weeks from the time seeds are planted until leaves can be cut. For variety, try garlic or Chinese chives, which grow in a similar fashion, but have a mild garlic flavor.

Parsley seeds can be planted directly into 6-inch pots, or young, healthy plants can be transplanted from the garden. One vigorous plant per pot is enough. Standard parsley develops attractive, green, curly leaves about 6 or 8 inches tall. Italian, or flat-leaved, parsley has a slightly stronger flavor and is a favorite for pasta dishes. Leaves can be clipped about 10 to 12 weeks after planting the seeds.

Cilantro, or the leaves of the young coriander plant, can be grown in the windowsill garden. Cilantro is used in Oriental and Mexican dishes, but it is not available in most grocery stores and must be used fresh. Grow cilantro as you would parsley. Thyme and other herbs will also grow well indoors if given the right conditions.

The small-fruited varieties of tomatoes such as Tiny Tim, Small Fry, and the paste tomato, Roma, may be raised quite satisfactorily in the home. They will challenge your gardening ability, and supply fruits which can be eaten whole, cooked, or served with salad. The Tiny Tim tomato grows to a height of about 12 to 15 inches. Small Fry, which is about 3 feet tall, and Roma will need more space and should be located on an enclosed porch or in a sun room. Several varieties have been developed for hanging baskets; they may be worth experimenting with.

Some of the small-fruited peppers may be grown as indoor plants. Like tomatoes, they require warm, bright conditions in order to grow well indoors. Fruits will be ready to harvest from peppers and tomatoes about ten weeks after planting. Whiteflies and aphids may present a problem on indoor tomato and pepper plants. Keep a close watch for these pests so they do not get a good start in your planting. Yellow sticky traps, either purchased or homemade, are effective in trapping whiteflies. Insecticidal soap or other pesticide approved for vegetable plants can be used to control aphids. Fortunately, you will be less likely to experience problems with such outdoor pests as tomato hornworms, corn earworm (in peppers), and late blight than you would if plants were outside.

For a quick-growing crop, try radishes. These must be grown very rapidly if they are to be crisp and succulent. Scatter radish seeds on moist soil in a 6-inch pot. Cover with 1/4 inch of soil and place a piece of glass or plastic wrap over the pot to conserve moisture until the seeds germinate. Carrots are slower, but can be grown in the same way; use the small-rooted varieties, such as Little Finger, for best results indoors.

Experiment with various types of lettuce. Leaf lettuce and the miniature Tom Thumb butterhead are some to try. Space them according to package directions. Keep lettuce moist and in a very sunny spot.

If light is limited, an old standby for fresh taste and high food value is sprouted seeds. Almost any seeds can be sprouted: corn, barley, alfalfa, lentils, soybeans, rye, peas, radish, mung beans, sunflowers, etc. Use only special seeds for sprouting available from health food or grocery stores to avoid the possibility of getting seeds treated with pesticide. Use any wide-mouthed container such as a Mason or mayonnaise jar. Soak seeds overnight, drain, and place in the container. Cover with a double cheesecloth layer held with rubber bands, or a sprouting lid. Set the container in a consistently warm spot and rinse and drain seeds two or three times daily. In 3 to 5 days, sprouts will be 1 to 3 inches long and ready for harvesting.

Companion Planting

When planting more than one variety of plant in a container, choose the partners carefully to make sure their soil, sun and water needs are compatible. Don't plant a mixed pot of thirsty plants with plants that are drought tolerant.

An example of perfect partners for container grown vegetables is a tomato plant, oregano, basil and French Marigold . All the plants have the same soil, sun and water needs. The oregano and basil will enhance the tomato flavor while the fruit is growing and the French Marigold looks pretty while it acts as a natural pest deterrent for the tomato plant. If the container is not large enough to support the growth of all four plants, plant the tomato and just one of the other plant choices.

A great way to get a good harvest is to “companion plant.” That is, plant two different types of vegetables in close proximity to one another to create a symbiotic cultural environment. Just as there are beneficial insects that eat destructive insects or improve pollination, there are beneficial combinations of plants that help fight pests or increase yields.

Sometimes companion plants are used to draw pests away from the “good crop.” Sometimes companion plants are used because one plant adds something to the soil that the other plant needs. For example, legumes add nitrogen to the soil which can then benefit neighboring plants. Other plants literally exude natural chemicals that deter pests. Still other, taller companion plants can be used to shade more fragile or shade loving plants. If this sort of thing really fascinates you, definitely click on the sources below, as there is more detailed information as to how and why companion planting works.

Needless to say, there are lots of good reasons to companion plant, and they all apply to container gardens and other small space vegetable gardens. While companion planting is good for the vegetables and herbs involved, it is worth noting, that companion planting often looks better than a single vegetable plunked down in the middle of a pot with a lot of exposed dirt surrounding the base.

Here are some suggestions for vegetable/vegetable companion plantings:

Cabbage, Broccoli and Cauliflower – Plant with aromatic herbs (mint is a traditional companion plant for cabbage), beets or chard, but not dill, strawberries, pole beans, or tomatoes.
Lettuce – Plant with radishes or carrots
Spinach – Plant with fava beans
Globe Onions – Plant with beets, carrots, lettuce and cabbage but not with beans or English peas
Turnips – Plant with English peas but not with Irish potatoes
Beets – Plant with lettuce, kohlrabi, onions, garlic, mint, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower but not with beans
Carrots – Plant with onions, chives, lettuce, leeks, shallots, rosemary, sage, and beans but not with dill, parsnip, tomatoes and radish
Leeks – Plant with carrots but not with beans or peas

Plant a crop like any Legumes to feed nitrogen into the soil, then it will not be necessary to use any chemical fertilizers for the next crop.

The French Marigold , along with other plants, are well known for companion planting, as they exude chemicals from their roots or aerial parts that suppress or repel pests and protect neighbouring plants.

Companion plants to grow with tomatoes in containers.

* Borage is suppose to protect tomatoes from tomato hornworms, but the science behind that has yet to be proven. Although, last year I didn’t grow borage alongside my tomatoes and I caught my first tomato hornworms in the garden. So maybe there’s something to be said for its repelling properties. Grow borage for the leaves and flowers that have a fresh, cucumber-like flavor. Add the young leaves and blooms to salads, soups, and summer drinks.
* Chives
* French Marigold s are well known for it’s qualities to repel garden pests. They produce a substance called alpha-terthienyl, which helps reduce root-knot nematodes in the soil.
* Nasturtiums
* Basil
* Calendula is also called pot marigold, but the Calendula genus should not be confused with marigolds listed as number. They’re completely different plants. Calendula leaves and blooms are edible and make a nice addition to salads.
* Carrots plant early in the season with my tomatoes before the tomatoes take off. Then plant another crop towards the end of the season when the tomato plants are on their last leg. Any time in between and I grow stunted--but still flavorful--carrots as they compete with the roots of mature tomatoes for space in the soil.
* Peppers, both hot and sweet peppers alongside my container tomatoes every year. The drought and heat this year is reportedly the cause of some really hot peppers showing up in markets. If you’re growing peppers for heat, growing them alongside tomatoes may not be the best choice. My peppers have been spared the effects of the heat and drought because they’re growing in self-watering containers alongside the tomatoes.
* Sage
* Onions
* Garlic
* Leaf lettuce and other leafy greens in the same container as my tomatoes acts as a living mulch which helps keep the soil cooler, and reduces the chances of spreading diseases from water and soil splashing on the leaves.

Design

There are a few design principles to consider when planting container gardens. They concern dimension, shape, and color. Consider the texture or shapes of plant leaves and flowers. A variety of leaf shapes and sizes can be more appealing than uniform foliage. Combine round-shaped flowers with irregularly shaped ones.

To avoid a flat look, add a spike, a tall plant, or a garden ornament for height and a trailing plant to drape down from the container. A grouping of different sized containers will also help achieve this goal. Chose plants that are in scale with the size of your container and planting backdrop. As a guideline, plants should be twice as tall as the visible part of the container. If planting one large plant such as an ornamental grass, select a larger container that will fulfill both plant growth and design needs. Large plants can overwhelm small situations and small plants make little impact in large spaces. Also consider whether the container will be viewed from one side or several angles and position plants accordingly.

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

One of the most important things you can do to ensure tomato success is to use a big enough container - the bigger the better. For one plant (unless it's a very small tomato variety), you need a pot or container that is at least a square foot - 2 square feet is better. Five gallon buckets (the ones you get at hardware stores, or for free at restaurants of food factories) are the perfect size for one plant.

Once you have the perfect pot, make sure that there is adequate drainage. The tomato plant will rot if it is sitting in soggy soil all the time. Most purchased pots have drainage holes in the bottom already. For the five-gallon bucket, you will have to use a drill and drill several holes in the bottom. If the pot you are using has large drainage holes, use a piece of broken pot, a piece of window screening, or a paper coffee filter to cover it. This way the water can drain out, but the soil won't end up all over the patio.

The key to tomato success is to give your tomato plants a consistent amount of water, which can be the biggest challenge for growing tomatoes in pots. The goal it to keep the soil moist, not wet. Too much water and your plant's roots will rot. Too little water and your plants will get weak and your tomatoes will get blossom end rot.

Too little water and then too much water and you will have tomato disaster. The easiest way to deal with this is to use self-watering containers. Otherwise, you will have to check your tomatoes every day. I often find in the heat of the summer, or if it's hot and windy, I have to water twice a day.

If you have too much rain, protect your tomatoes by moving them into a sheltered area or cover them - if they are small enough.

Also, water in the morning (plants take up and use water more efficiently in the morning) and water the soil, not the plants.

Any good quality organic potting soil will work for tomatoes. Just don't use soil dug directly from the garden. It is too heavy for container gardens, and will just compact more as the season goes on. A good peat or compost-based soil, whether purchased or mixed from your own special recipe, is ideal.

Here's a recipe for a good potting soil:
3 quarts/parts worm castings
8 quarts/parts coir
4 quarts/ parts perlite
4 quarts compost

Tomatoes will grow best in soil that is just slightly acidic with a pH level at about 6.0 to 7.0.

It is critical that you feed your tomatoes. Most potting soil (which is essential for growing almost anything in containers), has no nutrients in it (be sure to check on the bag to make sure it doesn't already have fertilizer mixed in). You will need to add a slow release fertilizer to your potting soil, making sure to mix it in throughout your container. I like Espoma, tomato specific fertilizers, but you can use any all-purpose, slow release fertilizer.

Here are a couple recipes for a good fertilizer to add to each container:

1/2 cup each of
garden lime,
fish meal
bonemeal
azomite

or
1/2 cup each of
rock phosphate
greensand
bonemeal
azomite
and ¼ cup kelp meal

Add a handful of powdered lime and bone meal into the planting hole to avoid end rot (a Calcium deficiency).

To treat tomatoes and peppers, dilute 1 tablespoon Epsom salts with 1 gallon of water. Spray the plants after transplanting, when they first flower and when they begin producing fruit. In addition to producing more abundant fruits, Epsom salts can also reduce problems with blossom-end rot, which are believed to be caused partially by a magnesium deficiency.

Be sure to water regularly. The best way to tell when to water is to stick your finger into the soil. If the first two inches are dry, it's time to water. The trickiest thing about growing tomatoes in a pot is that they are heavy feeders, and every time you water, you are washing nutrients out of the soil. To combat this, you'll need to fertilize regularly, preferably with either fish emulsion or seaweed extract. Once a month is good, but every other week, applying the fertilizer at half-strength, is better. This will provide a constant source of nutrients for the tomato plants.

I then give my tomatoes a watering with a diluted liquid kelp meal and fish emulsion fertilizer every other week.

Most people way overestimate the amount of sun they get. So really figure out if your tomatoes are getting enough sun. 6+ hours full sun is the minimum and 8+ hours is better. Either use a sun calculator or go out and check your tomato containers several times over the day and time how much sun your tomatoes are getting. If they aren't getting enough sun, move them to somewhere they will.

Make sure to harden off your tomato seedlings - too much early exposure to wind and sun can weaken or kill your small plants.

Tomatoes like heat, so don't put them outside before it gets really warm (nights 50 °F), or be ready to move or protect them from the cold.

Plant them deeply. Roots will develop from stems that are under ground and your tomatoes will be stronger and healther. Dig a hole so that most of your plant is covered by soil, making sure that you remove all the leaves below the soil line. If your pot isn't deep enough to sink the tomato deeply, (though it should be if you followed item 1!) you can also lay the plant on it's side and bury it that way.

Companion plants can help flavor and ward of insects. A lot of plants are touted as improving the health, vigor and/or flavor of tomatoes. All of these features are hard to measure, little scientific research has actually been done to back up the claims and many other factors may be involved. Still, it's interesting to try them out in your own garden.

A lot of plants are touted as improving the health, vigor and/or flavor of tomatoes. All of these features are hard to measure, little scientific research has actually been done to back up the claims and many other factors may be involved. Still, it's interesting to try them out in your own garden.

Best Tomato Varieties for Containers

Although you can grow big beefsteak tomatoes in a container, most gardeners prefer to grow smaller tomato varieties, including grape, cherry and Roma tomatoes. These types produce fruit earlier and require less staking and training to support heavy fruit.

Look for plants that are disease resistant. Plants in pots can get diseases almost as easily as those in your garden. Disease resistant plants are typically labeled with one or a combination of the following letters-V, F, N, which refers to the diseases they resist. Another thing to consider is how quickly the tomato bears fruit. Many compact grape and cherry types bear fruit very early in the season so you can enjoy them longer.

Think about your climate, as well. If winter comes early in your region, you’ll definitely want to grow a variety that matures in less than 70 days. On the other hand, if you live in the South or Southwest, try a tomato variety bred to tolerate heat. Regular tomato plants stop setting fruit when the temperature rises. New heat-tolerant varieties continue to bear fruit more reliably even in very hot weather. Below you’ll find a few of our favorite tomato varieties for container growth.

Short Season Tomato Varieties for Container Gardening

Tumbler.
This determinate type tomato plant produces sweet cherry tomatoes in only 50 days. It remains compact in size.

Patio F1 Hybrid.
A determinate hybrid that produces tennis ball size fruit within 70 days.

Bush Early Girl Hybrid.
This perennial favorite is common in nurseries across the country. Very disease resistant with a compact growth form. Produces small fruits within 54 days.

Clear Pink Early.
The variety and flavor of an heirloom with compact, determinate growth. This plant produces sweet pink tomatoes within 58 days. Not disease resistant.

Oregon Spring.
Bred for short-season gardeners, this determinate plant produces fruit within 58 days.

Better Bush Hybrid.
This determinate plant has a stockier stem so you can get away with little or no staking or caging. 68 days to harvest.

Sungold.
Compact yellow cherry tomato produces fruit within 56 days.
Heat Resistant Tomato Types for Container Gardening

Talladaga Hybrid.
Heat and disease resistant, this one’s a good choice if you live in a hot climate. 65 days to harvest.

Solar Fire Hybrid.
Also a good choice for hot regions, solar fire hybrid produces fruit within 77 days.
Specialty Tomatoes for Container Gardening

Ace 55 Hybrid.
Less acidic than most tomatoes, this one’s a good choice if tomatoes give you indigestion. Matures in 80 days.

Health Kick Hybrid.
Bred to contain more lycopene than regular tomatoes, this plant produces large, sweet tomatoes within 72 days.

Mountain Gold.
Mild, sweet flavored yellow tomatoes that mature within 70 days. Compact plant.
All-Around Favorite Tomato Varieties for Container Gardening

Sweet 100.
The most popular home-grown tomato, this plant produces hundreds of sweet cherry tomatoes. Matures within 65 days.

Bush Steak.
If you’ve got your heart set on large, juicy tomatoes, try this compact plant. Bush steak only reaches 2 feet high, but produces huge fruit within 65 days.

Pik Red.
This determinate, compact plant produces a bumper crop of fruit within 71 days. Perfect for the home canner.

Sun Sugar.
This compact plant produces very sweet orange cherry tomatoes within 65 days. Indeterminate.

Companion Plants for Tomatoes: amaranth, basil, calendula (pot marigold), celery, chive, cosmos, garlic, lemon balm, lettuce, marigold, nasturtium, onion, parsley, and sage.

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