Container gardening suggestions from a professional


Kim Kleman, for the journal news

Posted May 25, 2021 at 5:00 am ET | Updated May 25, 2021 at 5:47 a.m. ET


Ken Marsocci, co-owner and main breeder of Shades of Green, shows how to plant seeds in shrub oak on April 15, 2020.

Rockland / Westchester Journal News

If you crave delicious home grown tomatoes but don’t have enough space to manage a full size garden, container gardening might be for you. Tomatoes are the home gardener’s favorite vegetable (actually a fruit), but other vegetables can also be successfully grown in containers.

What you need

A sunny place. Tomatoes need six to eight hours of sun a day. The plants should be protected from the wind. Find the best spot, whether it’s a porch, back deck, or patio ledge.

Tomatoes are one of the most popular gardeners in the backyard. (Photo: vinkirill, Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Pots. You’ll need flower pots or other containers at least 14 inches in diameter that will hold at least 5 gallons of soil. (Larger pots support more root mass and water that plants need to survive the summer days.) Few productive pots will keep a small family eating tomatoes all summer. Make sure that the bottom of the container has drainage holes. Otherwise, root rot is likely to occur.

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Tomatoes grow well in containers on a deck or patio. (Photo: ChiccoDodiFC, Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Ground: Use an all-purpose potting soil that contains compost and / or peat moss, vermiculite, and / or perlite. Don’t just shovel earth out of the garden. This is usually too tight to allow adequate ventilation and drainage.

Semen or Transplants: Dwarf, patio, or dwarf varieties have compact vines and are good choices for containerized gardening. Look for labels that say “compact” or “for container”. Full size strains grow large and require too much support for a small container, but can be grown in a 15 gallon or half barrel container. The added leaf surface of larger plants provides more sugar for the tomato taste development. Choose disease-resistant varieties.

Support structures: Conical wire mesh with two rings should be sufficient for small plants. Larger tomato plants should have stable supports. Insert the supports when the tomatoes are planted. If you wait, you can hurt her.

Critter proofing: Consider draping the containers with a plastic net or building a wire cage around the pots if woodchucks or other animals live on your property. You’ll be hopping on a porch for a tasty snack.

Summer tomato, fresh from the garden, summer blossom (Photo: Lucy Vigilant Smith)

Plant your tomatoes

At the end of May, if you did not grow your own from seed, you will need to buy transplants. Look for short, stocky plants that are as wide as they are tall, with pencil-sized stems and dark green foliage. Try to find grafts with no flowers or fruit, or pinch them off if they are present. (Flowers or fruits on plants at this stage can delay growth and later flowering.)

Plant the plants in outdoor pots after the threat of frost has passed and the soil has warmed – in the Hudson Valley, usually around Memorial Day. If you find yourself in a warm place, now is the time to plant them.

If you have to use long-legged plants, remove leaves that would be covered by soil and bury the stems deep, up to three or four leaves from the top. The buried part of the stem sends out roots. Strengthen the soil around the plant and the water.

The time to maturity varies between 65 and 90 days from the time of transplant.

Caring for your plants

Water: Container plants require more water than those planted in the ground. If it is not raining soaked, water every day until the water flows freely through the bottom of the pot. On the hottest days, you may need to water a second (or third) time when the soil feels dry an inch below the surface. Water the soil, not the plant. Wet leaves are prone to disease.

Fertilizer: Tomatoes need fertile soil. Some potting soil contains fertilizer, or you can use a delayed fertilizer to mix with your potting soil before planting. As you water, nutrients will be depleted from the container, so you will need to provide fertilizer regularly throughout the season. You can use a balanced water soluble or slow release organic fertilizer by following the directions on the label for dilution rates and timing. Too much fertilizer can promote leaves at the expense of flowers and promote pest problems.

Watch out for pests: Vegetables from containers are prone to the same diseases as in any vegetable garden. Insects like aphids can be attracted to overfertilized plants, and certain physiological conditions like flower end rot and disease can be problematic. Check your plants every time you water and, if necessary, contact your local cooperative extension for advice on pest control.

Harvest tomatoes

Pick tomatoes when they are ripe, before they become soft or overripe. Do not refrigerate the tomatoes; The fruit loses its taste when cold. If there is a threat of frost, underripe tomatoes that are shiny green will turn red at room temperature, but will not have a full flavor. Fortunately, there are many green tomato recipes out there.

For more information on growing tomatoes, please contact your local cooperative extension.

Take a class

Sign up now for the season’s final Cornell Cooperative Extension of the Westchester Home Gardening Webinar, a virtual garden tour titled “Gardens Off the Beaten Path, May 10-11. June”. Adrienne Mecca, volunteer master of the garden. Mecca will take a virtual tour of natural spots that are not visited often. Beautiful gardens and landscapes can be found in the most unexpected places when you are ready to seek something new.

Early Registration: Pre-registration is required, $ 5 in advance by check or money order. Information on the lecture series can be found at: Ask? Contact CCE at or call 914-285-4640.

Kim Kleman is a volunteer master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Westchester County

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