soil mix for tomatoes

ktmeyerFebruary 24, 2011

Ok, I'm in Central Florida, so our seasons and issues are a bit crazy. I've done tomatoes in the ground before, and had poor to medium luck. I'm moving them to pots to try to avoid nematodes, the pots will be on top of a mulched area. I've read about Al's mix, which sounds great for the draining issue in the rainy season, but I am concerned about the lack of nutrients in it. It sounds like you have to fertilize a lot, and I don't want to use standard fertilizers. (trying to go organic, or at least use renewable, environmentally safe products - no petroleum based stuff).

I have friends that grow in a mix of composts and potting soil. I'm thinking maybe the best of both worlds would be to use her method but add in the pine bark fines for drainage???

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I'm afraid that you would learn that compost simply doesn't behave the way we would like or expect it to when used in container gardening. Not only does it muck up the works in a container, but compost needs to be part of a soil SYSTEM in order to provide much in the way of dissolved nutrients. We love compost in our gardens, but not so much in the containers.

You can make a perfectly good mix by using your potting soil and plenty of bark fines. As a matter of fact, the potting soil I've begun using again exclusively is mostly bark and it's terrific. However, potting soils of almost any kind will not provide nutrients. It's up to us to be in charge of that. If you can water your tomatoes, you can fertilize them.

I appreciate your decision to try to use "organic" fertilizers, and there are many such products on the market that are labeled for container use. Your tomatoes WILL need supplemental fertilization, make no mistake about it.
I urge you to search for a product intended for container use, though. Others depend on essential microorganisms in the soil to break them down into accessible elements.

Be sure to keep in mind that your tomatoes will need the micronutrients, too. Be sure to select product (s) that will provide calcium.

You might have some fun looking around in the PlanetNatural web site. I've ordered things from them before, though not their fertilizers.

Here is a link that might be useful: Click here to window shop :-)

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 1:43PM
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Ok, thank you for taking the time to explain that to me, it makes a lot of sense!!! So what you are saying is that I need to forget what I know about soil ecosystems, because a pot is too small to have a real ecosystem anyway? So we have to artificially create the same nutrients?

The micronutrient thing is definitely a concern. I tend to prefer soil grown over hydroponic tomatoes, and I always figured tha twas because the hydroponic stuff must be missing something that is found in the ground, maybe that we haven't even labled yet. But it sounds like container growing is more like hydroponics than it is like in ground growing. Food for thought.

So would Tomatoe-Tone work? I like the idea of using a granular product in a self watering pot in pot system.

Here is a link that might be useful: tomato tone

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 2:28PM
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If I had learned much earlier on that growing within the confines of a container and growing in the ground were so vastly different, I could have, and would have saved myself a lot of work and disappointment. Why this isn't more commonly known within the gardening community in general, I really don't know... but it should be.

In layman's terms, the ground operates nicely with a system of worms, nematodes, insects, fungi, bacterias, and other microscopic members of an army that works diligently to decompose organic matter and turn it into readily available food for plants, while at the same time, maintaining a balance of 'good and bad', so to speak. This same army and balance is not part of a container planting, and cannot easily be balanced in the way that Mother Nature does.

I come at container gardening from a more inorganic angle... using more durable, inorganic, non-decomposing ingredients to build my medium. I use fir bark, perlite, granite chips, and turface. It's a good mix for my growing purposes.

I feed with a liquid all-purpose plant food, and I add micro-nutrients to make certain my plants are getting everything they require.

My plants are mostly Amaryllids and other tender houseplant types, so they must remain in the same medium for at least 2 years, and sometimes even 3... so a more inorganic medium works nicely for me. Tomatoes wouldn't require more than a single growing season, so other medium ingredients could be used... I still wouldn't use compost or try to go organic, though.

I would probably use a quality potting soil, and I'd add such particulates as would help drainage and aeration as much as possible... I'd add a time-release plant food to the medium, such as Osmocote... and I'd use a quality liquid plant food with the addition of micro-nutrients for regular feedings.

I've had much better results growing tomatoes in the garden, right in my perennial beds along with the other plantings and flowers... but if a container is necessary, or preferred... it can be done very successfully... as long as a person understands that there are differences between growing in the ground and growing in a confined space, a container.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 6:29PM
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ktmeyer, you caught on very quickly. After years of in ground organic gardening, I moved to a large city and lived in a 5th floor condo. No in ground growing there! I struggled trying to apply what had worked before, but it didn't work! I had muck for soil that was constantly drenched (search perched water table for more info).

Without the organic ingredients, my organic fert didn't work so well, either.

I have used Tomato Tone in SWC,but have switched to a liquid. The fert gives out before the season is over and I'd have to start adding some anyway. I couldn't control how much nutes the plants were getting at any given time, either.

Since I use a an Earthbox, it's easy to add nutes each time I water, given I let it "just" dry before refilling. Dyna Gro Foliage Pro has worked beautifully for all my SWC crops. Not sure of its organic status, but it's sold at Planet Natural and other such places.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 11:29PM
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Just wondering if your pots will have contact with the ground. That makes a difference. You mentioned having the pots on top of a mulched area. If that is the case, you would have improved drainage and possibly the addition of microbes which would allow you to use compost or a soil-like mix.

I have used pots on the ground and had earthworms populate the container mix. You would still need a mix which would be free draining, but you could use a soil-based mix with the addition of bark or perlite.

I think that could allow you to use organic fertilizers, such as Tomato-Tone.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 11:56PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I've grown tomatoes in containers for 20 years, mostly with good results. I think the keys to success are heavy feeding with a complete fertilizer, at least six hours of full sun a day and very large containers, 15-20 gallons at least. Flavor comes primarily from the genetic heritage of your plants -- I prefer large heirlooms -- and sun ripening. Commercially grown hydroponic tomatoes probably don't taste as good because growers choose varieties for reasons other than taste (like appearance, high yield and ability to be picked before they are fully ripe).

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 9:36AM
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It looks like the verdict is in... organic growing, which works fabulously in a garden environment, doesn't work so well within the confined space of containers. A different approach is necessary.

I've heard and read good things about Foliage Pro, and I'd be using it, myself, if I didn't already have a large bottle of Miracle Gro liquid to use up first. But... waste not, want not... and so, I'll be purchasing Foliage Pro when this bottle is almost gone. The addition of STEM micro-nutrients makes the Miracle Gro work just fine in the interim.

Tomatoes appear to be heavy feeders, liking a lot of sun, and a good amount of container space for roots and growth. I agree with Ohiofem... some varieties are tasteless, so I'd definitely choose seeds or starts based on flavor... because that's why we grow them in the first place, isn't it? To enjoy that home grown flavor that the hothouse grown tomatoes bought at the grocery store just don't don't have.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 11:52AM
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jwahlton(9B Kisimee)

I use compost, peat, and gardening soil. It worked great for me. Are you part of the Florida Gardening on here? You should see how Silvia grows her tomatoes in pots. She is amazing and she uses compost.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 2:55PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I just read several posts by Silvia (whgille) and she seems to be using Al's 511 mix. I didn't see any mention of compost. Her container gardens are amazing for sure.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 4:08PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Rhizo is right on, as is Jodi. After doing a quick search, I see that Ohio is right on, as well...!

From one of Silvia's posts on Tomatoes:

"About the soil, I bought 2 big bags of pro mix and was mixing with pine bark fines and perlite,
after a while I did not want to run out of the pro mix and used more fines than anything so it is
more closer to the 5-1-1."


    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 5:16PM
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