Growing Medium Advice Needed

Joestarr(7)April 13, 2012

My first attempt at 5 gal bucket tomatoes last year was

disappointing. I'm sure I didn't do enough reading and

research before starting the project. I started late May

with about 10, 5 gal buckets from Lowe's. I drilled 16, 1/4"

holes in the bottom of each bucket. I put a layer of white

garden stones, then filled each bucket with soil. I probably

used the least expensive MG soil available. Then, I chose

a wide varirty of tomatoes to see which grew best. Well,

the results were, to say the least, very disappointing.

The various cherry and grape tomatoes grew best. The others

produced small and not much fruit. I also tried cucumbers,

and green peppers. The peppers were small, but otherwise

ok. The cucke's had many blossoms, but only a few developed

into fruit. I read somewhere that this could be a pollination problem due to a lack of honey bees.

After much reading and research here, I know the soil was a

major problem. I plan to use Pro-Mix this year. I want to use the same 10 buckets. And, I have found one nursery in town that has Premier Pro-Mix BX in 1.8 cu ft bags at

$15.00\bag. Ouch!!

My questions are:

1. Can I mix the Pro-Mix with something else to reduce the

cost of growing medium for each 5 gal bucket? Say 50% Pro-Mix and 50% compost? what is suggested?

2. Should I add 1 cup of Dolomite to each bucket before

planting anything?

3. What tomato varieties should I plant for best results?

4. Is there such a plant as a self pollinating cucke? Or, how can I get bees to get up to my back deck 15 feet above ground?

5. I also need detailed advise on a fertilizer and watering

schedule. I am in Central Virginia.

I am 76, and can not do a lot of heavy mixing. So. I do not

want to try Al's 5,1,1. I want to re-use my existing buckets. I want to keep the soil costs as low as possible but still use the Pro-Mix.

Any suggestions, comments and advise will be greatly


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There are a lot of variables to growing tomatoes and peppers - or anything else, for that matter. You didn't mention how you fertilized last year. While you can grow even full-sized tomatoes in 5 gal buckets, they will require regular fertilization. In your situation, I would use Espoma TomatoTone at the recommended rates. For container growing, I believe they have you incorporate TTone with your soil mix at one rate and then side dress a smaller amount at intervals during the growing season. There are other options, but I think your post implies that you're looking for a straightforward approach that will yield reliable results. ProMix is pH balanced and TTone has calcium, magnesium and minor nutrients. For these reasons you should not have to add lime. If you end up cutting the ProMix with something like pine bark fines to save a bit of money, you should add some dolomite lime - maybe about 2 oz. per bucket. That's going to be roughly 1/4 cup, depending on whether the lime is pelleted of finely ground. Finely ground is preferable.

I mentioned pine bark fines - PBF's are finely ground pieces of pine bark. They are sometimes hard to find, but worth the effort. You'll find much information about them here in the container forum. If you can locate them in the right size (I think 1/8" - 3/16" is recommended) then they will make a great addition to the ProMix. In my area, PBF's run about $3 - $4 for 2 cu. feet. If this sounds like something you'd consider, familiarize yourself with the concepts of the 5-1-1 (which it sounds like maybe you've done already). I wouldn't use compost as it will impair drainage and isn't necessary if you follow a good fertility regimen. If you really want to add it, I'd keep it to 5-10% of the total mix.

Watering is tricky and will depend on how much supplemental help you get in the way of rain. You obviously want to provide adequate irrigation for healthy plant growth without overwatering. Overwatering is probably the top problem (and challenge) with container grown fruits and veggies. Not only does overwatering invite disease and other issues, but it comprises flavor in a big way.

I'll let others weigh-in on the best tomato varieties. There are so many. In your climate, it's a bit late to start from seed, but you can find plants at your local garden center or could order heirlooms by mail from a place like They have an excellent reputation and an unparalleled selection. They can also advise which varieties would be best-suited to your situation.

Yes, there are self-pollinating cukes. Diva is one that I've tried and which gets positive reviews from others. It's hard to say if pollination is your issue. If bees are around, I don't think they'd have a hard time finding your plants 15' high.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 11:16AM
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Thanks for your reply. I have been reading these forums for many months now since last years disappointments. I know about Al's recommendations......and most replies on here usually get back to that. For me there are two problems. Basically the PBF's are very hard to find in my area, and at 76, I am not really up to the lifting and mixing that Al's mix requires even if I could find the PBF. But, I still would like to cut the cost of the Pro-Mix by mixing it
with something else that is less costly and readily available at a Lowe's or Home Depot.

As for watering, I watered the plant every morning. And, when it got realy warm and the leaves were wilting, I would water again. Together with the poor soil, I believe over watering was also a major problem.

I had no real schedule for fertilizing....probably every 2-3 weeks or so.

I will try to find the Diva Cukes. I will check for the tomatoes.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 11:41AM
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What part of the country are you located in, Joe?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 8:53AM
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I wouldn't use compost in a container. I respect and appreciate that you don't want to do any heavy lifting, but the 5-1-1 mix isn't that arduous an endeavor (or an expensive one). It really does allow for superior drainage and provide the best seasonal results. If you don't want to use those exact ingredients, try tweaking 1 or 2 of them. There are a lot of variations of Al's mixture on this site.

You also want to avoid putting stones, bricks, or sand in the bottom of the container. Common sense may tell you that this helps to promote drainage, but they actually retain far too much water in the soil above that mark.

You don't want to go the organic route in containers, mainly because of water retention issues due to particle size, soil tilth/structure issues, and ambiguity as far as the amount of nutrients supplied.

Fertilize weakly, weekly as Al suggests (pun intended), with a 3-1-2 ratio of N-P-K is best along with a supplemental dose of minor nutrients. A synthetic fertilizer ratio of this type (with the minors) will provide all the nutrition your container plants need. Lime is a good idea for plants like tomatoes and peppers. And a supplementary dose of additional potassium will be needed upon flowering. I believe the extra K helps to make the plant stronger so that when the extra weight comes upon fruiting, the plant is able to stand up to the pressures. Reduced N will also trigger flowering/fruiting more than a boost of P.

Of course, Al has said all of this and more in his many, many articles on the subject of container gardening, fertilizing, soil tilth, etc. He can explain it better than I...

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 10:02AM
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Hi Joe,
Maybe add extra perlite. It's inexpensive, weighs almost nothing and can help add aeration to the soil. I think you can get a large (4 CU Ft.) bag at lowes or home depot for around $20.

Last year I tried Sungold tom.s which is an orange cherry variety and was amazed at how prolific they were. I had to give pounds of them away and only had 3 plants in containers. They kept producing almost till the end of Dec. up here in NYC. I would give them a try.

Here is a link that might be useful: my rooftop garden

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 10:34AM
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Many thanks to fortyonenorth, yucatan and nycgarden for your thoughtful comments. I had found a 1.8 cu ft bag of Premier Pro-Mix BX at one nursery for $ 15.00. This was too expensive for me. So, today I have been all over town searching for supplies.

At one nursery I found a 3.8 cu ft bale of Lambert LM-3 mix for $ 25.00. I was told it was identical to Pro-Mix. The back of the bag listed these ingredients:
� regular peat moss
� coarse perlite
� medium vermiculite
� limestone
� dolomite
� starter charge
No percantages were given, This is made in Canada by:
106, Lambert Road
Rivi�re-Ouelle, Qc
Canada, G0L 2C0
Phone : (418) 852-2885
FAX : (418) 852-3352
United States 1-800-463-4083
Canada 1-800-463-1313

At another nursury, I found a 3.8 cu ft bale of Premier Pro-Mix BX for $ 49.00. It had the exact same list of ingredients. Again, no percentages were given. So, I am going to assume that they are the same, and maybe made by the same parent company as I was told. I calculate that I can fill 5, 5 gal buckets with one 3.8 cu ft bale. I bought a bale of the Lambert LG-1 and will commit to trying it in 5 containers.

Now, yucatan�s post has raised another question. Since I plant to prepare 5 containers tomorrow morning, shall I use rocks on the bottom of the bucket or not?

I am in Central Virginia near Roanoke

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 5:32PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

No rocks in the bottom, or anything else but potting mix. I've been gardening a long time and was always taught to "crock my pots." in other words, to put something in the bottom to aid drainage. Turns out this is an old wifes tale. Crocking actually causes the finer soil above the crocking to hold more water.

I've grown tomatoes in a mix of three parts Promix to one part compost and it worked pretty well. But now I use 5-1-1 and find it's much better. Once your plants start their rapid vegetative growth, you are unlikely to have an over watering problem in 5-gallon pots. If you grow indeterminate tomatoes, they will be huge and require watering every day and lots of fertilizer. They need pots at least twice or three times as large. I would only grow determinate or dwarf tomatoes in a pot that small. A bush tomato that grows no more than three or four feet tall might be your best bet.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 6:43PM
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Thanks Ohiofem. I think you and yucatan are correct, I will try nt 1st 5 containers wirh the Lambert LM-3 mix, and no rocks in the bottom. I will hope to take and some photos of this mix results over time.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 8:11PM
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After using MG for years, last year I was in a bit of a pinch and I made the mistake of using the cheapest potting soil I could find, assuming that it didn't matter that much (I know, I know!) Well, I know now anyway!

I have talked to quite a few people who have had decent luck with the moisture control potting mixes by MG or Sta Green. I recently wrote up a blog entry covering my experiences with a couple of different mixes (see the link below).

Honestly, from my experience you get what you pay for in a mix, but like most things there is a point of diminishing returns as well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Here is a blog entry I did with some pictures on the subject

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 11:52PM
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