Beginner questions about tomatoes in containers

nopeda123August 1, 2012


I'm new to tomatoe growing. I'd like to grow Rutgers because that's what my dad grew and they were awesome. It will have to be in containers because it will be on the roof of a houseboat. I've got a number of basic questions and wondering what different ideas people have about them.

I'm planning to use Miracle Grow potting soil, and so far planning on watering with Miracle Grow for tomatoes once a week. Since other waterings will wash out some of the plant food, should another type of fertilizer that breaks down more slowly (or whatever...I don't understand those types) be used in addition to that weekly feeding? Will the type of fertilizer have much influence on the flavor of the tomatoes? Does it matter much whether or not the leaves are wet from time to time with food like Miracle Grow?

As long as the container is 16" across and about that deep, will that be big enough or would there be much difference in using something larger? I've read that it's good to sprinkle oyster shells on the ground to add calcium. Is that a good thing to do and if so do the shells need to be replaced, or more added, over time? Also I read it's good to cover the dirt with grass clippings to both add nutrition and help retain moisture. Is that good advice? Should any mulch be added, and if so how does that work?

How often to water and does it matter much what time of day? Should the plants be let dry to the point of wilting a bit from time to time to keep down the chance of root rot and/or whatever else? Are there timer/solenoid valve combinations that are set up for standard hose fittings, or anything like that to make automatic watering easy? Is it best to have water run over the plants when watering them like when they get rained on, or does it matter much at all? I have both lake water and county water available. Does it matter much which type is used?

From my pov suckers often seem to be more of a branch than the larger leafy things below them, and it seems like it might be better to pinch off the leafy thing below the suckers and let the suckers develop into branches. Is there any value in persuing that thought, or is that a completely wrong interpretation? From what I've read so far it seems most people feel that it's wrong, but they look more branchy than the things below them to me for some reason.

What do you folks in general suggest we prune, and top off, etc? Should all yellow and spotted looking leaves be removed? If most of the leaves on a branch are yellow and spotted, should the entire branch be removed? Can anyone suggest some good websites where they clearly show how the plants grow and why to prune what, and when?

Thank you for any help with these questions!


Buford, GA

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A quik tip, as others on here will help you quite a bit.

Check out the 5-1-1, and read the container medium post in the forum. If you cant find pine fines and you are not up to making a mix, go ahead and use miracle gro soil if you must. Make sure plants are almost wilting from being underwatered before watering. I have plants that are in large pots with mulch, the only way to be sure they need water is to simply wait until they show slight wilting. Letting those potting mixes dry before watering is key. And it is ok to get miracle gro the leaves when watering. Try to water in the morning. Use miracle gro 1/2 strength or even 1/3 like a tsp per gal rather then the one table spoon it says to use. That way you never burn plants. Never add any more fertilizer thinking you will increase results, stay half strength.

Next, I would not use shells for a calcium source. You may not need to add Ca if you use tap containing a good amount anyway. The use of both gypsum and epsom salts in the right ratios can give you the needed secondary macronutrients Ca,Mg,and S. You need to use them in the right ratio though. You can use a fertilizer that has everything in it like foliage pro from dyna gro-a 3-part from generial hydroponics, ect...

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 6:16PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

Suckers can be left on. They will produce more fruit and shade the fruits below them from the sun. Don't try to imitate the rain. You can get diseases from wetting the foliage when you water.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 9:23PM
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mea2214(z5 Chicago)

This year I discovered that spider mites have been killing my tomatoes and one of the preventative measures was to give the plants hard water showers. In my experience I have had the most problems and dissappointment with growing tomatoes in containers than with any other plant.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 10:40PM
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If you leave the suckers on then you will a lot of odd looking small fruits all over the plant.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 11:00AM
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