Many of you have asked us about growing in containers. Maybe you have just a small space or maybe you just want to keep your beautiful plants on the porch for easy watering and harvesting. I happen to be a big fan of container gardening–it’s actually how we got started! Just about any tomato, herb, pepper, or even squash or cucumber can be grown in a large pot right next to your kitchen door for easy access! I’ll give you a few tips here.
First of all, make sure your pot is big enough. Your tomatoes that you just bought may not look like much right now, but many varieties have the potential to grow to 6 or 7 feet tall! With that kind of height, plus the weight of the fruit, they’re going to need a very sturdy root base and lots of dirt. You need at least a 12″ pot for these guys, preferable even bigger. Tomatoes and peppers, remember, like be to planted very deep as well, so you need a nice deep pot. I’m a fan of regular old terracotta pots because I like the look, but you can find all kinds of painted and glazed pots. I’m not a fan of the plastic ones because I personally would be concerned about plastic leaching into my plants, and I just like the look of more natural materials.
Once you have your pot, you need a good potting mix. We happen to mix our own here because we have found it to be more economical, but if you’re filling only a few pots, you can just buy a bagged organic mix at just about any gardening section. This mix should be the only nutrients your plants need throughout the season as it contains everything that your ground soil might not.
Get your pot where you want it so that you don’t have to move it once you’ve potted your plant. Fill it to about 3/4 from the top and lightly press it down. You may want to water the dirt at this point just a bit to moisten it. Dig a hole, carefully remove your plant from its container, being careful to grab all the dirt and root bulb. Lightly squeeze the roots to loosen them just a bit and place into the hole. If this plant is a tomato or pepper, you want to be sure you place it well down into the hole. Tomato and pepper plants grow new roots up above their established root bulb, and you want that area to be down in the new soil. Place that down in the hole, and then fill in with soil up to within an inch or two from the top of the pot.
Now, if your tomato plant is indeterminate (all of Harp and Shamrock Croft’s varieties are), then that guy is going to grow pretty tall. You’re going to want a nice big stake. We use bamboo stakes here–they’re very sturdy–but you can buy whatever you want. Get a good one, at least 6 feet tall, preferably 7 because it’s going to go into the pot about a foot deep. I’m not a fan of cages for indeterminate tomatoes because these types of tomatoes grow taller and more spindly than your bush tomato. I just don’t think they’re a good match, but other people seem to have luck at times. If you’re using a stake, carefully place the stake close to the base of the plant and press down into the dirt as far as you can, and then press the dirt around the stake to make sure it’s in there nice and tight. Then use twine or whatever you want (one year we used old rags that we had cut into strips–worked great!) and tie the stem to the stake in a couple of spots, depending on the height of your plant. As the plant grows, you’ll need to tie it to the stake at the top.
If you are potting peppers, you may need a stake for these as well, but not as tall. If you’re planting a climbing plant such as squash or cucumber, you’ll want to give it plenty of room and something to climb on such as lattice. Get creative and mix your herbs and vegetable plants, and even try tossing some ornamentals in with your food-bearing plants. Certain flowers will attract pollinators while others will repel harmful insects. Herbs like basil, cilantro, thyme, mint, and oregano grow great right next to your tomatoes, peppers, and squash, too!
Other than that, there’s nothing to it! Just make sure your plants are getting the sunshine, water, and love that they need, and they will be happy to grow and give you food! Harvest regularly to make sure they are producing constantly–for herbs that means cutting or pinching off leaves to use in your cooking and for fruit-bearing plants that means picking as soon as your fruit is ready. Happy container-gardening!