6 keys to tomato-growing success in small spaces

Tomato seedlings

Growing tomatoes is easy even if you don’t have much space – they thrive in containers, buckets, bags or even sacks. 

Words: Kristina Jensen 

A sunny space on the side of the house, or even your doorstep, makes a great home for tomatoes. One of the advantages of container tomatoes is that you can regulate the amount of moisture and nutrient input that each plant receives.

1. Give ’em space

Tomatoes like plenty of room for their roots – 10- or 20-litre containers are the way to go. Make sure your containers have plenty of drainage holes in the bottom and a layer of gravel. Then all you need is soil containing an all-purpose, organic, slow-release fertiliser or, even better, one that’s specifically designed for tomatoes.

2. Plant down deep

Tomatoes are good at growing roots out of their stems, which gives them extra support and an increased surface area for the uptake of nourishment. Plant all of the stem in the earth, leaving just the top set of leaves poking out (carefully remove some of the leaves from the stem in order to do this).

3. Wet, wet, wet

The goal is to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Too much water and the roots will rot; not enough and the plants will weaken and be susceptible to disease and insect predation. The best time to water is in the morning when plants take up and use water more efficiently. Water the soil, not the plants as too much water on the leaves can encourage fungus. Watch out for windy conditions – they can quickly dry out plants. In summer, you may need to water morning and evening to maintain consistent moisture levels.

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To keep the soil happy, you could make a moisture feeder. Cut the bottom off a plastic bottle and pierce the lid and neck with a thin, sharp knife. Upend the bottle and bury it in the tomato pot, then fill it with water, which will slowly drain into the soil.

Tomato flowers

4. Hey sunshine

Six hours of full sun is best for sweet tomatoes – eight is even better.

5. Big feed

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and in addition to requiring well-composted soil, they love a regular foliar feed of liquid fertiliser. Fill a bucket with fresh grass clippings and seaweed (if you can get some) – cover with water, let it sit for three days, then water tomatoes with the liquid to boost their health and productivity. Supply essential calcium by crushing eggshells to a powder and gently digging it into the soil before you plant the seedlings.

Even tomatoes in pots need stakes.

6. Up the stakes

Up the stakes Tomato plants need support, so tie them to sticks, bamboo stakes, wire netting cages or a fence using soft string or material such as old panty hose. They also like to grow lateral shoots between the stem and the branches; gently remove these to train plants to grow up and produce flowers, and therefore fruit.

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