Photo and story by Donna Iverson
Check around any neighborhood and you will likely find many a deck, porch, or front step with a potted tomato plant. People who no longer garden, for one reason or another, will buy a tomato plant, pot it up and place it in a sunny spot near their doorstep.
The potted tomato plant seems to satisfy the need to get your hands in the dirt and watch a small seedling turn into a plant with edible delicious red fruit that tastes better than anything you can buy.
This spring, I rescued two tomato plant seedlings from the farmers market and potted them up and gave them a new home on my second-floor apartment deck.
Unfortunately, within a few weeks, I learned that when it comes to potted tomato plants, I had a lot to learn and had done pretty much everything wrong.
While the tomato is the most popular potted plant, it is also one of the more difficult to grow. But I didn't know that until mid-summer, when my spindly tomato plant was taller than me and looked like a plant from outer space
My first mistake, apparently, was planting the seedlings in a too-small container. Tomato plants like to grow in a big pot, the bigger the better. And they don't like to share that container with another tomato plant or any other growing thing. My two seedlings were sharing a too-small container and their roots were competing for nutrients.
Tomato also like to be planted deep and have their lower leaves removed. I hadn't done that either. To compensate, I purchased a small bag of potting soil and poured the dirt to top of the container. I was trying to trick my tomatoes into thinking that their stems had been planted in deep soil. Am not sure that worked.
Another mistake was that my deck does not provide enough sun, only about four hours worth. Tomatoes require six hours of direct sun and prefer eight hours. I crossed my fingers that the extra hot summer we were having would make up the difference. Not sure that's working either.
According to the Farmer's Almanac, tomatoes are incredibly fussy. To quote: "in layman's terms, plants stress when it is too hot or too cold, too much nitrogen and/or too little potassium and calcium, too much or too little water."
Despite all these pitfalls, I am doing some things right like watering every day but not over watering, I also apply a steady dose of tomato-specific fertilizer. Potted tomato plants like to be watered in the morning, so I have adjusted my watering schedule accordingly.