Advantages of growing tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in containers
- Ability to bring the plants to the best sun conditions in your yard
- Convenience of having them close by
- Easier care/watering when they are in a concentrated location
- Control of growing environment - ensuring a start of disease free container and growing medium, which should delay onset of diseases
- A way to grow great vegetables if you don't have a garden, and are limited to a driveway, patio, porch or deck
- Greatly increased yields in the case of sweet peppers and eggplant, due to favorable sun-warmed root area
Issues with growing tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in containers
- Cost of materials - pot and growing medium, primarily (but this can be controlled by thinking frugally)
- Possible reduction in yields of tomatoes, especially, due to limitation of root spread (this is especially potentially true of the tall growing indeterminate varieties)
- The need to pay close attention to plant care and needs - especially providing sufficient watering and regular feeding as the plants require.
- Possible increase in the incidence of blossom end rot for tomatoes if the watering needs are not adequately met during rapid plant growth and young fruit formation
- Support of the plant, especially for the tall, indeterminate tomatoes (they really need to be adjacent to where a tall stake can be hammered into the ground or lashed to the slats of a deck railing).
- Possibility of the containers tipping toward the middle/end of the season with vigorous, tall plants and heavy fruiting. A good idea was passed along by my tomato friend Keith - place a heavy metal or stone weight at the bottom of the pot or bag before filling to anchor it down in an upright position. (thanks, Keith!)
- ALL varieties of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant can be grown very successfully in containers. Any eggplant or sweet pepper or Dwarf or Determinate tomato variety will do just fine in a 5 gallon container. Tall growing (indeterminate) tomatoes will do far better using a minimum of 10 gallon size. And hot peppers can be grown well in containers as small as one gallon.
- Use the size for determining number of plants per pot - so I would put no more than one eggplant, sweet pepper or dwarf tomato in a 5 gallon pot. You can put two plants of these in 10 gallon pots....but for tall growing indeterminate varieties, I would suggest only one plant per 10 gallon pot.
Guidance on container materials, sizes, growing medium, watering and feeding regimen and products and support methods
- Any container with drainage holes in the bottom will work. If they have been used previously for tomatoes, peppers or eggplant, it is suggested that they be rinsed with dilute bleach prior to reuse. The black plastic pots that shrubs and trees are grown in work fine, as do mesh fabric or plastic grow bags. Whatever is the least expensive is the wisest to use. I've not explored earth boxes, grow boxes, self watering containers - I am a very frugal gardener!
- Size guidance: indeterminate tomatoes - 10 gallon minimum; Dwarf or determinate tomatoes - the larger the better, but 5 gallon works fine. If you want to grow a number of different indeterminate varieties just to experiment with, you can top them at 3 feet and one main stem to get 1-2 blossom clusters to set (extreme pruning) - this will provide a few tomatoes to evalutate and save seeds from - in this case containers as small as 2 gallon will work OK. Eggplant and sweet peppers thrive in 5 gallon containers, and hot peppers will actually do fine even in 1 gallon containers - of course the yield will be lower than in a larger growing area.
- What to use to fill the containers: I mix 1 2.5 cu ft bag of Miracle Gro potting MIX (NOT soil) with 1 25 lb bag of composted cow manure and use that to fill the containers. It is not an inexpensive solution but I've not yet played around with compost/manure mixes, or making my own soilless mix. The key is that it is sterile and drains well (hence the soilless mix, rather than heavy soil). Tomatoes will wilt from too much water (drowning, essentially) just as much from inadequate water.
- I strongly suggest using FRESH mix each year - we dump our pots at the end of each year into a pile and use the material to mulch our flower gardens, or use to fill pots for anything non-tomato, eggplant or pepper. Diseases can build up in soil in just one season, so my preference is to start with fresh material in a bleached container each spring.
- Feeding: I don't feed with anything for 3-4 weeks, until the plants are vigorously growing - then use either a slow release granular balanced food, like Osmocote, or a diluted balanced food like the "blue stuff" (Miracle Gro plant food), mixed 1 tbsp per gallon, every couple of weeks.
- Watering: If you use good loose growing medium you can't overwater. But you can underwater, and if the plants are allowed to wilt significantly on hot days with young fruit developing, you can induce blossom end rot. I water daily once the plants are really growing well, no hose nozzle, full open, and count to 2 for 1 gallon pots, 5 for 5 gallon pots, and 20 for 10 gallon or more - essentially until water is coming out the bottom.
- Support: For eggplant, sweet peppers and dwarf tomatoes in 5 gallon containers, I put a 4 foot stake in the container and use twine to tie the plant regularly to the support. For indeterminate tomatoes in 10-15 gallon pots growing along the edge of my driveway, I drive an 8 foot stake into the lawn, push the pot up against it, and tie the plants regularly to the stakes with twine throughout the season.
That should cover most questions.....ask if anything isn't clear!