Q. I’m hoping to grow tomatoes in containers on my sunny balcony. What are my chances?
A. Your chances are very good, says Alana Mezo, a senior horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Although it’s too late in the season to start growing from seeds, tomato transplants can prosper on your balcony with regular watering and enough room to grow.
“The best thing to do is stay with a tomato that is meant for small spaces such as containers or hanging baskets or window boxes,” Mezo says. Her favorite small-fruited varieties for hanging baskets include the Tumbler and the Florida Basket. The Tumbler is just a tad larger than a cherry tomato; the Florida Basket is “salad-sized.”
For window boxes, Mezo likes the Window Box Roma, a plum tomato. She says cherry tomato plants work in large containers as long as you stake them. Mezo orders seeds for these specific varieties from Tomato Growers Supply Co. (www.tomatogrowers.com), but this late in the season, see what similar plants are available garden-ready at your local nursery.
Plant your tomatoes in a soilless mix of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite (available at hardware stores and nurseries) and fertilize them every week. Make sure to water the plants daily-maybe even twice a day if it’s especially hot or your balcony catches a lot of wind. “Anytime you grow something in a container, it’s going to dry out faster than if it were in the ground,” Mezo says.
Use containers as big as you can handle-tomato plants need room to grow a large root mass. Mezo puts two Window Box Roma plants in boxes that are two feet long, one foot across, and several inches high, though the simplest rule of thumb, she says, is one plant per container. For more information, see www.chicagobotanic.org and click on “plant information.”
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