The common approach to growing tomatoes in pots is to choose the biggest size possible to give the roots plenty of room. However, growing tomatoes in small pots is possible under certain circumstances.

A case study in two parts

This week I would like us to watch a clip from Gardener’s World.

In this clip (link below), Monty Don visits a tomato grower named Peter Sanford.

He grows tomatoes in relatively small terracotta pots just half full of compost with excellent results!

The link above should take you to 22mins 30secs into the programme.

The point of this is, traditional wisdom says that tomato plants need plenty of room for their roots when grown in soil. So how is it possible to be so successful with such small pots and limited root runs?

Please leave your comments below and I’ll be back tomorrow evening (Sunday 2nd June) with a few suggestions of my own!

Part Two – Sunday Evening

So how is it possible to grow tomato plants in such small amounts of soil?

Answer: If plants are fed daily, at every watering, with every nutrient they need, they develop a small root system.

Why? Because tomato plants that get all they need on a daily basis don’t have the worry of needing to find nutrients by developing a large root system.

They can concentrate more on growing fruit, rather than roots!

Those who grow hydroponically know this to be so. Plants grown this way only need small containers such as rockwool slabs or just grown in a perlite mix in a 6 litre (or less) pot.

The advantage of a terracotta pot is that it is porous – it lets air into the roots which is crucial for root health and nutrient absorption. Similar to the fabric and air pots mentioned in previous newsletters.

Monty Don said that Peter Sanford is an expert vegetable grower.

No doubt he understand pH and its importance for both soil and water. If the pH isn’t right, plants will grow bigger root systems in their search for nutrients that they aren’t receiving.
There are two issues when it comes to nutrients …

The nutrient balance – how much of each individual mineral given.

The nutrient strength – over or under feeding. Feed too little and the roots will grow bigger and become pot-bound, over feed and the health of the roots can be affected. Fruit size and taste are also affected by nutrient strength.

It’s likely that Peter Sanford is using a hydroponic feed, but if he isn’t, he has developed his own mix of nutrients that is a complete feed and requires very little help from the small amount of soil used.

Thanks to all those who commented – some of you obviously have an advanced knowledge of tomato growing!