Those upside down growing bags have taken the country by storm. Unfortunately, many times the results are less than acceptable. Reports of poor success with these bags highlight the care needed to keep the plants growing and healthy.
Even so, the yields are not nearly as good as growing the old-fashioned way in the ground or even in a pot. According to gardener reports, these bags can be difficult to keep watered so make sure you don’t let the soilless mix dry out. This means sometimes watering it two or more times a day. Then there is the problem of soil that is too wet. This can rot the tomato stem.
Next, you may have trouble keeping the plant upside down. Even though the roots are hanging topside, the plant naturally wants to grow toward the sky. It’s natural. Growing toward the ground is not.
Tomatoes grow best when given plenty of room for their roots to grow. These bags restrict root growth. Without an adequate root zone, the plant and resulting fruit will be small. A 15-inch wide pot that is at least 15 inches deep isn't too large for one tomato.
Be sure to purchase a patio tomato plant or a cherry tomato type. Look for determinate varieties. These special types are bred to grow and give fruit in a pot. Indeterminate varieties vine and do not stop growing. They will outgrow a pot and the normal upside down growing bag. Stay away from the large fruiting tomatoes, like Whopper or Big Beef, and heirloom types like Brandywine. They grow best in the ground.
Mix your own planting soil by purchasing soilless mix, mushroom compost, and Espoma Garden-tone, a dry organic fertilizer that contains micronutrients. This mixture will cut down on the times you will need to fertilize. Unfortunately, you cannot use this mixture in an upside down plastic bag. It is too heavy for the bag.
Fill your pot with soilless mix and then turn in a couple cups of mushroom compost. Then mix in the Garden-tone according to package directions; water it thoroughly until all of the mixture is damp. (If the soilless mix has dried out, it is difficult to get it "wet" again, so keep adding water and letting it drain until it has moistened up again.) If the mix is damp when you open it, you can skip this step.
Insert a large stake and plant one tomato next to it in the middle of the pot. Do not plant outdoors until the temperatures consistently stay above 55 degrees F. Tomatoes will need at least 6 hours of sun a day.
Tomatoes thrive in damp, warm soils but quit producing fruit when the temperatures remain above 90 degrees for an extended period. If your tomatoes stop producing in the middle of a hot spell, just give them some time and space to recover. According to the University of Georgia, they need at least a 10-degree F. change in temperature from day to night in order to set fruit.
Fertilize your potted tomatoes monthly with an all purpose fertilizer dissolved in water, like Algoflash, Fish Emulsion, or Miracle Gro. Use one that has a high middle number, which will help in fruit set and root growth. Be sure to follow label directions. Don't use a regular garden-variety granular fertilizer on potted tomatoes. It will be too concentrated and will burn the roots. Use one formulated for plants in containers.
Water is the single biggest factor in keeping tomatoes healthy and producing blemish free fruit. If the soil is yo-yoed between dry and wet, blossom end rot will ruin your crop. Keep the soil consistently moist, never letting it totally dry out, but not soggy, either. The soil cannot be “soupy” wet or the roots will rot.
Consistent water available to the plants all the time is key to getting good tomatoes. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt to grow tomatoes is less than you had hoped. If one way doesn’t succeed, try another. Gardeners all have their own favorite way of growing. You can find yours.
All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.
By Ron Harrison, Ph.D., Entomologist and Orkin Technical Services Director
Photographs courtesy of Orkin
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