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Gardening: Container tomatoes can thrive with these tricks of the trade

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

When it comes to weather, this has been a really tough growing season. Growing tomatoes in a container in 90-plus degree weather is not easy. I’ve had to water my pot of tomats twice a day to keep them going, but the good news is  they’re doing well and I hope to keep them coming through frost. 

Fertilizing container tomatoes is key to successful growth and flavor. When planting, I use the biologically enhanced fertilizer Assure Transplant Success ( according to the package directions. It’s also the good stuff we use in the OPC garden I steward. 

Every two weeks I feed the soil in the container by adding beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae in the form of  Assure Microbial Magic powder in solution with water. Liquid kelp and Espoma organic Tomato! Fertilizer or fish emulsion is added to the watering can the next day. 

4th of July tomato plant

In spite of the nonstop heat, my container tomato, a Burpee 4th of July, has continued to produce tomatoes continually  for weeks. This saladette size tomato is my fave as it’s a heavy producer with good flavor. 

Here are some other helpful tips to help you keep the veggies coming.     

Yellow leaves that develop later in the season,  especially those with spots, may be old or diseased and should be removed ASAP. To keep from spreading any disease, use a sharp pair of scissors swiped with alcohol and deposit the leaves in a plastic or paper bag. Most tomato diseases are soil borne, so don’t drop them on the ground or put them in a compost bin. Leave them on the plant and the disease will spread.  

While most of us pick our veggies when we are ready to use them, for peak flavor,  the best time to harvest is in the morning ( before 10 a.m.) when their water content is high and, with the exception of tomatoes, pop them right in the refrigerator. I store my fresh- picked tomatoes in a little basket on my countertop.

To keep your vegetable plants -- whether container grown or planted in the soil --producing, harvest the ripe fruit promptly. The plants will expend extra energy to mature vegetables to produce seed,  shortening their life, so don’t leave the veggies on the plant when they are past their prime.  Just pick, pick, pick. 

If you’re growing small varieties, keep your tomatoes producing  by giving the plants a daily shake to knock the pollen about.

And of course, keep them well watered. 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. Email her at, Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at