Container gardens are an increasingly popular option for people who want homegrown vegetables but either live in an apartment or don’t want to invest the time or money in a full-sized garden. Tomatoes, one of the most popular garden vegetables, are well-suited to growing in post, especially if you just want cherry or grape tomatoes for salads. But how do you find the best commercial potting soil mix for tomatoes?
The biggest key to success is going to be your choice of growing medium. While you might be tempted to go get some soil from an actual garden, that’s not a good idea. Garden soil compacts more easily in containers than in the ground because the space is confined. Compact growing soil makes it harder to absorb water and also makes it difficult for roots to spread.
Potting soil will do the trick. It is usually a blend of peat moss, composted tree materials, perlite, and something to help retain water. The composted tree material gives potting soil its body and when compressed still retains space. So does peat moss, which also helps with water retention. Perlite helps keep the soil loose and aerated, allowing plant roots to easily spread. Without something to retain water, your plants will dry out quickly and die.
Good potting soil is also often treated to kill microorganisms like insect pests and fungi. Some of the best come with fertilizers already added. If not, it’s easy to add some. Make sure it’s a liquid fertilizer.
When purchasing a potting soil, keep an eye on the ph. A ph of around 6.5 is ideal for most plants, and tomatoes do well in anything from 6.0 to 6.8
We took a look at some of the best potting soils available and ranked them according to how suitable they are for tomatoes. Hopefully, you find it useful.
Best of the best for some very basic reasons. The first is that it’s ready to go out of the bag. Its ph-balanced to be just about perfect for container gardening and has a first feeding’s worth of nutrients in the soil.
Comprised of shredded tree bark, earthworm castings, and bat guano, this blends it a bit of grit to keep the soil from compacting over a long, hot summer. It’s also got microbes to simulate a vibrant soil ecosystem, which helps stronger, more robust plants develop. That means more fruit, which is why you’re buying it. It’s also got vermiculate, one of the best water-retention agents available.
Tomatoes will love that this soil is already high in phosphorus, which is important to help them put on fruit. Make sure you keep up with fertlizer over the summer. In fact, we like Fox Farms liquid fertlizers as a good accompaniments. They are organic, so they break down slowly without burning the plants.
Prepare to pay extra for this soil, especially if you’re ordering it online. But if you want the best results, you need to pay for them. Also, when you factor in costs for amending less complete potting soils, the difference in price shrinks.
A more affordable alternative to the Fox Farms Ocean Forest is Perfect Plants’ Organic Potting Mix, our first runner-up. It has most of what you get with our top choice, but at a price that is softer on your pocketbook.
It’s a perfect ph of 6.5, which is pretty close to optimal for most basic tomato plants. It’s also a mix of composted pine bark, perlite, peat moss, worm castings, and a plant-friendly undersurface fungus that aids plants establish roots. It also has coconut coir, which helps create air pockets to keep the soil from compacting.
You’ll need to start feeding your plants a bit quicker than with the Fox Farms. It has nutrients in it, especially for starter plants, but you’ll need to get on a weekly feeding schedule pretty quickly to avoid any gaps during the growing season. This is especially true as the plant starts to put on fruit.
One thing it lacks is vermiculite, the little sponges that absorb water as it falls through the soil and absorbs it so it is available for the plants days after a watering. So, you’ll need to water more frequently if you use this potting soil. The good thing is that it also drains easily, so it’s not a big risk to overwater.
There is nothing really miraculous about Miracle-Gro. It’s just good potting soil. While the company is more famous for its fertilizers, its potting soils are great basic growing medium that feed plants for up to six months.
It promises great results, and delivers them. Plants grown in this potting mix grow big and lucious. The company also appears to have overcome a reputation for potting soil full of fungus gnat eggs. Today, their potting soil is treated to kill eggs before they can fill your home with bugs.
It’s also among the most affordable potting soils available. It’s a good basic soil that delivers good, basic results. So, you get your dollars’s worth.
Tomatoes need a little something extra, however. They are a heavy-feeding plant, especially when they start to put on fruit. That means a lot more phosphorus. This potting mix goes heavy in nitrogen, which is great for general plant growth, but you really want phosphorus for tomatoes. If you go this route, be prepared to spend a little extra on phosphorus-heavy fertlizers.
The final verdict is that this is a good, cheap potting soil but if you want to maximize your tomato production, you’ll need to put in a little more work.
As a side note, if you are looking for some tips on how to grow plants indoors, check out our article right here.
It’s comprised of peat moss, peat humus, earthworm castings, and perlite, with a little limestone to neutralize the ph. It also has a formula mixed in to capture and preserve water. It isn’t as effective as vermiculite, but it still cuts down on waterings.
You’ll need to add a liquid fertilizer immediately, as this soil doesn’t contain nutrients. Your plants might be small, but it takes a couple of weeks for that fertilizer to start breaking down and adding nutrients to the soil. Give it a weekly feeding.
This soil also has a reputation for not draining very efficiently. Ideally, you’d want to water your potted plants once a week. If the soil remains moist for much longer, you risk your plants developing root rot. This soil doesn’t always drain very quickly. You can also mix in a little sand to aid in drainage.
While amending potting soil isn’t unusual, our top pick was one that came ready-to-use right out of the bag without additional work. This one needs nutrients and might need some amending, which explains why this is the third runner-up and Fox Farms Ocean Forest was our top pick.
Tips on growing tomatoes in pots
Growing tomatoes in a container is a different experience than growing them in the ground. It requires less work, because there are fewer plants to tend and they are growing in a small piece of space. Also, because you’re using potting soil instead of gardening soil, you should have fewer pest and fungus problems. Here are some tips in how to get the most from your potted plants.
The little hairs that you see on tomatoes are actually little microroots. If you place those beneath the surface of your potting soil, they will actually sprout roots. When you get ready to plant your tomato starters, prune all of the leaves except the top couple and plant everything but those below the ground. This will have minimal impact on how tall the plant ultimately grows.
Potted plants grow faster because the soil warms more quickly. Plants need warm air to grow, they also need warm soil. Tomatoes in containers will get a boost in the growing process because the medium wasn’t frozen in March and warms more quickly with less intense sun.
The soil also dries out more quickly because the space is confined. You’ll want to keep up on watering, especially when the plants start putting on fruit. Just make sure you don’t overwater, which can cause root rot in pots. We’d also suggest a layer of pebbles in the bottom for better drainage. You definitely don’t want plants trying to grown in standing water.
Make sure you are regularly feeding it fertlizers, too. Dry fertlizers are best used in garden beds. For pots and other containers, use liquid.
When choosing a fertilizer, look for one that has half as much nitrogen as it does phosphorous and potassium. A 5-10-10 is ideal. The nitrogen will help the plant stay healthy and growing while the phosphorus and potassium help stimulate fruiting.
Prune your tomato leaves regularly. This is especially important for potted plants, because it maximizes the plant’s energy into its fruit and not its foliage. Make sure you keep it properly staked so it doesn’t get top-heavy and fall over.
One advantage to container gardening is that the plants are portable. You can move the pots around during the day to make sure they catch a maximum of sunlight. That might be critical if you’re growing tomatoes on an enclosed balcony where full sun is difficult to get. You can also put these out during the middle of the day and bring them back closer to the house at night to keep pests and rodents out of them.