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Growing Things: Filipski’s tomato tips

Tried and true success secrets from the tomato trove

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Every so often I like to share what I’ve learned with my readers. Most of this is anecdotal evidence based on what I’ve experienced with and is not based on scientific research. Having said this, after many years of trials and tribulations in the garden, there is some merit in sharing my successes with other gardeners. After all, I continue to learn from readers sharing their experiences too.

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Today’s topic is growing container tomatoes. It’s become a hobby of mine — well, far more than a hobby — it’s a small obsession because of my love of tomatoes. After years of growing tomatoes in the garden bed, I’ve found I’m having much more success growing them in containers. You might ask why that would be? Here are my theories:

  • I can move the containers to where the plants get optimal light and heat, as opposed to planting them in a bed that has a preset location and environmental factors.
  • I can fertilize precisely and accurately knowing the fertilizer is going directly to the root system.
  • I can stake and tie the indeterminate types much easier in a pot than when they are in the ground surrounded by other plants.
  • Harvesting is easier because I have the containers placed within easy reach. This also helps me to monitor the ripening.
  • Watering is easier and more precise as well. During the hottest part of the summer and when the fruit is growing it is critical to water regularly to avoid blossom end rot. Watering a container makes it easy to monitor how much water you’ve added.

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growing secrets

  • After many years, my go-to fertilizer is Jobe’s Tomato Spikes. No, I don’t get paid by Jobe’s. I’ve just found the spikes do an amazing job and are so easy to apply. Insert two spikes when planting your tomato and after a couple of months or so, insert another two.
  • Place your containers in the hottest place you can find. I like mine facing south and up against a building like a garage so the heat is reflected back from the building onto the tomato. The building also stores heat which is released at night to keep the tomato warm and happy.
  • Keep the soil evenly moist but never wet. Don’t let the soil completely dry out.
  • Use a container big enough to hold a full-grown plant to avoid repotting if it outgrows the pot. This tip also comes from experience. Too many times I had to repot a tomato that had outgrown its container by mid-season. I now choose a larger pot to start with to keep the tomato and me happy.
  • Choose a good support system. I like to use tomato cages combined with a good sturdy stake so I can tie the main stem to the stake and let the cage support the outside branches.

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The accompanying photo, taken July 25, 2022, shows your intrepid writer standing next to my Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato, my favorite tomato variety. It’s a heirloom tomato and there’s a story behind the name. Radiator Charlie was MC Byles who started a radiator repair business in the 1930s. He had no formal plant breeding experience but developed this variety by cross-breeding four of the largest tomatoes he could find. He then sold his heirloom tomato plants for one dollar each (in the 1940s) and paid off the $6,000 mortgage on his house for him in six years. The bottom line is the tomatoes are large and very flavourful.

Online with this column, I’ve even included a song for all you tomato lovers by the legendary Connie Kaldor.

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Learn more by emailing your questions to, reading past columns or my book, Just Ask Jerry. You can also follow me on Twitter @justaskjerry01.

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