The Q&A Archives: Container Grown Big Boy Tomatoes

Question: I am growing big boy tomato plants in barrels that are 18 inches wide and 14 inches high. I have never grown plants in barrels before and wanted advice: should I stake them; what type of fertilizer to use; what requirements the Big Boy has; what are suckers and what do I do with them?

Answer: For best results, tomatoes in containers should be staked. You can place a single stake in the planter, or make a teepee of bamboo, which can be anchored outside of the planter and teepee over it, or be anchored in the container. Just be careful not to damage plant roots if you place the stakes inside the container. The soil in containers tends to dry more quickly than soil in garden beds, so keep an eye on the moisture content. An inch of organic mulch, such as straw, will help maintain moisture. You may find it helpful to use automatic watering devices to be safe - Gardener's Supply Co. carries many different kinds (; ph# 800/863-1700). You can add a slow-release general purpose fertilizer in granular form, or feed plants with a very dilute solution of liquid fertilizer each time you water (follow label directions for fruiting vegetables). Big Boy is an indeterminate tomato, which means it will grow indefinitely until frost or something else kills it. You'll want to pinch off most of the suckers (vigorous shoots that sprout from the lower stem and from the buds between establshed leaves and the main stem) that the plant produces to keep it within the bounds of your container. Suckers usually start sprouting as the weather heats up and growth increases rapidly. As the plant grows, tie main stems to the stake(s) for support. As fruit starts to develop, you can leave some sucker growth in strategic areas to protect the fruit from intense sun that can cause sunscald. It's also important to let some suckers grow, since for every plant, there's a relationship of total leaf surface to total fruit yield and quality. There's no set number - just trust your eye - if the plant looks healthy and vigorous, but not overgrown like a tropical jungle plant, then you've struck the proper balance! Enjoy!

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