You don't need a large garden to grow a crop of mouthwatering tomatoes and peppers. These sun-loving vegetables thrive in containers – and still yield explosive flavors. Best of all, when tomato and pepper plants are grown in pots, these summer favorites ripen sooner than their in-ground cousins.
Choose A Container
You'll have best success with a pot at least 15 inches wide and deep. Bigger is better with potted peppers and tomatoes. Containers made of wood, pulp or terra-cotta don't heat soil like plastic pots can. If using terra-cotta, choose glazed pottery, which prevents water from evaporating through the sides.
With plastic pots, avoid dark colors; they absorb sunlight, which heats soil and cooks roots. Half-whiskey-barrel planters work well for potted peppers and tomatoes, as do 5-gallon buckets.
No matter what you use to grow tomato and pepper plants, your container needs drainage holes. Elevate pots on bricks or some other support to sharpen drainage.
Use Good Soil
In a container, plant roots only receive what you give them. Provide tomato and pepper plants a rich foundation with a bagged container soil mix blended with equal parts compost or worm castings. Consider adding a tomato fertilizer or calcium supplement to soil. Calcium is vital to healthy tomato and pepper plants, helping fruit to ripen successfully. Most tomato fertilizers contain calcium. You can use a specialized tomato fertilizer for peppers, as well.
Don't fill containers to the brim with soil; leave a margin of 1-2 inches for mulch. Use bark nuggets, shredded bark, compost or burlap to mulch soil. Mulch reduces moisture loss from soil and helps lower soil temperature. If you're growing tomato and pepper plants in full sun on a hot driveway or patio, cluster pots of vegetables and/or flowers together to insulate tomato or pepper roots.
Plant Tomatoes Deeply
For tomatoes, tuck your seedling deep in the pot, covering the majority of the exposed stem with soil. Remove lower leaves, burying that part of the stem. Roots will emerge where leaves were attached. Don't pinch blooms from plants; they may yield an early crop. Pepper plants should be set at the same soil level they were at in the original pot or six-pack. Don’t plant them deeply. If necessary, protect both tomato and pepper plants from late frosts (link to winter protection story).
Large pots will dwarf tiny seedlings, but in four weeks plants will fill out the container. Insert stakes at planting time. A simple wooden stake or stake tepee will support heirloom or indeterminate tomatoes well when you tie vines to the support. A traditional tomato cage works with bush (determinate) tomatoes and pepper plants.
Water Well And Feed
Keep soil consistently moist. In early summer, you'll water less frequently because roots won't have filled the pot. As the plant grows and summer heats up, expect to water pots daily. Make sure water is soaking into soil and not just running in the tiny space that can form between dry soil and the pot.
Container tomatoes and peppers need more fertilizer than in-ground plants. Each time you water, you're washing a little fertilizer from the soil, so you must replace that throughout the growing season. Fertilize plants once every 10 days. Every 3-4 weeks, spray a foliar fertilizer, such as kelp or fish emulsion, on leaves.