In this guide, we will show you how to grow tomatoes on a balcony and all the pitfalls to avoid to ensure a bountiful harvest at the end of the season. You’d be pleasantly surprised how easy it is.
If you live in an apartment and love growing veggies, you might harbor misgivings about indulging your passion. The lack of space and perhaps the thought of confronting some tetchy neighbor with a dim view about apartment gardening could be at the top of the list of things stopping you from taking that crucial first step.
On the other hand, maybe you simply thought a veggie garden isn’t doable without a yard to cultivate. Nosy neighbors aside, apartment living shouldn’t stop you from growing vegetables like spinach, bok choy, kales, eggplants, tomatoes, and lots more.
Tomatoes, though, are a favorite for city dwellers especially when there is a decent-sized balcony that gets enough sunlight during the planting season. These are relatively easy to grow, are very productive in small spaces, and you have to admit they do make a balcony look nicer with those beautiful red fruits.
How to Grow Tomatoes on a Balcony
The steps discussed below on how to grow tomatoes on a balcony are irrespective of the balcony’s size and location. The emphasis is on untangling what might seem a daunting or complicated process, especially for someone new to this.
Step 1: Pick the right spot on the balcony
Asking you to choose the right spot might feel a bit superfluous since your only option is the balcony. Here is the thing, tomatoes need lots of sunlight daily to thrive and all areas of your balcony may not get the same amount of sunshine daily.
What you want is a spot that gets at least six and half hours of sunlight daily. It would be awesome if the whole balcony meets this criterion. Figuring out the actual sunlight hours the chosen spot gets is simple. You can get a ballpark figure using a sunlight meter or even a watch to time it.
Finally, we know the temptation would be to use as many planters as possible. But planning the layout of the balcony is important. Since this could be your favorite spot to relax outdoors, a bit of thought should go into creating enough space for a deck chair or two and at least a table depending on the size of the balcony.
Step 2: Choose your pots/containers
The size of pots to use would depend on the size of your balcony, the species of tomatoes you are planning, and how many pots/planters you want to use.
Ideally, pots for growing tomatoes should be between 18 and 24 inches in diameter. Keep in mind that bigger pots mean more soil; more soil means more nutrients available to the plants which invariably implies bigger and healthier tomatoes.
Whether you are using a pot or some sort of planter container, drainage holes are important. Drill holes at the bottom of the pots lack them. And since you don’t want excess water causing a mess on your balcony, get saucers to place under each pot or container to collect the draining water.
Always remember to empty the water in the saucer before and after watering the plant.
Step 3: Choosing your potting soil/mix
This step should be pretty straightforward with perhaps a couple of caveats.
In a perfect world, you’d simply fill your pots/planters with rich garden soil and you are all set to plant the tomato seedlings. But garden soil is too heavy for this purpose, may contain disease-bearing organisms( pests, nematodes, etc), and harmful chemicals.
Fortunately, quality potting soil perfect for growing tomatoes is sold in garden stores. Get enough to fill all your planters and you’d be off to a great start.
Make sure the potting soil you are getting is slightly acidic. That is the ideal pH for growing tomato plants. Later you can lower the acidity of the soil using wood ash when the fruits start ripening. That increased soil alkalinity provides the best conditions for ripening tomato fruits.
Step 4: Picking the best tomato specie for the balcony garden
The different tomato varieties are classified into the determinate or bush variety and indeterminate or vine tomato.
Though you can grow both types in pots, it is better to stick with the bush variety because of the limited balcony space. Vining varieties grow so big they’d easily overwhelm the balcony.
Garden stores sell several species of bush tomatoes specifically bred for balcony gardening using pots or planters. The most popular tomato variety is the Cherry tomato. They grow very fast, are very resilient, and require the least amount of care.
Three great and popular variations of Cherry tomatoes include Golden Sweet, Sungold, and Lemon Cherry tomatoes.
Step 5: Planting
When planting the tomatoes, there are several things to keep in mind:
- If you are starting from seedlings, sow the seeds at the beginning of spring when the danger of winter frost is over
- The seeds sprout within 10 days. Transplant them in containers the first two true leaves appear.
- Don’t overcrowd your planters by putting many plants in one pot.
- Expose the plants to strong sunlight when they start sprouting. You can also use artificial light. The whole aim is to provide a warm environment.
- When transplanting in a pot, bury the plants deeply right up to the base of the young leaves to help them develop robust leaves. One plant per pot is ideal.
- This is the right time to support the plant with your stake or cage. Stick the stake or stick right next to the plant.
- Though you can add plant support down the road, it is smarter at the transplanting stage because you risk damaging the roots when done later.
Step 6: Mulch
When filling the pots/planters with your potting mix, stop about an inch to the brim. That remaining space is for the layer of mulch you’ll add after transplanting.
The mulch helps to keep the soil moist and regulates the soil temperature. Fallen leaves, straw, and shredded bark are awesome mulch materials for potted tomatoes.
Step 7: Watering your tomato plants
How you water the plants, when you do it, and the amount of water are key to a successful tomato garden. Because balconies are exposed to more wind, the plants would need more water than regular gardens.
Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Always ensure the soil is moist rather than saturated with water.
- Avoid soaking the leaves when watering. Wet leaves can lead to fungal diseases such as blight
- You can easily check the moisture level in the soil by sticking a finger into it. If the soil is dry up to about one inch from the surface, it’s time to water.
- Generally, the amount of water needed would depend on humidity levels, temperature, wind, and the size of the pot. Notwithstanding any of that, consistently moist soil is key.
- To keep the soil from drying overnight especially on windy evenings, cover the soil with plastic or foil.
Step 8: Taking care of the plants
The premium potting mix you started with can only get you so far in terms of the required nutrients. As soon as the plants start to flower, you need to support the growth with additional nutrients.
Organic fertilizers bought from stores or homemade fertilizers will do the trick.
Step 9: Preventing disease
It is not uncommon for brown rot, late blight, powdery mildew, and other fungal diseases to affect tomatoes grown in pots. The best line of action is preventive before they become entrenched and difficult to eliminate.
Simple but effective preventive methods include;
- Covering the plants
- Ensuring proper air circulation
- Maintain a discreet distance between the pots
- Careful fertilization
- Removing infected plants immediately
Blossom end rot, a fairly common tomato affliction, is a disease that shows up as an ugly brownish black spot at the bottom of each tomato. This is typically caused by calcium deficiency – a result of the leaching of calcium from the soil by watering.
You can crushed eggshells to the potting soil during planting to prevent this disease. So you better start saving all your used eggshells.
Step 10: Harvesting
Depending on the variety, you can start harvesting the ripe fruits 2 – 3 months after transplanting.
You can tell it is ripe when the fruits are red. The fruit should come off the plant with ease without using excessive force.
Additional Tips for Growing Tomatoes on Balcony
– You can remove suckers from the plants so the plant can direct all its resources towards growing, flowering, and fruiting.
– Apart from cages, and sticks, you can tie the plants to the balcony’s railings as support.
– Avoid black plastic planters if you live in warm regions. These tend to hold excessive heat that inhibits plant growth.
– If the growing plants are not producing flowers, pinch out the tips and add phosphorus fertilizer to the potting mix
Can Tomatoes Grow in Indirect Sunlight?
What to Use for Drainage in Pots (Improve drainage in potted plants)