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indoor tomato growing

 
Rose Pinder
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Location: Otago, New Zealand
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I have a cherry tomato in a 20L pot. It's doing well, has flowers and small green fruit. It's sitting right by a window, so gets plenty of light and sun. It is getting a bit leggy though and the top of the plant is now above the height of the window with about another foot before it hits something near the ceiling.

I'm wondering if I can make it more bushy than vertical. I've been taking out the laterals but can I leave them in and have them produce fruit?

The other issue is that the top of the plant seems to wilt a bit. Normally I would think that's a watering issue, but I've put some of the laterals in the soil around the base of the plant and they're all doing fine with the amount I'm watering. The pot doesn't have bottom drainage, but instead has holes on the side of the pot 1 1/2 inches up, so there could be a lot of moisture at the bottom (no way to know though). I've been trying to water deeply not very often but am wondering if I should just water every few days lightly instead. The soil at the top hasn't dried out.
 
Ben Johansen
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Location: Door County, WI
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Hey, Rose. I love tomatoes in the winter. Where I'm at, they need a little help from a soft white lightbulb, but in your region, I'm not sure. How many hours of daylight dyou get on average this time of year? What's the average temp inside the house, and does it change significantly near the window? Also, leggy growth is sometimes indicative of excessive consumption of nitrogen by plants. Do you fertilize your tomato at all? Have you observed any color changes in the plant? I've read some reports suggesting that wider, shallower, containers allow for restriction of root growth, resulting in a plant that has a more compact, bushy, habit. What shape is the container? The fact that there is no bottom drainage on the pot is also somewhat worrisome; is it possible to smell the drainage holes at all? Most septic bacteria are easily recognized by their stank- they just don't smell right.
To promote fruiting, and bushier plants, as well as overall plant health, I'd take the following steps:
1. Drill at least one or two holes in the bottom of that container. You may have to water more frequently, but at least you'll begin to remove bacterial neer-do-wells from the equation.
2. Consider adding a low-nitrogen or nitrogen-lesss fertilizer to your watering regimen, one with plenty of micronutrients, once or twice a month. Micronutrients, properly balanced, can reduce the need for N-P-K "demands" that limit plant productivity. I recommend a lil kelp powder in warm water. Dried banana peels, crushed and lightly worked into the soil, also provide a somewhat time-release fertilizer, low in N.
3. Consider limiting "apical dominance" (the phrase conjures images of an ego-tripping gorilla hehehe.) The fact that you are seeing lots of laterals is a sign to me that the plant is attempting to focus its more of its energy into capturing light (vis-a-vis a wider plane of leaf coverage) than trying to capture heat (vis-a-vis upward growth.) This is further indicated by the fact that the plant is wilting at the top. Apical dominance can be limited by pruning the top of the plant, or by just training the uppermost growth to capture as much sunlight as possible. EDIT: By "training," I'm referring to a process of trellising or espalier-ing the stalk sideways, not some kind of freaky deaky tomato boot camp.

Additionally, I'd consider planting some of your laterals in a wide, shallow container, and see if they have a tendency to bush out more or less than your mother tomato. If they do, and that's your goal, then maybe all you need is a different shape of pot to make Mama happy.
 
Rose Pinder
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Hi Ben, thanks for the detailed and thoughtful reply!

It's spring here. Average daylight for the plant is 12 hours, but it's only getting light from one side. The plant is in a pretty warm environment, often above 20C during the day, with lots of passive solar by the window (and it's sunny here a lot).

re fertilising, I've only fertilised once (diluted urine), but I might have put some nettle in the bottom of the pot (can't remember). Colour of leaves is all good.

The top leaves were 'wilting', but now I see some of the lower ones are too which makes me think it's more likely to be a bacterial thing rather than drying out. But then there is no smell at the drainage holes.

The plant is in an upright 20L bucket, so not wide and shallow.

1. Drill at least one or two holes in the bottom of that container. You may have to water more frequently, but at least you'll begin to remove bacterial neer-do-wells from the equation.


Once we get past the frosts the plant will go outside and I really don't want holes in the bottom then (things in pots dry out here very fast in summer).


2. Consider adding a low-nitrogen or nitrogen-lesss fertilizer to your watering regimen, one with plenty of micronutrients, once or twice a month. Micronutrients, properly balanced, can reduce the need for N-P-K "demands" that limit plant productivity. I recommend a lil kelp powder in warm water. Dried banana peels, crushed and lightly worked into the soil, also provide a somewhat time-release fertilizer, low in N.


Ooh, I like the banana peel idea. Can I air dry them?

3. Consider limiting "apical dominance" (the phrase conjures images of an ego-tripping gorilla hehehe.) The fact that you are seeing lots of laterals is a sign to me that the plant is attempting to focus its more of its energy into capturing light (vis-a-vis a wider plane of leaf coverage) than trying to capture heat (vis-a-vis upward growth.) This is further indicated by the fact that the plant is wilting at the top. Apical dominance can be limited by pruning the top of the plant, or by just training the uppermost growth to capture as much sunlight as possible. EDIT: By "training," I'm referring to a process of trellising or espalier-ing the stalk sideways, not some kind of freaky deaky tomato boot camp.


lol, ok I've been wanting to prune the top. Will the laterals flower/fruit?


Additionally, I'd consider planting some of your laterals in a wide, shallow container, and see if they have a tendency to bush out more or less than your mother tomato. If they do, and that's your goal, then maybe all you need is a different shape of pot to make Mama happy.


Good idea. I have some of the laterals in the same pot as the main plant, and they're just doing what the parent did. I was about to pot up some more laterals so will try a different shape.


I did some reading on determinate and indeterminate tomatoes and pruning and found lots of contradictory advice. I guess I just need to experiment. It's been a long time since I grew tomatoes in pots, and the only ones I've grown in this climate where in an outside guild system where they had to look after themselves.
 
Rose Pinder
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This is one of the leaves half way down. Looks more like curl than wilt.

image.jpeg
[Thumbnail for image.jpeg]
 
Ben Johansen
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Location: Door County, WI
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Rose Pinder wrote:Looks more like curl than wilt.


I concur. This type of curl is sometimes an indicator of light stress- AHA! Is the plant catching light from an artificial source at night

You can air-dry banana peels, and lemme tell ye, a few lines of twine strung across the kitchen ceiling, hanging heavy with black and blackening naner skins is a surefire way to make an impression on an unsuspecting visitor. Looks like the Grinch's christmas decorations. Let's just say that I can usually tell who's going to be a repeat player on cribbage night based on their first reaction to my kitchen hehehe... Had an acquaintance bump into a fresh-cut bunch of nettles on the wall by the coffee pot a few weeks ago, and I haven't seen hide nor hair of him since ahahahahahahaha!!!

The laterals should act just like clones of the mother, flowering, fruiting, etc., although they will have a tendency to "leg out" and assert that good old apical dominance again. Just assert your human prerogative in a kindly manner with a clean, sharp, pruner, and get they'll go whichever way you tell them. Louise Riotte writes about how tomatoes are slightly narcissistic, and I find that to be true- they have a way of letting you know when you haven't been giving them enough attention, especially indoors. But they're also resilient, and extremely forgiving. So, like you say, it's all a matter of experimentation.
 
Rose Pinder
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Location: Otago, New Zealand
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I found out this week that banana skins dry very well in the car (bonus!)

Narcissitic seems right to me too. I was wondering about the laterals on the parent plant fruiting. I always got taught to remove the laterals to get better fruiting, but if the laterals fruit how is that a problem?

I'm not sure if light is the issue or heat differences. It's only getting light from one side but very bright, and it's in a dark corner away from light at night.

 
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