Container Garden Chronicles: Tomato talk with PK Dennis

My tomatoes are still green, but Master Gardener PK Dennis said they won't be for long.

Tomatoes seem to be on everyone’s mind this time of year.

As my plants grow bigger by the day, the anticipation is killing me.

So I decided to talk to an expert to make sure I have all my bases covered. PK Dennis, a York County Penn State Master Gardener, lives in Newberrytown and has been vegetable and flower gardening all of her life.

She was kind enough to put my fears at ease and answer all my tomato questions:

Question: Should you fertilize your tomatoes? How often? With what?

Answer: Yes, especially in containers. Use one with a high middle number that you mix with water. Follow the instructions on the label and sprinkle it over the leaves and soil from the watering can once a week.

Q: Should tomato plants be pruned at all? I bought container-garden friendly plants, but they still seem to be growing like weeds. Should I snip the tops of them to make them grow width-wise?

A: Never prune tomato plants.

Q: For those tomato plants that have outgrown their pots, do you have any tips for transplanting?

A: If they are root bound you can knock them out of their current pot and put them in a larger pot, filling in around the edges with more soil.

Q: When should we expect our first red tomatoes?

A: Expect your first tomatoes some time around the Fourth of July.

Q: Is it too late to plant tomatoes? What varieties are good to get in the ground/in containers now?

A: It is always worth a try. Growing in containers will speed things up if you keep the plants watered. Look for varieties that have “early” in their name, like Early Girl, or cherry tomatoes.

Q: Is it possible to grow tomatoes indoors? One of our gardeners has a tomato in her kitchen. She said flowers bloomed on it and fell off, but so far there’s no sign of tomatoes.

A: It is very hard to give tomatoes enough light indoors. If you do get flowers, you will need to pollinate the flowers yourself with a small paint brush or cotton swab.

Q: As everyone looks ahead to summer trips, how often should we have a plant sitter (or, in our case, a co-worker) check in on our tomatoes and other plants when we’re on vacation?

A: Don’t let things dry out. If you need to water every day, your sitter will have to check (and water) every day. But if your containers are big enough that you are watering every two or three days, then that can be the schedule for your sitter.

Read more from Smart’s Container Garden Chronicles here.

April Trotter

Editor of Smart. NEPA transplant. Penn State and Shippensburg grad. Kickball and craft beer enthusiast. Collector of cardigans. "Bennie and the Jets" fanatic. Contact me at, at "Smart magazine" on Facebook, @SmartMagPA on Twitter or by phone at 717-771-2030.

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3 Responses

  1. Jen Flores says:

    Bingo! That must be why my tomatoes didnt take off last year. I had plenty of light for the plant in my kitchen but it never produced tomatoes. So next time I will pollinate them, or hire a small bee colony to do the job. Thanks for solving that mystery!

  1. June 26, 2012

    […] I got nervous my plant’s flowers had died quickly — and learned I’d need to paintbrush-pollinate each flower myself — I brought the container into work and set it outside on the […]

  2. July 16, 2012

    […] Related posts: Container Garden Chronicles: Tomato talk with PK Dennis […]

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