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Specialty Containers and Crop Rotation?

Bruce (Vancouver Island)
December 9, 2018

I have built tomato cages and strawberry towers which were designed to provide support and save space respectively. Because of these features I wish to use them year after year. However, how do I avoid problems associated with the need for crop rotation? In the tomato cages I can replace the soil every year if need be but not in the strawberry towers. Is it even an issue with the strawberries with them being perennials? Any advice would be helpful. Thanks!

Comments (17)

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    There are no problems that are associated with a need for crop rotation. Unless you have a serious disease infecting your plants. The reason ag crops are rotated is because large scale soil amendation (e.g. with compost, micro-nutrients) simply isn't possible. One crop "uses up" nutrients that the next crop won't need that much of. In a home garden, and especially in containers, you're supplying the nutrients, so this problem never arises.

    I've planted my tomatoes in the same location for more than a decade, and have never had any problems.

    For home gardeners, the need for rotation is somewhat of a myth.

    Bruce (Vancouver Island) thanked daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    It is definitely a non-issue with container gardening. And is only an issue for inground plantings in a home veggie garden if a serious fungal or soil disease crops up, like late blight on tomatoes. Likely more pertinent to members of the Solanaceae (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes) than to most other plant families.

    Bruce (Vancouver Island) thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa

    Once you get the problem you'll regret your decisions. I've been fighting blight on my tomatoes for about 8 years. There are more problems than blight on tomatoes and potatoes. There are a variety of insect problems that rotating crops helps avoid.

    I've never grown in raised beds or containers except for some flower pots on the porch. It sounds expensive to me to replace soil, but it also sounds expensive to me to have all those containers.

    You give me an idea that never occurred to me. Just dig out the soil in my gardens to get rid of my blight problem. I wouldn't do that but I'm just making the point of the extremes one might go to get rid of a problem that's so easy to get. I think I got mine from the seedlings I found so easy to buy than to grow. No, more.

    Bruce (Vancouver Island) thanked John D Zn6a PIT Pa
  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    Well, that's what fungicides are for. But really, if a bed is infected with blight fungus, all the beds around it will be too. If you replace the soil in that bed, it's just going to eventually get infected. Same goes for insect problems. Now, if your beds are many acres across, you might have a chance to fix it by rotation.

    Solarization is a good strategy for small-bed soil disinfection, though it'll take a few months of heat and high sun to do it. Down south, it's pretty easy, because when tomatoes are done in June or July, you just solarize the bed for the rest of the summer. There used to be chemicals that would do an efficient job of soil sterilization (not just weed-killing), but they are no longer available to the home gardener. Ah, Vapam! Those were the days ...

  • digdirt2

    johnfduda you are forgetting or ignoring the fact that the fungi that cause the various blights is also airborne and in the air most all the time. Whether it develops on the plant or not all depends on the humidity, air temps, and amount of air circulation. So digging out or replacing soil is no guarantee that you won't get "blight".

    Early Blight is a chronic problem for almost every gardener and as Dan said, "that's what fungicides are for".


  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa

    I have tried the fungicides available to the home gardener. My BIL has the experience to do the controlled fungicides but needs a certificate for this particular treatment and told me it's not worth the time and expense of getting that particular certificate.

    I said replace the soil in the ground as a joke.

    I've been fighting this problem for eight or so years. I've tried a lot of methods all of which don't work, or didn't for me. The only thing that works is to move the problem crop to another place. I moved a few hundred feet to different spots and had good results the first year with one plot. By planting tomatoes in one of those again the second year that plot replicated the problem. In the other small plot I planted zucchini in an alternate year I didn't get the problem in the small plot.

    I'm only posting to warn folks here that you want to make sure you don't get this problem in the first place. I'll admit it'd be hard to replace the soil in all OPs containers, but it might be wise to dump and save the contents of the containers and sanitize the containers and let them air out over the winter.

    I don't know which blight I get, I have closeup pictures and if I try to compare the leafs on my tomatoes with the images on the web I can't make a decision which I have. In my case the blight starts very slowly up the plants from the bottom. I still get tomatoes from those that were already developed on the plants, they ripen and are usable. I have accidentally found out that if apply too much nitrogen the plant will outgrow whatever blight it is that I have. I dug in a couple inches of mushroom manure and then dug in another 3 or 4 spadefuls when I set out the seedlings. The beefsteak plants were 12 foot high and produced a normal crop of large tomatoes.

    I plan to continue growing only heirloom tomatoes and move them around. If you already have the problem then that releases you to grow any variety you want to grow. I got this problem because I was growing in an 11x14' plot and couldn't rotate as some have said. If you don't have the problem then you need to be VERY careful. Myself I quit buying seedlings. I grow my own, some from seed I save and I do buy seed.

  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa

    By the way, my neighbor gets this problem and grows only in large raised beds. She rotates her crops to help mitigate it.

    From my experience watering at the base of the plant doesn't help. It's my opinion that you're more likely to get this problem if you live in an area that gets lots of rain. The problem I have with rain is that no matter how much I try, I can't restrict the rain to only in the morning and only at the base of the plant.

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    Making sure you don't get this problem in the first place comes down to convincing fungus spores not to land on your plants. I've never had much success with that strategy. Not sure that carefulness has anything to do with it, aside from not moving infected plant material to an uninfected location. If your lot is large enough that you can move a few hundred feet, you have a lot more room than most of us do. Rotate away!

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Early blight on tomatoes is pretty easily treated with both a copper fungicide (organic) or with chlorothalonil (various trade names) available to any home (US) gardener. Same products will also treat or help to control most other common tomato fungal issues (septoria leaf spot, late blight, etc.). Early blight is highly weather related (wet and warm), as are many fungal issues. But the vast majority of any fungicides will be prophylactic or preventative only and need to be applied before you see any symptoms.

    There is less concern about crop rotation with late blight as that pathogen requires viable plant tissue to remain active for more than a few days and is typically killed off by both cold weather (frosts) and very warm weather so the pathogen is seldom able to overwinter (unless you grow potatoes nearby, they were also affected and not fully harvested - the disease may remain present and active in still buried tubers)

  • Bruce (Vancouver Island)

    I believe that I had blight last year but am not sure (I have to research more). I live on Vancouver Island (BC) in Zone 7. We get lots of rain in the spring and then quite hot and dry summers. I watered my tomatoes twice a day but missed a few days and so got blossom-end rot on some of my fruit (maybe also a calcium deficiency?). I am unsure if I had blight or just yellowing leaves from lack of water and high temperatures. What are the thoughts out there on automated watering systems (say watering twice a day - and also makes sure the water is applied at the base of the plants)?

  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa


    I remember my mother planting a few beefsteak tomatoes in the same plot from back in the 1950's. And my grandmother's nice big garden in the same mid fifties. She insisted on rotating crops. Neither ever got blight,

    I never got either till 8 years ago. I don't know for sure where it came from, but I do know it's hard to get rid of, I've tried.

    I also remembering shoveling horse manure into my grandmothers garden, when I was a kid, When I was in the Navy in the 60's. I remember hauling manure into a community garden in the early eighties. I took a picture there of corn growing with the Pittsburgh Sky Line in the background.

    I've hauled in free horse manure to my current garden several times. I had 3 yards of mushroom manure delivered. That is not going to prevent getting blight. I do know the results I didn't get and what does work after I got the problem.

    Maybe it's luck, maybe it's the garden gods. It might blow in on the winds. I wish everyone here luck in not getting it. From my experience you either move your tomatoes or you quit growing them for a couple years if you have nowhere to move them.

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    Again, the fungicides don't work after the blight has set in. You have to spray early to keep it from getting established. Maybe your experience with fungicides hasn't been like that. My tomatoes, in the same place for a decade, do experience early blight, but with early application of copper and Daconil the plants hold it off nicely at least until the season is done, which around here is July-ish. I have no plans to quit growing them. So I guess we can just leave it that our experience is different.

    Yep, it's pretty much just luck and or the garden gods. But the stuff does blow in the wind. So make sure where you rotate to isn't downwind from where you had it.

  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa


    When I get blossom end rot I sprinkle some lime on the soil around the plants that have it and or nearby. But we have acid soil here. If you don't have acid soil then maybe calcium will resolve the problem. If I see the problem it's usually on the first couple tomatoes so here in SW PA at that time of year it's not a watering problem.

    I've learned that if my tomatoes get too much water they get kind of tasteless, so maybe twice a day is too much. I'd say every day is too much. But I don't know how hot it gets there in the PNW.

    The yellowing leafs is NOT blight. The leaves on my tomatoes get spots, then they start browning up. They shrivel to a long vertical tube and then fall off. It starts at the bottom of the plant and works up the plant. It might take a month to get to the top, from my experience the tomatoes on the plant still ripen, but then they'd probably ripen the same as if I picked them all off the plants. In other words, they're just hanging there on a lifeless plant.

  • Bruce (Vancouver Island)


    Thanks! I heard that putting crushed eggshells around tomatoes helps so I am going to try that. My leaves turned yellow and curled up as you mentioned. As I am growing indeterminate tomatoes I just starting cutting off the leaves as the fruit on the bottoms of the vines ripened and I harvested them. I then worked my way up the vines as they grew longer - harvest the fruit and cut off the yellow curled leaves.

    I was amused that someone above said their tomatoes are done by June/July! I don't get my FIRST tomatoes until early August! I was still taking ripe tomatoes off at the end of October but had to resort to picking the last green ones (for Green Tomato Chutney - umm umm!) in November. I have been in my current location for three years now and have had three entirely different growing seasons. Winters were 6 days of snow on the ground, then 60 and then 14. My tomatoes in the following years grew 12', 3' and 6' respectively. Go figure!

  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa


    I get tomatoes from the first week of August till sometime in mid to late October. When they predict a hard frost I pick them all. Then I let them ripen on the counter in a bowl. Most years I'm proud to have a ripe tomato from my garden for Thanksgiving. This year I had a couple in December. The last one got thrown out. The last year I grew a non heirloom tomato I got my first tomato off a beefsteak.

    You got a 12' tomato plant in a container! I'm proud of you. By the way I do like your containers.

    If I lived in the south I'd plant tomato seeds 6-8 weeks before it cooled down and replant them in the ground/container. Do tomato seedlings need an air conditioner in the south??

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    A suggestion. If you're asking about blossom end rot and maybe about eggshells in that context, a thread titled "Specialty Containers and Crop Rotation" isn't the best place to ask it, because the people who know a lot about it may not be here. Try this instead, or start your own thread.


    Bruce (Vancouver Island) thanked daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)
  • Bruce (Vancouver Island)


    My 12' tomatoes were my first and in the ground. They were draped all over my fences and are what prompted me to build the cages. I figure they can grow up 6' inside and then I can train them to grow 6' more down the outside (if they ever grow more than 6' again!). Thanks for the compliment on the containers. I'm rethinking the strawberry towers as the plants in the bottom layers don't get enough water. I'm thinking of switching them to a stepped pyramid. I also have a truly raised vegetable bed (it is 3' off the ground but only has 12" of soil in it. It is nasty to have to mow under but at least I don't have to bed over to work in it. I have included a photo.

    I start my tomatoes in February on the kitchen window sill and transplant them into the cages in late April / early May. I also planted seeds into the cages but they never caught up to the seedlings. They also never got taller than 3' this year.

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