It’s a pretty simple formula for growing tomatoes in containers: Right variety, big pot, sun, good potting soil, food, and water.
Tomato Varieties for Containers
Most varieties of tomatoes grow well in containers. Determinate types are generally better for pots because they grow to a certain size and then stop, so they don’t need as much support. Dwarf varieties that produce small fruit, such as Tiny Tim, Patio Hybrid, Small Fry, and Pixie Hybrid, are ideal for containers. In red, yellow, and pink, the Husky Hybrids are dwarf plants that grow full-size tomatoes.
Containers and Tomatoes
Containers for growing tomatoes must be at least 12 inches high and 12 inches in diameter with holes for drainage. Plastic or glazed pots are better than clay because they hold water longer. A mesh screen placed over the bottom of the pot will keep soil from slipping out the drainage holes and keep pests from sneaking in.
You can use large flowerpots or let your imagination go wild. An old steamer trunk or lobster trap can hold two tomato plants. Five-gallon food containers, plastic plant bags, bushel baskets, and half whiskey barrels are great for growing tomatoes. You can even grow your tomatoes in hanging baskets and window boxes, which is a great solution if you don’t have any surface where you can set a pot.
Planting Mix for Tomatoes in Containers
Garden soil is not the best choice for container growing. The pests that are in balance in the garden become concentrated in pots, putting the risk of infestation too high. You can buy sterile planting mixes for containers or make your own from one part each of potting soil, perlite, sphagnum moss, and compost.
Make sure your compost reached high enough temperatures during the composting process to kill insect and disease organisms. Your goal is a loose, well-drained mix that is rich in organic matter.
Planting Your Tomatoes in Containers
Rather than planting tomato seeds in your containers, start with seedlings. You can grow the seedlings indoors or buy them from reputable local growers.
Depending on how tall your plants are expected to grow, you may want to stake them with stakes or tomato cages. To avoid damaging the plants put the supports in the containers before you plant the seedlings.
Fill each container three-quarters full. Plant each seedling so the soil is just below the first set of true leaves, which are the leaves that look like tomato leaves. Firm the soil around each plant, then water thoroughly.
Caring for Your Tomatoes
Your container-grown tomatoes will need a lot of water; check them daily. The hotter the temperature and the smaller the container, the more watering you will have to do. Mulch can help conserve soil moisture.
While you are checking your containers for water, keep an eye out for insects and diseases. The same pests bother tomatoes whether you grow the plants in the ground or in containers.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders. Starting two to four weeks after planting, fertilize every two-to-three weeks using a balanced soluble fertilizer. For an organic fertilizer, use fish emulsion or liquid kelp.
Give your tomato plants as much sun as possible, and shelter them from the wind. To keep the crop coming, harvest the tomatoes as soon as they are ready to eat, and enjoy your luscious, homegrown crop.
Want to learn more about tomatoes and container gardening?
Cooperative extension offices know exactly how to grow tomatoes in containers in your area. Here’s some advice from different parts of the country:
Here’s information about Container Grown Tomatoes from Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.
You can get information about Tomatoes and South Carolina here from Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service.
You can get information about Tomatoes and Illinois here from University of Illinois Extension.
Don’t miss the Tomato Growing Tips site, for tomato history, and a huge number of pages devoted to growing the tomato at home. Great site.