Ever wondered how you can enjoy delicious, homegrown tomatoes without a sprawling garden? The unruly nature of tomato bushes and vines might seem hard to contain. But they can be contained. In fact, tomatoes grow quite successfully in just about any kind of large container you can think of.
Since tomatoes are a favorite veggie, the ability to grow them easily in pots on a small patio or even on a rooftop in the middle of a bustling city makes them a preferred choice for gardeners. Here are the keys for growing tomatoes successfully in a container.
Choose the right container
The right container for your tomato plant is the first step on your journey to a robust crop. Large container options are endless. Visit your favorite gardening center where you will find clay, glazed, and plastic pots galore. As long as you select a five gallon size or larger, any of the containers will work. However, clay pots are the least popular choice for tomato gardening. Clay is porous, and soil will dry more quickly in clay pots. Plastic pots are the easiest choice since plastic holds the moisture in better, which is important for successful tomato gardening.
If you are a handy sort, you might construct a container from wood. Make sure the wood you are using has not been chemically treated since you are using the planter for edibles. A simple 2 ft by 2 ft box will do.
For a thrifty idea, hunt around your neighborhood garage sales or secondhand shops for plastic tubs or pots. Some gardeners have effectively used recyclable grocery bags for their tomato plant container. Believe it or not, a five gallon bucket from your local hardware store is the perfect tomato planter. For more inexpensive container ideas, see this great Mother Earth News article.
Your container will need to have several drainage holes. Most pots that you purchase will already have at least one hole. If you go the more inexpensive route and choose a plastic tub or a bucket, you will need to create drainage holes. Your container will need to be sturdy enough to drill several holes into the bottom.
Soil and location
Before you add soil to your container, clean your container with warm, soapy water. Place a piece of screen across the bottom of your container so you don’t lose your soil through the holes over time. The best soil to use for container gardening is a soil that retains water and is full of organic food.
According to the experts at Ohio State, you should mix your soil to meet the tomato plant’s requirements for nourishment and moisture level. Use equal parts of potting soil, perlite, sphagnum moss, and compost. For more tips from the Ohio State horticulture department, visit the Ohio Extension Service site.
Even after you have filled your container with soil, it will be light enough to move, which is one great advantage to container gardening. Decide where you will place your tomato plant. Choose a warm location where your plant will get at least 6 hours of full sun every day. Lots of direct sun is a must, so avoid placement near walls or fences where your plant may spend most of the day in a shadow.
Recommended seed varieties
Don’t think that because you have a downsized container garden you have to go small on size when it comes to your actual plant or produce. Most varieties of tomatoes grow well in containers.
It is important to note that there are two different types of tomato plants. The indeterminate tomato plant is generally large and vining. It will produce fruit continually over the course of the growing season. A determinate tomato plant is smaller and bushier. It will produce one bulk harvest, and then the plant will die.
For the larger-sized plants, try a tomato cage, wire fencing, or bamboo stakes for support. A few larger tomato varieties that grow well in containers include “Believe-it-or Not,” “Early Girl V,” or “Yellow Pygmy.”
Here’s an informative YouTube video to help you visualize the support large plants need.
And for tips on growing larger, vining tomatoes, visit this vegetable corner article.
If you would prefer a smaller and more compact plant that you probably won’t have to stake, choose determinate varieties. Determinate varieties are very compatible with container gardening. “Patio V” is a popular choice with its small plant size, yet tennis ball-sized tomatoes. Yum! “Totem” is a dwarf variety that produces nice, round cherry tomatoes. “Tiny Tim” is a cold tolerant variety that reaches maturity in 60 days.
Check out this mouth-watering line of best tomatoes for containers at veggiegardener.com.
When you have selected an appealing variety and you are ready to plant, consider your container a one-plant show. Plant 3 or 4 seeds in your container a half inch deep after the danger of frost. When your seedlings have two leaves, thin to one plant.
If you choose to purchase your seedling from a nursery or store, transplant it when the weather warms and your soil is at least 60 degrees. Tomato transplants thrive when they are set deep into the soil, so don’t be afraid to plant it so the lowest leaves of the plant are buried in the soil.
Watering and fertilizing
Tomato plants love a good balance of water. Your goal is to keep your plant moist at all times. If you have a wet, rainy period, you might move your plant to shelter so it doesn’t become too soggy. On the other hand, when the weather is hot, you will need to water your tomato plant every day. Container gardens have a tendency to dry out quickly, so keep a close eye on your plants.
As was mentioned before, tomato plants enjoy plenty of nourishment. If you use an excellent soil mix to begin with, fertilizing your tomato plant isn’t crucial. During the lifespan of your plant, there are three times that a fertilizer will offer a boost, though.
When you start your seeds, a little bit of a granular tomato fertilizer is fine. With your transplant, add a scanty handful of granular tomato fertilizer when you go to set it in the soil. As your plant blossoms and is about to produce fruit, adding a fish emulsion every other time you water will offer replenishment. Remember, too much of a good thing is not a good thing, and that goes for fertilizing your container tomatoes.
For a handy how-to list for your tomatoes in a container, visit our other container gardening tomatoes page!
For an excellent and comprehensive guide to create your own tomato fertilizer, Mother Earth News has another good article.
Growing tomatoes upside down
Container gardening is not limited to upright pots these days. Upside down planters are a trendy new method for a bountiful harvest. Not all tomato varieties are suitable for this style of gardening, but cherry tomato plants are especially successful when grown upside down.
Upside down containers might be as simple as a milk jug or as specialized as a Topsy Turvey bag. The sun, soil, and watering requirements are the same as those for an upright container. The only extra consideration you have with your upside down tomato plant is where you might hang it.
For ideas on how to hang your upside down container, visit our upside down tomatoes article.
For a variety of container ideas for your upside down tomato gardening, visit this site.
And for additional instructions, we also have a page about tomatoes in hanging baskets.
Do you have a creative tomato plant container idea or helpful tip that you would like to share? Let us know! Happy container gardening!
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of azmichelle