QUESTION: Is it better to grow tomatoes in pots or to grow them in the ground? I want to start planting tomatoes this year. — Raymond N.
ANSWER: There are tomato varieties especially well suited for container gardens and varieties that grow their best planted directly in the soil. Tomato plants perform best in soil that is loose, rich, and drains well, which means they translate easily to container gardens—especially more compact determinate tomatoes, or bush varieties. Indeterminate tomato varieties that grow larger have more extensive root systems and do better planted directly in the ground.
The tiniest tomato plants (called microdwarf varieties) can get by in 3-gallon containers. Dwarf tomato strains need at minimum a 4-gallon container to flourish. And the larger indeterminate tomato plants thrive when they get at least a 6-gallon to 8-gallon pot or grow bag.
Tomato plants growing in containers need to be watered more frequently than tomato plants growing directly in the soil. Dry soil in a tomato plant’s container threatens to do more than dehydrate the plant. Tomato plants growing in dry soil will become stressed and are at risk for many different diseases, and they may even die. This is one reason that tomato plants growing in container gardens are susceptible to blossom end rot. Both tomato plants in containers and those planted in the ground will require some fertilization or composting during the season.
All things considered, if you have the option to grow tomatoes either in the ground or in containers, you should choose in the ground. Tomatoes planted directly in the soil are less of a hassle to take care of. They are also less likely to contract tomato diseases and will produce more of a productive harvest for you. The only real drawback to growing tomatoes in the soil is that after years of planting in the same spot, you will need to replenish the soil if you want to continue growing there.
Now that you know the pros and cons of growing tomatoes in the ground and in containers as well as the best times to choose each option, you can confidently decide where to place your own tomato garden. Whether you choose to grow your tomatoes in container or directly in the soil, you have the opportunity to raise a hefty harvest and care for beautiful, productive plants.