Growing Tomatoes in Containers
Tomatoes of all shapes and sizes are classic choices for growing in a vegetable garden, but there are also lots of great reasons to try them in containers. It’s much easier to protect the plants from critters such as deer and rabbits if the plants are growing close to your house, and having them nearby keeps them handy for harvesting, as well. Container growing keeps the roots away from troublesome pests and diseases that might be in the soil too. It helps you control how much water they get and when, a big plus if your garden soil tends to be especially soggy or sandy. Pots are also a perfect solution if you want to enjoy fresh-picked tomatoes but your gardening space is limited to a patio or balcony.
It’s possible to grow any kind of tomato in a container, but it’s important to match the size of the pot to the size of the plant. The most compact, or dwarf, varieties can adapt to life in an 8- to 12-inch pot or even a hanging basket. Typical bush-type (also known as determinate) tomatoes can grow all right in 5-gallon pots or buckets, though 8- or 10-gallon pots are even better. Vining (or indeterminate) varieties, such as ‘Brandywine’ slicing tomatoes or ‘Sweet 100’ cherry tomatoes, do best in 15- to 20-gallon tubs, so they can produce plenty of roots to support their continually lengthening stems and heavy fruit production. Fill the containers with a soil-less potting mix, not regular garden soil.
To get an abundant harvest, pay careful attention to watering your potted tomato plants so they stay evenly moist: not wet but never drying out completely, either. Instead of automatically watering them on a set schedule, consider the weather conditions and the look of the plants. In dry, hot, windy weather, you may have to water them once or even twice a day to keep them from wilting. During rainy spells, hold off on watering, and make sure that the pots are not sitting in trays or saucers of standing water, which can lead to root rot.
Regular fertilizing is important, too. Mix a granulated garden fertilizer into the potting soil before planting, and apply a diluted liquid fertilizer every 1 to 2 weeks through the growing season, according to the directions on the fertilizer packages.
Well-tended tomato plants can get quite large, so for all but the most dwarf types, place a sturdy support cage or some other form of trellising in or around their containers while the plants are still young.
Ready to give container tomatoes a try? Here’s a selection of some dwarf and compact types that are particularly well suited to life in pots.
‘Tumbling Tom Red’: The trailing stems of ‘Tumbling Tom Red’ can reach 18 to 24 inches long, with clusters of rounded to slightly oval, 1- to 2-inch red fruits starting about 60 days after transplanting. ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow’ may not produce quite as many fruits, but they’re very sweet. A combination of the two colors makes for a beautiful hanging basket display.
‘Tumbler’: This red-fruited cherry tomato has nicely branched stems that can cascade 3 to 6 feet out of a hanging basket. It also looks good in a regular pot and will grow upright if you support the plant with a cage.
‘Sweet Pea’: The 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch red fruits of ‘Sweet Pea’ are tiny in size but big on flavor, delicious for fresh eating or for drying. The plants produce tiny leaves, too, on long stems that reach to 6 feet or more; let them trail out of a large hanging basket or grow them upright in a pot supported by a large cage.
‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Yellow’: It’s tough to beat ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Yellow’ for a long harvest of yellow cherry tomatoes from a container. The branching plants usually grow to about 1 foot tall, small enough to grow indoors. For a mix of colors, try ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Red’ and ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Scarlet’ too.
‘Red Robin’: This popular container cherry tomato produces good-looking, upright plants that reach just 12 to 18 inches tall, with an abundance of sweet, rounded red fruits.
‘Silvery Fir Tree’: With its lacy, grayish-green leaves, this intriguing heirloom variety hardly looks like a tomato plant — at least until its 3-inch rounded fruits ripen to bright red. The productive plants are bushy and upright, typically reaching 2 to 3 feet tall.
‘Bush Early Girl’: This classic slicing-type tomato produces generous yields of flavorful, 3- to 4-inch red fruits on 3-foot-tall plants. It ripens quickly, too, making it a great choice if you just can’t wait to start the summer harvest.
‘Super Bush’: Growing 3 to 4 feet tall, ‘Super Bush’ gives you an early harvest of great-tasting, meaty, 3- to 4-inch red fruits on sturdy-stemmed, upright plants.