Get practical tips to learn how to grow tomatoes in containers
Tomato harvest | Photo by Dee Nash
To be successful growing tomatoes in containers you need three things:
- Good, large—at least five gallon—containers. I chose fabric so they could be emptied and folded up at the end of the season;
- Quality potting soil; and
- A simple and effective way to water.
This spring, before I bought my tomato plants, I decided to grow most of them in in 20-gallon Smart Pots—made in Oklahoma—and 30-gallon Grassroots pots—constructed in California. I also wanted to test three different brands of potting soil. I chose Redbud Organic no-till living soil, FoxFarm’s Happy Frog potting soil, and Miracle-Gro Performance Organics potting soil. Why organic? Because, if I’m going to grow my own food, why add chemicals to the equation?
All three potting soils worked great in the containers. Redbud Soil, which is made locally in downtown Oklahoma City, was the most expensive at $27.99 for a 1.5 cubic foot bag, but it also grew the largest and healthiest plants.
Before filling your containers, choose where they will sit. You will need six to eight hours of daily sun to grow tomatoes well. Mine are in full sun on the old driveway next to my potager. If you place your containers on a raised deck or an apartment balcony, make sure the containers aren’t too heavy—another good reason to use fabric pots.
Place the potting soil in the container until it’s about an inch from the top. Check the bags of potting soil for amounts. I used three bags of Redbud soil in the 30-gallon containers, but I was also able to grow two tomato plants in each of those. The larger bag of Miracle-Gro potting soil filled up one 20-gallon container.
When choosing your plants, remember that tomatoes are either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomato plants grow smaller and produce most of their fruit over a three-week period. They don’t need as much support as indeterminate tomatoes that grow and produce fruit throughout the entire season. I bought most of my 25 tomato plants from the Tomato Man’s Daughter in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She sells heirloom tomatoes, and most of them are indeterminate.
Plant tomato plants as deep as possible. You can remove branches and plant the stem all the way up to about an inch below the top set of leaves. The plant will form roots all along the buried stem. This gives the tomato a sturdier footing in its pot. Also, to prevent cutworms, place the plant tag or a large nail right next to the stem at the time of planting. The cutworm can’t make the circle and cut off the stem.
In the beginning, I watered all of the containers with a hose-end sprayer, but when we needed to go out of town, my husband, Bill, installed a drip irrigation system using Netafim piping and variable water flow drip emitters. You can also buy irrigation kits for containers at box stores. Buy a timer for the watering system to work automatically. We placed one drip emitter in each pot so the containers were watered.
As the plants grow, you can either stake or cage tomatoes. Small cages will not work for indeterminate tomatoes. They will either need to be staked or you will need large, heavy cages like those from Gardener’s Supply. They are more expensive, but they also fold down at the end of the season and will last from year-to-year. If you decide to stake your tomatoes, check them each day to make sure you’ve tied them to their stakes. Remove most of your tomato suckers to make tomato plants more lean and easier to stake. Caging also requires some maintenance, and occasionally, you will need to stake a cage to stop tomato plants from leaning over or falling.
Then, wait for the plant to produce fruit. My tomato harvest in the containers has been the best and earliest one I’ve had in years. Hope yours is too!