Tomatoes are among the vegetable plants that can be easily grown in containers or pots while generating the same yield as produced by a garden planted crop. There are several cultivars or breeds of tomatoes specifically developed for container planting. Growing tomatoes in pots is all about choosing the appropriate variety, providing the right micro-climate, adequate fertilizing and disease maintenance.
Let’s first take a look at the varieties of tomatoes that grow well in containers before we get on with how to grow tomatoes in pots.
Tomato Varieties For Container Planting
Tomato hybrids developed for the specific purpose of container planting have a reduced growth habit so they will not grow too large for the pot in which they are planted. Most of these varieties are capable of producing 8 to 10 pounds or more fruit per crop.
Indeterminate varieties – If you grow tomatoes that are labeled indeterminate, they grow, set flowers and fruit over a longer period and you will be able to enjoy a larger harvest. The downside of course is that they might grow top heavy unless you provide a good support using stakes and cages.
Determinate varieties – They grow up to a fixed height and then stop. Fruits are yielded quickly for a period of up to two weeds after which they stop flowering. This variety is useful if you are planning on canning or storing the tomatoes after a one-time harvest period. If you are growing tomatoes in pots you could consider using determinate varieties as they would require less support and space.
Popular tomato varieties for home garden
Listed below are the most popular varieties of tomatoes to grow in pots.
Tiny Tim – It takes 45 days to harvest. A very dwarf growth habit, produces red cherry fruit. Determinate variety.
Cherry Gold – Takes 45 days to harvest. Has golden cherry fruits. Determinate variety.
Red Robin – Takes 55 days to harvest. A super dwarf growth habit (6 inches height). Has a mild taste and is of determinate variety.
Pixie – Takes 52 days to harvest. compact dwarf with yellow fruit. Determinate variety.
Patio – It takes 65 days to harvest. They have a compact strong growth. The fruits are quite large, ideal for cooking. Determinate variety.
Yellow canary – Takes 55 days to harvest. Super dwarf with yellow fruits. Determinate variety.
Small fry – Takes 72 days to harvest, it is good for hanging baskets. Determinate variety.
Husky Red Hybrid – Takes 68 days to harvest. A dwarf plant that provides large fruits extended over a long period. Indeterminate variety.
Husky Pink Hybrid – Takes 70 days to harvest. Dwarf growth, provides smooth pink fruits. Indeterminate variety.
Husky Gold Hybrid – Takes 70 days to harvest. Has golden fruit, grows in a compact manner. AAS winner. Indeterminate variety.
Soil needed to grow tomatoes in pots
For a healthy growth provide a loose, well drained soil which is rich in organic matter and devoid of pests or worms. It is best to use a mixture of potting soil (available commercially), peat moss, perlite and compost. Avoid using garden soil as it could be infected by soil pests and other harmful microbes.
Make sure the compost you are using is dry and does not contain any weeds. It is best to sift the compost to get a fine mixture.
Add some slow release fertilizer to this mix. Follow the label instruction while adding the fertilizer so you don’t end up adding more than required. Slow release fertilizers will provide nutrients over a longer period of time when active growth starts and fruit production begins.
You can also mix in water holding gels or hydrogels to the soil especially if you are going to plant the tomato plants on the terrace or roof top. If it gets really hot attimes causing the soil to dry up quickly, the presence of water holding gels will retain the moisture and prevent the plant from wilting in the heat. Using water retaining gels will also reduce your need to water the potted plant frequently.
Container specification to grow tomatoes
Varieties like micro tom, pixie and cherry tomatoes can be grown in over-hanging baskets as they don’t grow over 6-7 inches in height and have small fruits. For other varieties you will have to consider using a pot with a diameter of 14-18 inches and depth of 14 inches. Here are a few tips on container planting.
- Avoid using clay pots for this purpose. Not only are they more expersive, they also tend to crack up pretty often. The better option is to use plastic or fiberglass pots. They are quite cheap and can be obtained from any home improvement store.
- Be sure to provide adequate drainage by drilling holes at the bottom of the pot and on the sides (1 inches from the bottom). The absence of good drainage would cause the roots to rot.
- Place a 1 inch layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot, this will not only aid drainage but also provide leverage when the tomatoe plant grows top heavy during the fruiting period.
When you grow tomatoes in pots that are less than 14 inches deep there is a tendency to cramp up the roots. Tomato plants go as deep as 5 – 6 feet into the soil and hence require a deeper container than other vegetable plants.
How to water potted tomatoes
You will need to water 1 inch deep at least once or twice every week depending up on your climatic conditions and the amount of heat the soil is soaking up. Sometimes you might need to water daily, if the soil dries up too quickly.
Just insert your finger on the top soil to see if it feels moist upto 1 inch deep. You can add some water holding gels to the soil if it keeps drying up too quickly. Tomatoes need plenty of water to grow well and fruit properly, they tend to drop off their blossoms if the soil gets too dry.
How to plant tomatoes in containers
Here are the steps to follow while transplanting:
- Fill the pot upto 3/4th full of soil mix
- Ground a wooden stake into the soil and firm it to position
- Select a strong and stocky sapling to transplant, place it near the stake and fill in soil mix around its roots.
- Add water to settle the soil and add more soil to level it up.
- Place the pot in a site with full sun. Ensure protection from strong winds.
- Once a week or every two weeks feed the plants with water soluble fertilizers such as peters 20-20-20 or miracle grow 15-30-15.
- Avoiding fertilizing in dry and hot conditions. Be sure to water throughly before fertilizing.
Growing tomatoes plants in pots can be a little tricky especially because you would need to water regularly while also ensuring that you replenish the fertilizers that get washed away with water.
Protecting tomato plants from pests and disease
Tomato plants are susceptible to the below disease, pest and fungi attacks
- Verticillium and fusarium wilts
- Septoria leafspot
- Early blight
- Tobacco mosaic virus
- Alternaria leaf spot
Luckily you can keep these threats at bay by buying seeds or transplants that are resistant to these diseases. Just look for the initials VFLTAN on the label. Each initial stands for the disease it is resistant to, for example F stands for fusarium wilts, L for leafspot and N for nematodes.
If you avoid using garden soil you can provide a safer environment for the tomato plants to grow in.
When the fruits are firm and fully colored it is time to harvest them. If you desire to use the fruit later you can pick them off when they are green colored and then store them wrapped individually in paper.
Growing tomatoes in pots can be a rewarding experience when you have a healthy plant at hand. If you follow the above guidelines on how to grow tomatoes in pots, while prudently taking care of the watering and fertilizing needs of the plant , you are sure to have a healthy harvest.