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Grow a Garden on Your Back Porch
For garden-lovers living in an apartment, it can be difficult to satisfy the desire for flowerbeds and homegrown veggies. However, growing tomato plants in planters on your porch or patio is not only possible, but very beneficial. For example, plants growing on a porch are more shielded from harsh weather like gusting wind or scorching midday heat. Their fruit is less susceptible to being eaten by birds and bugs.
This article will discuss tomatoes and their health benefits, the differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, and—most importantly—how to grow any type of tomato plant on your own back porch.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes
There are two types of tomato plants, indeterminate and determinate, that you will need to be aware of before you begin to decide which you would like to grow.
- Indeterminate tomato plants form very long vines up to ten feet long.
- Determinate tomato plants tend to be smaller and more contained.
Indeterminate tomatoes may take a little more work than their compact determinate counterparts, but they can grow well in a difficult area if cared for properly. The long vines of indeterminate tomatoes means the vines need support, and eventually they need to be tied. These tomato plants can also be pruned to control their size, but if your porch gets enough sun, you can allow them to grow quite large for a lush display.
Things You Will Need
Most importantly for potted tomato plants, you need an outdoor area to place your planters or a porch that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight every day. You will also need some equipment to help with growing your tomato plants. All of these things can be found at a garden center:
- Tomato plants of your choice
- A large planter pot (18–24 inches wide and deep) for each tomato plant
- Potting soil
- A tomato cage for each tomato plant
- A watering can
- Tomato plant fertilizer
- String (for indeterminate tomatoes)
- Hooks (for indeterminate tomatoes)
Planting Your Tomatoes
You should transplant your tomatoes to their outdoor planters only after they will be safe from frost. Check out the tomato growing zone maps for specifics on when to plant your tomatoes based on your climate anywhere in the United States.
Pay Attention to the Insert
Typically, tomato plants come with a small insert with the variety name of your tomato along with some information on caring for you plant. This will include things like spacing. Try to find a large planter that is about this width, or go for a planter box that is at least 18 inches wide. The closer you can get to two feet, the better.
The insert may also include planting depth. Planting depth is important so your tomato can form lots of strong, healthy roots to keep your plant stable and sturdy. Make sure you planter is at least as deep as it is wide.
Depending on the type of your tomatoes, you may need to buy cages or stakes for your tomatoes to support their growth. Some varieties of tomatoes are bush-like and need no support at all. Most tomatoes, however, have more vigorous growth and will need cages.
Remember to check the insert to see how tall your tomato plant will get, and buy your tomato cages based on this.
Special Concerns for Indeterminate Tomatoes
Indeterminate tomatoes will ultimately outgrow any tomato cage and will need to be tied for support. Indeterminate tomatoes that are not tied will eventually get heavy. They will lean over and then begin to grow up again, forming a bend in the vine and taking up a lot of horizontal space.
An easy way to prevent this is by tying the vines to stakes. For tomatoes grown on a porch, another option is using hooks: Loop some string loosely around your tomato vine and hook it to the side of your porch. Tying long vines is especially important for porch tomatoes because you can direct the vines toward the sun. This optimizes the time that they have to soak up all those important nutrients!
The photo below shows the use of string and hooks to support long tomato vines.
Tomatoes, especially those in planters under a covered porch, will need lots of water during the hot summer months. Depending on your climate and the size of your plants, they will likely need water every day. Potted tomato plants can dry out quickly because of their limited soil and vigorous growth.
Water before the soil dries out, but do not keep the soil soggy. They need to be watered regularly for healthy fruit. Keep the leaves dry and water your plants in the morning since leaving the plant wet overnight can encourage disease.
Tomatoes grown in planters do not have an entire bed of soil to obtain nutrients from, so they will need help getting more nutrients in the soil they do have. Find a fertilizer that you can add occasionally to your watering can.
Be sure to follow the directions closely. Using too much fertilizer can alter the balance of your soil and damage your plants, or cause too much leaf growth without much fruit. With tomatoes, it is best to go with minimal fertilizer as long as you have high quality soil that supports vegetable growth.
Pruning Your Tomato Plants
If you choose an indeterminate type of tomato plant for your porch, pruning is a great way to control the size of the plant. Pruning can also encourage your tomato plant to produce more fruit. Pruning involves removing any "suckers" that pop up between the main tomato vine and a leaf stem. See the video for how to identify and remove suckers from your tomato plants.
As the tomato plant gets very large, remove any foliage below the first branch with flowers. If you notice any leaves that are yellowing or browning, remove them immediately. Remember that plants are susceptible to disease, so any leaves that appear to have a fungus should be removed right away as well.
Harvesting Your Tomatoes
Tomatoes will have different harvesting times depending on their environment and variety. Determinate tomatoes tend to have large fruit production during a short time. Indeterminate tomatoes will have only a few ripe at one time, but they may produce fruits as long as until the first frost.
Look for tomatoes that have developed their full color. (Most tomatoes are red, but some varieties can be red and yellow, very dark red, or even solid yellow!) Ripe tomatoes will give slightly to pressure. Pick the tomato at the base of the stem. It will break off easily there, leaving a small stem and the crown of leaves at the top.
Major Health Benefits of Tomatoes
A delicious fruit often mistaken for a vegetable, tomatoes have many health benefits. Not only are they much lower in sugar that other fruits, they have fiber and a high water content that help fill you up. Here are a few major health benefits of these colorful, nutrient-packed fruits:
- Tomatoes contain lycopene, a pigment that gives tomatoes their red color. Lycopene acts as a powerful antioxidant to prevent aging. Research shows that lycopene may help prevent prostate and ovarian cancer.
- Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C to aid in immune function and skin health. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant itself to help prevent aging.
- Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin A, another antioxidant vitamin that plays a role in eye health and vision. Vitamin A is also essential for healthy skin and strong hair growth.
- Tomatoes contain beta-carotene, a pigment that is known for aiding in depression and preventing heart disease. Studies conducted with beta-carotene has shown that it can help prevent sunburn.
Shirley on July 19, 2020:
I really enjoyed reading the stories of growing tomato's. Thank you. I have a plant that is 7 feet tall and only produced 3 tomatoes. The blossoms are turning brown, so I have been giving it extra water. I don't know what else to do with it.
AnniesHealthTalk (author) from United States on July 25, 2014:
Thanks for the comment, Victoria! I can't wait until I have a yard to try some raised beds instead of planters. Maybe next year!
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on July 25, 2014:
I try every season but don't often do very well. This was a great hub with lots of excellent tips. I may try the pots next year, as it seems the weeds would be much easier to control. Thanks for the hub!