Container Tomato Gardening
Growing Tomatoes in a Container for the Full Ripe Flavor of Summer
There is no replacing the full rich flavor of a tomato that has been sun ripened in your own garden!
That wonderful deep rich sun kissed flavor will never be found in a tomato purchased from a supermarket.
The problem with growing tomatoes, that many of us face, is that we have become apartment dwellers with limited land space to plant a regular garden. All is not lost.
We can plant our tomatoes in a container, and quite successfully too. This page will show you several ways you too can have that wonderful taste of summer from tomatoes planted in containers on the patio, deck or balcony of your apartment.
Growing Patio Tomatoes
Growing Container Tomatoes
The 5 Things You Need to Grow Container Patio Tomatoes
- Lots of Sunshine - At least 6 hours a day. Be sure the area you want to put your container tomato plants gets plenty of sun.
- A Large Container - The larger the better. Depending on the type of tomato plant you grow, it can get top heavy. The larger bottom will help to keep it from toppling over.
- Miracle Grow Potting Mix - This is the only brand of potting mix that I recommend, if you are not mixing your own formula. I have tried just about every other brand on the market all over the United States and Miracle Grow is the only one that comes through consistently, every time, with healthy, disease free plants.
- Organic Plant Food - Your choice for your area and climate, but it should have calcium in it especially if bottom rot is prevalent in your area.
- Plant Stakes or Tomato Cages - Plant stakes or tomato cages are needed when growing indeterminate tomato plants to keep the vines contained. Determinate tomato plants, such as patio tomatoes, will not need cages, but might need a stake or two.
- Garden Velcro Tape - This is the greatest invention for securing tomato vines to their stakes.
Container Patio Tomato
Tomatoes Need Lots of Direct Sun
Before you go out and buy your tomato plant and the pot that you want to plant it in, be sure that you get enough sun on your patio, deck or apartment balcony.
It would just be a shame to go out and spend the money buying the supplies if there isn't enough sunlight for the tomato plants to grow into producing plants growing nice healthy sun ripened tomatoes.
It is Easiest to Grow An Established Plant
There are hundreds of different varieties of tomatoes but there are only two types of tomato plants; determinate and indeterminate.
When I grow tomatoes in containers at my apartment, I usually grow one heirloom tomato plant (indeterminate) and one patio tomato plant (determinate). That is really all the space I have to allot to tomatoes.
Incidentally, an indeterminate tomato vine is a vine that will bloom and bear fruit all season long and will continue to grow and produce indefinitely as long as it has warm sunlight.
On the other hand a determinate is a tomato plant that is a bush instead of a vine. A determinate tomato will only produce for a short period of time and remains fairly small in size.
Determinate tomatoes work the best for container gardening. I like Patio tomatoes, but some other determinate varieties include Pixie, Tiny Tim, Saladette, and Small Fry.
Should I Buy Established Tomato Plants?
When living in colder climates, like it is here in upstate New York, I use to only buy plants already established rather than starting them from seed.
I have found for this area it is the best way to get a good crop in before it starts getting cold again. Here in this colder climate of the northeast we don't have a real long growing season.
Now that I have a mini greenhouse in my bedroom I do start a few from seed in February so they are ready to put in the ground by the time we have had the last frost.
Look around your area for local organic greenhouses and nurseries. We found a woman in one of the hill towns of our area who we go to every year to buy our tomato plants. She is reasonable, her plants are organically grown and are always healthy.
Look for plants that already have blossoms. This will make for faster fruit bearing. Also, read the nursery tags as to how many days before the fruit ripens.
Some tomatoes can have too long of a growing time prior to harvest and won't ripen in time for winter. I like green tomatoes, but I want some ripe ones too!
My tomato plants in the photo above are the tomato plants I grew a few years ago in containers. It is a bit difficult to tell from this photo, but the pot on the right has a patio tomato growing in it.
The container I used was large enough in width that I was able to grow pickling cucumbers in the same pot behind the tomato. They climbed up the shepherd's hook that is next to the pot holding the baskets of pansies.
When I bought the plants they did not have any tomatoes, but they did have blossoms. You can see that the plant had developed fruit when this photo was taken.
The plant on the left in the photo is a heirloom Amish variety that I pinched back, to keep it somewhat under control, and staked to the green bamboo stake.
What I like to do is stick a 6-foot stake into the dirt of the container, tie the main stalk of the plant to the stake with green gardeners Velcro, then slide a tomato cage down over the plant. As the tomato grows most of it is contained in the cage.
What I like the most about using bamboo stakes is that I know it is just one more little thing we can do to help the planet. Since bamboo is a sustainable wood plant that grows rapidly, bamboo is my first choice.
Green plastic stakes or metal rods coated in green plastic are very nice, but of course plastic is another petroleum product that is hard on our environment. It also takes more petroleum to manufacture the plastic even if they use recycled plastic.
Green Velcro Plant Ties
I also use a green gardening Velcro to hold the vines to the stake. I love this stuff! I love gardening Velcro to use in place of conventional plant ties and swear by it!
This is the only thing I will ever buy again to tie plants to stakes. For my small garden, a roll will last me several years as I reuse the pieces every year. The stuff last forever just about.
Velcro has outdone itself with this little gem of a gardening invention. All you do is cut a piece of the Velcro strip, wrap it around the plant and the stake and it attaches to itself. It is Velcro after all. It sticks to itself and will not hurt the plant!
You can cut it with scissors or gardening shears to any length you want and when the growing season is over, remove the strips from the plant, wrap them around each other back onto the roll, and reuse them again the following year.
As I already said, a roll will last a small space gardener for years. The roll I am working from now I bought 2 years ago and I haven't even used half of the roll yet!
Companion Planting with Tomatoes in Containers
Some herbs and vegetables just don't work as well together in the same pot. In this example from Better Homes & Gardens, look at the basket in the front.
They planted green onions (scallions) in the pot with small cucumber pickles. It did not work out very well. See how the green onions are drooping over the edge of the pot? The leaves of the cucumbers are blocking the upright growth of the green onions.
I prefer putting green onions in a pot with other herbs as the center focal point giving them the room they need to grow while planting other herbs around them such as thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley.
I was very successful the year when I planted cucumber pickles with my patio tomato in the same pot. The pot I chose was wide and deep enough that I was able to plant the patio tomato in the center of the pot, the cucumber behind (so as not to get the intense afternoon sun that we get in northeast) and some thyme in the front to grow over the side of the pot.
Whiskey Barrel Planter
A whiskey barrel planter will have plenty of room for a patio tomato variety.
A whiskey barrel planter is generally 21-inches wide making it wide enough and deep enough to hold a patio tomato variety nicely.
Because the top of the pot area is wider than the bottom it gives you additional growing space where you can plant a few other small plants with short roots like some herbs such as parsley or thyme closer to the walls of the planter.
They will look beautiful spilling over the edge of the barrel as they grow will giving you fresh herbs for the kitchen.
The whiskey barrel is approximately the same size as the galvanized buckets in the photo below. They work great for companion gardening in a small space for plants with roots that spread rather than growing real deep.
They can hold a patio tomato or cherry tomatoes along with herbs, pepper plants and edible flowers.
Growing Vegetables in Containers for Small Spaces - A Good Example of a Small Space Container Garden
This is a good example of getting the most yield from a small space.
The yellow container in the front is a galvanized washtub that has been painted yellow. As a DIYer, I suggest you use rust proof outside paint to paint metal containers if you would like to do the same thing.
Nasturtiums, signets, and marigolds have been planted in the galvanized wash tub. These are all eatable flowers.
Personally, I would substitute pansy flowers for the signets. I love the little smiling faces of pansies plus the gorgeous color combinations the flowers have, and yes, pansies are eatable too!
In the back of the flowers, there is a tomato growing in a container along with a pepper plant. In the back to the right is another container full of a variety of herbs and another pepper plant.
This is a terrific use of utilizing limited space into a small garden which will feed a family and is also aesthetically pleasing.
Rolled Rim Round 24-Inch Pot
Love This Bad Boy
Last year I bought two of these bad boys to plant my tomatoes in and my container tomatoes did a lot better than they had in the past when i used smaller pots..
I planted a heirloom tomato in one pot alone and in the other pot I planted a heirloom tomato plant and a yellow sunshine cherry tomato plant. I could not believe the tomato yield I had from these plants.
Because all three plants were indeterminates, I staked them using my gardeners Velcro, then used the tomato cages over them.
Let me tell you, these pots are really big! I wanted to get the 30", but couldn't justify the expense of one that huge. Plus it takes a lot of potting soil to fill a container that big. These do have plenty of room for the roots of a tomato plant to grow, and with the additional inches in width across the top, smaller plants can be planted in there too.
Basil and marigolds are real good companion plants to grow with tomatoes. They help to keep harmful insects at bay. This year I added marigold plants to all of my tomato plant containers.
This pot is made of plastic, not sandstone or terra cotta. I prefer the plastic, especially if recycled plastic, because they hold the moisture and don't dry out as quickly as terra cotta pots. They are much more durable, have effective drainage, and won't chip or crack due to climate changes.
Please be warned. When these pots are full of soil and big tomato plants they are very heavy. There is no way little old me can move one of these bad boys once filled. If your container garden is going to be on a deck or balcony,I suggest getting a plant caddy to put underneath the pot.
Under the Tomato Containers
Underneath your tomato planter containers, you should have a drainage tray to keep the water from draining onto your patio or balcony floor. It really is a must for container gardening unless the pots are placed on grass or soil like mine are.
Remember, a large tomato planter is very heavy when filled with soil, water and plants. Again, if your plants are on a patio or balcony, to assist you in moving the plants when needed for maximum sunlight exposure set the planters on top of a plant caddy with wheels to easily move the plants wherever they need to go.
This will prevent putting any strain on your back.
Self Contained Planter Box
These Grow Boxes are pretty cool. They automatically drip the right amount of water and fertilizer into the box so you never have to guess.
This keeps it real simple for a small space gardener to grow tomatoes. You'll be able to grow your sun ripened tomatoes without any hassle.
Even if you don't have any gardening experience you can still grow your tomatoes because The Grow Box practically grows them for you! The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow and will have you growing tomatoes like a pro. It's a really great system for planting tomatoes in a small space.
When I lived in Michigan, I had a very shady backyard that was not good for growing tomatoes, or any other vegetables, for that matter, so I planted my garden on the side of the house that had full sun exposure.
Unfortunately there wasn't nearly as much growing space as there was in the backyard. I bought four of these containers so that I could have more growing space into the full sun. The planters have resin casters making it easy for little old me to move the heavy boxes wherever and whenever I wanted to.
They worked very well and I was happy that I made the investment. I used them for 5 years until moving to New York.
These Earth Boxes are a self contained growing unit that includes an aeration screen, a water reservoir, fill tube, and an overflow hole.
This kit will give you tomato plants (and any other plant you want to grow on your patio) the correct proportion of air and water ratio while preventing root rot and mold that can occur in regular planters.
The kit also includes fertilizer and growing media, which I chose not to use. I made my own organic fertilizer from my compost pile.
For the winter, I brought two of these planters inside and set them up under the windows which got the same southern exposure full sun which the garden got during the summer.
I kept herbs and my tropical plants alive in these boxes over the cold winter months.
Patio Tomato Planter with Trellis
DIY Small Space Vertical Tomato Planter
Earthbox Trellis Net
DIY Vertical Patio Tomato Planter Idea
Depending on how handy you are with a hammer, saw and nails. This is a project that can be made at home easily for a small space with the proper tools.
If you are an apartment dweller, it can still be done.
- For the DIY guys and gals with tools, first make a planter box out of scrap lumber or an old pallet. (see video #1 below). For the apartment dweller, I would purchase an Earth Box to use as my planter box.
- For the DIYers at home with tools, make the trellis frame (see video #2 below). For the apartment dweller, go to Lowe's with your measurements and have them cut the pieces for you. The rest can be put together at the apartment.
- Put the planter box against the wall that gets full sun on the patio or deck. Insert the frame. Attach the netting. Plant tomatoes.
- As tomato vines grow, attach the vines to the netting with the green gardeners Velcro.
To get more bang for your buck, plant 2 patio tomatoes in the box instead of indeterminate vine tomatoes. Behind tomato #1, plant 3 cucumber plants. Behind tomato #2 plant 3 bean plants (vine not bush variety).
As the vegetable plants grow behind the patio tomatoes, stake the vines to the netting with the green gardeners Velcro. This will train the vines to climb upward on the netting.
Next I would plant 3 herbs such as parsley, sage, thyme or pansy flowers in front of the tomatoes. Place one in each front corner and one front and center of the box.
How easy is that for 3 different vegetables and 3 different herbs growing all in the same small space?
Video #1: DIY Cedar Garden Planter Box
Video #2: Trellis for Vegetables made Quickly, and Cheaply
Trellis Patio Planter Box
How to Build a Trellis Planter
Transplanting Tomato Plants Into Larger Containers
Selecting Your Tomato Plants
Once you have selected a large container best suited for your patio or balcony space, it is time to select your tomato plants.
The type you select will be up to your personal preference and the growing space available to you.
For example, my upstairs neighbor loves grape tomatoes, so that is all that she plants on her deck in her tomato container. She grows the indeterminate variety and allows them to grow up the wall on a net trellis.
I prefer the flavor and size of heirloom tomatoes, so I like having one heirloom plant of a medium to larger beef steak size and one patio variety because it doesn't get very big, yet is a good producer of tomatoes for just the two of us with extra to give to neighbors.
This photo shows a container of ripe patio tomatoes. They are smaller, but delicious just the same. So much better than what you will ever buy in the supermarket!
Repotted Tomato Plant
Transplanting the Tomato Plant
- Spread out newspaper in the area you will be repotting your plant to make cleanup less messy and much easier
- Fill the new container pot half of the way up with the Moisture Control Miracle Grow potting soil.
- Take the plant out of the pot that it came in. Look at its roots. If the roots are root bound at all, tease them away from each other to loosen them up before putting the root ball into the potting soil.
- Make a deep well in the potting soil. Throw some dried crushed or powdered egg shells into the bottom of the well. This will give the plant a much needed extra calcium boost.
- You are going to want to bury the whole stem of the plant, almost up to its first branches, so that it will form roots off the stem to anchor itself securely in the planting medium. Nestle the root ball down into the well on top of the egg shells.
- Cover with the potting soil, adding more of the potting mixture until you have filled the container up to the leaves of the tomato plant.. The soil should be just a couple of inches below the top of your container. Give it a good watering and you are done.
Miracle-gro Moisture Control Gel
I always use Miracle Grow Potting Soil with Moisture Control. As far as I am concerned it is the best for planting tomatoes in containers.
It contains all of the necessary nutrients to get your tomato plants off to a healthy start and the moisture control keeps a handle on the watering for the whole season.
I have tried just about every other plant mixture on the market and none of them hold up to the Miracle Grow Moisture Control, except for homemade, but most apartment dwellers don't have the space or an area to use for a potting shed.
Miracle Grow has a lot of different types of packaging for their Moisture Control products and they have finally come out with an organic blend. I will be using this one this year, unfortunately it isn't yet available in all areas.
It really doesn't matter which one you pick up from a gardening store in your area. As long as the brand is Miracle Grow, it is a "potting" or "container" soil (and not another type of soil) and it is moisture control.
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Grow Tomatoes in Hanging Baskets
Growing a Grape Tomato Basket
I loved this idea when I got it in an email from Better Homes & Gardens.
They have done a companion planting of grape tomatoes and basil in a basket! How cool is that? BHG says to be sure to select either compact or "bush" varieties.
They suggest this gardening tip: "Set up a drip-watering system to save you a substantial amount of time with a hose or watering can." I dinno. A drip system sounds like a pain in the arse for a hanging basket.
It sounds like a great idea for possibly the trellis planter box sitting on the ground, but it might be more hassel than it's worth for a hanging basket.
4-Tier Mini Greenhouse
The last thing I want to talk about is this 4-Tier Mini Greenhouse. This little greenhouse is a terrific asset to an apartment dweller!
I bought one and have it set up in my bedroom. Bedroom? How weird.
Not really. My bedroom has a huge picture window where I get the maximum exposure of morning sun during the winter.
I use this little greenhouse mainly for some of my tropical plants, although I do have a rosemary plant in it this year that I dug up last fall.
I set it up on an extra coffee table I didn't need to add more height to get the maximum sun exposure for my bedroom window. The bottom shelf is the only shelf below the window.
I use that shelf for extra storage space. I use it to store a few of my small pots that I will be using next month for lettuce seedlings. I also keep a bag of Miracle Grow seedling potting soil there too.
Right now it is snowing to beat the band outside, yet Lowe's has patio tomatoes on sale right now for $7. Go figure. Who the hell wants a tomato plant in the NE at the beginning of February? Me that's who.
I am going there tomorrow and buying one. Where am I going to put it? Why on the top shelf of my 4-Tier Mini Greenhouse of course. LOL. And don't think I am the only lunatic in this apartment building.
My next door neighbor bought one for his apartment, which he put in his living room and my girlfriend who lives at the other end of the building bought one that she keeps on her balcony. She only uses hers during the spring and summer when it's warmer.
Anyway, we all think it is a great buy and we are all happy with our purchases. I am going to be double happy when I have a patio tomato sitting on the top shelf in the middle of winter!