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Container Tomato Gardening: A Comprehensive Guide

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June is from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, but is currently residing in New York. She loves to cook naturally with plants from her garden.

How to grow tomatoes in containers.

How to grow tomatoes in containers.

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 though.

We can plant our tomatoes in a container, and quite successfully too. This article 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 Patio Tomatoes

The 5 Things You Need to Grow Container Patio Tomatoes

  1. Lots of Sunshine: Give them at least 6 hours a day. Be sure the area you want to put your container tomato plants in gets plenty of sun.
  2. A Large Container: For your plants, the larger the container, 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Organic Plant Food: It's your choice for your area and climate, but it should have calcium in it especially if bottom rot is prevalent in your area.
  5. 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.
  6. Garden Velcro Tape: This is the greatest invention for securing tomato vines to their stakes.
Container Patio Tomato

Container Patio Tomato

Tomatoes Need a Lot 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 plants that produce nice, healthy, sun-ripened tomatoes.

Tomatoes in Pot

Tomatoes in Pot

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.

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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 here in upstate New York, I used 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 really 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 an 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 for 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 lasts just about forever.

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 on now I bought 2 years ago and I haven't even used half of the roll yet!

Fresh Ideas for Growing Vegetables in Containers

Fresh Ideas for Growing Vegetables in Containers

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 the northeast), and some thyme in the front to grow over the side of the pot.

A Barrel Planter

A Barrel Planter

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 and will give 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 patio tomatoes or cherry tomatoes along with herbs, pepper plants, and edible flowers.

Small-Space Container Garden

Small-Space Container Garden

Growing Fruits and Vegetables in Containers for Small Spaces

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 washtub. 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 that will feed a family and is also aesthetically pleasing.

Large Plastic Planters

Last year, I bought two large plastic planters 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