Gardeners across the U.S. are in varying stages of preparing their vegetable gardens. Most will choose to include tomatoes in their plans. According to garden.org, tomatoes are the number one vegetable grown in home gardens. For some home gardeners, the traditional row crop production of tomatoes can be inconvenient or take up too much space. Container gardening is a good alternative if a few key points are taken into consideration.
Consider the growth habit before selecting a cultivar. Indeterminate cultivars, such as Better Boy, Early Girl, Rutgers, Brandywine, and Cherokee Purple, will continue growing taller until frost, making them difficult to grow in containers. Other cultivars have a compact habit that is perfect for container gardening. Look for names that include terms like “patio,” “balcony,” “bush,” etc. Many of these cultivars will have determinate or semi-determinate growth habits. Determinate plants set fruit over a shorter time frame and stop growing. Not all determinate cultivars will have a compact habit, so refer to the plant height on the label for guidance.
Some cultivars appropriate for small-space gardening include:
Patio Choice Yellow Hybrid: This compact plant reaches only about 18 inches in height. It produces bright yellow cherry tomatoes, each weighing about ½ an ounce.
Tumbler Hybrid: This plant has a mounded habit that is perfect for hanging baskets. It produces sweet, red cherry-sized fruits.
Bush Early Girl Hybrid: Maxing out below 3 feet tall, these compact plants are early yielding and productive. The round, red fruits reach up to 4 inches across.
Consider the size of the container necessary before planting. A 14-inch to 20-inch container is suitable for most compact cultivars. A five-gallon bucket with holes drilled into the bottom would also work. It is important that whatever container you choose is large enough and has drainage holes. There needs to be adequate room for sufficient root growth to support the plant. Containers that are too small will create the need for constant watering, and the entire plant may even blow over from being too top-heavy with growth. At planting, incorporate a tomato cage or other plant supports for cultivars that grow taller than two feet. A cage will help support fruit-laden branches.
Find the right location for the container. It should be easy to access for watering and harvesting. Container-grown tomatoes will require close monitoring for moisture, needing daily watering in the height of summer. Tomatoes need a minimum of six hours of full sun exposure. Use a balanced fertilizer applied as a timed-release pellet at planting and at intervals according to package instructions. Alternately, use a water-soluble fertilizer once per week. Tomatoes are cold-sensitive, so be aware of your area’s frost-free date. For more information, see HGIC 1323, Tomato and HGIC 1251, Container Vegetable Gardening.