Best variety of tomato & tips to grow in a container?

prairiemoon2 z6 MAMarch 20, 2011

Hoping to try to squeeze in a few more tomatoes this year, I am considering growing a few containers. I have tried containers in the past and they have not been as healthy or as productive as those grown in the ground. I wonder if anyone has had success using containers could they share what type of soil they used, which varieties, and if they did anything special to keep them happy? Thanks!

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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

The only tomato I grow in a container is Whippersnapper, an early cherry. It hangs down but is quite compact so doesn't grow all over. I put two in a large black pot that I got from a landscape crew who had finished planting bushes.
I use regular potting mix and water once or twice a day in the summer.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 7:19AM
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I guess the advice that first comes to mind is to match your container to the size of the tomato plant. The larger the tomato's potential for growth, the larger pot it needs. That said, I stay with determinate tomatoes because they're more likely to refrain from overgrowing their containers. I also grow a patio tomato in much smaller tubs.

Best of luck with whatever you decide to do.
I use regular potting mix, but I fertilize my plants often, using a weak solution. There are those who say container gardening is closer to hydroponics (sp?) than to in-ground gardening. And the nutrients wash out of pots quickly.

I don't have an answer for you about varieties. Tastes vary from one person to another. I grew Celebrity plants last year. This year I'm trying Rutgers. I also have a different patio tomato variety, but that's because those were the seeds I was able to find locally. Just for fun, I'm also growing one Tumbling Tom in a hanging basket.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 8:54AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Many here regularly grow tomatoes in containers so there are many discussions about how-to and varieties. I linked several of them below if you want to read through them.

Many container-type plants are usually available as transplants from your local plant suppliers. If you want to grow them from seed there are even more choices. But the 3 keys I think are containers that are at least 5 gallons (bigger is better), regular feeding with a diluted liquid fertilizer, and a detailed plan for care and regular watering system like drip irrigation.


Here is a link that might be useful: Growing tomatoes in containers discussions

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 10:18AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I have grown all sorts of full size indeterminate tomatoes in 20 to 25 gallon containers each summer for more than 10 years. They need really large containers -- at least 15 gallons -- of potting soil that drains very well and steady fertilizing with a complete fertilizer to produce well. For a smaller pot, I'd recommend something like bush early girl, a determines plant that gets 4 to 5 feet tall and is very productive. Avoid compost or garden soil because container growing is very different from growing in the ground. The 5-1-1 mix described by tapla in the container gardening forum would work very well.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 12:34PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

mnwsgal, I'll look for that 'Whippersnapper' at the nursery. Never heard of that variety before, very cute name.

tempusflits, very cute screenname. (g) Thanks for the tip on fertilizing often.

Dave, thanks for the links! I have started some seed already. I always grow Sungold, our favorite, but it gets so big, I didn't think it would be a good choice for a container. I started a few seed that were new to me and I see they are indeterminate, so I thought I should find something else for a container. I have a good source for organic tomato starts, so I can look for specific varieties.

I have 5 gallon buckets, but they look small to me. I have 20-22 inch pots that I will use for tomatoes. I use organic liquid seaweed/fish emulsion fertilizer.

Ohiofem, where do you get a 25 gallon container? I'm surprised by the idea of not using garden soil or compost, which I would have thought was better. I'll check out the container gardening forum and see what the 5/1/1/ mix is.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 11:08AM
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I finally decided to do a container this year. Making a number of containers and filling them with potting mix is too costly for me. I have read a number of the posts on this site about containers before getting started. Many people use self-watering containers and have great results. Regardless, bigger containers are better. I'm using an 18 gallon storage container with holes drilled near the bottom and a couple on the bottom, but my container is not self-watering. I used regular miracle grow potting mix along with about a cup of Espoma dolomitic limestone added, some texas greensand, and a little Miracle Grow Bone meal 6-9-0 that I already had on hand.
From what I've read, you have to use liquid fertilizers more often because the nutrients wash out of the soil due to more frequent watering. I'm using diluted fish emulsion and seaweed and for the first time ever I have used some very diluted 20-20-20 that someone gave me a few years ago. I wouldn't go too heavy on the high nitrogen fertilizers, once the plants get going.
I already have 5 fruits formed, so I guess my container will give me my first fruit of the year. I have a variety called Bloody Butcher.
Watering seems to be one of the biggest challenges with containers, so be sure to use mulch and block direct sunlight from hitting the outside of the container, especially when it gets hot. Being in Texas, I'm sure I'll struggle with learning a proper watering schedule. I'll probably be a adding a gallon or three a day by May.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 1:16PM
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I'm trying growing from containers for the third time this year. So far, I have not seen a single fruit, although the plants seem to do well.

My container is a pair of 5-gallon buckets home-constructed into a self-watering container. I have kept the lid with holes cut in it for the plant and the pipe that leads down to the water reservoir. I'm thinking of cutting another hole it and adding a PVC pipe halfway down to add fertilizer. The first year, I used high quality compost. Last year I used MG moisture control potting mix.

This year, I'm using MG moisture control potting mix again, but I'm fertilizing with 3 tablespoons of Tomato Tone every other week.

I've also added an upside down hanging planter as well. So far, the upside hanger has killed one plant as the wind tore the main stem up. Poor thing was hanging by a hair thin thread, flopping around and twisting in the wind. I pulled it up further into the hanger (like burying it deeper... not an easy task in an upside planter with basil starting in the top), placed a clear plastic cup around it to protect it from the wind and it seemed to be coming back until it vanished one day. That day happened to be the same day a bunch of in-law kids were playing around it in the back yard so I can't be sure one of the younger ones didn't pull it thinking it was a flower or something. The replacement plant seems to be doing well so far.

The biggest problem I've had with them has been the wind. I don't know if it's because they sit higher off the ground or if the collars I install protect the ones in the ground. Maybe I'm not doing a good enough job of hardening my seedlings off to wind. Either way, every year I've had to replace the plant within a month of planting due to wind damage. Although, this year, the plant in the 5-gallon planter seems to be holding up against the wind so far.

I too would like any suggestions anyone else would have as well as some heirloom plants that will be small enough for containers.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 2:09PM
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I suspect you will have a difficult time finding Whippersnapper. Whippersnapper is a "tumbler" type variety, but in my experience, not as early or as good as "Tumbler." You will likely have a difficult time finding Tumbler plants, but less so than Whip.

For something a bit easier to find, try Husky Cherry Red. 5-gallons would be on the small size for HCR, but I suspect it could be done. It is a "dwarf indeterminate" (ISI) type, and it does well for me year after year. Super Bush would also be a good choice for 4-6 oz. tomatoes. 10 gallons would be a better choice for either, and width is more important than depth (so a 5-gallon bucket is fairly deficient for root spread). Vilma is a really dwarf variety that has decent productivity and will grow happily in a 5-gallon bucket.


Here is a link that might be useful: Seeds Trust -- Whippersnapper

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 2:30PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)


I use fabric aeration containers called Smart Pots, which are much cheaper than standard containers. I usually grow three tomato plants in a 25 gallon pot, which costs $12.95. Here's a photo from early last season of one of my pots with four Big Beef tomato plants in it.

My plants grow huge in these pots and produce a lot of tomatoes. I also grew eggplalnts, peppers, cucumbers and potatoes in smart pots. Tomatoes are heavy feeders. I used Osmocote in my soil mix and fertilized every two weeks all summer with a complete soluble fertilizer, including all trace elements. Calcium is especially important for tomatoes.

Here is a link that might be useful: I really recommend checking out this discussion of container soils:

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 6:15PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Pete, I loved the idea of the self watering containers until I saw the price of them. I've seen some gardeners make there own, I think one of these years I'll try that. 'Bloody Butcher' huh? Where do they come up with a name like that? lol I hadn't thought of blocking the sun from the container, good idea.

archerb, I don't seem to have a problem with a lot of wind in my garden. Maybe it's your location?

Thanks for that link, woodcutter, I think it's late here to order tomato seeds, but I will ask for a 'tumbler' variety and look for the Husky Cherry Red and Vilma at the nursery and remember the Whippersnapper for next year, if I don't find it.

Ohiofem, those are pretty neat pots! So, they're made of fabric? I am imagining something like landscape fabric? I did a google search and see them online. That is a pretty reasonable price too. Is the price the reason you prefer that to a standard plastic container? How long do they last? Why three plants to a pot? Wouldn't you get a larger plant if you grew one per pot? Very healthy looking plants! I have a couple of Big Beef seeds started this year, too. Thanks for the link too. I'm sure the soil mix is very important to get right.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 5:30AM
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I use 15 gallon containers for my tomatoes (eggplants & peppers) and they produce very nicely. When I first started growing in containers, I used 5 gal and the plants didn't get very big but produced OK. Once I moved them to larger pots, the plants got much larger than my two neighbors with raised beds and productivity increased significantly.

It isn't just about matching the size of a plant to the pot, it is about giving the plant enogh room to grow to be a good sized plant and tomatoes want as much root room as they can get whether in the ground or in a pot.

That IMHO is the real key to large, healthy, productive tomato plants - good roots. So give them room to grow.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 11:35AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)


The fabric in Smart Pots is more like felt than landscape fabric. It's thicker and sturdier. It is supposed to air prune roots, which is healthier for the plant than allowing roots to circle the container. People have made their own fabric pots out of all sorts of materials, but I don't know if other fabrics would work in the same way. There is a long thread about making them that I'll link below.

I chose to buy these three years ago mostly because of the price, but they have turned out to be so much better than the other containers I have of the same size, that I recommend them wholeheartedly. (I used to grow tomatoes in half whisky barrels. My plants grow faster and yield more in the same size Smart Pot.) My Smart Pots have lasted three summer seasons, and I'll be using them again this summer.

I should probably limit myself to no more than two plants in a 20 to 25 gallon container, and many experts advise only putting one plant in a container. As Gardenvt says, tomatoes need a lot of root room. But, I only have five containers dedicated to tomatoes, and I find it very hard to follow that advice. I plan to try harder this summer. ; )

Here is a link that might be useful: Discussion of fabric aeration containers

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 12:33PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Prairiemoon - please understand that when I mentioned 5 gallon containers above I wasn't recommending them, just offering it as a bare minimum. Personally I never use less than 10 gallon containers and most of mine are 15-20.

I used to regularly post "use nothing smaller than 10 gallons" but some here swear by their 5 gallon buckets and so my statement always led to controversy.

I am so happy to hear from others in this thread who have discovered, as I did years ago, that there is no comparison between a plant grown in a 5 gallon bucket and one grown in 10 gallons much less one grown in 20 gallons. Especially if you are growing indeterminate varieties.

There are many other types of 10-12-15-20 gallon containers available on the market for reasonable prices but Smart Pots come highly recommended by several users here - both for cost, ease of use, and success. Although I think 2 plants per the 20-25 gallon ones should be considered MAX :) and for the size pots you mention you'll have best success with one of the many made-for-container varieties like those listed or with other determinate varieties. It all depends on what plants you can find locally.

Granted the up front cost for the quality soil-less mix is steep but with new amendments each year it can be used for several years.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 1:10PM
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Here's a link to some newly released Dwarf Tomato varieties
that are excellent for containers. Plus the flavor is hard to beat, even by regular full-size indeterminate standards.

Rosella Purple and Tasmanian Chocolate on page 2 of the link are my two favorites.
They will grow great in any size container down to 5 gallons
in size. (I even got pretty good results in a 3 gallon pot
with Tasmanian Chocolate.)

The key with the smaller containers as mentioned above is consistent watering and feeding.....


Here is a link that might be useful: Dwarf tomatoes at Victory Seeds

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 9:33AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

gardenvt, I will definitely be trying to use the largest containers I can.

Ohiofem, thanks for that link. LOTS of great information and photos. I have a sewing machine and I was considering trying to make a pot with my extra landscape fabric. Someone sure had a good idea with these fabric pots. Looking forward to trying them.

I wonder if you plant just one plant per pot, if you wouldn't get just as many tomatoes from the one plant as you did from the four?

Dave, thanks for the clarification, but I understood. I am always trying for the largest containers for everything I try to grow. Since I've already tried growing tomatoes in containers and had a noticeably less successful result than those I grew in the ground, I am trying to get as close to growing in the ground as I can, in a container. I had large containers the last time too, so something else had to be the reason. I think the containers get hot in the summer sun, for one thing. I'm going to have to figure a way to shade the pots/soil without shading the plants. And I don't think I fertilized consistently.

We usually make our own soil mix, with peat moss, perlite and either bagged compost or our own compost, in equal amounts. I've been interested in Al's recipe for potting soil in the past, but couldn't find the ingredients for it.

Lee, thanks for the ideas for varieties that will do well in containers. I'll look over that site and see if I can find any transplants at my local nursery this year. I am a sucker for any plant with chocolate in the name. [g]

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 10:45AM
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ALs mix is good for containers but not for self watering containers.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 11:53AM
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Here is some pics of my container grow outs. I grow my plants in 5-7 gal containers and 26 qt styrofoam ice chests. The plants are fed regularly with organic ferts and sprayed with organic fungicides.
I attach metal cages to my containers which are tie wrapped to the fence line. I also wrap the cages with remay row cover cloth when I initially set out the seedlings to protect them from wind and sudden cold snaps. Last year they saved my plants from a severe hail storm we had.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tomatoes in Containers

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 3:02AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)


Your tomatoes look great; really healthy and productive. Thanks for sharing. It is always so helpful to see how people grow their plants. I'm curious about what kinds of tomatoes these are, especially the ones with the pointed blossom end. It's hard to tell how tall they are. I also am wondering if you have more than one plant in a container? I think the major problem I've found with having more than one plant in a container is that the tomatoes are more susceptible for fungi infections unless I thin out the bottom leaves a bit. That may have something to do with growing in the hot and humid Ohio Valley.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 5:23PM
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There is only one plant per container. They are all indeterminate and the pointy ones are two new crosses I'm growing out which are at the F5 stage. For fungus I spray my plants periodically with a solution of EXEL LG and Actinovate. When planting out I use Mycorrhiza and Actinovate mixed with water as a dip for the seedlings. This will increase plant vigor and resistance to soil diseases.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 1:43AM
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ameera(z11 Dubai)

Ohiofem, wow 4 tomato plants in one container??? How tall did each plant get at their peak? Did they seem to be over-crowded at all?

I am asking because I am about to order 3 25 gallon smart pots for the next growing season (maybe around October for me over here) and that would be great if I could plant more than one tomato plant in each pot....

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 9:27PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Ameera: Four indeterminate plants were definitely too crowded. Nevertheless they grew 7 to 9 feet tall and produced very well. Last summer I cut down to three per pot, and they were still a bit too crowded. They probably produced about the same amount per pot, but I'm not sure since I grew different varieties. The only exception was a pot with two Opalka (paste) tomatoes. That was because I only had two available. The Opalkas grew almost 8 feet tall, but one of them only produced three tomatoes all season, and the other a few dozen. That pot had the lowest yield of any I've ever grown. I am definitely going to limit myself to 2 per 25 gallon pot this summer. (But NO Opalkas!) One warning about Smart Pots: you do need to water more. I'm hoping I won't need to water quite so much with two plants per pot.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 1:27PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

This is a follow up for anyone who finds this old post. This past summer I ran a simple experiment on the number of tomatoes to grow in a 25 gallon container. I grew two Goosecreek tomatoes in a 25 gallon smart pot and one in another smart pot of the same size. One of the plants in the pot with two Goosecreeks significantly out performed both of the other plants. Its "sister" in the same pot was the least productive, but overall the pot with two plants produced more tomatoes. I have noticed that when I grow more than one heirloom tomato of the same kind in a pot, there is usually one stand out plant. I didn't have this experience when I grew multiple hybrid plants.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 11:32AM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

If I had thought of getting the smart pots I am sure I would have them lined ip on my driveway full of tomato plants. Thanks for the update!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2012 at 2:24PM
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jtmacc99(z5/6 NY)

There's a lot of good stuff in this thread. I'd like to point out that I did not like the MG Moisture Control the one year I used it for my tomatoes. Strange things happened, including BER. I'm using a mix of 2/3 old potting soil and 1/3 new this year, which is normal for me, and feeding them every two weeks.

I'm only growing three in pots this season, two Sungolds and one Black Cherry each in a 10 gallon container. I also have four pepper plants in a 7 gallon container, and I'm trying to grow cucumbers in a pot. (Damn squash vine borer killed everything last year, so nothing squash like in the garden this year.)

Between the 10 gallon size, close attention to watering needs, and frequent feeding, those three cherry tomato plants will easily grow to 8 feet tall and produce WAY more cherry tomatoes than I need. If you've never grown plants in pots, but think you might have a reason to do so, I highly recommend it.

I grow cherries in pots, because I find it easier to stay on top of the harvesting when they are on the front porch. When they are in the garden, they always seem to get away from me. It also lets me start them a couple weeks ahead of the main garden without fear of a deadly late frost.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 9:49AM
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I have had luck with Rutgers tomatoes-started by seed in MI. and taken to FL. grown in pots. When they have tomatoes, feed weekly. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 3:42PM
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We grow beef, cherry and romas in containers and they're the best tomato plants we've ever had. They grow over 6 feet tall and we have to stack 2 cages on top of each other! Good luck!

See our tomatoes in the back, monsters of the garden!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 7:53PM
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I don't think it really matters too much what tomato you grow just "how" you grow it.
If you have the room and don't mind the extra hassle grow what ever you like.
If you prefer smaller plants, try Bush tomatoes like a "Better Bush".
I am trying "Dwarfs" currently and they seem to be doing well, will know for sure in about 3-4 weeks.
In fact they could be the ideal container tomato, plants that get no larger than 4 foot, strong bushy plants, can still get large tomatoes and there are many varieties.
Most important is no less than 15 gallon pots, growing medium is debatable, just don't use regular soil, make sure the potting mix drains very well and the pots drain very well.
Fertilize every 10-14 days, water usually every day, on hot days from 95+ water twice a day.
So IMO right now the ideal set up for container tomatoes is 15 gallon Smart Pots which should drain well as the whole pot drains, a good well draining potting mix.
Stick a standard tomato cage in it, grow what ever Dwarf plant that floats your boat.

Here are my 3 Dwarfs this morning.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 1:51PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Pretty tomato plants Nunyabiz!

So any updates? Any new experiments to report? Last year's varieties and results?

Thanks for all the responses. Very helpful!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 7:19AM
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