Container tomatos......Reasonable Expectations for Yield ??

texasjack(Houston Tx)June 15, 2012

I started growing tomatos on my 17th floor balcony as a hobby several years ago. I now have become pretty serious. I mostly grow indeterminate hierlooms simply because I love to eat them..pure and simple. I have no interest in taking on a horticultural challenge or producing a rare prize winner. My year to year results re: yield, have ranged from miserable to fair IMO.

I don't know if my expectations as to what I could reasonably expect from container grown fruit in a hot, humid climate ( Transplanting is finished by March 15th latest) are realistic or not. Would love to hear from the more experienced container gardeners what they consider/get a "good " harvest.I've grown Bush Golith, Black Krim, 444, San Marenzano,Arhansas Traveller, Better Bush, Paul Robeson,Amish Paste Sun Gold and Cherokee Purple. Have never lost a plant, but never get as many fruit as I think I should.

If you reply, keep it simple. I understand and appreciate variables like container size, soil ammendments, media, watering schedules, ph, etc.,etc. I just would like to know how many fruit set and develop. Disease, insect damage, birds, cracking,etc. don't matter.

Looking foward to getting my selfish expectations brought back to reality.


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Hard question to answer Jack given all the variables - those you listed plus many more.

I grow some plants in 8 Earthboxes and 2 1/2 whiskey barrels on my deck in addition to the 80 or so in the gardens. It is more of a convenience and deck appearance project rather than a need but they do get prime care.

And about all I can tell you for sure is that none of my container plants produce more than about 1/2 of what the garden plants produce and that BER fruit is more prevalent in the container plants. Even when it is the same variety in both cases, hybrid or heirloom makes little difference, and even though I only plant 1 indeterminate in each Earthbox rather than the 2 that many try to cram in them.

On the other hand if you pull up all of Raybo's pics and discussions here on his Earthtainer garden you'll be amazed at what a container can produce IF it is the right kind of container and has ideal conditions provided.

EX: I have a Mortgage Lifter on the deck with 12 fruit on it. The 3 Mortgage Lifters in the garden all have 20-25 huge softball-sized fruit on them and the fruit are easily 1/2 again as big as those from the deck plant.

I have a Glory on the deck that has already produced 12-15 good fruit and likely has another 10-12 still ripening and more blooms. But the 2 in the garden are so loaded with big green fruit that the branches are breaking from the weight. Same goes for most the others.

So if a certain variety averages say 35 lbs. of production in 12 oz. (45 fruit) fruit under ideal conditions then that same variety in a container will produce approximately 12-14 lbs. +/- a couple of lbs. IME.

I know this isn't exactly what you are looking for but given all the variables involved the answer to your question is basically estimates and guess work for the most part. And unfortunately the methods used by many to try to grow indeterminates in containers it is surprising if they get more than just a handful of fruit so if you've got that beat then you are definitely doing something right.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 11:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
texasjack(Houston Tx)

Dave....Thanks very much for your input. Your logic and conclusions make very good sense

Guess I've been seduced by all the catalog hype,"prolithic","huge producer", etc.Your idea of 1 plant vs 2 per Earth Box was on my list for next year.I had already concluded that smaller fruit size was a given.Thanks for the confirmation.I was inadvertantly using the Earthainer results as my bench mark, ignoring the fact that among other things Houston is not San Diego.

Right now my Black Krim have 6-8 8oz beauties. True to their Russian heritage the Krim are robust, hardy yet handsome and tasty.Guess I worry too much.

As I got caught up in this tomato growing business it occured to me that given all the things that can go wrong it was amazing that we ever get to eat one. Guess I'm doing OK.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 12:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dancinglemons(7B VA)

Hi Jack,

I must agree with Dave. I do not have any plants in ground but have single plants in EarthBox and single plants in 20 gallon containers. I also have 2 plants in EarthTainer. I have found that with large indeterminate plants like SanMarzano - one plant is about all the EarthBox can handle. The EarthTainer has a larger and deeper soil base so can handle 2 plants better with a better yield. My SanMarzano and Italian Red Pear (huge tomato not the small American pear) did well in 2011 with moderate yield until russet mite killed the plants - they were in EarthBox and EarthTainer.

Bottom line for me -- EarthTainer has higher yield than EarthBox -- but single plants in 20 gallon containers have even better yield.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 3:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Have not planted anything in the ground for 30 years.

I used to grow intermediates and they did fine in large pots on my deck but 8-10 foot tall plants are still kind of a hassle to deal with. I probably averaged about 75-100 tomatoes per plant til it died.

This year I am growing just 2 "Better Bush" tomatoes in 15+ gallon pots.
I have harvested 24 tomatoes so far, lost 4 to Ecoterrorist (Squirrels) so would have had 28.
and I think I am counting at least 30-35 more already on the plant and lots more flowers that will most likely produce quite a few more. That is from just the first plant I planted 3-4 weeks prior to the second one.
The second one has at least 35-40 tomatoes on it already. I have screwed up the top of of both of them by not having the net over them tall enough, so I am losing a lot of flowers/tomatoes because of that. They were never supposed to get over 4 feet tall but looks to me like both would have gotten 6 feet which is giant for a Bush Tomato.

So it appears as though I should get roughly at least 60 tomatoes from each plant minimum, maybe as many as 75+ if they do well through the heat of summer and the onslaught of bugs that will most likely show up soon.
I just weighed the 7 tomatoes I have on my kitchen counter with a digital scale this morning.

2 were small, 3-3.5oz 4 were average 5.5 to 7oz and one was larger 8.2oz.
Most of the later maters on the plant now seem to be more in 8-12oz size. I suspect the next 30 or more to average 9-10oz.

I have 3 Dwarf plants just potted 8 days ago, one chocolate/purple, one pink and one yellow that are all supposed to produce about 12-16+oz tomatoes from a plant that is only supposed to get 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall.
Will see how they do this year, I may just plant 6-8 Dwarfs next year if they do well.

So I am trying to shrink down from 10 foot down to no more than 3 foot tall plants which will be much easier to mess with in containers on my deck without taking up so much space but still get a nice crop of good sized tomatoes.

I am going to make a nice screened in section on my deck for next year that will house 6 to 8 Dwarfs if these 3 do well.
Will make it out of white bug screen and use velcro to make an opening.
That way no bugs or ecoterrorist or at least very very few, I never use pesticides of any kind.
I think I may also fiddle with the mulch next year also and just use thick red plastic sheeting which should completely close off the soil from the plant.

I think it is perfectly reasonable to get just as large a crop in a container garden as you do any where else.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 9:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Puggylover Zone 9B Norco, CA

Before I moved I had no choice but to grow my tomatoes in containers. Tim built me some cedar boxes that worked wonderful. The plants would easily produce 50-60 tomatoes from each one. The plants in the below pics are Goliath Hybrid (Which I love). The boxes inside dimensions are around 30"W x 20"H x 15"D. I used 4' x 7'concrete reinforcing mesh (bent as a 3 sided square)to support them. We stapled the homemade cage on top of the box then used bamboo sticks to control where the vines grew. A drip system was used for watering and the soil was compost mixed with regular soil (heavier on the compost side).

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 12:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Puggylover Zone 9B Norco, CA

second pic

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 12:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I think it is perfectly reasonable to get just as large a crop in a container garden as you do any where else.

Nunyabiz1 - you never indicate where you are located or what your zone is in your posts so it is difficult to make comparisons. But are you really saying that none of the many variables discussed above make any difference? That anyone anywhere can get just as large a crop in a container as they can growing in ground? Regardless of the container size or type, soil/media used, watering/feeding regimen, weather, regional diseases/pests, etc. etc.?

Surely that isn't what you meant to imply? Especially not when, as you say, it has been over 30 years since you grew anything in a garden? And you are apparently growing determinates and/or bush varieties only, which as we all know produce their crop within a limited period of time unlike indeterminates, so of course the counts would be different.

While I agree that there are some advantages to container growing, few gardeners who do both would agree that container crops can equal in-ground production. There is simply too much evidence to the contrary. So if that is your point then I would strongly have to disagree and ask what is your basis for making such a broad statement?

Such claims are what mislead new and or inexperienced gardeners into very unrealistic expectations - which was the OP's original point.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 12:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
texasjack(Houston Tx)

Thanks to all for your inputs.

One great advantage of hi altitude container gardening (17th floor) is the almost complete absence of insects,birds, etc.The local squirrels have not mastered technical climbing and the indigenous deer have all been mugged by street gangs and are quite wary. The last reported cut worm at this altitude was in 1914. Anything bad has to be imported by me i.e.poor seedling selection, questionable compost, etc.

Note to Puggylover75...Would you share what your soil/media mix is and your fertilizer/amendment schedule,Please?? I'm impressed.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 2:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Puggylover Zone 9B Norco, CA


The soil was part my regular ground soil (30%) and compost/garden soils (70%) from the store. I don't remember the exact brand/type I had used but Kellogg has good garden soils ($8 for 3 cubic yards). I think I used Vigoro Tomato and vegetable fertilizer (12-10-5). I fertilized about every month or so if I thought it needed it. I also used a wood mulch on top. In summer I watered them a least once a day sometimes twice with a drip system. When containers are in full sun they tend to dry out easily. I lived in Long Beach, Ca about 8 miles from the ocean when I used the containers. I would also reuse the old soil, I would just spruce it up a bit. Wood containers worked the best for us out of all I have tried. Good Luck and Happy Matering!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 12:31AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
texasjack(Houston Tx)

Dear Puggylover

Thanks for the info. Spent some great time in your neck of the woods courtesey of the USMC.



    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 2:48AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am in zone 7b
Not sure where you got the impression that I meant you can throw a 10 foot tall tomato plant in a quart size jar full of confetti and grow it just as well as in the ground.

I did account for the reader to have common sense.

This is the first year I have grown determinate's, wanted to try to get the hassle down a bit.
If Dwarfs do well then will get all my plants down to 3 feet tall and large fruit next year.
All things being equal, growing the same type of plant, if you grow in a large container that will allow the roots to grow, supplying proper nutrients, both having the same amount of sun light, watered properly.
Then I fail to see why a container grown tomato plant would under perform the one grown in the ground.

My uncle has a nice garden, he has been growing in this same garden for about 65 years.
When I was growing 2-3 Indeterminate's in my 15+ gallon pots on my back deck, plant for plant I was producing at least as well as his was if not better. He overall produced more naturally because he planted about a dozen plants where as I only planted 2-3.
But you could take 2-3 of his best plants and they were no better than mine and I always got tomatoes first and usually last also.

He also has always had a much worse time with disease and bugs than I have since I can change out my soil completely and I am growing over 20 feet off the ground.

Naturally you can make the perfect conditions in the ground also but it is quite a bit more difficult and expensive.

I mislead no one in any way what so ever.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 8:01AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have not grown tomatoes in containers until this year. I have been doing peppers for awhile, and have noticed that peppers for me do much better in containers then in the ground. This year I decided to try tomatoes in containers as well as in ground and compare. Although results are preliminary of course, it's still early in the year, I have two observations. The container tomatoes are flowering much earlier then the ones in the ground of the same varieties. Second observation is that the plants in the ground are growing MUCH larger then the potted tomatoes. I suspect this is due to container size restrictions. I expect similar results as digdirt mentions in the long term due to plant size.

Interesting that peppers do better in containers, but tomatoes are appearing to do better in ground. I have also noticed that tomatoes require alot more fertilizing in containers then peppers, which is not so obvious in the ground. If the end results are consistent with early results, I may continue to grow a few container tomatoes for early harvesting only, but consider the ground my main crop.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 3:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Use larger pots

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 4:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jll0306(9/ Sunset 18/High Desert)

I've cycled large indeterminates through all sorts of containers over the years, including the EB. And no matter how good a year is, I always know I can do better. My new plan is to pick a spot in the yard, trench it, line it with with vole-proof hardware cloth and then place Smart Pots on the returned soil newly fluffed and enriched .

In the meantime, Nunya, I too am on the quest for ideal small tomato plants.

Your plants must be exceptional. I usually find that tight containers help to control the plant growth and I have really seen again this year, with three orphan seedlings --an Extreme Bush (I think), a neglected Promyk, and a late-seeded Pipo-- that have been stuck together in a large (3-4 gallons) pot since transplant time. Although all are much smaller than they would be otherwise, the Bush still gave me a few fruits and will be coming out soon. Promyk is coming into its on now, and I hope for a long run there, but if may come out if Pipo starts to perform.

Of course, I have also been light handed with the ferts, too, but that may change when the other plants go dormant. This pot might move get moved inside then and babied excessively.


    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 12:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You didn't specifically mention it, but since size is a component of the yield, I'd include that for me both eggplant and (to a lesser extent) tomatoes are generally smaller in EarthBoxes. I've always attributed this to root crowding. But I can get earlier harvests and no disease, so it is still a good trade-off.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 3:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you for mentioning those "Smart Pots" I have never heard of them before and quite likely will be buying 6-8 of them next year for the Dwarf Tomato plants IF they do really well this year.
They sound like an excellent idea, wish I had heard about them prior to buying the 15+ gallon pots I have now.

I didn't really consider 15+ gallon pots with over 55-60 quarts of soil to be "tight" for "Bush Tomatoes" that were only supposed to get no more than 36-40" tall but are now over 52" and have only stopped because I have a Bird Net over them. They were easily on their way to 5 foot or more.

Depending on how large these Dwarfs get and when I pull them how large the roots are in the pots I have now I may buy either 6-8 15 gallon or 20 gallon Smart Pots.
Will put them on plant dollys so I can roll them around and they wont rot my wood deck.

I think the largest of the Dwarfs is supposed to get no more than 4 feet tall at the most so 15 gallon pots should be ample.

Now if I were growing my usual 10 foot tall indeterminate's like I have in the past I would probably put them in 65 Gallon smart pots.
No reason at all for container grown tomatoes to not do every bit as well as ones grown in the ground, all you need is proper amount of soil and 5-10 gallons is not it.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 4:39PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Supermarket Tomatoes 4
On 1-27-15 I planted 4 more seeds again from a supermarket...
Red Robin, Snow Fairy, Tiny Tim in indoor hydroponics
I'm trying these three varieties primarily because...
Pinetree Garden Seed Company for Cuostralee
Is Pinetree Garden Seed a reliable source for tomato...
Solo Cups vs Ribbed Pots
Cost factor is in favor of the cups, especially if...
hoosier40 6a Southern IN
Juliet Grape Tomato
Are these tomatoes supposed to be this big? I guess...
Sponsored Products
Gnam Bread Box by Alessi
$80.00 | Lumens
Deep-Dish Cherry Pie - N/A
$65.00 | Horchow
Dogit Nylon Adjustable Collar - Cobra - XS - D0681
$11.99 | Hayneedle
Korver Ottoman - Key Largo Ruby Red
Joybird Furniture
Uttermost Pennie Bench - Copper Chestnut Multicolor - 23143
$272.80 | Hayneedle
Vigo 44-in. Single Bathroom Vanity - VG09005108LHK1
Korver Sofa - Cordova Eclipse Gray
Joybird Furniture
Bourdeaux Leather Sofa - MEDIUM RED
$4,999.00 | Horchow
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™