Growing tomatoes in containers

augiedog55July 13, 2011

I was at walmart today and bought some 6 containers cheap ($3 each). They are plastic 64 quarts. They are probably 2 ft h. X 2ft w and 1 ft deep.

My question is how much soil to put in them. How deep up the 1 ft sides? What mixture would you use.

One other question. can I put 2 plants per container? I'm getting ready for next yr.

Thanks in advance

Bruce

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elight(9b)

64 quarts = 16 gallons. Typically, people recommend planting a single tomato plant in no less than a 5-gallon container (although some have had success with 4-gallon). So I would recommend three plants assuming you can maintain enough space between them.

I would fill the container up to 1-2" below the top of the container. The deeper the soil, the deeper the roots, the bigger and stronger the plants will grow.

As for potting mix, there are many opinions. The search function is your friend. Somewhere here (I think) someone did a comparison of a few different mixes but now I can't find it. Hopefully someone else will post the link so I can bookmark it!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 1:04PM
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californian

As an example, last year I grew a Stupice plant in a 5 gallon pail. The plant was tiny and only had a few tomatoes on it. I was never going to plant Stupice again.
But for the heck of it I planted two Stupice in the ground this year. The plants are huge and keep kicking out lots of tomatoes that are 50% bigger than the ones on the container plant.
As far as I am concerned, if you have room to plant tomatoes in the ground don't use containers.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 1:31PM
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colokid(5)

I think I would stay with only two plants. I have used 5/4 gal buckets and they are a bit small for large tomato plants. Maybr three small ones. For mix, do your research for the best, but if you have to, regular potting MIX will work, though expensive. Better is potting MIX with about 10 percent perlite..which is what I use.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 1:53PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

That shallow? - only 1 plant unless you want to go with dwarf types. And you will still have to monitor the soil moisture levels carefully. 15 gallons could be ideal for 1 plant IF it was deep enough. That shallow will dry out quickly. 1 plant may be able to cope well with careful monitoring, 2 plants would be heavily stressed with all the resulting problems.

Dave

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 1:57PM
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elight(9b)

I'm sorry, but I think that there is plenty of evidence around here to support the usability of 5-gallon containers to grow tomato plants. Yes, it is true that you might want to limit it to the smaller varieties (salad-size and smaller).

californian, there are any number of reasons why your plant didn't do well in the container. With a sample size of three, I don't think we can really draw any concrete conclusions given the many factors involved (soil/mix, watering patterns, sunlight, the weather in the two different years, the quality of the seedlings, just to name a few).

There are also plenty of reasons to plant in containers instead of the ground (take a look at the containers forum) - both have their ups and downs.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 2:52PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Typically, people recommend planting a single tomato plant in no less than a 5-gallon container (although some have had success with 4-gallon).

Respectfully disagree. If you read through the many discussions about container tomato growing both here and on the Container Gardening forum you'll find very few who recommend 5 gallon containers for tomato plants except for very small plants. 5 gallons is considered, even by those who do it, as the MINIMUM acceptable size and most would concur that larger, if at all possible, is better.

And once one has compared the growth and production of the same plant in a 5 gallon container vs. in a larger container or better yet in the ground, they quickly see that there just isn't any comparison.

This is not to say that growing in containers doesn't have some advantages. It can. But it also has several disadvantages. The easiest way to overcome those disadvantages is to use larger containers OR restrict the plants to very small varieties.

In this particular case the real issue in my opinion is the 1 foot depth, as I said above. Water and nutrient retention, not to mention root development, is much better in a deeper container. Even with a 5 gallon container, there would be a great deal of difference in the plants grown in a 5 gallon deep bucket and a 5 gallon shallow container that is only 1 foot deep.

Dave

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 3:26PM
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Riceloft(5b / NE Ohio)

I'm growing a cherry variety and a larger variety (Tasty Merlot is what the label at the nursery said) in 2, ~5 gallon containers this year. Both plants are about 4' 6", the cherry has well over 50 tomatoes on it, the Tasty Merlot has around 10, 2 of which are pretty nice sized. 5 gal isn't a problem for me.

I am experiencing some BER, but I have just as much BER on my in-ground plants. I had zero BER last year and have done nothing different that I can think of. Quite frustrating.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 3:29PM
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elight(9b)

Sorry, I thought the container was 2' deep, not 1' (should have re-read OP). I agree that the same plant, with all things being equal, will grow bigger in a better in a bigger container than a smaller one. But 5-gallon buckets can still grow some nice plants.

With a 10" soil depth, you're right - he's probably limited to the smallest determinate varieties.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 4:06PM
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ladon

I have heard many arguments claiming that in-ground is far more productive than container growing, and I understand the reasoning behind that argument.....But... Have you seen Raybo's Earthtainer farm pix?! I am continually astounded year after year by his container success. I've never done SWC's, but one of these years I'm going to have to build some just to see if I get the same container results. I've grown in 65 gallon containers that are not swc's (as I'm doing this year for 6 of my 16 plants) and the plants seem to get to a certain level of growth and then they start to struggle. Maybe it's just that in-ground growing is more forgiving, as the root system has greater capacity to grow and absorb nutrients. Containers obviously require a lot more attention. But I sure am impressed by Ray's Earthtainer successes.
Don

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 6:31PM
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robeb_gw

I'm confused.
"They are probably 2 ft h. X 2ft w and 1 ft deep."

Do you mean 2'high, 2'long, and 1' across?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 6:44PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I have heard many arguments claiming that in-ground is far more productive than container growing,

I don't think it is purely a question of in-ground vs. containers. At least not for me as I do both.

It is a question of in-ground vs. the right size of containers. Use big enough containers with the right kind of soil-less potting mix and you can easily match in-ground production. But a 5 gallon bucket isn't going to do it.

But where the issue comes up is folks wanting to use small containers. Raybo's containers aren't 5 gallon buckets!! They aren't even 18 gallon. They are 31 gallon. :) They are the proof of the claim that bigger is better when it comes to containers.

Using SWC containers also makes a big difference.

I'm growing a cherry variety and a larger variety (Tasty Merlot is what the label at the nursery said) in 2, ~5 gallon containers this year. Both plants are about 4' 6", the cherry has well over 50 tomatoes on it, the Tasty Merlot has around 10, 2 of which are pretty nice sized. 5 gal isn't a problem for me.

No one is saying it can't be done. Obviously it can. The question is should it be done?

As long as the quality and quantity you get is acceptable to you, fine. But you also need to understand that your plants could easily be 3x as big with 3x the production if you used larger containers.

Dave

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 6:51PM
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terrybull

swc"s are simple after set up, just add water. also what dave said one plant per that size of container. it will save the headache down the road.
then your graduate to a larger swc"s, 100 gals with 30 gal water resevoir. 8 tomato plants.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 7:13PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Since you have the time, I would encourage you to read the longest running thread on growing in containers on the container forum, which I will link below. The most important factor is your container mix, assuming you have excellent drainage. Al's 511 mix is an excellent choice.

I have been growing tomatoes in containers for almost 20 years with good results. All the tomatoes I've grown were full size indeterminant plants in 20 or 25 gallon containers, and they usually grew at least 6 to 8 feet tall, often taller. For many years, I couldn't bring myself to limit the number of plants, so I usually grew three plants in a 25 gallon container, that was about 16 inches deep and 22 inches in diameter. This year I have five 25 gallon containers that size with two plants each and one 20 gallon container with only one plant. Already it is clear to me that the single tomato plant in the 20 gallon container is bigger and healthier, and producing more tomatoes than the containers with two plants each. I may get a few more tomatoes from the double planted pots, but I also am having to water them more. I am convinced that you can get excellent results from a large enough container if you are diligent about giving them enough sun, food and room. Lots of folks on the container forum grow tomatoes. They are friendly and helpful. In spite of all my years doing this, I believe I've learned more from them than I learned in all the previous years.

Here is a link that might be useful: Container soils, water movement & retention XIV

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 8:43PM
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augiedog55

thank you for your help. Yes these tubs are 2' wide x 2 ' wide and 13 inches deep. maybe i'll have to get something deeper.. i just ran into a good deal on them.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 1:27PM
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suncitylinda

AD55 - I would think those shallow containers would be great for lettuces, incl cut and come again, radishes, maybe basil, short carrots. But toms are sooooo thirsty they usually do require something much deeper. Linda

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 1:33PM
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noinwi

I think your containers would be adequate for a determinate tom(patio type), better for a zucchini and excellent for hot peppers...but that's just me...

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 2:18PM
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augiedog55

Well since I first posted this I've done alot of research. I've changed my plan and I'm going to get smart pots. I ordered 10-15 gal. pots yesterday and 4-10 gal. pots. I've been talking to many people who grow big indetermiinates in the 10 gal size. I'm opting for 15 for those. From what i'm gathering I can grow tomatos in these pot with a heavier soil mixture than conventional containers. I've talked to raybo and he thinks i can modify his 3-2-1 mixture to 4-2-1 and do fine. Thats my plan for half of them anyway. I'll expriment with another mixture tast was suggested to me to see how it works. I started of wanting 6 plants and up to 16... owell I'm retired so I've got time

    Bookmark   January 18, 2012 at 7:47AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Augiedog: Sounds like a good plan. In my post from last summer I talked about growing two tomatoes in a 25-gallon smart pot vs. one of the same kind (goosecreek) in a 20-gallon smart pot. At that point, I thought the single plant was doing better. But by the end of the summer, the plant that produced the most tomatoes over the whole season was one of the two in the 25-gallon pot. The other one in that pot was a bit of a dud, but still the pot with two tomatoes produced significantly more tomatoes. Since I only have space and a budget for about six large pots, I plan to grow two plants in each one. I think that genetic variation in heirloom tomatoes caused the wide difference in productivity, not pot size.

I also wanted to mention that the soil mix I used was 5 parts pine bark fines, one part compost and one part Turface. We had temperatures in the nineties for about half the time in July and August. I was able to go three days between waterings. The Turface and compost seemed to help with water retention.

Please report on the results of your experiments.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2012 at 9:22AM
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compounds

Bigger is better, if you can.

I grow some plants in 5 gallon Smart Pots.
Goose Creek produced 28 tomatoes
JD's special C-tex produced 10 tomatoes.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2012 at 7:26AM
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MarDar(z6bNJ)

I have had great luck growing in 5 gallon buckets. I think smaller then that you will be spending your life watering. I got free buckets from White Castle years ago, They were there empty pickle buckets

    Bookmark   January 19, 2012 at 10:27AM
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augiedog55

compounds, What growing media are you using in you smart pots?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2012 at 12:55PM
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sharonrossy

Hi, just to be clear, I am thinking of getting some smart pots for tomatoes - would 20 gallon pots be adequate for one plant? Or do I need bigger?
Thanks Sharon

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 4:49PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I think 20 gallons would be good for most tomatoes. In spite of what I said I would do above, last summer I grew one tomato each in 25 gallon Smart Pots and had excellent results with most of them. I grew one goose creek in a 20 gallon smart pot, and it was very productive. I used Al's 5-1-1 mix with osmocote plus 15-9-12 incorporated and also used a soluble fertilizer during the season. I think you need to fertilize pretty generously in containers.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 8:17PM
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