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Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Tips and tricks for tomato growing success


Growing tomatoes in containers is one of the most satisfying experiences a gardener can have. It can also be a challenge. The following advice is gleaned from years of experimenting with different containers, techniques and tomato varieties.

Choosing a Container For Growing Tomatoes

container gardening picture of Earthboxes on Dock
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

Hands down, grow boxes are my favorite containers for growing tomatoes. By controlling the water flow to your tomato plants, they give you the best chance for success. Of the grow boxes I've tried, Earthboxes are my favorites. That said, I also have had great success and fun using everything from straw bales to re-usable grocery bags and Smart Pots to conventional large garden pots.

Tips on Using Grow Boxes

Earthbox Review

The Grow Box Review

Choosing Tomato Varieties

container gardening picture of three heart tomatoes
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

I don't think it is worth the trouble to grow tomatoes that aren't totally fabulous in both taste and texture. Unfortunately, a lot of tomatoes sold both as seeds and seedlings are both mealy and tasteless. I also go against the popular opinion that you should only grow determinate (tomatoes where all the fruit ripens more or less all at once) tomatoes in containers. What is the fun in that? I want huge sprawling tomatoes that will give me harvest for months! Even if you have limited space, you can grow large tomato plants. They may not be terribly elegant, but if you put them in a nice trellis and prune them, you can make them behave.

Here is my advice on Choosing Tomato Varieties.

Pruning Tomatoes

Photo © Kerry Michaels

I will confess that I am a casual tomato pruner. I do it when I think of it, on some plants, sometimes. Many people think it is the only way to grow tomatoes. I've had success with pruned and unpruned plants. Just be sure to only prune indeterminate tomatoes - ones that continue to grow and bear fruit throughout the season. If you prune determinate plants it will have a seriously negative impact your harvest.

Here's a video about general tomato care and feeding, which will also show you hwo to prune your tomatoes.

Growing and Pruning Tomatoes in Containers - The Video

Taming Your Tomatoes

container gardening picture of bamboo tomato cage
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

While you can let your tomatoes sprawl all over the place, I like to keep mine corralled. To coral your tomatoes you can buy all kinds of tomato stakes and cages - some ridiculously expensive, or make your own. If you are buying tomato cages make sure they are big, tall and strong. I have tried the skimpy round cages that you can find at every hardware store and have found that they are either worthless or even worse than worthless because the can damage your plants.

I like making my own trellises out of bamboo because I like the way they look and you can make them in any size to fit any container. I also have some heavy, large metal tomato cages that work pretty well if you have the right sized container.

DIY Bamboo Tomato Cage Video

Upside Down Tomatoes

Let me be blunt here - I'm not a huge fan of upside down tomatoes. I think growing tomatoes upside down is mostly a gimmick and one that doesn't work very well. First of all, most upside down tomato systems provide containers that are just too small to grow tomatoes. Planting and hanging these planters can also be a big challenge.

Here are the Upsides and Downsides of Upside Down Tomatoes

That said, there are certain situations where upside down tomatoes make sense and there are lots of people who swear by them.

Here are instructions to make your own Upside Down Tomato Planter.

Harvesting Tomatoes

container gardening picture of tomatoes
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

While it might seem easy to tell if a tomato is ripe, it can actually be somewhat of a challenge, particularly if you grow green or different colored tomatoes.

How to tell if my tomato is ripe

And then there are the times when it's impossible to pick your tomato when it's ripe - like right before there's a frost. To find out how to best ripen tomatoes inside, I spoke to my tomato guru, Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms who had some surprising advice.

The Best Way to Ripen Tomatoes Indoors

You can also use your unripe green tomatoes to make salsa or in one of my favorite recipes,

Fried Green Tomatoes with a Southwestern Twist



Common Mistakes Growing Tomatoes in Containers

container gardening picture of tomato plants
Photo © Kerry Michaels

If there is a tomato growing mistake, I've made it - sometimes repeatedly. It took me a couple of years of growing tomatoes in containers to figure out how to do it successfully. That said, some years just aren't good for tomatoes. Some years are too rainy, some are too hot. One year late tomato blight devasted my whole state's tomato crop.

Here are some common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Common Mistakes Growing Tomatoes in Containers

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