It may seem unlikely, but tomatoes can endure mighty close quarters and still deliver the goods. Even if you have room for nothing more than a hanging planter or a bushel basket to place in a sunny spot, indoors or out, you can grow tomatoes like a pro.
Here are some pointers to get you on your way to tasty homemade tomato sauce.
Sun. Container tomatoes need at least six to eight hours of sunshine a day to produce a worthwhile harvest. If you grow them indoors, put them where they'll get maximum sunshine. If necessary, move the container from window to window.
Soil. For hanging planters and small pots, use regular potting soil. With larger containers, you may want to use a lighter-weight, soilless growing mix, such as Jiffy-Mix or Pro-Mix. These retain moisture well, which is important for tomatoes. Garden soil is OK but needs to be lightened with peat moss, vermiculite or perlite to improve its drainage.
Containers. Almost anything will do. You can have a great crop from a plant in a 5-gallon bucket or pot, a smaller hanging planter or even a bushel basket. Just be sure the container has drainage holes in the bottom.
Line bushel baskets with plastic bags (don't forget to poke a few drainage holes) or old nylon stockings to keep the dirt in and retain moisture. Three tomato plants in a bushel basket, supported by short stakes, look pretty on a deck.
Top Varieties. Dwarf varieties are best for containers. If you're trying container growing for the first time, try a cherry patio type, such as Tiny Tim or Pixie II. They need little support—you even can let them trail from a hanging container—and they'll produce fruit early.
Planting. Choose sturdy, stocky transplants and set them in soil up to the bottom set of leaves.
Water. Container tomatoes need more frequent watering because the roots can't reach for extra moisture as garden tomatoes do. In the heat of summer, water daily.
Fertilizer. Mix a small amount of soluble, balanced fertilizer into the plants' water every week or so. Tomatoes like regular feedings of small amounts of fertilizer rather than infrequent large doses.
Pollination. When the plants have flowered, give them a little shake in the middle of the day to aid pollination.
More Top Picks for Container Gardening
The varieties listed below are good choices for containers. As container gardening grows in popularity, many more options appear every year. To stay up to speed, check garden centers, farmers markets and botanical gardens to see what's new.
- Beans: Bush Romano, Bush Blue Lake, Royal Burgundy, Blue Lake
- Carrots: Danvers Half Long, Tiny Sweet, Little Finger, Thumbelina
- Chard: most varieties
- Cucumbers: Patio Pik, Salad Bush Hybrid, Early Pik
- Eggplant: Slim Jim, Ichiban, Black Beauty, Morden Midget
- Lettuce: leaf varieties
- Onions: Japanese Bunching, Beltsville Bunching
- Peppers: Sweet Banana, Cayenne, Yolo Wonder, Jalapeno, Thai Hot, Keystone Resistant
- Spinach: most varieties
- Squash: Scallopini, Early Yellow Summer, Gold Rush
- Tomatoes: Patio VF, Sungold, Early Girl, Sweet 100 Patio, Saladette, Tiny Tim, Pixie II and most determinant varieties
TIP: To avoid container-garden veggies that lean or grow unevenly, give this idea a spin: Rotate the containers weekly for even sun exposure.
Source: National Gardening Association Editors, Birds & Blooms "Grow Veggies for Less"