Urban Gardening Q&A: Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Michael Nolan
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Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Tomatoes are one of the most beloved garden plants in the United States and with good reason. According to the USDA Farm Service Agency, Americans consume an average of 22 pounds of tomatoes every year! Growing tomatoes at home does not have to be limited to the suburbs, even if all you have is a small patio or balcony. If you have a sunny outdoor spot, you can grow tomatoes in containers almost anywhere.

The Tomato

For successful container-grown tomatoes, it is wise to begin with a plant that produces tomatoes on the small to medium side. While it is possible to grow beefsteak tomatoes in containers, you will have far better luck with a cherry like Super Sweet 100 or a medium-sized variety like Rutgers. That doesn’t mean it is impossible to grow large tomatoes in containers, it is just more of a challenge.

Varieties that have patio in the name have been specifically bred to perform well in containers, and some of them are quite good.

The Container

To ensure success growing tomatoes in containers, choosing the right container is as important as the tomato plant itself. As a general rule, you want your container to be as big as possible. Tomatoes need a deep, strong root system to thrive, and a large container will give your tomatoes plenty of room to grow.

Your container need not be expensive or ornate. A pack of 10 nursery grade 5 gallon pots is about $17 and a great option for anyone who won’t need to move their pots often. Our famous Homer bucket is perfect for the budget conscious urban gardener who wants to grow tomatoes in containers and at less than three bucks, you can afford as many as you need. The advantage to the bucket is that it is more sturdy and easier to move if it is necessary.

The Support

Most tomato plants in containers will require some form of support as they mature. There are fans of both staking and caging and it is true that each have their own merits. Whichever form of support you choose, it is best to put it in place when you plant the tomato seedling in the container. This lessens the possibility that you might damage the root system later by pushing a stake or cage support into the dirt.

One advantage that staking may have over tomato cages for containers is that it is easier to  drive a stake deeper into the container, and because the soil in a container is looser, a cage may not be as stable as it should be.

The Location

The most important thing to look for when choosing a location for your tomato plants in containers is sunlight. Tomatoes are sun-loving plants and they aren’t going to be happy with anything less than 6-8 hours of good sunlight every day. If you have a balcony or patio that only gets sun for part of the day, you should position your plants so that they get the most sun possible.

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