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Tomatoes can withstand close quarters and still deliver. If you don't have space in the ground, but you do have a hanging planter or a bushel basket and a sunny spot somewhere indoors or outside, you can grow your own tomatoes! Growing tomatoes in containers can also help you extend the season because if the weather cools down too much, you can just haul them indoors until it warms back up.
Sun. Container tomatoes, like those in the garden, need at least six to eight hours of sunshine a day to produce a worthwhile harvest. If you grow tomatoes indoors, put them where they'll get maximum sunshine, moving the container from window to window if you must.
Soil. For hanging planters and small pots, regular potting soil is fine. With larger containers, you may want to use a lighter-weight, soilless growing mix, such as Jiffy-Mix. It retains moisture well, which is important for tomatoes. Garden soil is okay to use, but needs to be lightened with peat moss, vermiculite or perlite to improve its drainage.
The Right Container. You can have a great crop from a plant in a five-gallon bucket or pot, a smaller hanging planter or even a bushel basket. Just be sure that the container you choose has holes in the bottom for drainage and has not previously held any toxic substances. Put a layer of gravel in the bottom to allow for drainage. Line bushel baskets with plastic bags or old nylon stockings to keep the dirt in and retain moisture. Poke a few drainage holes through the plastic bags to help drainage. Tomato plants in a bushel basket, supported by short stakes, look beautiful on a deck. If you will be staking your container tomatoes, be sure to use a container deep enough to support a stake. About 2 feet deep is minimum. You can also add a free-standing cage such as an obelisk or circular tomato cage.
The Best Varieties. Dwarf varieties or determinate types are the best ones to grow in containers. Also, choose those that produce medium to smaller size fruits, avoiding the big beefsteak types. Our Grandaddy Hybrid is one of the exceptions as its determinate, compact vines produce big tomatoes. If you're container growing for the first time, try a patio type tomato such as Tiny Tim, Red Robin, Husky Cherry Hybrid, Tumbler Hybrid tomatoes , Lizzano Hybrid tomatoes , Terenzo Hybrid tomatoes , Sugary Hybrid tomatoes , and the Sweet ‘n’ Neat Series to name a few. They need little support (or you can let them trail from a hanging container) and they'll produce very early.
Planting. Choose sturdy, stocky transplants and set them in the bushel baskets, pots or hanging planters up to the bottom set of leaves.
Water. Container tomatoes need watering often because the plant roots can't reach for extra moisture as garden tomatoes do. In the heat of summer, when the plants are big, water them daily and even several times a day if it’s hot or windy.
Fertilizer. Mix a small amount of soluble, balanced fertilizer into the plants' water every week or so. Tomatoes grown in containers like regular feedings of small amounts of fertilizer rather than infrequent, large doses as their roots won’t be able to forage for themselves.
Pollination. When the plants have flowered, give them a little shake in the middle of the day to help pollination along.
Pest Care. Whether they're on the back porch or in the house, tomatoes need protection from insects and diseases just like garden plants.