As Director of Trials for Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants, Greg Michalak manages the company’s trial grounds. “We’ve been trialing tomatoes in containers for several years,” he said. “There are a lot of breeders that are offering tomatoes that they claim can be put into containers.”
Michalak says he has had mixed results with them, but he has found some tricks to get the best out of container-grown tomatoes:
- Use a very large pot – at least 20” diameter across the top of the pot.
- Make sure plants are regularly fed and watered, especially watered.
- Install a stake or trellis; While many varieties are said not to need it, Michalak believes that staking the central branch really helps.
- Plant varieties that are bred for containers.
- It is important to pull off the suckers! Due to their compact nature it is important to keep the plants trimmed for good airflow.
“Other than the above, treat them like any other tomato,” Michalak suggests. “Don’t forget that uneven watering can cause problems and low feed can stress out the plant, too.”
Top growers are developing hybrid tomatoes specifically for containers
Proven Winners has stepped into the food plant arena with their Proven Harvest offerings. Two tomatoes, both of which can be grown in containers, include ‘Garden Treasure’ and ‘Garden Gem’. My brother grew ‘Garden Gem’ in a container last summer, and was surprised at how quickly it bore fruit. It was like a large cherry tomato, about the size of a golf ball. And, it had a great flavor.
According to Proven Winners, the semi-determinate, snack-size tomato was developed to have true heirloom taste, with modern disease resistance and high fruit yield. It has firm, juicy texture with a smooth, balanced flavor. These plants thrive in heat and humidity.
All-America Selections is an independent non-profit organization that tests new, never-before-sold varieties for the home gardener. AAS Executive Director, Diane Blazek, says, “Growing vegetables in containers is a trend that is likely to stick around a very long time.”
“I think people just think it’s easier in containers,” Blazek continues, “the breeding world is certainly embracing the trend and customizing their work to that goal.”
Some examples of that work include AAS tomato Winners: ‘Patio Choice Yellow’, ‘Red Racer’, ‘Fantastico’, ‘Lizzano’ and ‘Torenzo’ tomatoes.
Blazak believes that not only is it new gardeners who are putting tomatoes in containers because retailers are carrying them, but it’s also easier for older gardeners or those with physical limitations.
Recommendations for growing tomatoes in containers
All America Selections offers the following recommendations for growing tomatoes, both in the ground and in containers.
- Plant newer varieties that have been bred for disease resistance.
- Use good, healthy soil to put less stress on the plants, and follow a crop rotation plan.
- If you spot disease on a plant, cut off the affected leaf or limb.
- Properly dispose of diseased plants in the trash, not with the compost.
- Cleanliness counts! Wash your hands and clean your tools after working in one garden area or pot before continuing — so no diseases are transferred.
- Spread plants out so they have room for circulation, which helps prevent disease. This includes staking plants instead of letting them lie on the ground.
- Water early in the day so the plant’s leaves have time to dry before nighttime when diseases are more prone to spread.