by Gene Henson
I’m often asked what kind of tomatoes can be grown in containers. The short answer is just about any variety can be grown in containers, but the smaller ones, like plumb or grape work best.
Like anything else, proper preparation is crucial. You can spend a lot of money on big, fancy pots more suitable to house summer flowers than fruit, like tomatoes. (And yes, tomatoes are fruit.) The easiest, and likely cheapest is to use plastic buckets, those five galleon ones you see everywhere. If you are lucky, they can be had for free. Or they’re also usually for sale at your local hardware store, or big box lumber supply outlet.
Cut several half inch holes in the bottom for drainage. About an inch of crushed stone on top of some plastic screening cut to the size of the bucket bottom so that the drain holes don’t become clogged is a good idea, too. This also keeps some of the bad guys out as well.
Next, fill the bucket with a mix of good quality potting soil (do not skimp here) thoroughly mixed with dehydrated cow manure. As I said, before, any tomato will grow in a pot, but if you want to be able to move them around, stick with the plastic pails. Bigger verities like Big Boy or Big Girl grow best in a 20 or 30 gallon containers.
Containers require regular watering. That may seem to be a given, but tomatoes grown in pails drink more, and they like to be watered on a regular schedule, early in the morning, or after dark in the evening is best, or a nasty looking thing called blossom end rot will infect the fruit. Blossom end rot is also caused by a lack of calcium in the soil, but using good potting soil usually takes care of that.
There has been a lot of talk about growing tomatoes upside down, that is, the plant growing out of the bottom of the container. The advantage of this is that many of the nasty little buggers can’t reach the plants, which are hanging up to three feet off the ground. This is especially comforting if you have a problem with cutworms. These wrenched creatures just love to chomp on your newly planted plants. Then, they proceed to take a siesta just below the surface right at the scene of the crime. If you see that on one of your in ground tomatoes, dig down a little and there he’ll be, just waiting for your pliers.
With upside down tomatoes, it’s best to stick with determinates. A determinate tomato plant is one that grows to a certain height, and produces its fruit all at once, unlike indeterminates, which continue to grow and produce until cold weather. Unless you are aggressive with your pruning shears, indeterminates grown upside down can become so heavy that there is a distinct possibility of the stem breaking due to the weight.
Gene Henson is a University of Connecticut certified Advanced Master Gardner.