In Containers, Pots
& Grow Bags
Welcome to Tomato Growing where you will find suggestions and tips on how to grow tomatoes in containers of all shapes and sizes.
The Benefits Of Containers, Pots and Grow Bags
Most gardeners in the UK grow their tomatoes in containers and it is not surprising given the benefits…
- Containers can be placed anywhere around the garden or patio.
- Grow bags, also containers, are great for growing tall tomato varieties both in a greenhouse or up against a fence or wall.
- Tall sided containers, such as large pots, are great for Tumbling or Tumbler varieties because the tomatoes can trail over the sides.
- Hanging baskets are the ultimate in visual appearance for trailing tomato varieties.
- Cascading tomatoes are similar to Tumbler varieties and the terms are used interchangeably.
An advantage of using containers is that we can fill them with fresh potting compost so that plants get a disease-free start.
The problem with garden soil is that it contains little critters that love to eat your young tomato plants. Also, some diseases can cause unseen problems below the soil surface and will reduce your crop!
Best Containers for Tomato Growing
Tomatoes can be grown in most types of containers, here is a list of some of the most popular and their suitable varieties.
- Standard large pots – Tall and bush varieties
- Air pots – Tall and bush varieties
- Fabric pots – Tall varieties
- Hanging baskets – Trailing and tumbler tomatoes
- Grow bags – Tall varieties
- Oasesbox – Tall and bush varieties
- Quadgrow planter – Tall and bush varieties
Growing Tomatoes From Seed
The advantage of growing tomatoes from seed, is the wider choice of varieties available. There are literally thousands of varieties that come in all shapes, colours and sizes, many more than available as plug plants.
However, some gardeners prefer to buy small tomato plants at their local garden centre in April/May. This has the benefit of avoiding some of the challenges of growing from seed, such as “damping off” and leggy seedlings.
Sowing, Planting and Picking Tomatoes – Timeline
When To Sow Tomato Seeds (UK)
Sowing tomato seed at the right time for your area, will always give the best chance of success. The end of March to the beginning of April is a good time to sow in the UK.
- Sow too early and seedlings struggle without enough light.
- Sow too late and the season ends before the tomatoes have time to ripen.
Media & Containers for Seed Propagation
Tomato seed can be sown in soil, potting compost and other types of media too, such as rockwool cubes, sponges and Jiffy pellets made from coconut shell, often referred to as coir.
The cubes, sponges and jiffy pellets can be purchased loose, or in their own propagator of individual cells. Heated propagators have the advantage of being able to maintain a consistent temperature. Some also have LED grow lights to prevent seedlings from becoming leggy.
The traditional method has always been the seed tray filled with seed compost. Add a lid and a seed tray becomes an instant propagator!
Self Watering Planters
The Oasesbox and Quadgrow Planter are both “Self Watering Planters”. A SWP contains a reservoir of water below the soil that enables a tomato plant to absorb water and nutrients whenever it wants.
It’s good for tomato plants to have water in reserve on a hot day in the middle of summer. It’s also handy for holiday watering – if the reservoir is large enough – as below!
Growing Tomatoes in Grow Bags
This is one of the most popular and convenient ways to grow tall (indeterminate or cordon) varieties and there are plenty of tips on how to optimise a grow bag to get the best crop of tomatoes – more about growing tall varieties in grow bags.
Choose Varieties for Growing Outside
Some tomato varieties have been bred to cope with cooler temperatures and can be grown outside in a sunny, sheltered spot. These include Gardener’s Delight and Moneymaker, two varieties that have always done well in British gardens!
Recently, tomatoes have been developed to be blight resistant and these are ideal for growing outside – especially in a wet summer. Crimson Crush is one of these.
Growing tomatoes outside is a lot of fun! They can be grown in large pots and hanging baskets (you don’t need a greenhouse or conservatory) and growing cherry tomatoes in containers can be done on a balcony, in a window-box or even inside on a sunny windowsill.
Blight Resistant Tomatoes
Three Blight Resistant Varieties (below) – Worth a try if you suffer from blight regularly! We often get a long period of wet weather during the summer these days. Blight can wipe out a crop of tomatoes in a week or two, so having blight resistant tomatoes is a real advantage!
Cherry varieties are usually among the first to mature and easiest to grow, so I’ve included quite a few of these on the website. In this category is the very dependable and great tasting Gardener’s Delight – a tall cherry that does well in containers, especially a grow bag.
Medium size, or salad varieties include the old and still popular Moneymaker. Although there are slightly better tasting varieties around these days, you won’t go wrong growing this variety outdoors this season.
For those who prefer larger fruit, there are plenty of tips on how to grow beefsteak varieties. These are a little more difficult to grow than cherry tomatoes, especially in a short season area such as the UK. However, good results can be expected with the right growing methods. More about growing large, beefsteak tomatoes here.
Bush Varieties and Tall Varieties
Easy To Grow Bush Varieties – UK
If you are new to growing tomatoes, it’s a good idea to start with an easy tomato variety to grow.
The following bush and cherry varieties are highly recommended for growing in the UK.
- Tumbler F1 – A trailing tomato for hanging baskets
- Terenzo F1 (Tumbler Ugrade)
- Tumbling Tom – Another trailing tomato
- Red Alert – An upright bush/cherry variety
- Garden Pearl – Another upright bush – non trailing
- Maskotka – Similar to Reed Alert
- Losetto – More like a trailing than upright bush tomato
Bush types are sometimes called “determinate” and do not need their side shoots pinched out.
Trailing Tumbler Tomatoes for Hanging Baskets
Bush varieties grow well in containers and large pots so they can trail over the sides, or in an upside down planter such as a topsy turvy.
Trailing and Tumbler varieties include, Tumbling Tom – Red and Yellew, Tumbler F1 and Hundreds and Thousands to name just a few. These are great for hanging baskets.
There are two types of bush variety.
- The trailing bush types (Tumblers) that do as their name suggests such as Tumbler F1 and Tumbling Tom.
- We also have the upright, compact dwarf bush varieties such as Sweet ‘n’ Neat, Vilma and Balconi Red or Yellow. These dwarf plants can be grown successfully on the windowsill but will need some support.
Tall, Cordon Indeterminate Varieties
Gardener’s Delight, Moneymaker and Golden Sunrise have been around for many years which is a sign of their reliability.
Gardener’s Delight, a decent size cherry, is highly recommended for flavour and crop yield. Moneymaker is also very reliable but there are new varieties that will give it a run for its money! Such as Orkado F1, Nimbus F1 and Tamina.
F1 means that the tomato variety is a hybrid and usually more vigorous than an open pollinated variety.
Among the tall varieties that are easy to grow in the UK are:
- Gardener’s Delight
- Golden Sunrise
- Black Cherry
- Sungold F1
- Sweet Aperitif
They are all very dependable. Tall varieties are also called “indeterminate” or “Cordon” because they grow to an indeterminate height and are stopped by pinching out the main stem.
Cordon means that the trusses of fruit will grow from one main stem, but it is possible to allow two or three stems to develop from the side shoots or suckers.
Tall varieties need support and are best grown in a greenhouse or outside, up against a garden fence or wall. More about tomato varieties here.
Tomato Plants Grow Quickly
Some plants are like long distance runners – tomato plants are sprinters … they have a short time in which to produce a lot!
This means that everything has to be right for them to grow quickly without obstacles of poor growing conditions and diseases.
This is why growing tomatoes in containers and grow bags provide the ideal environment – starting plants with disease free soil that is full of nutrients.
Grow bags can be upgraded and improved by using grow bag pots (see below) that improve the watering and feeding process.
A reservoir system, such as found with the Quadgrow Planter (below), can be used to provide water and nutrients 24/7 – great for holiday watering too!
Best Containers for Tall Tomato Varieties
Tall, indeterminate varieties are best grown in pots at least 9 inches in diameter or grow bags. Using grow bag pots, also known as ring culture, is a very good way to grow tall varieties as they can be fed and watered through the different rings. Inner ring for feed, outer for water.
Below is a photo of pots with reservoirs, also known as self watering planters.
More about containers for tall varieties.
Removing Side Shoots and Suckers
Side shoots grow out between the main stem and leaf branch (see photo left) and are best removed for the earliest harvest.
Leaving a side shoot to grow on a tall variety will produce an extra stem, more trusses and potentially more tomatoes, but if you live in a short season area such as the UK, the first tomatoes may mature later in the season and you’ll end up making green chutney! Removing side shoots is standard practice on tall varieties – more about removing side shoots.
The secret to feeding tomatoes is “little and often” especially when plants are in fruit. A good way to do this is to give half the recommended dose twice as often when watering. This means that food is available for plants more frequently – more about feeding tomatoes.
How much water to give depends on many different growing circumstances including the size of plants and temperatures to name just two. It’s important that roots receive both water and oxygen so saturated soil for too long will cause problems – more about watering tomatoes.
Other Ways To Water and Feed Tomatoes…
The Quadgrow Planter
This is a reservoir system that absorbs water and nutrients through capillary action, up into the pots.
It is very effective and the plants can take in water and nutrients whenever they need them. This helps avoid Blossom End Rot and tomato split as there is always access to moisture containing nutrients.
Tomato Growing Problems
Many of the problems associated with growing tomatoes are caused by over-watering and over-feeding. We want to be generous to our plants so they’ll grow quickly, but it’s easy to “kill them with kindness” and slow their growth down in the process!
The best advice is “less is more”, at least until plants begin to flower and fruit – then you can be a little more generous with watering and food – more about tomato problems.
Blossom End Rot and Hot Weather
A common problem when growing tomatoes is Blossom End Rot. Here are a few tips to avoid the problem.
Blossom End Rot is caused by an interruption to the water supply in the plant’s system owing to the hot weather – sometimes tomato plants can’t absorb water fast enough when it’s very hot.
However, the root cause of BER is calcium deficiency as the fruit is swelling owing to short periods without enough water containing calcium.
Over feeding reduces water intake, so for maximum root absorption, feed tomatoes at half strength every other watering and try to reduce the temperature in the greenhouse by ventilation and covering dark surfaces that will give off heat, with white plastic.
Also, removing the lower leaf branches below the first truss reduces water evaporation from the plants – the fewer leaves a plant has, the less water it loses by evaporation (transpiration).
Choosing The Right Varieties for Your Part of the World
Many tomato varieties are best suited to the weather conditions of the countries and regions from which they originally came or areas they were developed to be grown in.
Siberian can cope with lower temperatures because it was developed that way – the name says it all!
Moneymaker is an old English variety that excels in a moderate climate and is very reliable.
Marmande originally came from France and requires the weather of the Southern Mediterranean to reach its full taste.
So if you grow tomatoes outside, choose varieties that will cope well in the weather conditions of your area.
A Selection of Tumbling Tom red and yellow, Maskotka and Garden Pearl (below).
Choosing which varieties to grow each season is one of the most enjoyable jobs to do in the Autumn and Winter. You can browse the seed catalogues, or surf online where you will find a huge number of tomato varieties from different seed companies.
Tomato Growing In Unheated Greenhouse
A greenhouse will enable an earlier start and a later end to the season – a great way to increase your crop and have ripe tomatoes available for longer.
My own preference is to sow indoors and get the seedlings established first, before planting them out in the greenhouse.
When To Plant Tomatoes Out In Greenhouse
Although a greenhouse or polytunnel provides a lot of protection, unless it is heated, temperatures will still be very cold at night in the early Spring.
It is best to plant tomatoes in the final position in a greenhouse at the end of April or beginning of May. If seedlings and young tomato plants get too cold, it could check their growth altogether.
The great thing about a greenhouse is that your plants are protected from rain and temperatures remain slightly higher – especially at night.
Go for the biggest greenhouse you can afford , or have room for, as very small ones can create a lot of condensation – air circulation is important to avoid disease.
So, if you would like to discover real tomato taste, and be able to eat your own home-grown for up to four months each summer, then I hope you’ll browse these pages and have a go yourself, at tomato growing in containers.
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