Direct Soil Planting vs Container Growing

Wouldn’t it be great to have a large greenhouse or polytunnel and grow tomatoes directly in the soil. On the other hand, would the results be better than when growing tomateos in containers?

Here is aa article about the benefits and disadvantages of both – Direct Soil Planting vs Container Growing.

Direct Soil Planting

There would be no containers to clean and fill with costly new compost and no watering valves or other systems to try and create a healthier root zone.

in other words, less worry about watering and the amount of oxygen in the soil and less work!

While most hobby growers use containers and grow bags for growing their tomatoes, there are some growers, growing on a small commercial scale, who grow directly in the soil!

Advantages with Direct Soil Planting Under Cover

One major advantage when growing directly in the ground is that roots can spread out over a wide area. This means that surface roots have access to plenty of oxygen. Also, large root systems are not as vulnerable to extremes of wet and dry periods.

The grower is able to water using a pipe system which delivers water/nutrients to the base of each plant just by turning on a tap. Plants can be watered once, twice or three times daily depending on the weather.

Tomato split and other conditions caused by extremes of soil moisture and Blossom End Rot can be more or less avoided. Being under cover, Blight can also be kept at bay.

Disadvantages of Soil

Of course soil does need to be changed every few seasons to avoid disease and nematode build-up (microscopic worms that are destructive to roots). However, if plants are kept healthy, diseases carried over to the following season can be kept to a minimum.

Soil & Grow Bag Combination

Some home growers find that using grow bags with holes in the bottom works very well. Plants are started in the fresh grow bag soil, then after becoming established, their roots can grow out through the bottom into the greenhouse soil. The old soil of the greenhouse seems to have little negative effect.

Grafted Plants

Another way to grow in used greenhouse soil is to use grafted plants. These plants have greater disease resistance and plenty of vigour – although grafted plants are expensive to buy unless you graft them yourself!

Grafting is tricky and requires a heated propagator with thermostat.

Of course it is possible to grow outside in garden soil, but in a UK summer with plenty of rain, the possibility of Blight is high.

If you are growing Crimson Crush this season, how have they coped with the wet periods – any sign of Blight?

Other Growing Systems

I regularly mention the Quadgrow Planter and Autopot systems, but here are two other ways to grow tomatoes in containers.

Bato Buckets and the Earth Box

Bato Buckets, also known as Dutch Buckets, are becoming a popular way to grow tomatoes with very successful results too!

Direct Soil Planting vs Container Growing

Basically, a Bato Bucket is a large pot with a reservoir in the bottom. There is an overflow pipe that takes the water/nutrients back to a water tank and the solution is re-used and pumped around again.

Perlite is one of the most popular mediums for this method, partly because the perlite can be flushed, cleaned and used again.

The Earth Box

Another reservoir container system is the “earth box”. This is more traditional in the sense that it uses soil.

The Earth Box

Both systems are easily copied by a DIY enthusiast.

The last newsletter of the season is next Saturday – doesn’t time fly – the seed brochures will soon be dropping through the letter box!



PS  If you have any comments / experience of Crimson Crush this season, we would love to hear them below – thanks!

This article “Direct Soil Planting vs Container Growing” is taken from Nick’s Tomato Growing Newsletter.






11 Responses

  1. David

    Hi Nick,

    Just finished reading your newsletter & the comments afterwards. I think I’ve probably had my worst year ever growing toms! Even very dependable varieties like ‘Gardener’s Delight’ for example, have given very bad results.

    A brother of mine gave me a couple of dozen seedlings of two varieties, the aforesaid & ‘Moneymaker’. I kept 3 plants of ‘GD’ to grow on my balcony, (I grow a few toms every year on the balcony), one, which seemed the strongest of them, inexplicably died on me! The other two have been very slow going with the leaves twisted & poorly developed. The other plants were grown out in the open on the allotment but faired only slightly better. These have now been killed by blight but the 3 of the balcony are free of blight – confirming your comments on wet leaves & blight spores!

    The other tomato plants down on the allotment took off very slowly but during August game a big leap forward. The fruit formed very late &, before much of it got near to ripening, was struck down by blight. I was able to harvest only a couple of kilos of fruit & even half of that at least had to be thrown away during the the week after picking when blight showed itself on them.

    My friend, Gerry, with whom I share the plot, grew some yellow cherry toms in the cold greenhouse on the plot. These have done quite well & are very sweet. Nevertheless even one or two of these plants have been affected with blight.

    I really must get some ‘Crimson Crusher’ seeds for next year! I’m tired that all my efforts in growing toms mostly end in the plants getting blight & ending up with a very poor harvest.

  2. Rob

    Hi Nick, it is always a joy to receive your informative newsletter, thank you. During fifty years of growing tomatoes (mainly greenhouse), I have tried many methods of planting. These have included planting directly into the soil, the use of growbags and/or growpots, and a DIY equivalent of Quadgrow. My favourite method remains 10 litre plastic pots over plastic saucers, filled with cheap basic DIY store compost (which I renew every year), and the use of top quality tomato feed (I use Tomorite or Chempak). I find the quality of feed has a major impact on the quality and taste of tomatoes. This year, I used your root aeration system to great effect and I am enjoying my best-ever crop of tomatoes.

    My favourites for taste and ease of growing are Floridity, Rosada, Nectar, Sungold, Ambrosia, Tomatoberry and Black Cherry. Next year, I will trial Black Opal, Green Emerald and Rosella indoors – and Sioux and Sweet Aperitif outdoors.

    This year’s season may be far from over but already, I have finalised my plant list for next year and can hardly wait for the season to start. Sad, eh?

    • Nick

      Hi Rob, seems like you’ve got it sorted – it’s good to hear about your successful season!
      I’m pleased that you found the root aeration system beneficial – it usual adds to the quantity and quality of the fruit.
      Best wishes for next season and that long list of varieties!

  3. Jess Allaway

    Like Tony, sent a message to the temporary forum in June asking for advice but no response. Been an exceptionally bad year for my tomatoes which I think was a combination of sowing too early and then getting temps of 4 degrees for many many nights. Also my usual compost was not available (growbags which I decant). Due to fact that water was seeping out of them at the garden centre, I changed to another bagged compost which was very “fluffy” and I had a problem getting the moisture level right. Actually re-sowed Tumblers mid-July as the plants from the first sowings were about a quarter of the size they should have been and my Red Alert failed totally. Re-sown Tumblers are now in fruit and I’m hopeful will ripen if the weather stays reasonable during Oct. Have picked ripe toms in December in the past, so here’s hoping! Have cropped about a quarter of my usual of Sungold, Red Cherry and Tumbler so far and some Purple Ukranian and Black Opal. Also lost my Yellow Pear (sorry Nick), Green Zebra and Sweet Aperitif! A bit of a disaster year! Worst I have ever experienced. Oh well, there’s always next year!

    • Nick

      Hi Jess, I’m very sorry that I did not reply on the Forum and it’s sad to hear that you have had such a poor season!
      Sometimes sowing early can pay off when we get a bit of early spring sunshine – other times it just makes it much harder to achieve healthy growth – it would be good to use grow lights if electricity costs weren’t so high. LED grow lights are less costly to run.
      Best wishes for next season!

  4. ben

    Crimson Crush a great success. Growing on a North East aspect in pots with compost it has produced mostly large red attractive fruits, some with the rustic ‘pumpkin’ appearance mentioned above. Very good healthy tomatoes and tasty too. I did not have the problems with slow ripening mentioned earlier and fed with tomorite.
    Plants exceptionally healthy and no sign of blight. My F1 Shirley and Roma tomatoes planted nearby are yellowing and a mess.

    • Nick

      Hi Ben, Thank you for letting us know about your experience of Crimson Crush – it was good to compare them with the Shirley and Roma.

  5. Tony Manickam

    Hi Nick
    (This is a copy of an e-mail sent to you some time back with no response. )

    This is my 2nd year of growing Tomatoes. Last year I grew Tumbling Toms which produced a lot of Tomatoes from 3 plants.
    This year I bought some grafted plugs from Suttons – F1 Lizzano and Aviditas as Cherry bush varieties and Crimson Crush for some large tomatoes. The Cherry varieties have grown well and produced a nice sweet crop.
    The Crimson Crush is also now producing some large green tomatoes which are proving slow to ripen. Also some of the fruit look like miniature pumkins ie ridged skins. Can you suggest a reason for this.
    I’ve grown the Bush varieties using a 4 pot AutoPot system which has worked well. The CCrush was grown in a 3 pot Growbag system. I don’t like the Growbag method, so next year, I will extend my AutoPot system.
    Look forward to hearing from you as to the ‘pumkin’ like appearance of the CCrush.
    Cheers for now
    Update: The CCrush tomatoes are now ripening (September) and producing an abudance of fruit. They are not as sweet as the Cherry variety but are great for cooking. I have not had any problems with this variety except for a few of the tomatoes having a ridged rather than a nice smooth skins.

    • Nick

      Hi Tony, Many apologies for not replying to your email – sometimes I’m not notified when an email comes in and it gets lost in the clutter.
      Because Crimson Crush is a newly bred variety, there may be one or two growth variations in shape and appearance. If saving seeds, use the ones that have the regular shape.
      Sometimes the fruit can look segmented like an orange if the flowers were not correctly pollinated – either way, they are all edible and if they stand up against blight, a good choice for next season too!
      I also find that Autopots give far better results than grow bags.

  6. Ethel Craig

    Morning Nick,
    Have very much enjoyed your friendly and informative newsletter for yet another year. After a very cold spring and early summer her in Scotland my tomatoes finally sprang into life and we have ended up with a better crop than I had anticipated. We have grown our usual mix of Sungold, Tigrella and a few Marmande in pots in the greenhouse but I feel that the flavour is not just as good as usual. Can I blame this on the weather?


    • Nick

      Hi Ethel, I would blame it on not enough sunshine to develop the sugars in the leaves – which of course effects the fruit too. When light levels are poor, spraying with magnesium to darken the leaves helps attract and absorb more light.