Many Ways To Grow Tomatoes
They say that if you ask ten tomato growers the same the question, you’ll get ten different answers!

The truth is … there are many ways to grow tomatoes that achieve the same results. The favourite method of one gardener may be completely different from the “tried and trusted” method of another, but they both work.

Part of the reason is because there are many variables in the growing process.

For example, there are a number of significant differences when growing in containers as opposed to growing directly in the ground – that’s the back garden soil vegetable patch, greenhouse border or allotment.

Root Size
If growing directly in the ground, the bigger the root system, the better.
If growing in containers, there is a limit to the size the roots can grow before they outgrow their pot and become pot-bound.

The idea in container growing is to give a plant all it needs so that its roots won’t become too large and therefore pot-bound.

It is the case, as shown by hydroponics, that a plant that has access to water and food 24/7 – that’s whenever it needs them, will grow a smaller root system and be happier in a smaller pot.

The container grower who uses soil, can take a number of tips from the hydroponic grower, especially where space is limited, and use them to great advantage.

These include methods of watering and feeding, also known by that strange word: “fertigation”. Using various types of media to make the most of a limited root space and also by growing in containers that allow more oxygen into the root area for better respiration.

Surface Area
One significant disadvantage of a container is its small surface area, as opposed to growing directly in the ground where roots can branch out, particularly just below the soil surface, and have access to a lot more oxygen than the regular container grown plant.

Not only is a tomato plant likely to become pot-bound in a container, root capping may also occur and prevent oxygen entering the root system from the soil surface.

Oxygen and Root Pruning
A number of new container designs have been produced to deal with the issues of providing enough oxygen in the root zone and also roots becoming pot bound. These include the air pot and smart pots made of a fabric material.

Air Pots for Tomatoes
Air Pots for Tomatoes

However, there are other crucially important aspects when growing tomatoes in containers that need addressing, namely a regular water supply and feeding.

Running around the garden with a watering can before and after work is not only inconvenient, it’s a bit hit and miss – and if growing under clouds rather than cover, we can never be sure of the weather!

Reservoir Systems
The Hozelock waterer is a helpful way to solve the issue of regular watering.

Hozelock Growbag Waterer
Hozelock Growbag Waterer

The Quadgrow Planter and Autopot System have been around for a while and are also very helpful in providing both water and nutrients to plants, whenever they need it.

Easy2grow Autopot
Easy2grow Autopot System

Plants grown on an allotment or garden vegetable patch, won’t have the restrictions of a container and will be able to develop a larger root system – giving access to oxygen at surface level plus access to water and nutrients over a wide area.

One reason why grow bags have been so successful is because their surface area is (usually) greater than that of a large pot. Of course the shallow depth of soil in a grow bag has its disadvantages too.

Whatever way we choose to grow tomatoes, there are always pros and cons. The challenge is to find ways to work around the disadvantages that each growing method has, and find a solution.

It Needn’t Be Expensive
After reading the above, you may think that I’m suggesting that the only successful way to grow tomatoes in containers is to use an expensive reservoir system and/or air pots.

While these are very good for growing tomatoes, and I will be using all of the above this season, it’s possible with a bit of ingenuity to make similar systems at a fraction of the cost. More about this in coming newsletters.

As we approach the best time for sowing in the UK, the second half of March, if you haven’t already started you may like to join me in the “sow-along” starting on the 22nd March.

Mainly aimed at those who are new to growing tomatoes or those who find it difficult to get a good crop, it should be fun to follow along!

The article about osmosis will appear in the drop down menu at the top of this page in a day or two – as will other articles over the coming weeks – so come back soon.

May all your seeds germinate!



Seedlings up to four weeks
In the first few weeks it is very important not to over-water seedlings. They will develop a better root system if they are slightly under-watered and encouraged to search for water with their roots.

Seedlings over four weeks
Transplant seedlings after around four weeks into their own small pots.

If you add perlite or vermiculite to the mix, you can water from above as there is no chance of compaction and removal of air.

If you are growing in seed compost or potting compost without perlite or vermiculite, it’s a good idea to water from below in a tray or saucer. It’s also a good idea to allow compost to dry slightly to get plenty of air back into the root zone as the soil dries. Obviously, never allow soil to dry-out completely.

Over-watering will reduce air in compost, slow plant growth and root development and possibly cause root disease.

By allowing compost to dry-out a little just before transplanting helps to make the soil lighter and roots less likely to break.

16 Responses

  1. Rob
    | Reply

    Anyone know the recomended size( litres) for growing tomatoes in an air pot?
    I’m trying 26litre fabric pots this year, but they maybe a little too large

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rob,
      It depends how you grow them. In trays with a capillary wick and a smart or aqua valve you could use a 6 litre for a cherry variety and 10 litre for a medium/salad variety.
      If you are watering them manually it’s best to go for a 10, 12 or 15 litre depending on the fruit size.
      Air pots can dry out quickly so an auto watering valve is the best way to water and is why you can use a smaller pot.

  2. Johann olafsson
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    As always a good news letter. I was tempted to sow this weekend but decided not to as the weather has gone colder. Can’t wait and so have decided to sow this weekend. I grow all my tomatos in containers, deep trays. When they get “stuffed” with roots I use a small fork to loosen up the top soil. This has helped the water flow.

  3. Norma
    | Reply


    Sun shining in Lancashire today, Lovely. I am thinking about Tomato Seeds. Which is the best type of soil to use?


    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Norma,
      Any brand of seed or seed and cutting compost will be fine for sowing tomato seeds.
      For potting on into bigger pots, many gardeners use multi purpose compost … the more you pay, the better quality you get – usually.

  4. Derek Warren
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    As always glad to get your newsletter, last year was my 1st year growing tomato’s in the greenhouse, 10 plants in all Money Maker and Gardeners Delight and I got excellent results from both and it didn’t cost a lot of money, this is how I did it, I bought 3 mtrs of heavy duty Black polyvinyl sheeting off the internet for £3.00, I went to POUNDLAND and bought 10 washing up bowls at £1.00 each then into a local garden center and bought 3 bags of Pea Gravel for £7.00, I cut the polyvinyl into strips 10″ X 24″ and attach the two ends using Duct Tape to form bottomless pots, I 3/4 filled the pots with compost, filled the bowls with gravel stood the pots on top of the gravel and when my plants were ready I put them in……. Outlay, £20 Quid the lot, and the Polyvinyl pots, bowls and gravel will be there for a good few years to come.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Derek,
      That all sounds excellent – plenty of room to keep the roots happy and a reservoir too!

  5. kaldip sabharwal
    | Reply

    sown tomatoes seed on Saturday in thermal plastic cups in john inns no.2 but instead of mixing perlite with compost I have just put a layer on top will this speed fertilising?

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Kaldip,
      I like the idea of the thermal plastic cups!
      The perlite on top of the soil surface won’t make them germinate any faster, but they will have a good white reflective surface below, when they come through which will speed up growth and help prevent the seedlings becoming leggy.

  6. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    Seeds sown on Wednesday starting to poke through. Should be ready to be brought out into the light tomorrow or Tuesday, just in time for a week of sunshine down here. Biodynamic sowing certainly doesn’t harm tomato seeds……

  7. Derek Warren
    | Reply

    Hi Nick.
    With all your knowledge and experience of growing tomato’s you must have a great recipe for Green Tomato Chutney! if you have Nick, how about passing it on…

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Derek,
      This is an area that I have very little experience in, and one I should improve upon.
      My love of spicy food should make any green tomato recipe red hot!
      Later in the season, I’ll put out a request for “tried and trusted” recipes in the newsletter.

  8. paul collins
    | Reply

    sorry if you have replyed before, but which tomatoes do you recomend for growing in pots?
    will sow along on the 22nd.
    thanks for your time and newsletter.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Paul,
      I usually grow bush varieties such as Red Alert and Tumbler in pots and the tall indeterminate varieties in grow bags. Of course it’s possible to grow just about any variety in a large tall pot and they are ideal for keeping bush toms off the ground – unlike grow bags.
      If you are new to growing tomatoes, it’s a good idea to start with a few cherry varieties.
      Regards, Nick

  9. stephen clark
    | Reply

    hi Nick, another great newsletter with thanks, i have given in to temptation and sowing today all my 25 different kinds of tomatoes, happy days

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Steve,
      I think we have some reasonable weather on the way, so now’s as good a time as any.
      In a week’s time you’ll be surrounded by seedlings – great stuff!
      Cheers, Nick

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