Tomato Container size?

Pitbull309(6)June 1, 2005

I have just started to grow cherry tomato in a container about 18 inches wide(not sure of the capacity) I was wondering will this effect the growth and will I get any tomatos from it? I live in an apartment and it gets a full days sun ( I live on the lower level and move it out in full sun in the AM. I have also have been watering with Miracle grow but not sure if I give Miracle grow watering every time. Any help or input would be great!

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Howdy Pitbull,

There is a search function for this forum and you can learn a lot very fast.

You have hit on two of the two most discussed questions around.

If you keep an eye on your tomato plant and give it what it asks for when it asks for it, you will be just fine.

Plants grown in containers have to be watered more frequently than plants grown in the ground. How much more frequently, well, you just have to do what is best for your particular space. It can help to stick your finger down into the soil to check for wetness.

The standard advice is to use fertilizer every third watering. However, that is just your starting point. You should adjust your fertilizer schedule to your specific plant's situation.

Many people use Miracle Grow and are happy with it. Many other people think that some fertilizers can give plants a "metallic" taste.

Try what you want and use what you like.

My question is, how come you only have one plant?

If you had two tomato plants then you could try Miracle Grow on one and some more organic fertilizer on the other. Then you could tell us which tastes better and which grew faster.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 9:21PM
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JerseyJohn61(z6b NJ)

Bravo DRK boss! Pitbull's, his advice is right on the nose. However, have you considered staking the plant? If not, don't allow it to sprawl on the deck or it will become unmovable. Consider using a large tomato cage. Simply cut off several inches of the leg wires so that the cage fits in the pot firmly. The plant will happily grow up the caging and cascade over the side; harvest will be easy pickins'. In sunny,hot,and dry conditions, water daily. Soak the pot half to completely. Consider diluting liquid fertilizer so that it gets no more then a full dose a week. In other words use the Miracle-grow so that its at full,1/2 1/4,or 1/5 of it's usual strength when watering in nourish-ment. Hope I'm helping and not confusing. Just don't over fertilize and cherry tomatoes will payoff like a slot-machine on a balcony. best of luck,
Jersey J 61

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 12:22AM
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spygrrl(5b Chicago IL)

I haven't seen anyone address the container size question, just the watering. I did a search on both "tomato" and "tomatoes" but didn't see this addressed so here goes. I decided to revive this old thread since its title was perfect and the prior answers didn't address the size issue.

My mom had a bunch of tomato plants she couldn't fit in her yard. Though it may be too late in the season I said I'd give them a shot. I could only fit 7 in my bed, I now have a half dozen left.

These are INdeterminate and not the patio-type (determinate) tomatoes. So these babies will grow.

What is the minimum size container I can use and still get *good* results? I'm a bit cash strapped at the moment. Luckily I've plenty of good medium...I just need to buy the containers. I don't want to inhibit their growth though, so the cheapest *appropriate* size is what I need to know.

I've seen mentions of 5, 10 and 18 gallon but have no idea if those were for determinate or indeterminate plants.

Any advice much appreciated!


    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 3:52PM
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Spygrrl -- I can offer some advice from experience about container sizes but I'm not too sure what'll happen once you take mature plants and attempt to shoehorn them into a pot. Regardless, we're talking about growing plants not performing surgery!

I've found that 5 gallon construction or paint buckets, like the kind found at a Lowe's or Home Depot, work really well. I've got five indeterminate -- albeit cherry -- tomato plants in such containers and they are growing like wild. Using stakes, tying them up, and pruning suckers will help keep the indeterminates in line. One of my plants has overshot the top of a six-foot stake! Some height restrictions might be in order soon.

In years past I had used a 3 or 4 gallon pots, which didn't work well at all. The indeterminates were stunted and had to be watered just about twice a day as opposed to just every morning with the 5 gallon containers.

5 gallon pots are a good starting point but if you could find something bigger, you might want to give that a go.

Good luck!
Let us know how you make out!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2005 at 7:50AM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

I'll agree with tpl108 regarding the 5-gallon as a good minimum for tomatoes. I have a San Marzano (which is a paste-type determinant) in a 5-gallon and it has some nice fruit set. I have a Cherokee Purple indeterminant in a 14 gallon Rubbermaid storage tote. I probably could have put that in something smaller but it was a convenient type of container and pretty stable.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2005 at 6:59PM
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spygrrl(5b Chicago IL)

Thanks for your replies! I was thinking that 5 gal was too small, and was looking at the 18 gal rubbermaid totes.

Based on what you guys have said, I'll perhaps opt for the 10 gallon totes for the yellow pear, and 10 or 18 gal for the others. Most of what she gave me wasn't labeled, so I'm going to be safe and assume that none are cherry or globe. I figure if I assume they're beefsteaks, that 10 or 18 gal should be large enough.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 19, 2005 at 11:41AM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

I've learned my lesson this year with 5 gallons...don't try putting beefsteak/mortgage lifters in them! I've never had such stressed plants. The cherries have done fine in the 5gallon.

Oh and learn!

    Bookmark   July 21, 2005 at 9:37AM
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Tyrell(Zone 9, CA)

Hi Pitbull,

Don't know if you'll see this after the time that's passed since you posted, but I have quite a few comments. Read most of the other entries.
First, on the best size pot. Tomatoes can, if they're in the ground and soil conditions permit, get roots up to 6 feet deep! So obviously just about any container isn't going to be "big enough." But it just means the plant will stay smaller. (Bonzais are just normal trees whose root growth is severely restricted. They were first found growing in shallow depressions on rocks.)
Second, on the watering. I've given the subject of watering plants in pots a lot of thought over the years. There are three simple things you could do to significanly reduce how often you need to water, which will also make your plants happier:
1. Put a nice thick layer of grass clippings on top of the soil.(More about them below.) They will keep the soil cooler and much moister between waterings. Since you live in an apartment, maybe clippings would be hard for you to get, but their benefits would be worth a little trouble aquiring some.
2. Shade the pots, at least froom the hot afternoon sun. Remember, only the plant, not the pot, needs sun. Some pot materials can get hot enough to cook roots close to the inside of the pot. Simply leaning something, like a piece of plywood, against the pot will prevent that. And keeping the pot cooler will keep the plant cooler. That means it will transpire- sweat-less, so need less water.
3. Put a saucer or something under the pot to collect and hold water. Soil shrinks when it dries out. So often in pots, that creates a space between the soil and the inside of the pot. People water, see water run out the drainage holes,and mistakenly think the soil has been moistened. But most of the root ball is sill bone dry. If water is collected by a saucer under the pot, it then can be slowly drawn back up into the rootball by capillary action. This is the principle behind "self watering" pots.

On fertilzing, I always look for the cheapest, easiest, and simplest ways to do anything. That is why I've used mainly grass clippings- with some kitchen scraps, a few leaves, and crop residues thrown in- for fertilizer for 34 years. Besides reducing watering by keeping the soil cooler and moister, a layer of grass clippings will provide all the nutrients your plants need. And they will do it in a better way than any commercial fertilizer. The Miracle Grow you mention, for instance, can supply too much nitrogen too quickly. That inteferes with the uptake of phosphorous, which is crucial to fruit set. If a tomato gets too much N but not enough P, you get great foliage but actually fewer fruit. This can never happen with grass clippings. They provide all the nutrients in the right balance, the right form, at the right time, and in more than sufficient quantity.
Add to this that they also eliminate weeds, and they can't be beat.
Two tips on using them, if you haven't before.
1. Always water thoroughly before you apply the clippings, so they can "lock in" the moisture. And then let them dry out a while before you wet them, to reduce the chance they'll smell a little.
2. Make a collar from a yogurt cup to put around the stem. You don't want the clippings to ever touch the stems of your plants, especially when they're fresh. The moisture in them could rot the stems and damage or even kill the plant.

I have some suggestions on supporting the plant, too, but they'll have to wait for another day. Pooped.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 8:57AM
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*jotting down notes from Tyrell* I love the board in front of the pots idea. Since I don't have taller plants to shade my other ones, this is a very helpful (and simple, durr) suggestion. Any other suggestions you have regarding keeping containers cool and full of moisture, I'd love to hear it. :) Thanks. Minns

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 3:49PM
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Thank you for the information on this posting. I need some advice...I am new to container gardening and planted a Better Bush tomato plant in a container that is probably smaller than 5 gal. It has three well-developing fruit and a number of flowers. Should I transplant it to a larger container now, or should I wait until the roots are coming out of the bottom? I don't know if I should wait for hotter weather in July or do it now. We have had a recent cool phase but now the temps are back up into the 80s and low 90s. The plant looks very healthy...Any advice is much appreciated!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2006 at 2:54PM
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jmhewitt(8a Coastal NC)

life is too short to grow tomatoes in any container that is NOT self would need to water several times a day, at least anywhere where temperatures go into the 80s.

IMO, the minimum size is 5 gallons in a self watering container (ie, two of the 5 gallon containers from HD/Lowes) or even wallboard compound containers, which are about 4 gallons.

I would grow any size tomato in either of these, but they will be smaller in these containers than in larger ones.

my choice for an Indeterminant tomato would be an EarthBox (which can take two indeterminants) or about a 16-20" self watering container, such as Gardners Supply has.

if you are NOT going to use a SelfWatering container, then use a real big one (15+ gallons) and put a wick in it like Al Tapia recommends.

Michael in Hampstead, NC with about 35 tomatoes in containers.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2006 at 11:49PM
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Apartment living provides a disadvantage for the home gardener for sure. But the simple answer to your question is yes just about any size pot will affect your plants growth but not necessarily in a negative way. I've seen potted tomatoes reach 6' tall.

The best size? For the width: with potted plants of any kind go 2x the diameter of the matured plant to avoid burning the roots and plant the tomatoes in the center.(typically roots are as wide as the matured plant is)

A good rule of thumb for depth is about 24 inches depth. Most tomato plants I have planted had the root systems only 18" deep.

Also Use a small to medium tomato cage for support and when the plant reaches about 5-6" cut the top.You will want to pinch off any buds while it gets to the desired height( I know it kills you to do this but patience really is a good thing with this)

Learn pruning techniques as well for better quality fruits

As far as fertilization don't use miracle grow at every watering. Use your miracle grow watering once at planting, then when fruit starts to set. After that you can use fertilizer as fruit is setting maybe every week to 2 weeks. Be careful to use small amounts of fertilizer though, too much will burn up your plant. If you want another alternative I'll have a link to a video series for making your own organic compost tea. It's a much better alternative than miracle grow though(maybe a thought for the future)

In apartment living Compost tea is very possible and viable to make you can get all the materials from walmart for about $28.00 and the organic compost to start with from $2-$4.00 a bag.

Anyway good luck

Here is a link that might be useful: Making Compost Tea

    Bookmark   March 14, 2011 at 11:13AM
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"Also Use a small to medium tomato cage for support and when the plant reaches about 5-6" cut the top.You will want to pinch off any buds while it gets to the desired height( I know it kills you to do this but patience really is a good thing with this) "

When the plant is 5-6" above the top of the cage top it off is what I meant to put sorry for the mistake

    Bookmark   March 14, 2011 at 11:18AM
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I've decided to use 5-gallon Grow Bags. I was going to use the 15-gallon size after reading an article on the subject that recommended 20-gallons. I even bought some, but after seeing how quickly that size exhausted my supply of Vermiculite and Peat Moss, I decided to be more realistic. Maybe 20-gallon pots produce the optimum growth and production, but not of my wallet. It's 5-gallons for me, and if that means smaller plants and less production, so be it.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 12:49AM
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First year growing...just thought you should know before reading my post :)

It's interesting that everyone says you need to water so much. I have gone well over a week without watering mine on several occasions, and find that the soil is still moist upon digging down 4 or 5 inches. I usually give them some water anyways once a week or so, but I don't feel that they need it. About the top inch has dried out at most so far.

On container size, I think 5 gallons is too small. I've been using the 5 gallon paint buckets from Lowe's with about 20 or so holes drilled in the bottom and rocks to promote drainage. For the fall I have two tomatoes on one plant and three on my other. Days are still in the 70s - 80s and I bring them in if night time gets below 50s. They have tons of dead flowers just sitting on the plant not doing anything for weeks. Vertical growth seems to have halted as well. They sprung up very quickly for about 3 or 4 feet and then plateaued. They look plenty healthy, just small and unproductive.

I spoke to my grandfather, who used to grow amazing gardens, and he even said he's never had luck with container tomatoes. He also said 5 gallons is not much for a tomato root system. Not saying that it can't be done (obviously some people have success), but I think I'll be building an in-ground garden next year.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 9:39AM
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Definitely useful information.

A fifteen gallon container will be very appropriate for one or two tomatoes (cherry variety - one for larger tomatoes). My experience gas shown your plants will produce a lot of fruit in this container size. The main limitation is space to place them somewhere.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 12:10AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

The thread is 8 years old.
Probably the OP is not here any more and his quest for the right size container is history already.

But the issue seems to be never ending : TOMATO CONTAINER SIZE.

The Jury is still out and there is no definite verdict. I personally have seen in pictures and videos many growing them in 5 gal. buckets. Then 10 gal. containers seems to more of the norm.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 2:41PM
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My beefsteak tomato plants looked fantastic from the time I transplanted them until they had a month to grow in their 5 gallons self-watering containers. Now that the plants, which are indeterminate , are large they look ordinary. They are pot bound in the containers. I have been dumping neptune's harvest and chickity doo doo in the containers to attempt to improve them.

My cherry tomatoes, in similar 5 gallon containers, look fabulous.

5 gallon containers are too small for tomatoes bearing large fruit. Cherry tomatoes will do fine though.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 11:24AM
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5 gallon containers can grow large tomatoes
if you water them properly!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 10:17PM
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A couple of really good posts above...even if they are old. haha. If you wade through these posts, and can figure out who knows what they are talking about...and who doesn't. The subjects of container size, ferts, watering, and over-heated pots pretty much covers it all. Newbies have a great advantage by reading on forums like this one. Enjoy those maters!

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 9:34AM
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