While We Wait: Growing Tomatoes in Pots

A few posts ago I think I told you to just start growing some seeds without much regard to where you were eventually going to put the plants. It’s now time to start thinking about it so you can gather all the supplies you’ll need to put those plants outside in about a month.

I’m going to talk about three options – pots, raised beds, and in-ground gardens. There are other options, such as hydroponics, but I don’t have experience with them and the process is different than growing in dirt. (That said I think hydroponics are super interesting and you should check it out if it’s something that sounds like a fun pandemic project!)

For my first few years growing tomatoes, I didn’t have any garden space so I grew my plants in 10 inch pots (pictured). It is a myth that you need a ton of space or a big garden to grow tomatoes! You can successfully grow a relatively large plant with a fairly good yield in an ice cream pail, as long as you make sure to feed and water it enough. 

The second summer in our current house, we built two 4×10’ raised beds in our small back yard, and I rotate my tomatoes between the two beds each year. I have never personally grown tomatoes directly in the ground, but helped my parents with their in-ground garden growing up, and have many people in my circle who have them. 

Originally this was just going to be one post, but it got wayyy too long, so I’m going to break it up, but am posting them all simultaneously so they can be linked. This is Part 1: Pots, click for Part 2: Raised Beds and Part 3: In-Ground Gardens.

If you have any tips or concerns to add, please comment!

Pots

I think pots are a great option for growing tomatoes (especially for beginners), and I have had a few years where I ended up with too many plants for my raised beds so did the rest in pots. A big benefit is that you can move them around if you have variable sun locations throughout the day, and at the end of the season you can even move them indoors to protect from frost or prolong vine-ripening. I also never had to worry about pruning when I grew in pots; the plants were quite good at self-regulating their size (they definitely grew more “up” than “out”). The soil will also be very warm in pots which the tomatoes will enjoy, though watch out for the soil to get cold at the end of the season (the below picture is of my 2012 plants safe and warm in the garage in October). You probably won’t have many, if any, weeds to deal with in pots!

The major issue with pots is that the plants use up the nutrients and water in the soil very quickly, especially if the pots are small (e.g. ice cream pail). Thus they need to be watered at LEAST once a day, maybe twice, and must be heavily fertilized or they won’t grow well or produce much fruit. If you are trying to go all organic/”chemical free”, your options for fertilizer are pretty limited (all I can think of is compost tea) because you won’t have extra space to continually add soil amendments like manure or compost. Your best/easiest bet for feeding tomatoes in pots is frequent applications of Miracle Gro Tomato (use the kind you dissolve in water, not the slow release pellets).

Many garden centres sell pre-potted tomato plants, either dwarf tumbling varieties in hanging baskets or with a built-in cage. These are the ultimate option for building a “lazy garden”; a one-stop-shop if you don’t have ANY supplies at all to start with, and probably the most affordable in terms of startup costs. Just buy some fertilizer and you’re set for the summer!

Pros of Pots: Can move around or indoors in bad weather, don’t take up much space, won’t require much pruning or weeding, soil heats up quickly, can purchase pre-potted and staked

Cons of Pots: Require more frequent watering and fertilizing, soil will cool off faster in the fall, plants may not get as big as they would in the ground

Links to Part 2: Raised Beds and Part 3: In-Ground Gardens

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