Any tomato, regardless of size, can be grown in a container, if the container is large enough to accommodate the tomato’s root system. Home gardeners get best results from determinate tomatoes like Celebrity and a tasty but productive heirloom tomato called Marglobe.
When vegetable gardeners have to work with tiny spaces, they usually choose to plant tomatoes. And when vegetable gardeners only have space for a few containers on the patio or deck, it is most often a tomato plant that goes into the largest container they have.
Tomatoes grown in suitable containers can be extremely productive. A single tomato plant can yield hundreds of fruit in as a single growing season.
It isn’t just cherry tomatoes that yield abundant fruit when they are planted in containers. In this article, we will introduce you to several varieties that grow tomatoes that weigh 8 ounces to a pound (225 to 450 grams) each. Container-grown tomatoes are easy to protect from frost and wind, and it’s easy for gardeners to lavish them with the attention they need for maximum production. But choosing the right variety for your container and your space makes a huge difference in how many tomatoes you get and how they taste.
Container-Grown Tomatoes: Determinate or Indeterminate?
The first choice gardeners need to make in choosing the right tomatoes for their containers is whether they want to plant a determinate variety, or an indeterminate variety. Determinate tomatoes reach a certain height and stop growing. All of their fruit appears in a month or two and then the plant stops producing. Indeterminate tomatoes continue growing and produce fruit all along their stems until frost.
Each kind of tomato has its pros and cons.
- Aren’t as likely to be blown or fall over.
- Don’t need pruning.
- Do better in cages, although some varieties like Better Bush have a strong central stem and don’t need extra support.
Determinate tomatoes are a good choice for gardeners who want home-grown tomatoes for canning or making sauce, and then want to take the rest of the summer off from gardening.
- Produce larger harvests because they fruit all summer long.
- Can be pruned, so the plant produces larger tomatoes.
- Need support, since they can grow 10, 15, or even 20 feet (up to 6 meters) tall.
- Need protection from wind and need to be placed where pets and people won’t accidentally knock them out of their pots.
Indeterminate tomatoes are a good choice for gardeners who want a steady supply of tomatoes all summer long and who don’t mind giving their plants extra attention. There are some varieties of tomatoes that are classified as “semi-determinate,” but they aren’t necessarily a good choice for container gardening.
For container gardening, good choices among determinate tomatoes include the previously mentioned Celebrity and Marglobe plus San Marzano, Better Bush, Totem, Tiny Tim, and Moby Grape. Good choices among indeterminate tomatoes include Husky Red, Patio (referring to the variety of tomato, not the location where it is grown), Jet Star, and Black Krim.
Let’s take a closer look at the growing requirements and potential yields for each of these popular tomatoes for growing in containers.
Specifics About Good Tomatoes for Containers
Here is some more information to help you choose the best tomato plants for containers, given your location. Enjoy eating tomatoes fresh, canning, and making tomato sauces.
- Better Bush is a dwarf tomato that is comfortable in a 10-inch (25 cm) pot. Its fruit are larger than cherry tomatoes, but not big enough that a single slice would cover an entire sandwich. This variety is an excellent choice for growing tomatoes in a windy climate. It needs both regular watering and a well-draining potting mix, or it will suffer water stress.
- Black Krim is an heirloom variety that probably arrived in North America with immigrants from Crimea. It has dark, almost purple flesh and a distinctively tart but sweet taste when it is fully ripe. You will need a container that is bigger than 5 gallons (20 liters) that is at least 12 inches (30 cm) across. Be careful about watering this tomato as the fruit are ripening, or they may crack.
- Celebrity is a determinate tomato that bears large fruit. If you want to grow big tomatoes in a container, this is the variety to try. A major advantage of Celebrity is that it is crack-resistant. Unexpected rain will not ruin ripening fruit.
- Husky Red is a great choice if you like cherry tomatoes. The fruit will only be about 1 inch (25 mm) wide, but they arrive about six weeks after you set out transplants, and continue to produce for six weeks to two months. You can start a second container about six weeks after the first for continuous production.
- Jet Star is famous for producing firm, meaty, low-acid, crack-free tomatoes in cool climates. This variety’s ability to continue setting fruit even when nighttime temperatures fall below 60° F (16° C) make it a favorite in the northern United States and Canada. It’s also a good choice for gardeners in locations that have hot, humid summers, because it is resistant to both fusarium and verticillium wilt.
- Marglobe is an open-pollinated heirloom tomato. What that means is that it bears true to type, and you can save seed and expect the same quality tomato next year. (This isn’t something you can do with hybrid tomatoes.) One of the first tomatoes with resistance to wilt, this heirloom variety is credited with saving the Florida tomato industry in 1917.
- Moby Grape bears sweet, 2-inch (50 mm) long grape tomatoes. This variety is terrific for eating straight from the vine. It is also good for grilling.
- Patio tomatoes only grow 2 feet (60 cm) tall. Their low habit protects them from wind damage and accidental knocking over. A single Patio tomato will produce up to fifty 3- to 4-inch (75 to 100 mm) fruit over an eight-week fruiting season.
- San Marzano is a sauce tomato. This heirloom tomato is an “indeterminate” type, meaning you should stake it just to make sure it doesn’t fall over. Your extra effort will be rewarded by its thick, firm, sweet, low-acid fruit that have relatively few seeds, that arrive over a long growing season until frost. Since San Marzano is open-pollinated, you can save the seeds.
- Tiny Tim is distinctively, well, tiny. It only grows about a foot (30 cm) tall, and it only bears cherry tomatoes. But this tiny powerhouse of tomato production requires no staking or pruning and yields proportionally more tomatoes than larger varieties.
- Totem is a dwarf tomato that grows vertically rather than horizontally. Its vertical habit catches more available sunlight and produces sweeter tomatoes.
These aren’t all the possibilities for highly productive varieties of tomatoes you can grow in containers. Purdue University has developed 12 more varieties of tomatoes for commercial tomato farmers that will be gradually made available to home gardeners.