Grow Space-Saving Tomatoes

While everyone enjoys a large, ripe tomato straight from the garden, sometimes there's just not enough room in our small yards to grow the huge plants needed to produce those fruits. Luckily there are tomato varieties that are just right for someone with limited space. Whether you're growing just one cherry tomato plant in a raised bed for salads, or are squeezing in some bush varieties in a planter for sandwiches, there is a tomato for almost any situation.

Here are some of the best tomato varieties for small spaces and tips for growing them in containers.

Cherry Tomatoes

The world of cherry tomatoes is colorful and diverse. You can grow red, pink, gold, and even black cherry tomatoes. What's great about cherry tomatoes is their productivity. You can feed an army of tomato lovers from a few plants. While most cherry tomato varieties are indeteminate plants (the plants keep growing larger and larger until frost, diseases, insects, or you stop them), there are some newer varieties that grow in a more compact form. If you want lots of tomatoes but only have room for one or two plants, grow some cherry tomatoes. Here are some of the best varieties to try.

'Sugary' - This very sweet, hybrid, red cherry tomato has fruit with a pointed end. It grows abundantly in clusters like grapes on a vine. This widely adapted plant grows more compact than most cherry tomato varieties.

'Small Fry' - This hybrid, red variety produces round, juicy fruits weighing less than 1 ounce. The compact plants are also disease resistant, making them good choices in hot, humid climates where diseases are a problem.

'Large Red Cherry' - These large, vigorous, indeteminate plants produce high yields of globe-shaped, red fruits with firm flesh.

'Black Cherry' - This new hybrid produces large, burgundy-colored, round cherry tomatoes on vigorous plants. The fruits have a wild, sweet, complex flavor. A real novelty!

'Sungold' - This classic hybrid gold cherry tomato produces an abundance of some of the sweetest fruits on the market.

'Patio' - This hybrid is a great container tomato. It grows only 2 feet tall and wide and produces red tomatoes that are a little larger than regular cherry tomatoes. The plants are also disease resistant.

Bush Tomatoes

For years the holy grail of tomato breeding has been a bush plant that produces abundant fruits. Full-sized plants take up too much room, and dwarf plants don't produce fruits for long periods of time. Recently the quest has been reached. There is a new group called "dwarf-indeterminate" tomatoes. These plants stay bushy (less than 3 feet tall) like dwarf plants but keep producing lots of fruits until frost like indeterminate plants. Here are a few varieties to try:

'Bush Celebrity' - 'Celebrity' is a well-known, tasty, red variety that is widely adapted. 'Bush Celebrity' features the same high quality, 7- to 8-ounce fruits, but grows on only a 15-inch-tall, disease-resistant plant.

'Husky Gold' - These disease-resistant plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and produce flavorful, golden-colored, 5- to 7-ounce fruits.

Tomatillo

There are some interesting and tasty tomato relatives to grow as well. Tomatillo is a popular fruit that's used primarily in making salsa, salads, relishes, and Mexican dishes such as tacos. Unlike tomatoes, tomatillo fruits are produced inside papery husks that turn a tan color when ripe. The bushy plants produce a high yield of fruits rich in vitamin C.

'Toma Verde' - This plant grows 3 to 4 feet wide and tall. It produces large numbers of 2- to 3-inch-diameter green fruits.

'Purple' - This tomatillo variety is as decorative as it is edible. The plants produce 1- to 2-inch-diameter, purple-skinned fruits that add color to salads and salsas.

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

All the varieties mentioned here make perfect container plants. Ideally, choose a container with a 25- to 30-gallon capacity; a durable plastic pot or a whiskey half barrel works well. If your summers are very hot, use a light-colored container that won't absorb the sun's heat and burn the plants' roots. Don't use a container made of metal; it will get too hot for good root growth.

For proper drainage drill six 1/2- to 3/4-inch-diameter holes into the bottom of the container if it doesn't have any. Cover the holes with window screen to prevent soil from washing out.

Fill the container with a soilless potting mix. Don't add unsterilized compost to the soil or line the bottom of the container with rocks; both can introduce disease to the potting soil. Add a time-release fertilizer and 1 ounce of pelletized dolomitic limestone per gallon of potting mix to protect against blossom end rot. Keep the soil evenly watered.

Cage or stake plants that grow larger than 2 feet tall. Keep fruits picked. The more you pick, the more you get. Move the container to the sunniest spots on your deck or patio and protect it from fall frosts to extend the season.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Tomato Blossoms Dropping

Q. I'm growing 'Big Boy' plants. They're flowering well but not setting fruit. What am I doing wrong?

A. Tomato blooms may drop for a number of reasons, most of them environmental. When daytime temperatures are too hot (above 90 degrees F), the nights too cool (below 55 degrees F) or soil too dry or wet, the blossoms will often drop. Shade plants during hot days, place floating row covers over them during cool nights, and keep the soil evenly moist with mulch and soaker hoses.

Another possible reason for blossom drop is poor pollination. Tomatoes don't need bees to pollinate the flowers, but they do need motion. You might try shaking the plants gently once a day in the middle of the morning to see if that helps. You can also spray a commercial bloom set product to help fruits form.

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