Containers forum: How big should my tomato containers be?

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Name: Speck
(Zone 7b)
Speckledgiraffe
Dec 30, 2017 7:38 AM CST
Hello all,
This year I'm branching out a bit and trying to grow two types of tomatoes (homestead and German Johnson), cayenne pepper, two types of bell peppers, (yolo wonder and chocolate beauty), celery, and ancho chilies on my back deck.
I'm just a bit stumped as to what to put them in. One website says they'll do fine in 5 gallon containers, another 7, and Bonnie plants says the tomatoes and peppers need at minimum 15-25 gallon containers.
Do I need to go as high as 25? Can I get by with 5 or 7? What are some inexpensive alternatives to the nursery pots I can find online (which would run me $60-$100 when factoring in saucers.)?
Thanks!
[Last edited by Speckledgiraffe - Dec 30, 2017 7:40 AM (+)]
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Name: Julia
Washington State (Zone 7a)
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springcolor
Dec 30, 2017 10:05 PM CST
@newyorkrita I know you grow many tomatoes on your driveway.
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Name: Rita
North Shore, Long Island, NY
Zone 6B
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Newyorkrita
Dec 31, 2017 10:59 AM CST
I grow many veggies in big containers but I really don't much like to grow tomatoes in pots. They simply just get too big. But if you want to stick to ones made for container growing such as PATIO or the Dwarf Project tomatoes then that would work out well in 5 gallon buckets or something similar.
Name: Sue
SF Bay Area, CA (Zone 9b)
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Zuni
Jan 2, 2018 11:41 PM CST
I've grown lots of tomatoes in pots. Everyone has their own way of growing tomatoes, but what I learned and what's worked for me, is the idea that for great tomato plants, it's all about the roots. So, the bigger the pot the better.

I've used cheap large plastic ones that you can get for around $5 and sometimes less - just big black plastic ones like you get at the nursery. Just use a search engine and enter "15 gallon plastic nursery pot."

There's a guy on YouTube who shows the technique that I use, which is - start the tomato in the pot farther down into the pot than you normally would. As the tomato grows, you remove the bottom branches, and add more soil. You'll get more roots where the branches were. Keep doing that, until the plant is at the normal height for the pot.

They need lots of food. It's great if you can start off with some really nutrient-rich soil, and then I used to use a liquid watered down fertilizer every time I watered mine.

If you want more tomatoes vs. really big tomatoes, you cut off the branches at the main trunk, and leave the little suckers to grow out - because they produce the fruit.

If you want really big tomatoes, remove more of the suckers, so the plant concentrates on fewer tomatoes and gives them the energy - instead of using energy to produce more smaller fruits.

And, in case you didn't know, tomatoes don't need to be pollinated, as they have both male and female parts within each bloom. But, they do benefit from being "tickled" - just wiggle the plants a bit whenever you water them. Makes their tomato plant smell come out, too, which I love :-)

Last time I grew some, I grew them inside on a huge dresser with a grow light - some nice cherry tomatoes. I watered them with liquid fertilizer watered down every time, and tickled them daily, which made my house smell like tomato plants - and I got tons of tomatoes and no whiteflies! Hurray!
Name: Kristi
east Texas pineywoods (Zone 8a)
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pod
Jan 6, 2018 7:24 AM CST
Each year I grow five tomato plants in 5 gallon containers. For me that makes it easier to keep them watered and fed in a container. The roots will reach to the bottom of the container. When the roots are fully developed, it will require more water.

I have friends that use the 5 gallon buckets with drain holes drilled in the base. These buckets can be purchased at some of the home improvement stores.

I think the expense of filling 15 to 20 gal containers would not be feasible. Also a large container might be too heavy for a deck. It will be heavier when wet. You are a better judge of where you will place it.

A large (15-20 gallon) container will work if you plant multiple plants in it. Perhaps that would work better for you if floor surface is limited.

One thing to take into account when growing tomatoes in containers is the type of tomato you are growing. Indeterminate (vining) will require more weight at the base and must have adequate room to sprawl or trellis to climb. Determinate can be staked but may also get top heavy if they get weighted with tomatoes. I believe both of your choices are determinate.

Hope you let us know what you chose. Good luck... Thumbs up
Be content moving inch by inch because, by days end, the inches, will add up to feet and yards.

Fulfilling ambitious objectives is usually done one step at a time.
Name: Larry
Burleson, Texas (Zone 8a)
fredeboy1
Jan 6, 2018 8:57 AM CST
My pots are about 35 gallon but my tomatoes do really well ever year. I mix in a bag of Black Kow composted manure to each pot each year. Good luck with yours
Thumb of 2018-01-06/fredeboy1/5970cd

Name: Frenchy
Falls Church, VA (Zone 7b)
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Frenchy21
Jan 6, 2018 12:32 PM CST
@Zuni your method for planting the tomatoes could work for me. Smiling I will try 4 tomatoes in 15 gallon pots and the rest in the ground. this year. I normally plant about 8 to 10 indeterminate plants each year but have been putting them in the same spot for at least 20 years.
Thumb of 2018-01-06/Frenchy21/5cd133

I have nowhere else to put them so I think I need to switch to large pots for a while. How much soil do you need for a 15 gallon pot @Zuni? and what kind? Do you use potting soil mixed with compost? Also which food do you feed them? Thanks for your and all the others' contributions on this thread. Very helpful.

Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids Tropicals Region: Mexico
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lauriebasler
Jan 7, 2018 10:21 PM CST
@Zuni, I copied and pasted your expert advice on growing tomatos to my gardening journal notes. Thank you for a fantastic guide. My tomato plants I have grown in 15 gallon pots, have been by far the best. I am sure they don't do as well as yours as my growing season is shorter, but I am excited to utilize your information. Thank you.
Name: Sue
SF Bay Area, CA (Zone 9b)
Container Gardener Canning and food preservation Dog Lover
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Zuni
Jan 8, 2018 10:44 PM CST
Frenchy21 said:@Zuni your method for planting the tomatoes could work for me. Smiling I will try 4 tomatoes in 15 gallon pots and the rest in the ground. this year. I normally plant about 8 to 10 indeterminate plants each year but have been putting them in the same spot for at least 20 years.
Thumb of 2018-01-06/Frenchy21/5cd133

I have nowhere else to put them so I think I need to switch to large pots for a while. How much soil do you need for a 15 gallon pot @Zuni? and what kind? Do you use potting soil mixed with compost? Also which food do you feed them? Thanks for your and all the others' contributions on this thread. Very helpful.



@Frenchy21 Uh oh, one of my favorite subjects...prepare for a way too long post LOL...

What fun! I really think you could plant tomatoes in the same space forever, as long as you feed them, and add some good stuff to the soil when you plant them. But, to your questions:

Good question on the 15 gallon pot and how much soil you need - not sure - but, as a point of reference, I just planted my Zuni crape myrtle tree (X-mas present to myself) in a pot that is just a little under 2 feet square. The Zuni was in a 5 gallon pot, and I put that plus 72 quarts of soil in that giant pot (four 16 quart bags of Black Gold and 2 cheapo 4 quart bags of potting soil from Dollar Tree because I needed some more and was too lazy to drive farther to get better soil LOL). I found a calculator online and that equals about 2.8 cubic feet of soil.

For a 15 gallon pot, I'd guess it would be 1/2 of that, roughly. So, around 36 quarts (2-16 quart bags, maybe?) Or about 1 cubic foot. Here's the calculator I found:

http://www.metric-conversions....

My favorite soil right now is expensive, and I am not buying a lot of it, so keep that in mind. I use Black Gold, which is organic and just simply amazing stuff from my results so far with my bougainvillea and freesia bulbs and some cuttings I have going. I have found it on Walmart and on Staples, believe it or not. I have Staples rewards, so last time I bought some Black Gold soil from Staples with my rewards. Walmart has the best price, though.

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Bla...

I've looked at reviews for other soils and haven't been impressed. I personally have had bad results using the Miracle Grow soils that you find at Home Depot, etc., even though I've had good results using their fertilizer. I'm not impressed with their soil. Otherwise, I just bought whatever veggie soil that I could afford for my containers and fertilized them with Miracle Grow in a liquid form. I'm trying to be more organic now, but admit I'm not a purist. I don't use non-organic pesticides, but I will use synthetic fertilizers. I think you can use a cheaper soil, if you are religious about feeding, but I have learned with the Black Soil, that if you get a great soil, you don't have to feed as much, at least not for a while.

My new favorite Youtube guy is nctomatoman and he uses a cheaper soil that he swears by for both seedlings and plants. Can't remember the name of it, but he mentions it in this video where he shows how he dense-plants tomato seedlings - I am going to try this method, as I think it's brilliant. He sprouts seedlings all jammed close together in a cell, then separates them and buries them deep in their pots, getting better roots really early. Very cool. I bookmarked it, so I could also re-visit what soil he uses, too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

As far as fertilizer - I admit that I used the Miracle Grow that is for tomatoes/veggies when I grew mine indoors, and when I grew tomatoes in containers outside with great results. I understand Miracle Grow is owned by Monsanto, so you may or may not want to give them your business. It's a simple synthetic fertilizer - so not dangerous to the environment, and safe on edibles, but not certified organic.

What I've done in the past, though, when I could plant them in the ground - and would enable you to keep growing yours in the same space over and over - is to dig a great big hole for my tomatoes, then fill that hole with composted manure & some soil mixed in, but mostly composted manure. If you can afford any organic soil amendments, you could add that, too. I never added any other kind of fertilizer when I used to just grow mine in the ground, except for really well-composted manure. I happened to have some in a barn, but you should be able to buy it. And it would be way cheaper than buying organic soil.

Then, you put a bunch of the composted manure into the hole, then put your tomato plant in the hole, but don't fill the hole all the way back up yet (unless you have to worry about a big rain storm filling the hole up with water). Then, as it grows, you prune the bottom leaves, and add more soil. By the way, this also works great with potatoes, but with potatoes, you just keep piling straw around the plants as they grow. Then, you can just lift up the straw and grab a few potatoes for dinner! Works famously.

Here's a guy on Youtube that I really like, who I mentioned in the previous post. He explains how to plant the tomato down into a pot (or the soil) and trim the side shoots and then keep burying it as it grows, to give you more/better roots:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

He has great tomato tips on doing it the way I do it. He actually inspired me to try growing them indoors in my apartment and it worked great. I had never grown them inside before, and when I was searching for videos, I found him.

Since you have the space, it might be cheaper and easier for you to just get a bunch of composted manure and dig some holes and plant your tomatoes in the ground. Watering would be way easier, too. You could mulch them. I really don't think you need to worry about wearing out the soil - not if you dig holes and add a bunch of composted manure, so you're amending the soil. Plus, I bet the worms would find it and help you out, too. Smiling

You can manage how tall they get by pruning them when they get to a height you want them to stop at. That nctomatoman shows how he actually was growing some tomatoes in containers that were really small containers, and he was aggressively pruning them to get them to flower and produce fruit more quickly. And he explains how to prune them to keep them to the size you want them to be.

I always did a modified version of that. I didn't want to deal with all of the work it would take to manage them to that degree, so I just got bigger pots and only pruned in order to get maximum production out of my tomatoes.

As you can see, even though I don't have the space for a huge garden anymore, I'm still addicted to seeing what other gardeners do and I love learning new techniques, etc., and the youtube guys above not only do what I learned, but have taken it to another level, and they're really good at explaining it with visuals that make it easy to see and learn.

I'm jealous of all of your tomato space! I'm going to try growing some plants for sale in my bedroom in my apartment this year. So, I was psyched to learn nctomatoman's technique for getting nice, bushy seedlings, so I can ask top dollar. Since I can't grow them all to fruit, I can still grow a bunch of them to sell and enjoy that part of the process anyway.
[Last edited by Zuni - Jan 8, 2018 11:24 PM (+)]
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Name: Sue
SF Bay Area, CA (Zone 9b)
Container Gardener Canning and food preservation Dog Lover
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Zuni
Jan 8, 2018 11:06 PM CST
lauriebasler said:@Zuni, I copied and pasted your expert advice on growing tomatos to my gardening journal notes. Thank you for a fantastic guide. My tomato plants I have grown in 15 gallon pots, have been by far the best. I am sure they don't do as well as yours as my growing season is shorter, but I am excited to utilize your information. Thank you.


@lauriebasler I bet yours are great! I'm just older than you, so have tried more techniques, maybe. But, everybody has their own special tomato magic, it's just what works for you or what you enjoy.

As far as a shorter season - that's where I learned about tomatoes - when I used to live in the mountains in WA state. The locals have a saying about the weather - "We have 9 months of winter, and 3 months of bad sledding." LOL. So, I learned from the local tomato wizards how to get ripe tomatoes before the frost. One trick is giving them lots of food in their planting hole, so their roots are happy and send lots of food into the plant. But, honestly, the main trick is to find varieties that will get ripe in a short growing season.

Hence, my love of heirloom cherry tomato varieties. My favorite is the little yellow pear shaped one. You can get millions of them. And the smaller roma varieties for canning.

You just learn to grow what will work, so it's not depressing. In other words - forget trying to grow Mortgage Lifter or Beefsteak varieties LOL. But, there's still lots you can grow. I lived up there for nearly 20 years, so that's actually where my knowledge was acquired for most of the gardening I learned. I actually know a lot more about growing short-season crops than anything else.

Anyway, thanks for the kind post. I'm jealous of your garden space. I'm living vicariously through all of you with lots of space to grow things. It's also a lot of work, though...I don't miss that part... Smiling
Name: Frenchy
Falls Church, VA (Zone 7b)
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Frenchy21
Jan 8, 2018 11:34 PM CST
@Zuni thank you so much for all the good information and the links too. Smiling I can't wait to start planting my tomatoes late this spring. Hurray!
Name: Sue
SF Bay Area, CA (Zone 9b)
Container Gardener Canning and food preservation Dog Lover
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Zuni
Jan 8, 2018 11:41 PM CST
@Frenchy21 you're so welcome. Thanks for giving me a reason to blab about tomatoes LOL. I do tend to be long-winded...
Name: Frenchy
Falls Church, VA (Zone 7b)
Container Gardener Dog Lover Houseplants Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Tomato Heads Hostas
Tropicals Annuals Foliage Fan Aroids Cactus and Succulents Sempervivums
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Frenchy21
Jan 8, 2018 11:47 PM CST
I'm keeping you on file as my tomato expert. Hilarious! I'll probably have more questions when I plant this next crop. Green Grin!
Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids Tropicals Region: Mexico
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lauriebasler
Jan 9, 2018 1:57 AM CST
Just very generous with your time, Thank you Zuni.
Name: Sue
SF Bay Area, CA (Zone 9b)
Container Gardener Canning and food preservation Dog Lover
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Zuni
Jan 9, 2018 8:29 PM CST
@frenchy21 and @lauriebasler - you are kind to an old gardener Smiling I'm always happy to share what I know and my opinion. Just be prepared for too much information when I respond, usually LOL.
Name: Frenchy
Falls Church, VA (Zone 7b)
Container Gardener Dog Lover Houseplants Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Tomato Heads Hostas
Tropicals Annuals Foliage Fan Aroids Cactus and Succulents Sempervivums
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Frenchy21
Jan 9, 2018 8:41 PM CST
Thumbs up
Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids Tropicals Region: Mexico
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lauriebasler
Jan 9, 2018 11:49 PM CST
Never too much help. nodding
Name: Speck
(Zone 7b)
Speckledgiraffe
Jan 10, 2018 6:36 AM CST
@zuni thank you for the wonderful advice!! This is so helpful. I'll definitely try our your tips this season

justinpeterson96
Jul 12, 2018 11:26 AM CST
I usually grow my tomatoes on potes, try to do the same if intrests you
Name: Tony Xia
(Zone 2a)
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kneepadinserts
Jul 16, 2018 9:34 PM CST
woo, too many tomatoes on your driveway!

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