Six ways to grow more tomatoes in containers

Tomatoes are the perfect crop for small spaces: rewarding, productive and delicious.

Few people know more about growing tomatoes in containers than Nick Chenhall, tomato enthusiast and the man behind the excellent  Tomato Growing website.

In the video below, Nick shares his six top tips to get a big crop of tasty tomatoes. Watch the video till the very end to discover that tomato growing is not Nick’s only talent!

In a nutshell Nick’s six top tips are:

1. Choose the right size container for the variety

  • At least a six litre (1.5 gallon) for dwarf, bush types or vining cherry tomatoes.
  • At least a ten litre (2 gallon) for a larger beefsteak tomato.

2. Grow cherry tomatoes rather than big beefsteak tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes grow and ripen more easily, and will usually give you a better crop. Dwarf, bush cherry tomatoes (perfect for small pots and hanging baskets) recommended by Nick include

  • Minibel
  • Microtom
  • Tom Thumb
  • Balconi Red
  • Balconi Yellow

And vine cherry tomatoes varieties Nick recommends include

  • Black cherry
  • Gardeners delight
  • Sungold (F1)
  • Sun Cherry Premium (F1)

Chose a non F1 variety if you want to save your own seeds – it’s easy to do with tomatoes (here’s how).

3. Ensure the roots of your tomatoes receive a good supply of air.

  • Add 10 – 20% perlite to your growing mix
  • Use an Airpot or drill lots of small holes in the side of your pot for the roots to breathe.
  • Or, insert a tube with holes drilled in it, into the growing mix.

4. Support your tomatoes with stakes or strings.

  • Bush tomatoes also benefit from support.

5. When watering, it’s important the whole soil area is saturated with water.

  • Add a cup of used washing up water to your watering can once every couple of weeks. This acts as a wetting agent, and helps re-wet areas that have dried out.

6. Feed little and often

  • Nick recommends using a tomato feed, diluted more than on the instructions and used more often.
  • For example, you might feed half the recommended dose twice as often.

Your turn

What’s your favourite tomato variety or tomato growing tip? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

More tomato growing tips from Nick for Vertical Veg Community subscribers – including the best organic feeds,  how to train tomatoes, and the benefits of transplanting baby tomato plants into transparent plastic beer mugs!

35 thoughts on “Six ways to grow more tomatoes in containers”

  1. I spent three years at the beginning of the last decade trying out a lot of varieties to grow in pots and saved seeds from them each year. After three years of screening, I ended up with seven varieties I now use as my ‘fail safe’ strains for growing tomatoes outdoors in pots (I live in NW London, but don’t have a polytunnel or greenhouse).

    Those strains are:
    Cherries: Black Cherry, Maskotka and Red Alert (Red Alert have also done very very well outdoors in my garden soil the past two summers).
    Salads: Alicante and Tigerella.
    Beefsteaks: Black Russian and Super Marmande.

    I do grow Sungold and Zenith for competitions as well, but I can’t save seeds of those as they are F1 varieties.

    My experience of seed saving is that the more times you save your own seed from your best plants/tomatoes, the more vigorous the next year’s plants become. The seeds now all routinely germinate at 100% frequency with plants emerging between 2 and 5 days after sowing.

    I learned a very great deal from Nick over several years reading his newsletters and contributing to his blogs. This is pretty much the summary of my endpoint of all that learning.

    1. Thanks Rhys, really interesting to hear your learning, particularly that you’ve found home saved seeds get more vigorous with time. And thanks for sharing the seven varieties you’ve found most successful. I’ve not grown Alicante before so it is added to my list.

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  3. I want to grow organic tomatoes in a container. Do plastic containers leach chemicals into the soil? I can’t afford a cypress or teak hand-built container. any suggestions?

  4. I have planted the side shoots of tomatoes and had later crop of smaller tomatoes I live jersey wee have long hot summers

  5. I’m just going to start growing tomatoes at home. But i couldn’t even find such kind of containers. Do you think it’s possible to grow such «tomato-tree» in the metal bucket I have (chek the link)? How about feeding plant little but not often and have a posibility to leave home for more than one day? I can’t understand why roots should have such supply of air, I always thought one hole in the bucket bottom is enough…

    1. A metal bucket should be OK Victor – if you live somewhere hot, you might want to line it with cardboard to insulate it a bit. Like us, plant roots need to breath – so that’s why air in the soil is important. If you have a good draining growing mix, then one good sized hole in the bottom should be sufficient – a few extra ones probably won’t do any harm. Feeding can be done every time you water or once a week (once fruiting starts) if you prefer – whatever is easier for you. The most important thing is regular feeding as tomatoes are hungry plants.

  6. As a side note, I have noted that basil grows particularly well when sown around container tomatoes – a tasty two for one deal!

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  9. Hey there! I just built a pyramid planter and I am unsure where to place the tomatoes (4 sections-4 shelves- bottom being 30″ wide).
    I assume starting at the top so they can hang down. I am new to vertical growing so this is all new to me. I would appreciate any advice!! Thanks.

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  11. Just another gardener called Gena

    Stakes are unnecessary if you grow them upside down. That’s actually one of the advantages of growing them in containers. For me, personally, when it comes to tomatoes – container growing always goes along with upside down growing.

    Gena Lorainne, A gardener for the Gardeners of Woking, London.

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  13. Hi you say don’t save seeds from an F1 tomato but I have from a variety called spitfire I’ve saved the seeds every year for the last 10 year and the fruit have always come the same

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  17. My tomato plants seem to like the occasional dose of epsom salts, a tip given to me by my brother in law.

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  19. Chris Arlington

    Thanks, I will keep this in my folder. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about not enough water with all this rain. When you say to drill small holes, would you do it all over the pot ? Does pot colour matter ie: black vs light?

    Sincerely,
    Chris

  20. Very helpful clip. Thank you! A note about Nick’s guitar playing…..I belive that helps the health of the plants. The sound vibration is healing and balancing…..for sure. 🙂

  21. Hullo! Just wanted to say thanks for the tips, especially the part that concerns the air supply for the roots. I’m sure I’ll try the tube with the holes in it, really a great idea. This year I’ve only planted four tomatoes, two red and two yellow cherry varieties. And if the secret should be soft music, I’ll make sure my husband plays some piano to them. I’ll let you know how that turned out. Monika

  22. This year I am growing hanging basket tomatos as we are moving house this summer, the type i chose was called 100,s and 1000,s I figured they would be easier to transport, although I have now ended up with a James Wong Black Tomato as well and that is planted into a large contaner surrounded by marigolds.
    Interesting article thank you.

        1. I’ve never seen organic seeds for this – and unfortunately, I think it is a hybrid (I haven’t been able to confirm this) which would mean you can’t save your own seed. That said, I’d still recommend it as a variety for hanging baskets – very productive and tasty.

  23. Hi.
    The ‘tomato’ plant food I find in my local garden centre is non-organic. What organic plant food would be ideal for feeding tomatoes ‘little and often’?

    Best regards,
    DAN

    1. Hi Dan
      Very good question! When trying to grow tomatoes organically in pots the challenge is feeding them with enough potassium so that they fruit to their potential – they need potassium for their fruits. You can, I expect, get reasonable yields by simply using lots of worm compost and worm wee – particularly if you add plenty of things that are high in potassium like banana skins to the worm compost. This would probably be the most organic solution. Alternatively, if you can find a supply of comfrey leaves, you can make comfrey tea which is high in potassium and would be a good one to use ‘little and often’ perhaps in conjunction with an occasional liquid nettle feed and / or liquid seaweed feed. As far as bought organic products go then you can sometimes find concentrated comfrey liquid online which would be a good choice – or an organic tomato feed like Sea Nymph’s seaweed based tomato feed. Does this help? Mark

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