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Growing Tomatoes in Containers

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Container gardening is a great way to grow vegetables if you have limited space. Tomatoes are a good choice for this style of gardening. There are a few easy steps you can take to have a successful gardening experience. This is a guide about growing tomatoes in containers.
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February 15, 20073 found this helpful

Ideas for growing tomatoes in container gardens from the ThriftyFun community.

Tips For Containers

I have used container pots for many years for tomatoes and peppers, even lima beans and string beans. They are so easy and there are less bugs, less weeding and can be moved if you want more sun. I learned a couple of things about tomatoes which may help. First, there are plants called patio tomatoes, which are smaller sized plants (but give nice sized tomatoes) designed for container gardening. Also, I had noticed black spots on the bottoms of a few tomatoes. This is called blossom end rot, not to worry, just add lime to the soil and work it in and it clears it right up. I have planted cherry tomatos, plum and beefsteaks and have had excellent results.
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By LI Roe

Merced, Roma, Heatwave, and Southern Star

I plant varieties such as Merced, Roma, Heatwave, and Southern Star (bhn 444) in 18 gallon (2.5 cu ft) containers with holes drilled for drainage I fill it with Miracle Grow potting mix, 1 cup of Osmocote slow release 13-13-13, 1/4 cup of lime, fed every 12 days with a high phosphorous fertilizer. They do awesome, just watch the high winds as taller plants may blow over if not supported.

By Atascosa, TX

"Window Box" Romas

There is a variety of Roma tomatoes called "Window Box" that would do well in a container, and another variety of cherry tomatoes that I believe is called "Tiny Tom" or "Tiny Tim."

A great fertilizer for tomatoes is fish emulsion because it has a high nitrogen content. The down side of using it is that it stinks so much. I imagine that yellow pear tomatoes would do well in a container; they are incredibly hardy.

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The main thing to remember about tomatoes is that they are very temperature sensitive, so they won't do well in cool weather. Even if you plan to put them in a pot, I would leave them outside during the day to harden them off before letting them stay outside for good.

By Skbeal

5 Gallon Buckets

We have used 5 gallon buckets. Fill the bottom with rocks, then newspaper, then add your potting soil and other potting material. You have to be sure you keep them watered. You need to have drain holes because after a heavy rainfall, your plants will drown, hence the reason for constant watering. If your plants are sheltered from the outdoors, you will not need to worry about the drain holes. I prefer this method, as it is easier to weed, and they can be brought in when the weather begins to change, and here in New England, we have a short lived gardening season.
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By Laura

My daughter planted one of the patio tomatoes in a 5 gallon bucket last year. She put some corn cobs in the bottom and all soil was from our compost pile. The plant grew to about 8 feet tall, and so many tomatoes they out lasted the growning season. It was a cherry tomato plant, must have gotten thousands from one plant. A lot were still trying when the first frost came! Needless to say, we lost the rest.

By Rosa

I have planted some in 5 gallon paint bucket and flower pots, they turn out great. Tomatoes and mint were my very best plants.

By Elva

Containers On The Deck

I have planted patio tomatoes also. I have about a 4x5 foot square deck. Not much fits on it but I have good success with the tomatoes. Peppers and lettuce were another story.

By Sandy

Upside Down Tomatoes

Last year we did the hanging upside down bucket tomato plants. It worked well, we used 5 gallon buckets with lids. Plant your tomato plants in the buckets, cut a hole in the lid about 4 or 5 inches in diameter and put lid on after you planted tomato plants. Puncture holes, several on the bottom of buckets, so you can water the plants. Attach a rope or wire from handles or sides of bucket, hang from nails in shady area. This worked well for us! All you have to do is go out and water, and when ready, pull from vine, so easy!
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By Vicky Hunt

Black Plastic Bags

All 60 of my tomatoes are in containers, big black plastic bags. I feed them home made worm tea, we have done this for years.

By Marsbar

Tiny Tims In Balcony Planters

I have been planting Tiny Tim cherry tomatoes in my patio planters for the last few years with much success. They are so delicious. I live in a short summer season area. If they grow well here, they will grow well anywhere. I plant them in balcony planters available at any department store.

By Marlene

When To Water

To know how often to water container tomato plants, stick your finger in the dirt. If the soil is dry on the top, but you can feel moisture further down, you probably don't need to water them yet. If it feels dry all the way through, just water them. I always water them until the water leaks out. That way, you can be sure that you are watering all of the soil in the container.
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By Skbeal

Book Resource

"Square Foot Gardening" by Bartholemew is a very good resource.

By Denise

Manure Water For Container Gardening Tomatoes

For container tomatoes or in ground, this will make your tomatoes grow huge! Go to your local stables and get 1/2 bucket (5 gallon) of manure, fresh or old, doesn't matter. This is the gross part, take it outside where people aren't going to see it, and add water right near the top. Leave in a shaded area and cover to keep flies from being attracted. Each day or so, take one cup of the liquid from the top and pour it into your tomato roots. Replace the water as you need into the manure bucket. Tomatoes love it and you don't get any weeds from mixing manure into your soil. Discard after the season.

By Ann

Half Barrels

I have been growing tomatoes in half whiskey barrels. I water daily and feed weekly with a Miracle Grow formula. In addition, I add a tablespoon of Magnesium Sulfate (epsom salts) and a teaspoon of calcium chloride, all to prevent blossom end rot. The plants are now 7 feet tall with many blossoms and lots of set fruit. They need 6 hours of direct sun.

By Sammy

Past Successes

I grew indeterminate Better Boy and Beefsteak tomatoes varieties in 10 inch self-watering planters in 2005 with super success. I caged, staked and raised them about 24 inches off ground to keep away the bunnies. I have 2.5 and 5 gallon buckets I'd like to use this year. I'm glad I stopped by this site.

By Bernie

Window Box

I planted my tomato garden in a 3 ft. window box because I didn't have enough room and I have 6 green tomatoes ready to turn red.

By Jen

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By 4 found this helpful
June 3, 2016

Plant from sibling as early as possible in large flower pot. When the temperature is nice set the plant outside. Bring it in before evening. A week after blossoms appear, sprinkle with a little fertilizer (do not sprinkle close to the stem) and give a lot of water. Check plants in early morning for insects and bad leaves, pinch them off. Always cut in the morning, plants can easily get diseases, early morning dew heals the cut.

The picture was taken 3 weeks ago. I have these two growing on my balcony, it's just enough for the family.

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By 2 found this helpful
June 25, 2009

The new tomato plants were out today, and I couldn't resist, thinking surely, I had some large planters at my apartment. You guessed it, no planters, but I do have a cat. He's particular about the cat sand he uses, and fortunately for me, I had several of the "plastic" bags in the recycle bins. They're wide and fairly tall. When filled with soil and a plant is about the same size and a large planter. It looks kinda funky, but hey, the cat wasn't going to use them, and they was free.

Peace.

By debit4857 from Vancouver, WA

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By 1 found this helpful
August 19, 2016

Take an empty clear plastic water bottle, cut off the bottom, drill a hole or bang a nail hole thru the plastic cap, and screw the cap back on to the neck of the bottle.

plant with bottle sunk into the soil next to it

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April 19, 20160 found this helpful

This is a guide about growing tomatoes in hanging planters. We have seen the upside down planters for growing tomatoes, but you can also grow them in normal hanging planters.

Hanging planter baskets holding tomato plants with numerous yellow blossoms and green cherry tomatoes against a rustic background.

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

By 0 found this helpful
December 17, 2016

What will wick vertically 16", enough for a tomato grown in a 5 gal. pot in 100 degrees, and last 5+ years?

Answers

December 20, 20160 found this helpful

I'm not sure I understand what you are trying to accomplish. Do you plan to wick the water from another container into the 5 gallon bucket? If so, the exposed wick would have to be encased in tubing. I have done this. You might get 5 years out of #8 cotton window sash cord. In 100 degree weather, you might have to use three.

If you want something that will last 20 years, you could plait together strips of nylon landscape fabric. I don't think it would wick as well as the cotton cord, so again, you might have to use three. I'm still digging up nylon landscape fabric I used in beds 30 years ago. Its as strong as new.

Sorry I can't be more help. Wish I knew more about how you plan to use this wicking.

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December 21, 20160 found this helpful

Cotton pyjama cord?

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December 22, 20160 found this helpful

Just so you know, a tomato grown in plastic is not a good idea. The pot leaches all nutrients that the tomato needs away from the plant, and the tomato ends up dying from the lack.

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December 24, 20160 found this helpful

I have grown 9½ ft tomato plants in 5 gallon plastic buckets and have the pictures here on ThriftyFun to prove it. They certainly didn't lack for anything. Also, the healthiest and most prolific tomato plants I have ever grown were grown in 5 gallon plastic buckets. I would like to see credible citations of your claim.

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December 27, 20160 found this helpful

If you use wicking and grow in plastic, please make sure they are food grade (PBA free) so not to leach chemicals into the food.

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December 29, 20160 found this helpful

Now this is sound advice. Thank you.

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December 31, 20160 found this helpful

Kinda sounds like you are conducting an experiment??

I have generally always used untreated cotton clothes line for wicking in my hot house but I never expected it to last 5 years.

It seems that stores selling wicking for plants recommend all varieties of material - polyester, cotton or all natural.
This would lead me to believe that whatever you use is just maybe your "preference".

Of course, in a hurry to get something done, I have used large shoe laces, string cord out of pants, cut strips of cloth and most of the time they all worked (for a few months anyway).

As for safe 5 gallon buckets - I get all of mine from a large restaurant that saves me all of their 5 gallon oil containers. I clean these well, my son drills holes in the bottom and sides and I have never had a problem using them.

Hopefully you will come back and explain just what you are trying to do and I am sure you will receive some good answers.

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April 18, 2011

I am planning on planting in five gallon containers. Before planting my tomato plants in plastic containers should I cut holes in bottom for drainage?

Hardiness Zone: 6b

By Elena from White Plains

Answers

April 18, 20110 found this helpful

Yes, you don't want the plants to sit in water, so you will want holes in the sides at the bottoms of the buckets. They don't need to be big holes; if they seem to clog, you can poke a wire (from a clotheshanger) in to open it back up. I use a power drill, but if you don't have one, you can heat a nail over a flame (you will need to hold it with pliers) and poke it through.

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April 18, 20110 found this helpful

I read that to avoid your soil from escaping from your containers to place a Coffee Filter across the drainage holes. Just something I read so whether or not it works has to be experimental.

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April 18, 20110 found this helpful

I made 'self watering' containers out of 5 gallon buckets. For me this has avoided 'rot'. I add a 'calcium tablet' and a few paper match heads to the hole where the tomatoes will go, cover them with an inch or so of soil and then insert the tomato plant. One plant per bucket. I have the best luck with cherry tomatoes for some reason. I also grow bell peppers, hot peppers, all in SWCs.

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April 19, 20110 found this helpful

Elena, Hello! Yes you will have to drill or poke some holes in a plastic container, but may I offer something else to consider? We live in a number 7 (seven) hardiness zone and our experience with the plastic containers was that they got too hot in late summer, and eventually burned the roots of our plants. (Tomatoes and peppers, mostly.)

Over the years, we have found that five to ten gallon styrofoam containers (picnic coolers or bait containers if you are searching for them at a Wal Mart style store) actually caused less heat damage to the roots of the plants and increased the yield of each plant. We poked holes through the bottom of these containers, too, and added a very shallow layer of river rock or gravel before filling the bin with the appropriate soil/manure mix.

The only drawback with this approach was if an unsuspected virus or bacteria took hold in one of our porous, styrofoam containers we had to trash such, but truth be told, that's only happened a very few times (in single containers) in over ten years of using this method.

Hoping you find something that works well for you and yours, just wanted to alert you to the possible down side of using hard, plastic containers in the garden. Good luck and happy eats with the garden fresh foods!

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April 25, 20110 found this helpful

The foal ice chests are a wonderful idea. You can also mix in styrofoam "peanuts" to make the weight less...

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September 30, 20110 found this helpful

First make sure you know that tomatoes have fairly large root systems and about the size of a 5 gallon bucket is the smallest size to use. Yes the coffee filter, single piece of newspaper, or a thin piece of material over the holes keeps the soil from pouring out with the water. Which brings us to size holes, make them at least l/2 inch and at least 4 if you need more you can do so later (come up about 1 inch at least on the container to drill the holes (this makes you a water reservoir) and you will have to add liquid fertilizer regularly at the rate of 1/4 tsp. to a gallon of water.

If your container seems to get too hot then wrap it in newspaper & tie it with a string.
I am going to try the lady's idea with the match and so forth next spring has anyone else tried this I wonder I live in zone 8 deep south and this summer was murder for plants in containers.

When I go to the blood doctor or dentist I ask them for the styrofoam coolers they get their drugs in and sometimes I even get the icepacks with them and the bigger ones work great for the tomatoes and I root fresh tomatoes all summer in the little ones, just cut the suckers off and stick them in potting soil or water and root new ones all summer. Cut at least 1 one inch hole near the bottom for drainage. keeps plants roots warm in winter and cool in summer.

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February 11, 20120 found this helpful

What size container and how much soil will I need?

By Wendy M.

Answers

February 11, 20120 found this helpful

I have planted tomatos in five gallon buckets with holes punched in the bottom for drainage. I fill them to within about six inches from the top with soil. I use regular black dirt in the bottom half and potting soil in the top half. The reason I use black dirt in the bottom is that is heavier and therefore the buckets aren't as apt to be blown over in a storm or knocked over by some of the overly zealous wild critters around here or by unsupervised little kids, that don't know enough to stay off my patio.

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Anonymous
February 12, 20120 found this helpful

I have tried several times to grow Tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets with garden soil in the bottom and Potting soil on top, Miracle Grow brand with watering, but they do not do well for me. I find that if I plant them in the ground it works better.

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By 0 found this helpful
August 19, 2005
Q: How many hours of full sunshine should container tomato plants have? Mine have all day sun and they're producing but getting spindly. I can't fertilize in this heat if that is the problem?

Thanks,
Poopsey

A: Poopsey,

Tomatoes grown in containers need the same amount of sunshine as those cultivated in the ground-at least 6-8 hours per day. They also need even amounts of water, so make sure to check the container's moisture levels daily, especially in hot weather. As for your plant getting spindly, all tomato plants benefit from regular pruning. Snap off the suckers (shoots that appear between the main stem of the plant and the petioles (stems of the leaves). Proper pruning will help channel the plants energy into producing fruit rather than leaves and improve the air circulation around the fruits. Fertilizing with too much nitrogen can also result in spindly plants.

Answers

By guest (Guest Post)
August 8, 20050 found this helpful

Sounds like you need more nitrogen in the soil. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and expect supplementary fertilizer during the growing season. Be sure to provide lots of water in hot weather. Tomatoes use a lot of moisture.

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July 29, 20090 found this helpful

Containers dry out quickly. Keep well watered and much top of container. Also fertilize often because if you are watering correctly (by watering till water is coming out of the bottom or side drain holes ). The fertilizer gets washed out. Also if you are growing a determinate variety (growth is pre determined ) you do not need to prune suckers or any other pruning other than removing dead leaves.

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May 18, 20110 found this helpful

How often do you have to change the potting soil used to grow tomatoes in large pots on a patio?

Thanks.

By Bob

Answers

May 18, 20110 found this helpful

I would do it every year. I have always been told that when you plant a garden you shouldn't plant the different veggies in the same spot every year.

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By 0 found this helpful
May 24, 2014

This is my first experience in growing tomato plants in a 5 gallon plastic container. Do I punch holes in the bottom for drainage? I need guidance on this project.

By betes51

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April 28, 20120 found this helpful

Why are the tips of my plant leaves turning brown? I have my plants inside placed by a window. I have just noticed that all the leaves tips are turning brown? I do have a fan blowing on them to strengthen the stems. Could this be why the tips are turning brown or?

By Chantel

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By 3 found this helpful
July 23, 2010

My grandsons (David Lane 3, Kolby 2, Rex almost 2) and I planted a small garden with tomatoes, cucumbers,and flowers. The pics are David Lane's first red tomato and Rex the Plant Whisperer.

By Karen

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By 1 found this helpful
July 10, 2008

I used an old bench that no one could sit on and sat my potted tomato plants on and around the bench. As they grow, I can tie them to the bench for support. I have red, yellow and black cherry plants, so I am hoping for a little color also.

By Wanda from Climax, NC

Potted tomatoes sitting on old garden bench.

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July 22, 20100 found this helpful

These tomatoes are now almost 3-4 foot high with green tomatoes and blossoms are over the place.

GG Vi

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April 18, 20110 found this helpful

I have Big Boy tomato plants that I am growing in smart pots on my deck. I went through some bottom end rot, and added tomato-tone feedings. I lost about 15 tomatoes. Now I have some curling leaves on the bottom of the plants which I believe is over watering so I will wait and see how that goes.

But my question is that so much growth has gone into leaves and stalks (over 4 feet tall) that the fruit is in a forest of leaves and stalks and I don't know how to get sunlight to them to have them turn red? I have cages around the plants to keep them from falling over. Any ideas?


Hardiness Zone: 5a

By Vickie from Chicago, IL

Answers:

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

I have the same species of tomatoes in five gallon buckets on my patio, my plants are really tall too, I do have some tomatoes on them. I have three tomatoes that have been on the plants for about two months and they aren't anywhere near the size that they should be. If they ever ripen they won't be anywhere near the 1-2 pounds the stake that was in the plants said the tomatoes would be. I used to have really good luck with this species when I had an actual garden. I think my problem might be that they don't get near enough sunlight, and besides that we have had a horrible amount of rain this summer. (08/05/2010)

By redhatterb

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

My tomato plant, grown in a clear plastic storage bin with plenty of sunlight, is about 6' tall, staked everywhere I can put a stake. I stopped by our local cooperative extension office and they told me too much watering will cause excessive growth and leaf wilt. My tomatoes also have catface, a condition where the blossom petals on the tomato top attracts excess water. The tomatoes themselves are edible below the catface and very watery.

I was told too much watering as this leads to excess branch growth and a smaller crop of tomatoes, but in containers, tomatoes need to be watered daily. It is too late to do anything about mine, but I have learned a good lesson for next year. I shall reduce the amount of watering next year, and as advised, quit feeding after the middle of July.

In the meantime, we will enjoy the tomatoes we have, and next year we will implement the right way of growing tomatoes. (08/07/2010)

By pcgranny

RE: Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Firstly it looks like your tomatoes have what's called blossom end rot. This is caused by inconsistent watering. Once the vine has fruited you must water and feed at regular intervals, re: too much greenery. Once the fruit has set it is recommended that all non fruiting side shoots be removed. This is so that the sun can get to the fruit to ripen them. Hope this helps. Good luck.

Jan UK (08/07/2010)

By blackbess

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Your plants cannot absorb from the soil below so you need to add some iron to their mix. You can get this at any Menards, Lowe's, etc. Also, you need to add Epsom salts, directions on package, but it is 2 tsp per foot of plant, every 2 weeks. Mix in water is best, or make sure to water good. In your case of container planting, mix ahead of time and schedule.

I used to do container gardening and found my stuff was much better with big beds off the ground. The planters were 4x8 by 15 inches. They can be anywhere in the yard. Mix with sterile soil, mulch, sand, peat. I have a mini tiller for flowerbeds and so mix with that. Before planting, add Epsom salts (directions for bulk mixing on the bag) and Miracle Gro. Then till under. Then plant. Tomatoes/peppers, etc also need bone meal or blood meal in their planting systems to avoid the blossom end rot.

These are so tried and true from master gardeners, green house owners and then tried by me over the last years. Wow. My Romas are baseball sized already. I water daily here in MN.
Consistent watering is a must Another thing, keep the plant trimmed 10 inches from the bottom of the plant for air to move and also set the limit of how tall you will let it grow, then trim it back to that length. Makes for a bigger and better, healthier crop of tomatoes, peppers, etc. (08/07/2010)

By T&T Grandma

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August 5, 20100 found this helpful

Is it okay to plant a Roma tomato plant with a dwarf citrus tree in a wine barrel? Do tomatoes have to be planted all by themselves? I live in San Luis Obispo where everything seems to grow great.

Hardiness Zone: 9a

By Kerrie from San Luis Obispo, CA

Answers:

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Citrus have numerous fibrous roots close to the surface and resent competition from other plants. The tomato would grow OK, but at the expense of the citrus. (05/25/2010)

By John

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May 24, 20100 found this helpful

I just bought a tomato plant in a 3 gallon container, it is about 2 1/2 ft tall. Should I transfer it to a larger container? It's almost ready to spring tomatoes.

Hardiness Zone: 8a

By Michelle from Atlanta, GA

Answers:

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

I know some people will say that you should transfer it and tomatoes need a lot of soil, but personally I have grown big tomato plants in regular flower pots (around 1 gallon each) and have gotten some great harvests from them in those small pots! Just water and fertilize often. I think your pot is just fine. (03/30/2010)

By haushinka

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

I agree with haushinka. Also if you transplant you could disturb the roots and end of killing the tomato plant. (03/30/2010)

By MCW

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March 29, 20100 found this helpful

How do I grow tomatoes in containers?

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February 22, 20100 found this helpful

We needed a different place to grow our tomatoes where they would get more sun and be accessible to water.

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August 19, 20090 found this helpful

What size container does a tomato plant need to produce tomatoes? I have very little room outside to put 3 containers with a tomato plant in each one.

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March 30, 20090 found this helpful

I am growing tomatoes in planters. The containers are 2 1/2 to 3 gallons. I just transplanted the plants. They are about 8-10 inches tall.

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