I tend to be a bit obsessive about tomatoes. In my summer garden, they are allotted the most space, the sunniest spots, and the beds with the fluffiest soil. And, inevitably, I run out of good garden spots before I run out of tomato plants that need to be planted (this is not how one should plan a garden. It makes sense to have spots for all of the plants you are going to grow. I forget this rule every year when seed buying/trading time arrives.) The result is that I usually have a half-dozen (or more...) tomato plants that need to be planted in pots every year. Here are some of the varieties that have worked well for me, as well as recommendations from other garden writers.
1. 'Japanese Black Trifele'
'Japanese Black Trifele' is tied with 'Brandywine' for my favorite tomato. The fruits are slightly pear-shaped, and turn a gorgeous mahogany color at the shoulders when ripe. The flavor of this heirloom tomato is sweet, complex, and a little smoky -- just delicious. The fruit color makes this a nice ornamental as well, and the plants are well behaved as well -- one strong stake will support the plant well.
While my garden generally belongs to heirloom tomatoes, I do plant hybrid 'Sungold' tomatoes every year. The little orange cherry-type tomatoes are sweet and plentiful. One plant will keep a family in cherry tomatoes through most of the summer. They are not hug, sprawling plants, either, so they have done well in containers for me.
3. 'Wapsipinicon Peach'
If you've never grown 'Wapsipinicon Peach,' you're in for a real treat. These heirlooms are yellowy-orange, much like a peach, and the skin is fuzzy like a peach. They are sweet and delicious -- definitely something a little different! The plants are well-behaved and I usually end up growing them in containers in my garden to save space in the beds. The color and fuzziness of the tomatoes also makes this a nice ornamental plant.
If you live in a cooler climate, 'Stupice' is a tomato you should definitely be growing. The taste is nothing phenomenal (neither sweet nor particularly acidic) but this is one of the earliest-yielding tomatoes I grow in my Detroit-area garden. The plants are compact, with potato-leaf foliage. The red fruits are about two inches in diameter, and it produces well all season long.
5. 'Black Krim'
In her book Grow Great Grub, garden writer Gayla Trail recommends this heirloom variety for containers, and I second the recommendation. 'Black Krim' produces very attractive, large, purplish-red fruits that turn violet-brown at the stem end as they ripen. The flavor is full and complex. I grow these every year and they are a huge hit.
6. 'Silvery Fir Tree'
This is another variety that Gayla Trail recommends for containers, and I plan on growing mine in containers this years as well after growing them in my raised beds last year. The plants are quite compact, so take well to container culture. And as an added bonus, the plants are also quite ornamental -- the feathery, silvery gray-green foliage is unique, and the round red fruits make for a beautiful contrast with the foliage. This is a determinate variety, so you'll get a harvest over a period of a couple of weeks about 58 days after planting.
My favorite tomato, and one that I always end up growing in containers because I've started too many plants (and because I want to make sure that I have plenty of 'Brandywines!') While the plants are rather large, a couple of strong stakes and regular pruning or a strong cage will keep them in line. The large tomatoes are flavorful -- this is generally considered to be one of the best-tasting tomatoes in tomato tastings across the country.
I have not grown this one yet, but it's definitely on my list. My colleague, About.com Container Gardens Guide Kerry Michaels recommends this variety, saying that it is "incredibly tasty and prolific." 'Riesentraube' forms clusters of 20 to 40 grape-sized tomatoes.
9. 'Cherokee Green'
This is another recommendation from container gardening expert Kerry Michaels. She says that "these medium sized green tomatoes are easy to grow, tasty and very cool looking." I will have to try them.
10. 'Polish Linguisa'
'Polish Linguisa' is my favorite paste tomato -- perfect for making into sauces or for drying. They are flavorful, less prone to blossom end rot than other paste tomatoes I've grown, and the plants are very well behaved. I usually grow mine in a row of five-gallon buckets along my fence -- one stake in each container keeps the plants well in line.
Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Containers:
- The bigger the container, the better. Tomatoes have large root systems, and you want to plant them deeply at planting time. A large container will prevent the soil from drying out too quickly during the heat of summer as well. Something 12 to 18 inches deep is a good size.
- Water regularly. Containers dry out more quickly than regular garden beds, and tomatoes are more likely to develop issues such as blossom end rot if they get uneven watering. A self-watering container is a great option.
- Fertilize with compost tea or manure tea monthly during the growing season.
What are your favorite tomatoes to grow in containers?
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