Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum var.) are the crowning glory of the summer garden, but even without garden space, you can grow luscious tomatoes on your patio in planters and hanging baskets. While many determinate varieties of tomatoes will grow and fruit when staked in large containers, vegetable breeders have developed an array of choices specifically designed for patio growing, bearing an abundance of delicious fruit on mini- to medium-sized vines.
The patio hybrid tomato is the ideal container tomato plant, according to the University of Illinois Extension Service. The patio hybrid bears large fruit--not quite as large as those produced by sprawling heirloom varieties, but just as good tasting with a firm texture for slicing on sandwiches or dicing into salads. The patio hybrid plant is erect and sturdy, growing to about 2 feet high and not requiring staking. Fruits are ready to pick about 65 days from planting--considerably faster than most other small tomato plants with full-sized fruit.
The Texas A&M University Extension suggests that small-fruited tomato plants make lovely edible hanging basket specimens on your patio, deck or apartment balcony. The tumbling tom--available in red and yellow varieties--was bred for just this purpose. It grows in a weeping habit, with branches trailing 2 feet or more down from its basket. It produces prolific volumes of glossy fruit about 70 days from planting. The University of Florida IFAS Extension also suggests two other hanging basket varieties: the Florida basket and the Florigold basket, for red and yellow tomatoes respectively. These cultivars thrive in hot, humid summer conditions.
The University of Illinois Extension describes red robin as a super-dwarf tomato plant. It grows only about 6 inches tall and bears 1-inch red fruit. Its cousin, the yellow canary, has a similar growing habit but bears yellow tomatoes. The red robin and yellow canary are superb for tucking into other plantings or accenting a window box, or in a small decorative container as a table centerpiece. For regions with hot, muggy summers, the University of Florida IFAS Extension suggests the micro-tom as another tiny tomato option. It thrives in 4-inch pots.
For larger fruits and plants on the patio, the University of Illinois Extension suggests the Husky Hybrid series: red, gold and pink. These plants are dwarf, but indeterminate, and will produce full medium-sized tomatoes in an extended growing season. A larger pot of at least 5-gallon capacity would make an ideal container for a Husky Hybrid tomato on the patio. Stake the plant to grow a tomato "tree" against the house or in a corner as a backdrop to other ornamental containers.