Container gardening is a great alternative for those who desire to grow tomatoes and have limited space. Dwarf or patio types adapt especially well to this method of gardening along with some of the cherry tomato varieties which perform well in hanging baskets. Many of the container-grown tomato plants or seeds can be purchased at local garden centers.
A container of adequate size should be selected. A five-gallon nursery pot or a bushel basket lined with pine straw should work well for the dwarf or patio varieties.
Tomatoes grown in containers that hang upside down or in hanging baskets have also become popular and can be purchased at local garden centers. Typically compact, bushy cherry tomato plants work well in these containers and can be very ornamental.
Before planting, select a good well-drained potting mix (such as Miracle-Gro). Most potting soils can be purchased at local garden centers and will state "potting mix" on the outside of the bag. Good soil will be light and fluffy with a bit of perlite mixed in. If using a less expensive mix it's a good idea to mix in some commercial cow manure along with a few scoops of perlite. This ensures adequate drainage so the roots are not overly moist, which could cause them to rot.
Before adding any potting mix to the container, add several inches of coarse gravel or Styrofoam pieces to the bottom for better drainage. After completing this step. add several inches of potting soil. Set the tomato plant low in the pot, removing the lowest pair of leaves. Hold the plant in place and gently firm the soil around the stem and bury the stem up to the next pair to encourage extra rooting. After planting, select a sunny spot (at least eight hours). Tomatoes are sensitive to cold and should not be grown outside until all danger of frost has passed.
Water plants regularly. Irregular watering will cause fruit to grow improperly. Usually a good time to water is when the top inch or so of soil is dry.
Feed plants at regular intervals (10 to 14) days with general purpose fertilizers such as 10-10-10, 6-6-6 or water-soluble fertilizers. Avoid feeding with fertilizers high in nitrogen, which can cause bushy plants but not a lot of fruit. Timed-release fertilizers can be applied to the soil medium.
Pick fruit when fully colored. If fruits are picked when not fully colored they will finish ripening indoors. It they are picked early and need to ripen indoors they can be placed in a paper bag or a box lined with newspaper. Include one or two tomatoes which have already changed to help the others ripen.
Tomatoes are versatile and many gardeners plant extras for canning, freezing and juicing along with just plain eating and giving to friends and neighbors.