Tomatoes to Grow in Containers (or anywhere else for that matter)

Lots of tomatoes.  Grown on my rooftop in containers.

Since I have begun talking about seeds and showing photos of my little seedlings, people have been writing in to ask me what I’m growing. I have been purposefully avoiding saying too much about my choices this year because a large number of the varieties I am growing are new-to-me. I have a tendency to avoid promoting anything until I am certain I like it.

Because so many of you are looking for some direction in making your seed choices, I thought I’d put together a list of varieties I do love. I set out to give a general overview of vegetables and discovered that a post about tomatoes alone was much too long. So I’m beginning with the plant we are all most eager to get growing and will follow up in the future with other edibles. Note that all varieties are open-pollinated heirloom varieties unless indicated.

Tomatoes for Containers

Most of these tomatoes are determinates (aka the bushing tomatoes). Keep in mind that some determinates can grow to be a few feet tall, requiring containers that are at least a foot and a half deep.

Sunrise III - Gayla Trail
    Sunrise III growing in a broken watering can.
  • Black Seaman – A fantastic, early, black heirloom that does well in mid-sized containers, producing good-sized tomatoes. Read my full review here.
  • ‘Silver Fir Tree’ – Another mid-sized determinate with fist-sized, red fruit. Most tomato plants themselves are a bit boring but this variety is particularly stunning with ferny, delicate foliage that sometimes takes on a slight silver tone. This was my first favourite determinate until ‘Black Seaman’ came along and knocked it back to second. Keep in mind that I am a huge fan of black tomatoes — no red variety can ever compare!
  • ‘Golden Delight’ – Another mid-sized determinate with good-sized fruit. I was not in love with this variety and wouldn’t grow it again but I am also biased since I am not a fan of low-acid, yellow tomatoes. I grew mine in a large metal bucket surrounded by ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil.
  • ‘Sunrise III’ – Probably the only hybrid I will ever promote, we fell in love with this variety’s cute egg shape and delicious, juicy flavor. This is a true determinate that is prolific, with a low bush habit that cascades a little over the edges of a 12″ pot. I have taken to growing mine in a broken watering can.
  • ‘Black Plum’ – With rich plum-shaped fruit that carry an almost roasted flavour straight off the vine, this is my absolute favourite plum variety hands-down. No contest. Regardless of space, I ALWAYS make room for at least one ‘Black Plum’ plant. While this is an indeterminate (vining tomato), I have included it here because I have always had such great success with it in very large garbage bins. Some indeterminate varieties put out a much smaller batch of fruit when grown in even the largest bins, but ‘Black Plum’ has always stepped up to the plate with a good harvest.
  • ‘Green Sausage’ – If you love ‘Green Zebra’, you’ll love ‘Green Sausage.’ This variety produces a ton of really pretty, stripey, elongated fruits that are good for sauces and chutneys. I have grown them as an experiment but will never grow them again since I am one of the few who do not like green tomatoes, period.
  • ‘Principe Borghese’ – I would consider this a large determinate variety. I grew this in the same garbage bins I use for indeterminate plants and would not suggest something smaller. It was very prolific producing lots of small, red fruit that are supposed to be good for sun drying. We opted for oven drying and were not disappointed.
Tomato Principe Borghese - Gayla Trail
    ‘Principe Borghese’

Indeterminate Tomatoes

These are the vining type. They can be grown in containers just be sure to use the biggest container you can find — I use garbage bins — growing one tomato plant per container only! Growing a few basil plants around the edges will use up that extra surface space.

  • Black Pear – Last year’s new favourite. Mine were not terribly prolific in containers. I would suggest growing in-ground if you can. See what it looks like inside.
  • ‘Black Krim’ or ‘Cherokee Purple’ – I can’t tell the difference between these two black varieties and have taken to thinking of them as interchangeable. I am still sitting on the fence as to whether I prefer them to new-comer ‘Black Pear.’
  • ‘Purple Prince’ – I don’t want this to become the black tomato show, but I wanted to throw in one more variety that could not be left off the list. Also known as ‘Black Prince’, this variety has been successful in large bins and produces very round, dense fruit that are delicious on sandwiches. The squirrels love it so it must be good!
  • ‘Broad Ripple Yellow Currant’ – Proof positive that large tomatoes don’t always grow on large plants and vice-versa. This large, trailing plant produces the cutest, tiniest, translucent tomatoes that are low-acid yet deliciously sweet and juicy — perfect for popping in your mouth while walking around the garden. And because I love a good story, it is very hard to resist a variety that was discovered growing in a sidewalk crack. A true urban heirloom. If it can grow there, it can grow anywhere!
  • ‘Black Cherry’ – I really liked this cherry variety but found it did not produce well in even the largest containers. I will likely grow this in-ground at my community plot in the future. The future being this year of course. I was interested to note that what were tiny, round, cherry-sized fruit were much larger on Amy’s plants. She either has super soil, or got the wrong variety. They looked a lot alike with the same translucent skin, it’s just that hers were much larger!

More Tomato Reviews:

I could go on and on for days since there are so many amazing heirlooms around, with access to a growing number of varieties getting easier every year. Deciding on what to start from seed was particularly difficult for me this year.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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21 thoughts on “Tomatoes to Grow in Containers (or anywhere else for that matter)

  1. I am sooooo craving a nice breakfast of “tomatoes on toast” right now… nice review Gayla! Makes me wish I planted more than one type of purple tomato this year. I’ve only got Cherokee Purple sprouted. I may have to pick up some different purple transplants at the farmers market.

  2. It’s hard to gauge size from that pic but I am sure they are larger… I remember them being larger when I saw them in person.

  3. Gayla, are there any heirlooms that you would suggest for a hanging basket? I haven’t got/made the basket yet so I suppose it could be quite big…

  4. I am currently growing a variety called ‘Whippersnapper’ that is said to be good for hanging baskets however this is my first year growing it so I can’t say from first-hand experience. I would suggest Sunrise III but it is not an heirloom. It is definitely better than those Tiny Tim / Toy Boy varieties though.

  5. I think I may have to try that “Broad Ripple Yellow Currant” next year. Sounds great. I’d try it this year, but I’ve already got 30 peat pots of tomatoes planted!

    It was also very hard for me to decide this year what to plant. I think I did about half the varieties of tomatoes I’ve got, plus 3 newbies.

  6. You made my day Gayla! I already have some Whippersnappers started, so if they can go in hanging baskets that leaves me garden space to try the Black Seaman that you (and many others) have raved about. Woohoo!

  7. I have some Black Seaman seeds started. About how many feet tall did yours get? I’m planning on on putting it in a 16″ container. Do you think that is a good size?

  8. Gourmetgirl: Probably about 2 feet or so. Is that 16″ wide or deep? My container was a little small last year (I was not expecting such a large determinate) however I would think that 16″ should do it.

    MeMeMosa: I am all about trying to fit in as many tomatos as possible!

  9. Wow. That’s smaller than I thought it would be. I’m glad I haven’t bought any stakes yet. Last year I grew indeterminates in these pots so I’m sure they’ll be fine. And I may have some room left over for basil and marigolds.

  10. I’m planting a black Krim tomato in a container this year. I’m a little worried about the size of the containter….12″ deep, 10″ wide at the base and it gradually gets to 15″ at the top. Do you think that’s enough space?

  11. If you like cherry tomatoes and have the room to grow an indeterminate plant that may reach in excess of 10 feet, then I highly recommend the Juliet Hybrid tomato. The tomato is large, oval and just the right amount of sugar while not being too acidic. Can I say where I bought my seeds?

  12. Does anyone have any insight regarding up-side-down tomato growing? I have seen a few products advertising as such ‘Topsy-Turvy’ being one of them. I grew heirlooms on my porch last summer and ran into trouble with them being too heavy – should I get a cone or try the up-side-down method?

    -Porch gardening in the City

  13. Upside down tomato growing is great but they are very heavy. It’s difficult to find a place to put it that can take the load of wet soil, a full-sized tomato, and fruit. What are “cones?” Just grow in a larger container and make a tripod stake using bamboo poles. It’s not going to take up any more space.

  14. I would like to try growing cherry tomatoes in a container this year but I have not started seeds yet. Is it too late? Can you recommend a good beginner veriety to try from seed? If I choose to buy tomato plants what common variety is best?

  15. Hi. I am new to the container gardening thing…I have started about 10-20 tomato plants, chive (garlic), lemon and mammoth basil (and another variety), red pepper, strawberry and more than several other herbs (lavendar, cilantro,?). For the plants that have sprouted up (mainly the tomatoe and basil and chive) they have are just getting a second set of leaves…I planted my seeds 3-4 to a peat pellet…I know that I will soon need to transplant to a larger container…need some tomatoes are beefstake and I do plan to gift some of my plants to family and friends as the enclosed area they are growing in is only 2′ by 3′ (maybe) and also houses the garbage can, broom, mop, etc.

  16. Very useful site Gayla!
    Here in Holland I planted some balcony cherry tomatoes 3 years ago and they did well.. The outdoor plants died of phytoftera within a year. One plant I kept indoors on the window sill and it’s still growing! It has fruited (poorly) for 2 years already. I’d always thought that these were annual plants. Has anybody succeded in keeping these little “shrubs” for a longer time?

  17. zmill: Indeterminant tomatoes are not annuals in places where the climate is mild enough to allow year-round growth. The only issue is that some of these climates can be a bit too wet or bring on diseases so some people just let the plants go and start fresh regardless. They say determinants only fruit once but I have cut at least one variety back after fruiting and grown a second, smaller harvest later in the season. So I would imagine the same could be said for a climate that has a longer growing season.

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