Tomatoes in Containers

Jun 4, 2023

by Donna Woodward

container toms
The Tomatoes-in-Containers Trial
We gardeners who have space to grow plants are fortunate. Many people would love to grow some vegetables, such as tomatoes, but have no garden space. We Napa MGs in the Field Test Committee felt we should do something to help these people. We decided to try a field (patio?) test for tomatoes. There are several types of tomatoes bred for growth in containers. We picked three to grow on our patios, decks, or anywhere other than in the ground or a raised bed. Most of us had never tried this, so it promised to be a novel experience.
Super Bush
Super Bush
Then we had an even better idea: We coordinated our trial with the annual tomato sale, which was held on April 15 th, and invited the public to participate. We had a booth at the tomato sale where people signed up, took a data sheet, and agreed to keep notes while growing any of the designated varieties.

We will poll them later about their experiences and add this data to our own.
We did some research on various tomatoes touted as suitable for growing in containers. One factor is whether the tomato is determinate or indeterminate. The former is a bush type that grows to a certain height, so this would probably work better in a limited space. We learned that there are dwarf varieties that are bred specifically for growing in pots. There are even micro-dwarf types that can be grown on a windowsill. Some of these were available at the sale, but we didn't want to experiment with a novelty. We decided to try three normal-sized plants that are reputed to do well in containers.

We picked one general-purpose round slicing tomato, one cherry/grape tomato, and one paste type. For the slicer we picked Super Bush, a determinate variety that is supposed to grow to about 3' in height. We picked a grape tomato called Prairie Fire, which is a small oblong tomato that had rave reviews from some who had grown it before. This one is indeterminate, but we cautioned everyone to provide good staking.

The last choice, Inca Jewel, is a paste type, also called plum or Roma. This is the kind of tomato used for making sauces because its flesh is thicker and meatier than other types. We were stymied by the prospect of getting so many empty containers without spending an exorbitant amount of money. We were lucky to find a tree farm that was willing to donate some large plastic containers. We were all responsible for purchasing our own soil. No supplies were offered to the public.
At the tomato sale anyone who purchased one or more of the three varieties in the trial was invited to participate. We were delighted to get 42 people to join our trial! We'll post updates over the coming months as the growing season progresses.

Napa Master Gardeners are available to answer garden questions by email: or phone at 707-253-4143.  Volunteers will get back to you after they research answers to your questions.

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Photo credits: Donna Woodward, Reneés Garden (Super Bush) Prairie Fire and Inca Jewel by previous permission.