Best Tomatoes for Containers
Updated: Mar 5
Many people think that patio tomatoes don't taste as good as other garden tomatoes and that they produce small red tomatoes for a short time and then the plant dies. This may have been true in the past but there are a few great varieties available now that will keep you supplied with great tasting tomatoes all season long right from your patio or balcony.
The dwarf tomato varieties are perfect for a gardener with limited space, but a desire to enjoy the great quality and flavor of tomatoes from an open pollinated, indeterminate, heirloom variety. They will thrive in a 5-10 gallon container with enough water and sun. The plants are very sturdy with thick, rugose foliage. Currently most patio tomato varieties are determinate and only set fruit for a short season and the tomatoes fall short on flavor. Dwarf varieties behave like indeterminate varieties in that they produce for the entire season. The dwarf plants are crosses between a handful of rare, old, dwarf heirlooms and their larger heirloom cousins. The Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project was launched by Craig LeHoullier and a handful of other tomato enthusiasts from around the world in 2006 resulting in select group of stabilized varieties that have just become available recently. We offer several varieties each year along with other patio perfect tomatoes as starter plants.
All of the Dwarf Tomato Varieties are subject to the Open Source Seed Initiative pledge. The seeds from these tomatoes may be saved and shared so long as you disclose the pledge. Please read more here...Open Seed Source Initiative.
A few favorite Dwarf Tomato varieties are:
1. Dwarf Golden Gypsy - 8 - 18 oz. yellow potato leaf. Tangy, heavy yield. 4 foot plants.
2. Dwarf Purple Heart- 10 oz. regular leaf purple tomato. Heart shaped.
3. Brandy Fred Dwarf - 10-16 oz. purple tomato. Prolific, potato leaf plant.
4. Dwarf Wild Spudleaf - 4-10 oz. dark pink with potato leaf.
5. Dwarf Waratah - 6-12 oz. red with regular leaf.
Hybrids and Others
We love the Dwarf Tomato varieties because they deliver the old fashioned heirloom flavor. Along the way we have found a few hybrid and open pollinated varieties that are worth a mention. They have all been grown in our trial gardens and proven to be great performers and been disease resistant. Most varieties have been trialed in containers both in our greenhouses and out in a field, in a container. Here are a few varieties to consider trying:
1. Celano - This is an indeterminate hybrid patio grape tomato that is blight resistant. It was a 2020 AAS Winner and is an excellent choice for patio and urban gardens. Height 40". In our trial garden the plant produced many trusses of grape tomatoes and was disease resistant.
2. Bush Beefsteak - This is an open pollinated heirloom variety but it is determinate. Plants grow to only 4 feet. Tomatoes are medium size deep red. This tomato is perfect for sandwiches and slicing. Bush Beefsteak is a terrific choice if you want a tomato that is a little larger but on a shorter plant. We found the plant to produce over a few of months and the fruit was picture perfect with great flavor.
3. Tumbling Tom - A compact hybrid variety that was bred for growing in a hanging basket or a tall container. This variety makes great use of vertical space in limited area. Perfect for balconies. The fruit is 1 oz. oval shaped on plants that cascade 20" from a 12" basket. Use 1-3 plants in the basket.
4. Pineapple Tomatillo - This is hands down one of our favorites. The tomatillo and tomato are both from the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family but are very different as far as texture, flavor and growth habit of plants. Tomatillos are also called ground cherries or husk tomatoes. The Pineapple Tomatillo produces 3/4-1 oz. bright yellow fruit that is sweet and tastes like pineapple. They grow in papery husks and are best when harvested once they fall from the plant. They keep in their husks for a couple weeks. The husk is removed before they are eaten. We pack them in our lunch or eat as a snack. You can also make salsa, tarts or halve them and top a salad. They do great in a tall container where they can cascade over the edges and the fruit can drop around it.
All of the varieties mentioned above are great for containers but also work well in a raised bed or in a larger garden. They make great use of space and most require little or no staking. When planting in a container they will require more watering than they do planted directly in the ground because they dry out quicker with the increased surface area of the container. All tomatoes require at least 6 hours of sun per day to be productive.