Gardeners across the U.S. are in varying stages of preparing their vegetable gardens. Most will choose to include tomatoes in their plans. According to garden.org, tomatoes are the number one vegetable grown in home gardens. For some home gardeners, the traditional row crop production of tomatoes can be inconvenient or take up too much space. Container gardening is a good alternative if a few key points are taken into consideration.

Consider the growth habit before selecting a cultivar. Some cultivars have a compact habit that is perfect for container gardening. Look for names that include terms like “patio,” “balcony,” “bush,” etc. Many of these cultivars will have determinate or semi-determinate growth habits. Determinate plants set fruit over a shorter time frame and stop growing. Not all determinate cultivars will have a compact habit, so refer to the plant height on the label for guidance. Indeterminate cultivars will continue growing taller until frost, making them difficult to grow in containers.

Consider the size of the container necessary before planting. A 14-inch to 20-inch container is suitable for most compact cultivars. A five-gallon bucket with holes drilled into the bottom would also work. It is important that whatever container you choose is large enough and has drainage holes. There needs to be adequate room for sufficient root growth to support the plant. Containers that are too small will create the need for constant watering, and the entire plant may even blow over from being too top-heavy with growth. At planting, incorporate a tomato cage or other plant supports for cultivars that grow taller than two feet. A cage will help support fruit-laden branches.

Find the right location for the container. It should be easy to access for watering and harvest. Container-grown tomatoes will require close monitoring for moisture, needing daily watering in the height of summer. Tomatoes need a minimum of six hours of full sun exposure. Use a balanced fertilizer applied as a timed-release pellet at planting and at intervals according to package instructions. Alternately, use a water-soluble fertilizer once per week. Tomatoes are cold-sensitive, so be aware of our frost-free date around April 15. For more information on container vegetable gardening, see the online factsheet HGIC 1251, Container Vegetable Gardening.

The virtual Ask a Master Gardener series continues each Thursday from 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Registration information is available on our Facebook page: facebook.com/GreenwoodCoExtension/events. More upcoming events are posted on the Clemson Extension Horticulture Facebook page: facebook.com/cuexthorticulture/events.

County agents and staff are available to assist clients through telephone, email, and virtual platforms. Contact me at stepht@clemson.edu, or 864-889-0541. The Greenwood County Extension office is accepting soil samples, for electronic payment only, via a drop box outside the office at 105 North University Street. Complete the soil form, attach it to your soil bag, and drop both into the box. We will contact you for electronic payment over the phone. No cash or check payments can be accepted in the drop box! Alternately, you may mail your sample, soil form, and check or money order directly to the lab address on the form. Call 864-223-3264 with soil sample questions. Visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/GreenwoodCoExtension where we will be posting timely information. Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

Stephanie Turner is the Greenwood County horticulture agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension.