Tomatoes are an amazing and easy crop to grow in a home garden, but what if you are cramped for space? Can tomatoes be grown in a vertical garden? As a long time home gardener, I have a ton of information on how this is not only possible but a great idea!
Growing tomatoes in a vertical garden is very easy to do and can be achieved in one of two ways. You can either plant the tomatoes in the ground or a large container and train them to grow up a trellis, or you can craft a vertical garden support system and grow the tomatoes in containers mounted on it.
There are a lot of options and ins and outs to growing tomatoes in a vertical garden. I have gathered all of this information for your easy reference below.
Deciding the Location
Your first decision will be where you want to grow your tomatoes. Tomatoes required long warm days and a lot of sunlight, but with the right equipment, they can be grown indoors as well.
If you are growing them inside, you will need to put them in a warm, sunny room that has a lot of light, or install grow lights to make they get all the light that they need. Grow lights use fluorescent light to mimic the light emitted from the sun. High output T5 Fluorescents are best for indoor growing of established plants.
If you want to grow them outside, choose a location that is full sun, which means that it gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. Tomatoes require a lot of water, so you will want to make sure that wherever you choose is within easy reach of water.
If you prefer to plant directly in the ground, a good location would be against a fence where you can build a solid structure for the plants to grow on, or you can use a combination of stakes and tomato cages as supports.
When planting outdoors, you will want to make sure that you wait until the last frost date has passed, as tomatoes are sensitive to the cold.
Crafting Your Vertical Tomato Garden System
If you have limited yard space, or only a patio or balcony, you can create a vertical garden where the plants are either placed in large bucket or bins filled with potting soil on the ground then supported with a trellis system or cages and stakes, or you can build a vertical garden system that has containers built into it so the tomatoes vines grow down the trellis instead of up it.
You can use almost anything for a planter. Recycle large cans, flower pots, buckets or even window boxes can be placed on shelving or fixed to a fence or trellis. The main thing with planters to remember is to make sure they have adequate drainage so you don’t drown your plants when it rains or when you water.
For tomatoes, most varieties need to be planted in a container at least 8 inches wide and deep, if not more. The larger the container, the more nutrient containing soil your plants will have to feed off of. Naturally, the more soil you use, the heavier your container will be, so make sure that it has proper support if you are mounting it on a wall or shelving unit.
Choosing Plants For Your Vertical Tomato Garden
Once you have your location picked out, and the support system created, it is time to choose your plants. There are two types of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. Most varieties of hybrid tomatoes can be found in either form, but some, especially heirloom varieties are not. There are also some that are semi-determinate, which means that they fall somewhere in between.
Determinate tomatoes grow more like a bush. These are ideal for growing either in the ground or a large container on the ground as they do not require a trellis for support. They will still need to be secured to a stake or two as they grow. This helps the plant to stay upright as it grows, keep the limbs of the plant from breaking as the tomatoes develop.
These San Marzano tomatoes are an example of a determinate type of tomato plant. This particular tomato is an heirloom variety that is considered one of the best plum tomatoes in the world for making paste and cooking. They do not start producing until later in the summer.
Goliath tomatoes are determinate tomatoes that produce large red slicing tomatoes. These are favorite of home gardeners who are looking for that perfect red tomato.
Indeterminate tomatoes are vine-type tomatoes. These are ideal for a vertical garden as the vines can be secured to a trellis. This helps to distribute the weight of the plants as they grow and produce tomatoes.
Burpee “Big Boy” Tomatoes are very common among home gardeners. These are indeterminate type tomatoes that produce large red tomatoes all summer long, similar to what you would purchase at the grocery store for sandwiches or burgers, or just eating fresh.
These cherry tomatoes are also great for vertical gardens. They produce TONS of cherry size tomatoes that are perfect for salads, cooking, or dehydrating into sundried tomatoes. They are also indeterminate, and the vines on healthy plants will grow like crazy, producing from early summer until a hard frost kills the plants in the fall. If you grow these inside, you could easily have fresh tomatoes for your salads all year long!
Starting with Plants or With Seeds
You will need to decide whether you want to start with seeds, or if you want plants. While there are a lot of online ordering options available for live plants, you may still be limited in variety if you want to purchase plants instead of starting seeds.
If you want to grow common tomato varieties, you can usually find plants that will grow the best in your climate at a local nursery or you can order some plants online. Looking to try something more exotic? you may need to order seeds. If you decide to start seeds, please keep in mind that it will take longer before you have tomatoes, especially if you sow the seeds directly into the ground or pot.
The additional time needed varies depending on the kind of tomato that you choose.
Determining the Number of Plants
The number of plants that you will need will depend on how much space you have, and what your needs are. A single standard tomato plant can produce between 10 and 20 lbs., and cherry tomatoes will produce around 6 lbs. per plant, depending on the tomato type and the climate. Tomatoes produce better in a hot summer-like climate with a long growing season.
Spacing and Fertilizing
It is important that you follow the spacing requirements for your tomato plants, especially if they are planted in the ground, as if they are too close together, they will be competing for resources. A good rule of thumb for tomato plants is two feet apart for determinate, and four feet apart for indeterminate, because they tend to sprawl so much.
You will want to fertilize them with a good quality fertilizer designed for tomato plants when you initially plant them, then not again until they start to set fruit. After that, you will need to fertilize them lightly every one to two weeks.
As the plants grow, you will want to selectively prune out any branches that are crowded to allow for sunlight to reach the whole plant for there to be good air flow between the branches.
Harvest, and Enjoy!
You should be sure to gather your ripe tomatoes as they ripen. At the height of production, you can expect to have an overabundance of crops to, preserve, feast on or share with friends and family. They will thank you for it!