Growing tomatoes in containers are extremely rewarding, but it can be disappointing if your plants don’t make it – and there are lots of things that can damage young tomatoes. These problems that plague tomatoes grown in containers can magnify in tropical or subtropical climates, where the humidity is turned up and pests multiply.
The Spruce's houseplants expert, Jon VanZile, has been growing tomatoes in steamy Fort Lauderdale, FL for ten years and counting, and runs the Amazing Tomatoes blog at amazingtomatoes.com dedicated to tomato cultivation. We asked him for a few tips on growing tomatoes in containers in hot climates:
01 of 08
Feeding Your and Watering Your Tomatoes
When growing tomatoes in hot climates vs. regular climates, are their water needs different? Or their fertilizer needs?
Jon: In general, no. Tomatoes need a lot of water and fertilizer no matter where they grow, no matter what kind of climate. If you’re going to grow tomatoes in containers you need a very rich soil – a heavy peat-based soil with a lot of organic matter.
Note from KM: Always mix a slow-release fertilizer in with your potting soil and then add a liquid fertilizer throughout the season. Also, tomatoes need calcium, so if you start seeing black spots on the bottom of your tomatoes, you have the dreaded blossom end rot, so you may need to add lime to your soil.
02 of 08
Do some varieties of tomato grow better in hot climates?
Jon: Cherry tomatoes. But you can grow heirlooms in the subtropics, too. Many people like to grow heirloom tomatoes, which is more challenging in hotter climates because they’re not resistant to most of the wilts and fungi that tomatoes are susceptible to. If you want to grow heirlooms in a hotter climate, you have to be much more careful about your antifungal programs, as well as your watering and overall plant hygiene.
03 of 08
Can't they take too much difference in their watering?
Jon: The trick to growing tomatoes in containers is consistency. In the ground, if you skip a day watering, it’s no big deal. In a container, you don’t have that much room for error, so you really want to stay on top of watering and you really want to make sure it’s consistent so your fruit doesn’t split. And that means probably watering every day or every other day at the very least, especially as they get bigger, no matter what the climate. Because you want to make sure that they have a steady supply of water.
04 of 08
What problems can plague gardeners growing tomatoes in containers in hot climates? Are there any mistakes gardeners often make?
Jon: Sometimes you get the occasional wild and there’s nothing you can do about it, and if it’s a viral wilt you have to kill the plant. Pests, too – it’s hot down here. The most common mistake gardeners make with tomatoes is probably using a container that’s too small. Not making sure that the plant isn’t getting a bacterial or fungal disease is big. Watering inconsistently is a big problem too.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
06 of 08
Can self-watering containers be used in hot climates?
Jon: Sure, but they’ve got to be big. A mature producing tomato plant is a very large vigorous plant. You need a minimum of ten gallons per plant, preferably more than that. So if you can do a 15 or 20-gallon container per plant, you’ll get a much better harvest than you would with a smaller container.
07 of 08
08 of 08
Are there any other thoughts or tips you’d like to share on tomato cultivation in hot climates?
Jon: A lot of people think you can’t grow good heirloom tomatoes in the tropics or the subtropics, but you can. You can grow beautiful heirloom tomatoes in the subtropics, it’s just a lot harder. It’s a lot more work. If you want a really good harvest and you’re new to container gardening and tomatoes, the best thing to do is go out and buy a really resistant breed, like one of Burpee’s – a Big Boy or a Better Boy, even a Brandy Boy. They’ll produce very well and they’re not that hard to grow – they’re a vigorous plant. Remember, a tomato is actually a tropical plant. They’re really from the New World. So they’re used to this, they can do it. It’s just that we’ve bred them over the years for characteristics that make it a little more difficult.