Growing Tomatoes in Grow Bags
Growing tomatoes is fun. The best part is that tomatoes can grow almost anywhere. If someone doesn’t have a yard and wish to grow tomatoes, they don’t have to be disappointed.
Although they can grow this lovely crop indoors in containers, a still better option is to use grow bags.
Published: January 16, 2021.
What are Grow Bags?
Grow bags are simply fabric or plastic bags in which one can grow plants. Their benefit over containers is that they are lightweight and thus can be easily moved around inside the home, super air permeable, economical, space-saving, and reusable. Moreover, most of them have handles to help users carry them easily while relocating.
One can get various types of grow bags in the market like fabric and plastic grow bags. However, one can even just use their bags of compost, potting soil, etc. to grow tomatoes.
Why Grow Bags?
Besides the advantages mentioned above such as being lightweight, air-permeable, space-saving, easily portable, economical, and reusable, fabric grow bags have a major advantage of developing a stronger root system of the plant.
The texture of the fabric of the grow bags allows roots to prune themselves when they reach the edge of the bag. Due to the self-pruning, the roots are prevented from growing in circles like they do around the container and instead grow new fibrous hair.
This makes the root system of plants in grow bags healthier and more robust.
Types of Tomato Plants Based on Growth Habits
When it comes to growth habits, tomato plants are of two types.
This type of tomatoes tends to grow upright and hence sometimes referred to as upright tomatoes. They need to be supported by canes or suspended by strings. They also need to be pruned to let them concentrate on growing to top-quality tomatoes rather than a lot of leaves. When it comes to growing in grow bags, this type has the advantage of taking up less space as compared to other types.
As its name suggests, this type of tomato grows into a bush shape and doesn’t normally need support, neither does it need pruning. Although it has these upsides, there are downsides too. They occupy a larger space and their fruits take longer to mature.
Types of Tomatoes Based on Shapes and Sizes
Tomatoes come in many different shapes and sizes. Major among these types are cherry tomatoes (small and round), standard tomatoes (medium-sized and round), plum tomatoes (oval-shaped), beefsteak (large and round), and marmande tomatoes (a beefsteak variety – large and unevenly shaped).
Out of these, growers can grow any, depending on their personal choice. However, it’s recommended to avoid beefsteak and marmande, because they take too long to mature if not grown in a greenhouse.
Varieties of Tomatoes to Grow in Grow Bags
Several varieties of tomatoes can be grown in grow bags. Here are a few of them which are the most suitable and fastest growing for grow bags.
Alicante: This variety produces red, round, evenly shaped beautiful medium-sized fruits.
Sun Sugar: These are very sweet, medium-sized yellow cherry tomatoes that grow in 65 days. The plant is beautiful and gives a heavy yield.
Clear Pink Early: This variety produces fruits in 60 days but it’s not very disease-resistant. Tomatoes are sweet.
Bush Early Girl Hybrid: This fruit is small and grows in 50-60 days. This variety is very disease-resistant and is easily available all over the world in nurseries.
Bush Steak: This variety produces big juicy tomatoes within 60-65 days.
Better Bush Hybrid: These medium-sized tomatoes grow in 70 days. They are bushy plants and are resistant to sunburn.
Sweet 100: These very sweet red cherry tomatoes grow in 65 days. One long fruit-bearing stem can produce more than 100 cherry tomatoes. The plant and its fruits are very attractive.
Tigeralla: These tomatoes have red and orange stripes on them and hence they are named so. They look great in salads.
Pik Red: These are medium red tomatoes and grow in just 70 days and give a heavy yield. They are also disease-resistant.
Mountain Gold: These are beautiful smooth round yellow-colored tomatoes that grow in 70-80 days. It’s a disease-resistant variety and gives heavy yields. It can give up to 14 oz. of fruits.
Oregon Spring: These are very easy to grow in grow bags and grow in just 55-60 days.
Ace 55 Hybrid: This is one of the most popular varieties in vegetable gardening. Tomatoes grow in just 75-80 days. It’s also disease-resistant.
Gardeners Delight: This is a cherry tomato variety and is highly dependable. It produces small yet tasty, red disease-resistant fruits.
Health Kick Hybrid: These sweet tomatoes are produced within 75 days. They are believed to have 50% more lycopene, a potent antioxidant found in tomatoes, and hence are a healthy choice for a family.
Patio F1 Hybrid: This variety can give the first fully ripened fruit in just 70 days. The fruit is of a size of a tennis ball.
Solar Fire Hybrid: This variety is great for hot climates. The plant can grow up to 8 feet in height.
Tumbler: These are sweet cherry tomatoes. One can harvest them in just 50-60 days.
Talladega Hybrid: This variety is also perfect for hot climates. Fruits are produced in just 65 days.
Best Time to Grow Tomatoes in Grow Bags
Tomato is known as a warm-weather, sun-loving crop. Thus it needs a hot climate to grow at its best. Growers can use some factors to decide if the time is best for growing tomatoes:
- If the night temperature stays above 50°F (10°C), it’s the right time.
- If the grower is growing seeds in a greenhouse and has some heat source, they can sow seeds early as long as the temperature is at its peak.
When Not to Grow Tomatoes?
Some gardeners think that if they grow tomatoes early, they can get an early harvest. However, this is not the case. Tomato plants if planted early will produce only flowers but not fruits as they need more than 55°F (10°C) temperature at night to produce fruits.
However, if the gardener has a greenhouse and heat source, they can grow tomatoes a little early.
When is it Too Late to Grow Tomatoes?
If the grower has waited a little longer to start growing, it’s better to choose varieties with a very short growth time, like 60 days or less. There may be a problem if the first frost time in the grower’s area is less than 60 days; however, again if they have heat sources, they can go ahead.
Ideal Size of Grow Bags
A 5 to 7 gallon or at least 8 to 10 inch (diameter) grow bag is perfect for any tomato variety. However, one can grow some varieties in just a 1-gallon or 6-8 inch grow bag. Or one can even grow multiple tomato plants in 20-30 gallon or 14-inch grow bags.
Seeds or Seedlings?
To be honest, planting seeds and watching them grow is extremely pleasurable. Tomato seeds germinate in 5-12 days and seedlings will be ready in 6-8 weeks.
However, growers can choose to cut this time and can buy seedlings from the garden store. They should choose the healthiest seedlings though. The downside of this method is that seedlings don’t come in many varieties in stores to choose from. Thus, if the grower is fine with choosing the same varieties, again and again, they can choose to go with seedlings.
Tips to Remember while Growing from Seeds
As mentioned above, tomato seeds will germinate within 5 to 12 days and seedlings will emerge within 6 to 8 weeks.
Growers should follow certain tips to get the best results while growing seedlings from seeds. They should:
- Wash the seeds well with warm water to remove old soil and accumulated salts.
- Dry the seeds completely before planting.
- Only use a high-quality seed-starting mix and avoid cheap imitations.
- Moisten the seed-starting mix thoroughly with a pump spray bottle.
- Maintaining warm temperature and watering twice daily should germinate the tomato seeds within a week or so.
Handling Seedlings with Care: Growers can sow seeds in small containers like paper cups and then transfer seedlings to grow bags. While transferring to the grow bags, they should handle the seedlings with utmost care.
They should not touch the main stem of the seedlings to avoid bruising of the juicy tissue as the bruises can be easy entry points for fungus. They should also protect the seedlings from falling over which can happen when the stem of the seedling is weak and top is heavy with new leaves.
Fall-overs can be prevented by adding more seed-starting mix around the base of weak-stemmed seedlings. Toothpicks or wood skewers can be added for extra support.
Growing Tomatoes in Grow Bags/Compost Bags from Seedlings
Tomatoes can be grown in grow bags in two ways. Growers can either buy some good quality grow bags or can just use bags of compost or other similar bags, make drainage holes in them and use them as grow bags.
If the bag has no drainage holes, they’ll have to make them with scissors. Then they need to add some clay pebbles or potting mix at the bottom of the grow bags. They should press the soil firmly around the base as this will create a firm base and the bag won’t wobble or tilt.
Next, they should add soil and then compost to the bag. Good quality compost is extremely important. One can buy such compost from a reputable store or can make their own compost.
Growers should make sure they loosen the soil before adding it to the bag as the seedlings should not be planted in compact soil.
As tomato is a sun-loving plant, growers should choose a spot with abundant sunlight to place the bag. They can even place the grow bags on the balcony or on the roof.
Now they should scoop out some of the compost to make room for the seedling they are going to plant. Then they should plant a healthy seedling with healthy roots in the pit and cover all its roots with soil.
Now they should water the plant. Plants planted in grow bags need some extra water than container plants for the best growth. Whenever growers notice drying soil, they should water the plant. It’s very important to keep the soil moist for the healthy growth of tomato plants.
Next, growers should sprinkle an organic fertilizer and Epsom salt around the base of the plants to supply the essential nutrients like magnesium and nitrogen for healthy growth and fighting diseases like blossom rot.
Growers can even add some light mulching over the soil for protection.
Once the plants grow and gain some height, they’ll need some type of support. Growers can offer just a rope, or make a wood trellis on their own or buy one, to support the plant.
Caring for Tomato Plants in Grow Bags
Protection from Pests
Just like container plants and plants grown in the ground, grow bag tomato plants too are easy attractions for pests.
Growers can use some type of grow bag tray to keep pests away.
Whitefly and green aphid are common pests on tomato plants. They live in groups underneath the leaves. Growers can remove them with hands or just remove the affected leaves. But if the plant is severely affected, they should spray the plant with a mixture of water and a small quantity of washing liquid.
When tomato plants are grown in bags, they get only a limited supply of nutrients. However, tomato plants need heavy feeding. Therefore, growers should make sure they add extra nutrients to the soil.
The above-mentioned organic fertilizer and Epsom salt or an all-purpose vegetable feed works well.
Growers should also make sure they provide an optimal water supply to their plants in grow bags. But the delicate balance between too much and too little should be maintained, as too much water can cause splitting of tomatoes and too little water can kill the plants. It’s a good idea to give little water often.
Growers should cut every leaf or offshoot that is touching the soil as fungi can easily make entry to the plant through them, and damage the entire plant.
Tomato plants can be caught by several diseases. Here are a few tips that can save the plants from diseases.
Changing Soil Frequently
Pathogens that attack tomatoes come from the soil. Therefore it’s a good idea to keep changing the soil or rotating the crops.
As mentioned earlier, fungal disease can attack the plants via the leaves of offshoots touching the soil. Hence such leaves and offshoots should be immediately pinched off.
Preventing Wetting of Leaves
Keeping the foliage wet while watering the plants can cause fungal diseases. Using self-watering containers or a soaker hose to water the plants is a good idea to prevent leaves from getting wet.
Burning Diseased Plants
Growers should never add diseased plants to the compost pile. They should always burn such plants.
To check if the tomato fruit is ripe or not, growers can taste it. They should just taste one fruit and if it tastes good, they can harvest other fruits. Color is also an indicator, but it depends on the variety the grower has chosen.
Growers should never harvest green tomatoes. If for some reason, like frost or similar, growers want to harvest all fruits, they should separate green tomatoes from red ones and place them in a warm place with temperature around 77°F (22°C) until ripe. They should make sure they do so in a single layer as piling up is not good for them.
If growers are short of space, grow bags are the best option to grow one’s own tomatoes. Growers should grow them and enjoy the rewarding experience.