The tomato is the hottest summer fruit (or vegetable, as some people tend to call it). Many look forward to that burst of vine-ripened flavor that you just can’t get from the grocery store produce section any other season. Whether you’re a fan of the Southern summer mainstay – the tomato sandwich – or if you just desire the occasional delicious tomato for your salads or other meals, you might consider growing your own.

Garbage can planter

Place a garbage can or extra large container in full sun and fill it with potting mix.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Elevated can

Drill holes in the bottom of your clean garbage can and elevate with bricks to provide proper drainage.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Plant 2 tomatoes

Transplant two healthy tomato plants into your can container.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Add metal trellis

A metal trellis will help support your canned plants. (Make sure the holes are large enough to reach through for easy harvesting.)

Photo Credit: Megan Bame


With sufficient water, it shouldn’t take long before your can-grown tomatoes have fruit set.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Jim Wilson, former host of “The Victory Garden” television series, once bragged about harvesting 60 pounds of tomatoes from plants grown in an extra large container he fashioned with a few simple supplies. With today’s food prices soaring, this small investment to get some veggies of your own started should pay off after only a couple weeks of harvest. Here’s all you need to do:

  1. Place a clean 25- to 30-gallon container in full sun. (A whiskey barrel or unused, plastic garbage can works well.) If there are no drainage holes in the bottom of the container, drill some.
  2. Place bricks or wood blocks evenly under the container to facilitate drainage and prevent disease organisms in the soil from establishing and reaching the plant roots.
  3. Fill the container to within 2 inches of its rim with “soilless” potting mix. While using garden soil will also work, soilless media (like a peat-based potting soil) will provide a sterile, pH-correct environment, avoiding many growing problems associated with “dirt.” Blend a complete controlled-release fertilizer (like 20-20-20) into the top 3 inches of the mix to feed the plants through late summer.
  4. Plant two tomato seedlings (starter plants) in the container. In my North Carolina area, Better Boy is the most popular homegrown tomato variety, but you can choose whatever you’d prefer – maybe a pink or yellow variety, or consider a cherry tomato. Heirlooms, like Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter and Cherokee Purple, are becoming easier to find, with increased interest in these old-time favorites.
  5. Wrap the container with a section of 8-foot-tall steel reinforcing wire that has 6-inch openings. Measure the circumference of your pot first, then add about 6 inches for overlap. This will provide season-long support for your plants and allow for easy, reach-through harvesting.
  6. Water your plants when the top 3-4 inches of soil mix is dry. Avoid wetting the foliage, and soak the soil until you see water draining through the bottom of the container. After your plants begin to set fruit, water them daily – especially on hot, windy days.
  7. Start harvesting, and enjoy the “fruits” of your labor!

Most folks are eager to get their tomatoes started, taking part in a friendly growing race to see who can produce the first red tomato of the season. But tomato lovers know that the real winner is the one who’s harvesting tomatoes the longest. So to keep that delicious harvest going, plant a second container of tomatoes in early summer – and plan to harvest until first frost!