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My fiancée has several plants, including a basil, pepper (as in, green and red), and tomato. There’s also a poinsettia but that one is less of a problem.

We live in a small one-bedroom apartment; the plants are on the window sill. The basil and pepper plants are actually in 2 liter soda bottles with the tops cut off. The tomato plant originally was too, but, well.

The plants have grown considerably, especially the tomato plants (which are now in three separate pots and still growing). They take up a considerable portion of the window now, and their constant attempts to out-reach one another for sun have made them extremely top-heavy and unstable (soda bottles are not great for this). The tomato plant, in particular, seems to have outgrown its own strength; even with supporting dowels, the branches just grow farther than they can hold themselves up.

Is there anything we can do to keep the plants, but keep them from getting bigger? Ideally, get them to shrink a bit? We enjoy having plants in the window, and the fresh ingredients (though, for all its impressive size, the tomatoes have yet to actually produce a tomato, and we only ever seem to get one pepper at a time), so we want to keep them, but this is already kind of a problem, and it seems to show no signs of slowing down.

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In the case of the Basil, it shouldn't be too difficult to keep it on a small scale by pruning off the tallest stem tips every few weeks. If you see any flowers begin to develop cut those off as well. When Basil flowers are allowed to develop very much their flavor begins to go off. Of course, if you're using the Basil fast enough you can keep the growth under control by harvesting leaves to eat.

The pepper plant may be more resistant to staying small, it depends somewhat on the specific variety you're growing, but if you're getting peppers currently I wouldn't mess with it too much.

The tomato isn't going to like being kept small. Most varieties want to get big. The smallest variety that I've ever seen in person is the Patio Hybrid. It's considered a dwarf tomato, but even that plant wants to get 2 feet tall and wider than that. That variety was developed for a small plant size and it still probably needs a minimum pot size around 2-gallons. If the tomato is a relatively compact variety, it might be possible to keep it down around that size and get production. On the other hand, if it's an indeterminate, full-season variety I'd say your odds of keeping it any size that could be called 'manageable' is a losing battle. Larger tomato varieties can be planted 3-4 feet apart in outdoor gardens and will still regularly spread wide enough to touch each other. Trying to keep a plant like that in even a large-size pot is going to result in a root-bound plant that will die of stress long before producing fruit. If you have any idea what variety the tomato is, please update the question.

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    Yeah, the basil's OK. The pepper's not too bad, either. The tomato plant was billed as supposedly a variety that is small but productive, more energy into producing tomatoes than growing outward. Does not seem borne out by our experience, or your post, but that’s what she was told. The pepper plant was actually an accident; she intended to plant something else entirely in that pot. Best guess is that some pepper seeds from cooking were on her hands and got in the pot. I’ll add some photos tomorrow. – KRyan Oct 25 '15 at 0:44
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    Small in tomato terms is quite a lot larger than many beginner gardeners might expect. That dwarf variety I mentioned is small. It's just hard to tell if you're not familiar with how big larger tomatoes get. – GardenerJ Oct 25 '15 at 0:53
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Prune, prune, prune (& that's not drying plums.)

Grab shears and a bag and give them a major league haircut, and give consideration to offing the tomato as being a space-hogging parasite that does not produce. Eat the basil you prune off.

They (tomato plants) usually require support, BTW - if you want to give it some more time, put up a hook, run some twine, and prune it down to a single stem trained on the twine. But if it continues to disappoint, kill it and try a different one, perhaps one of the "grape tomato" varieties. But you may not have enough light to get fruit from one...

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To help your plant be able to support itself longer (although still not if it gets too long) you can give it some potassium sulfate. It really strengthens the stems (without killing microbes in your soil). Calcium and silica help to strengthen plants, too, and calcium goes hand-in-hand with potassium. I've used basalt rockdust for calcium and silica, but there's probably a more ideal product for tomatoes there (rockdust is more of a long-term thing). I know they initially like greensand a lot more than basalt rockdust (which might work for the silica, but you may need a calcium source, like maybe a little gypsum).

To prevent your plants from growing too fast, you can plant them in clay or clay loam soil (make sure you don't bring insects or diseases in your house with the soil, though). Plants grow very slowly and steadily in our clay-loam soil, indoors (at least at my house), but they still fruit in it. I imagine they would grow even more slowly in pure clay. If you sterilize some outdoor soil, I recommend adding some worm castings or something to put some good microbes back in the soil.

Pruning your tomatoes can help. I'm guessing you have indeterminate tomatoes.

Small pots and multiple plants per pot can result in smaller plants, but it may have a negative impact on fruiting. Plants may also need to be watered and fertilized more often.

If you're not partial to the specific plants you're already growing, variety counts. Things to look for in a variety for indoor use include these:

  • Size. Some varieties (like Micro-Tom, Tumbling Tom, etc.) are a lot smaller and still produce a reasonable amount of fruit. That doesn't mean they'll do it indoors, though, even if they fruit well in outdoor containers, but you never know until you try it. There are several kinds of tomatoes. Indeterminate: they grow and fruit indefinitely; they vine out and can get big; they will probably require significant pruning if kept indoors. Determinate: These are typically smaller/bushy, fruit once, all at once, and die. Semi-determinate: These often fruit and grow indefinitely, but slower to much slower than indeterminate tomatoes. Dwarf-indeterminate: I believe these are just smaller indeterminate tomatoes. It should be noted that not all tomatoes marketed as determinate behave determinate in every fashion, and semi-determinate plants sometimes grow pretty big. Determinate tomatoes are said not to do as well indoors; my guess is it's probably because they only fruit once, and conditions might not be right when they're ready. (This also may have something to do with there not being regular seasons indoors.) It sounds like dwarf-indeterminate tomatoes might be ideal for your situation.
  • Parthenocarpic (will set fruit without pollination; they also set fruit in a wider variety of temperatures)
  • Tolerant of heat and cold (indoor temperatures are often too warm for tomatoes, despite being tolerable for humans; the daytime indoor temperatures are usually fine, but they need to get somewhat colder at night if the daytime temperatures are too warm to be their constant temperature.)
  • Drought-tolerant (This is just a good precaution, especially if your container isn't large)
  • Look for varieties well-suited for containers. This is often advertised with the variety.
  • Shade-tolerant (light is usually more limited indoors; so, plants that need less of it are a really good idea; I would guess that cold-tolerant tomatoes might be able to withstand a little less light, too, but that is just a guess; when I say shade-tolerant, I don't mean tolerant of full-shade; I mean, partial shade)
  • Productive (productive plants are probably better at utilizing limited resources)
  • Tolerates humidity (if you have a lot of plants, odds are, your growing environment is humid; if you just have a few, it's probably not a big deal)

Without regard to the amount of soil, light, water and fertilizer needed, here are some parthenocarpic plants that I would recommend investigating most, out of the parthenocarpic ones:

Golden nugget will probably be the easiest parthenocarpic tomato for your situation, and since it's fairly small and as it has small fruit, it should have fairly modest requirements. It's supposed to be rather productive.

Aside from parthenocarpic kinds, a lot of peppers can fruit indoors just fine. Finding the right ones is the thing, though. Hot peppers probably set fruit inside more easily, usually.

Some other tomatoes that I would suggest looking into include these:

  • Glacier (semi-determinate; heat/cold tolerant)
  • Coldset (determinate; heat/cold tolerant)
  • Payette (plants described as polite and ornamental; should have above average heat-tolerance)

I believe Glacier and Payette have been tried in containers before with success. I'm not sure about Coldset. I'm not sure if these have below-average light requirements, however (they may need a whole lot of sun for all I know). Anyway, these are some experimental ideas. There's not a lot of knowledge on the Internet as to which varieties do best indoors (although container knowledge is another matter). So, experimentation should help. I've gotten indoor fruit (not loads of it, though), on Galapagos Island (Solanum cheesmaniae); I only had it in a 20 fl. oz. foam cup, though (clay-loam soil). I imagine you could get more out of it with more soil. It has thin branches, but it's indeterminate.

I've had Aunt Molly's ground cherries do well indoors (even crowded with multiple plants in an 18 fl. oz. container; I imagine they could do much better in a bigger one, with one plant), if you like ground cherries (the plants are quite small). The fruit is supposed to be ripe when it falls off the plant.

You can find some more traditional tomato varieties for containers in a web search. I have no idea how they do indoors, other than their suitability for containers.

Smaller tomatoes are supposed to do better indoors, more often. I think it still depends on the variety, though, from my experience.

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The best thing to do would be to improve the light. What window (N,E,W or S) is this? Vegetables don't do very well inside. Just not enough light unless you get some GOOD grow lights incorporated or perhaps a southern window with grow lights but plants can't be in direct sunlight without getting acclimated. The other thing one needs to do is pinch the apical buds. These are the very tips of stems. This is where most of the energy in the plant resides. Once you pinch that back that energy is rerouted down the length of the stem causing the lateral buds to get enough energy to sprout. Doubt if you'll ever get a tomato off these guys!! Got to have enough light, enough day length, warmth, the correct type of fertilizer (lower Nitrogen versus potassium and phosphorus), allow the soil to dry out a bit before watering, HOLES in the bottom of your containers!! Bottom of the containers raised above the surface it sits upon for even better drainage...basil will do better as it provides vegetative results not reproductive. But all will do better pinching apical or terminal buds, low nitrogen, as much light as you can muster for at least 14 hours per day. If using grow lights you'll need to reduce the daylight to 12 hours to stimulate more reproductive growth (flowers, pollen, fruit) once flowers have been pollinated (you will have to do this by hand with a small brush or shaking the plants) keep the light regular, watering regular allowing to dry inbetween somewhat before the next watering, careful adding anymore fertilizer. You might get tomatoes or peppers. Definitely basil leaves. I'd also add a fan for ventilation to protect from fungus stuff. Good grow lights that are in the red spectrum which will enhance reproductive growth and sort of inhibit too much vegetative growth. Expect to pay at least $100+ for a decent grow light...best ones start at $500+. Use potting soil, upgrade pots as the plant outgrows its pot (don't start any plants in a huge pot!)...pictures please!

  • Uh. This was not the question really. We actually do get a few peppers; not many, but a few. Basil's fine. You do seem to be right about the tomatoes as far as getting fruit is concerned. But most of all, I wasn't really concerned about getting fruit in the first place – I was more concerned about the enormous amount of space they are starting to take up (especially the tomatoes). It is a southern exposure that sees a considerable amount of sunlight. – KRyan Oct 25 '15 at 0:41
  • Then feel free to cut the stems back! At least half their length. But please send a picture! Pinching the apical or terminal buds off is the best and really only thing you can do other than lower the nitrogen to thicken up the vegetative growth of your plants. Really can't tell you what to do for sure without pictures...grins! – stormy Oct 25 '15 at 0:45
  • I will get photos tomorrow, then, and let you know. – KRyan Oct 25 '15 at 0:45

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