Growing Tomatoes in Pots

Cherry tomatoes in light brown clay pots
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Tomato Container Gardening Tips

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Short on space? One pot is all you need to grow tasty tomatoes! With a few simple tips for success, you’ll be on your way to a handy harvest of summer goodness right on your sunny patio, porch, deck, or balcony.

Being able to pick flavorful, ripe, homegrown tomatoes is one of the main reasons for having a summer garden. But what if you lack enough space in the garden or perhaps don’t even have a yard? Have no fear, containers are here!

What type of container is best?

Unless you are growing dwarf tomato plant, which will happily grow in a hanging basket, you will need at least a 5-gallon sized pot. Healthy roots are needed to build a healthy productive plant so a big pot is necessary to give the roots room to grow.

Anything that holds enough soil and has adequate drainage will work. Terra cotta is pretty but tends to hold the heat and dry out fast. Filled with soil it can be heavy and difficult to move. Plastic is not as attractive but is more practical. It is lighter in weight and holds moisture longer. Dark-colored pots of any type heat up in the sun and can cause soil to overheat, so look for light colors.

A light colored plastic pot works well for growing tomatoes. Credit: All-American Selections.

Sun for Tomato Pots

Your tomato pot will need as much sun as it can get, at least 6-8 hours a day. One good thing about container growing is that you are able to move the plant to take advantage of your sunniest spots. Put it on casters to make it easier to move.

Soil for Containers

One of the joys of container gardening is the control you have over the soil you use. Do NOT fill your pot with garden soil. It is too heavy and may harbor insect eggs and soil-borne diseases. Use a good potting mix, high in organic matter. If you can’t find one, add compost or aged manure to a sterile potting soil to give it life and trace nutrients. A common proportion is 1 part compost to 2 parts potting mix. 

Planting in Containers

Don’t start too early unless you are prepared to protect your plant on a cold night otherwise wait until night temperatures are reliably above 55 degrees.

The bare stem on this transplant can be buried up to where Tom’s fingers are.

Plant your tomato transplant more deeply that it grew in its pot to encourage it to form more roots along the stem, making for a stronger plant.

See more tips on planting tomatoes!

Feeding Tomatoes in Containers

Don’t go overboard on fertilizers. High nitrogen fertilizers will encourage your plant to grow lots of leaves instead of setting fruit. Look for a balanced fertilizer or one that is high in potassium. There are fertilizers made just for tomatoes. Adding a slow-release fertilizer to the soil at planting time is usually enough to get you through the first half of the season. After that you can scratch in more timed-released fertilizer to the top of the soil or add a dose of water soluble fish emulsion or liquid seaweed to your watering can every two weeks. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and frequent watering often flushes nutrients from the soil.

Watering Tomatoes in Containers

Plants grown in containers dry out much faster than those grown in the ground, so check them daily in hot dry weather. Never let the soil dry out completely. Alternating between too wet and too dry encourages blossom end rot. Water slowly and deeply, allowing the water time to sink in and not just run off. Frequent light waterings - which encourage shallow root growth - make for a weak plant. Try to keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy and don’t let the pot sit in a wet saucer. To prevent root rot it needs to drain. Be sure to water the soil and not the plant to discourage foliar diseases.

Which Tomatoes to Grow for Containers

There are two basic types of tomato plants - determinates and indeterminates. Indeterminate plants don’t know when to stop. They just keep on growing and producing fruit until freezing weather kills them. These plants will get huge and are usually unsuitable for container growing unless you have an enormous container and a way to support the lengthy vines. 

Determinates are perfect for container culture. They rarely get larger than 3 feet tall, are bushy rather than lanky, and all their fruit matures within a narrow time frame. Once flowers form at the branch tips the plants stop growing and put their energy into forming fruit. They need no pruning, in fact, if you do prune them you will be cutting off the fruit-bearing parts of the plant. 

Dwarf cherry tomatoes are perfect for growing in a hanging basket.

Dwarf or mini-varieties are smaller versions of determinates that are excellent for growing in a hanging basket, windowbox, or on the kitchen counter. When shopping look for bush or dwarf in the name of the plant. Here are some determinate slicers and salad tomatoes we have grown in the past with good results:

  1. Patio, 
  2. Marglobe, 
  3. New Yorker, 
  4. Rutgers, 
  5. Celebrity, 
  6. Bush Goliath, 
  7. Bush Early Girl, and 
  8. Bush Beefsteak.

For dwarf cherry tomato plants try these varietis:

  1. Patio Choice, 
  2. Tumbler, 
  3. Red Robin, 
  4. Tiny Tim, or 
  5. Micro-Tom.

See more new vegetables introduced this year!

It won’t be long and you will be picking luscious fruits from your own plants!

Ready to learn more? See the Almanac’s complete guide to planting, growing, and harvesting tomatoes in the garden!

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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