Growing tomatoes in pots is easy and delicious. And it may be your best option if you want to grow gorgeous, healthy tomato plants but don’t have tons of garden space. Right now, living with a fourth floor condo balcony garden, if I want to grow tomatoes, I have to grow in containers. If deer or rabbits are a problem for you, planting tomatoes in pots might also be a great way for you to avoid the critter woes. And, containers allow you to move the plants around if a late season frost threatens or if you discover your chosen spot doesn’t get enough sun. You don’t (or rarely) have to stoop over weeding a container, and it’s easier to control water and fertilizer as well. Kinda wondering why everyone doesn’t grow them in pots! If you want to know how to do it, then read on to see how to grow tomatoes in pots!
Growing Tomatoes in Pots
Growing tomatoes in pots takes some care and attention, but isn’t hard work. Follow these tried and true tricks to getting your best tomato harvest yet, in the smallest amount of space, be it patio, balcony, or small section on the side of your house.
Containers for Tomatoes
If you want to learn how to grow tomatoes in pots, the first thing that needs attention is, well, the pot. Containers for tomatoes should be fast draining but retain moisture, and large. The bigger the better. Size of pot for tomatoes? Think minimum 5 gallon bucket size. In fact, many growers actually use five gallon plastic buckets from the home improvement store. Make sure that you drill plenty of drainage holes in the bottom if you go this route. Tomatoes need moisture, but will not tolerate wet feet. Those plants will be prone to rot.
Best Determinate Tomatoes for Pots
Next you want to choose the tomato varieties for your containers. First of all, you want to choose determinate, or bush tomatoes. They only grow to a predetermined height and then stop. This allows you to guess how big they will be, and therefore how big your container and tomato support needs to be. Roma and cherry tomatoes are easy varieties for beginners growing tomatoes in pots. Burpee Seeds has a new beefsteak tomato variety that can be grown in pots called “BushSteak“. Check with your nursery… there are new varieties being released every year bred specifically to grow in containers. There are even trailing cherry tomatoes for hanging planters! Photo by Ball Seed.
Choose healthy plants. Don’t try to “save” that sad little tomato plant on the clearance rack. If you start out with a stout, sturdy plant, you will be ahead of the game. While you can grow tomatoes from seed, it’s not something we recommend for beginners.
Planting Tomatoes in Pots
There are a few things you need to know before planting tomatoes in pots. First, the soil needs to be a rich planting mix. Don’t skimp here, tomatoes are heavy feeders and will not tolerate poor soil.
Place the containers where they will receive at least eight hours of sun a day. It would be great if this spot also offered them a little break from the wind, and in a perfect world, against a structure to protect from late frosts. These will be really heavy after you fill them with soil, so if you will need to move them after they are planted, get a plant caddy with wheels. Your back will thank you later.
Timing. DO NOT, I repeat, do not try to plant your tomatoes outdoors before the last frost date. And if you have a late frost after putting them out, bring them indoors or cover them overnight. Tomatoes are tender plants, and even if a late frost doesn’t kill them, it might stunt their growth and the eventual harvest. You might think you are giving them a head start, but a plant that is put out too early and exposed to frost will never catch up to a plant put out once it has warmed. You can find a chart of average last frost dates at The Farmers Almanac. But remember, these are averages only. Make sure you check your weather forecasts with local experts too.
When ready to plant, you need to remove the plants lower few sets of leaves. Then place the plant into the hole all the way up the stem, to just below the leaves left in place. Tomatoes will grow new roots along that stem you just exposed, so you just doubled your root volume. That in turn improves the health and vigor of the plants which then improves your tomato yield.
Now, as your tomato grows, it will need support. You can check out our post on DIY tomato cages, or check out tomato stakes at your nursery. Either way, use them early, long before the plant has a chance to flop over. You can also use a structure nearby to supply support by attaching the plant via garden velcro ties. Deck railing, fence posts or a pergola would all work here. Photo by Bonnie Plants.
If your planting mix doesn’t already contain fertilizer, you will have to add a water soluble type every 4-6 weeks. Tomatoes are really heavy feeders, so tell Alexa to set reminders, or set alarms on your phone. You want great tomatoes? Fertilize.
Water! Tomatoes want to be moist, but not waterlogged. Let them dry out too much, and they will be prone to disease and low yield. Let them sit waterlogged? They will be prone to disease and low yield. Remember, containers in the summer, especially ones in full sun, will dry out quickly. The bigger the container, the slower they dry out, but still, check every day once the weather is over 80 degrees. Once the soil is dry 2-3 inches below the surface, water deeply and slowly until water is draining out of the pot. Not just a dribble, either… draining. You want it good and soaked.
Check daily for signs of disease or pests and treat early. Our fav choice for both of those things is Neem Oil. Captain Jacks Dead Bug Juice is our top choice for organic pest control. Remember, do not water in the evening to help avoid fungal diseases. Just as true for your patio tomatoes as it is for your prize roses, perfect dahlias or amazing zinnias.
When to Harvest Your Tomatoes
If you want to know when, how and why to harvest your tomatoes before they are fully ripened, go check out what ‘Old World Garden Farms‘ has to say… And no, letting them ripen on a windowsill or in the frig is not the best way. But in the end, you will have gorgeous fruits from growing tomatoes in pots, just like this!
Tomato Containers You Can Buy
Want it all in one easy set up for you, so all you have to do is add soil and plants? Or even less work than that? Check out these containers for tomatoes!
This five pack of fabric grow bags comes in 5, 7, 10, 20 gallon sizes and more! Perfect for whatever variety patio tomato you decide to grow! At ‘Amazon‘.
This self watering planter garden kit was years in the making, designed for tomatoes. From ‘Gardeners Supply‘ (we buy tons of our own garden stuff here!) this has everything you need to grow great tomatoes, including the soil, attached steel trellis, and scientifically designed venting system for strong roots. The self watering system ensures one of the most important components of growing tomatoes in pots is covered… consistent water. Not too much, not too little. You can use this planter again and again, and it will pay you back with year after year of great tomato harvests.
This hydroponic tomato growing container over at ‘Amazon‘ is perfect for the gardener who wants all the reward, but isn’t real fond of the “getting your hands dirty” part. Grown without soil, this system has everything you need, including the attached trellis, for perfect patio tomatoes!
So now you know all about planting tomatoes in pots, how to care for them, and how to get a good harvest. Now all that’s left is perfecting your “world famous” tomato sauce! Also check out 12 Container Vegetable Gardening Ideas!