Growing Tomatoes in Pots and Containers For Huge Plants

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Not everyone has space in a garden to grow a plant like tomatoes. The good news is growing tomatoes in pots is much easier than you might think. As long as you have a sunny spot and a place to put the pot, you can have juicy, delicious tomatoes throughout the season.

Determinate tomato varieties do better in pots and containers than indeterminate tomatoes. This is because determinate varieties grow more bushy while indeterminate types vine and sprawl. Tomato plants should be supported with cages, stakes, or trellises when growing in pots. 

Growing Tomatoes in Pots

I am going to explain how easy it can be to grow tomato plants in a pot. In addition, I’ll explain what to look out for as you grow this delicious garden favorite.

Step 1: Pick the Perfect Spot 

The secret to growing tomatoes in a pot is to make sure you find the perfect spot for them. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that the spot you choose will have a minimum of six hours of full sun.

Sun is only one of the things a plant needs, though. You also have to make sure it has a water source. Choose a spot for your tomato pot where there is hose access, access to a rainwater cistern, or set them up on irrigation. If that’s not possible, you can also bring a watering can to them.

Just keep in mind that tomatoes need a pretty steady amount of water, so you may be doing this every couple of days if it gets too hot and dry. If you are going to be growing several pots of tomatoes, keep them together to make it easier when you water them.

If you live in a hot climate, you may want to set your tomato pots in an area with morning and early afternoon son. Another idea is to put them under a tree that will provide shade from the late afternoon sun.  

Step 2: Choose the Right Type of Tomatoes

Another thing that you want to do is make sure that you are growing the right type of tomatoes. There are many different types of tomatoes, and some varieties simply do better in pots than others. You can also plant some of these smaller tomatoes / smaller tomato plants in hanging baskets.

If you want bite-sized tomatoes, which are great for salads or even for popping right into your mouth, consider grape or cherry tomatoes. Others are ideal for making homemade tomato sauce. These include Roma tomatoes and other hybrids that were created to enhance the taste of tomato sauce.

One benefit to choosing a tomato variety with smaller tomatoes is that they will grow and ripen faster which lessens the chance for insects and birds to destroy them.

You can also grow larger tomatoes in pots. They are great for slicing. Who doesn’t want a sweet, delicious tomato on their hamburger or sandwich?

Determinate tomatoes

Generally, for a pot, it is best to choose a type of determinate tomato. What is a determinate tomato? It is a type of tomato that grows to be a fixed size when mature, and one that ripens all of the fruit on the plant within 1 – 2 months.

After the tomatoes are ripe, few-to-no new tomatoes will grow. These grow to look like a bush and can be up to 4 – 5 feet in height.

Determinate tomato varieties are good if you want to use most of the tomatoes at one time. Some types of determinate tomatoes are:

  • Celebrity
  • Biltmore
  • Little Napoli Compact Roma
  • Bush Early Girl tomatoes

Indeterminate tomatoes

You can grow indeterminate tomatoes in a pot too. However, indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow from spring until frost. They produce fruit on long vines, grow large, and will sprawl out. You will need a large pot and lots of support. In general, determinates are easier to plant in pots than indeterminates are, but you can grow both in pots.

It’s best to choose dwarf varieties unless you have very large pots. Indeterminate tomatoes will need a lot of support so they produce throughout the growing season. 

Some examples of indeterminate tomatoes are Cherry Tomatoes, Early Girl, Husky Cherry Red, Juliet Roma, and beefsteak tomatoes.

Just keep in mind  you must keep an eye on them and give them additional support when needed. You also must make sure the soil volume is correct. Much can be lost during rain. Be sure roots aren’t exposed.

Continue to prune indeterminate tomato plants by trimming or snipping the growth in between a branch and main stem. This will focus the plant’s energy on growing tomato fruits instead of tomato plant branches and leaves.

Step 3: Picking the Right Pot

Now that you know about which tomatoes might be best for planting in a pot, you now have to make sure you are picking the right pot. Tomato seedlings might look small, but a tomato needs a lot of room in a pot as they have large root systems. As a rule, the wider the pot, the better.

At a minimum, you should have a pot that is about 18 inches in diameter. If you are going to grow indeterminate tomatoes, you should have a pot that has a minimum diameter of 24 inches. You can also consider a fabric pot for your tomatoes. If this is the case, or you want to choose a pot based on volume, choose one that is about 20 gallons.

Tips for Choosing the Right Pot

  • It is possible to use a smaller container, such as a 10-gallon or five-gallon, but only choose those if you are growing smaller tomato plants.
  • Tomatoes that you grow in a smaller pot usually require more feeding and watering.
  • Make sure that any container, except a fabric one, has drainage holes. If your pot doesn’t have any, you must make some.
  • If you live in an area that gets extremely hot, you should avoid black tomato pots, as they absorb a lot of heat and hinder plant growth.
  • If you have a wide enough and deep enough pot and are planting several tomato plants together, you need to spread them apart as far as possible. This is so they will have room to grow.
Growing tomatoes in pots
Growing tomatoes in pots; adding straw as mulch in hot summer (gardening zone 9b) ~ Image credit: Dawn Head

Step 4: Get Good Potting Soil

Good soil is essential when it comes to growing tomatoes in containers, so you have to make sure you are choosing a good one. Garden soil for beds may be too heavy for a pot, though, so it is best to choose a lighter weight potting mix.

These should be light and fluffy, and the best choice is one enriched with compost. You want to make sure that the soil is fluffy enough to allow moisture and air to move through the soil, too.

Step 5: Plant Tomato Plants Correctly

Now that you have chosen your tomato plant, your pot, and your soil, you have to make sure to plant your tomatoes correctly. The hole must be deep enough to cover approximately two-thirds of the stem. This encourages good root growth.

It is also is important to wait to plant your tomatoes after the last frost date in your area. If there is a frost advisory after you plant them, you need to cover them with straw, blankets, or burlap.

Step 6: Support Your Tomatoes

Tomato plants grow up, and they can get heavy, so you need to give them some type of support.

It is best to do this when you plant them. If you do it after the fact, you could disturb the roots. In addition, you might also break some of the branches if you cage them after they get too large.

A traditional stake or a tomato cage works well for all of the determinate types of tomatoes. If you have chosen to plant indeterminate tomatoes, a string trellis, tomato toutour, or a strong cage or stake is the best idea. You can make your own tomato cages by using hog wire or metal fencing that bends.

Step 7: Protect the Soil

Many people forget to protect the soil when they plant tomatoes in pots. When you place the soil in the pot, make sure to keep it about one inch under the rim of the pot. This way, you can add a bit of mulch, which helps to keep the soil moist. No mulch? No worries. You can also use straw, leaves, bark, or newspaper. Just keep the mulch away from the stem.

Step 8: Water the Soil

A big key to success is to make sure you are watering your tomato plants enough. The soil should always be moist, but it shouldn’t be saturated. To test if your tomato plant needs water, you should do a test with your finger. Push your finger into the soil about an inch down. If the soil is dry, you should water it.

Keep in mind rainfall so you don’t overwater your plants. 

Though your pot has drain holes, you should keep a saucer under it, too. Why? Because the plant can absorb that water back in throughout the day. This also, of course, helps to prevent messes on your patio or deck. If you plant tomatoes in a large planter, this will not be a concern.

You also might want to consider a drip irrigation system if you have a lot of plants. This can reduce the amount of time that you have to spend watering your tomatoes.

growing tomatoes in pots

Step 9: Feed Tomato Plants 

Though the potting mix you choose should have some food in it already, for best growth, you need to add some more. Make sure you are fertilizing your plants throughout the growing season. The best fertilizers to use for tomatoes are those that are continuous release. There are some fertilizers available that are specifically made for tomatoes, but any good, quality fertilizer with calcium is a great choice.

Not only does doing this help your tomato plants grow a lot of fruit, but it can also help to protect from things like blossom end rot. I always use the most natural and organic fertilizers I can find and avoid ones like Miracle Grow. 

Step 10: Monitor and Harvest Tomatoes 

When you water, be sure to check on your tomato plants. Check for insects and and disturbances from other animals. One advantage of growing tomatoes in pots is you can keep them closer to your home where they may be less prone to birds and other wildlife.

Keep watch for signs pests such as tomato hornworms. Signs to look for include chewed leaves, missing leaves, and entire branches that do not have leaves. Search the plant and remove the hornworms. Learn how to get rid of tomato hornworms so you can have healthy plants.

You can remove brown leaves or mix them back into the soil. You will know the tomatoes are ready to pick when they are red. To harvest tomatoes, gently twist and pull them off the vine.

Once you have harvested all the tomatoes, enjoy them in salads, sauce, on sandwiches, and for snacks. You can also learn to canning at home.

When it’s the end of the growing season, you should remove the plants from the pots. You can put the plants in a compost pile if you have one.

When you are ready to use the pot for the next season, be sure to mix in plenty of new soil mixed with compost. It’s also important to not plant the same types of plants (tomatoes) the next season. If you plant tomatoes in pots in the spring, add new soil, and plant lettuces or other cool weather vegetables in the fall. 

How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

FAQs about Growing Tomatoes in Pots

1. How deep do containers need to be for tomatoes?

If you’re wondering how deep do containers need to be for tomatoes, you should choose a pot that ranges from five gallons to 20 gallons. For smaller varieties, a 5-gallon container may be perfect.

For larger tomato varieties, such as those that will produce large fruit, you are probably best to choose one that can hold up to 20 gallons.

That is all well and good, but how deep is that? In general, you should choose a pot that is about one foot to two feet tall. This ensures that the plant has plenty of room to grow roots and that it is heavy enough to give the plant some support.

Again, you also should make sure that there are drainage holes in any container you choose and that it is placed on a saucer. If you don’t have a saucer, be sure to place it somewhere on your property where you won’t mind soil and water coming out.

2. How often should I water my tomato plants in pots?

Another question is how often should I water my tomato plants in pots? Typically, when tomato plants are placed right into the ground, the roots can extend and grow into the soil. Thus, people who grow their tomatoes directly into the ground or garden bed should make sure the water stays moist. 

However, things are different when you are dealing with tomato plants that you grow in a pot. In this case, you must water the tomato plants even more. This is because the soil that is in a pot heats up much faster in the sun than the soil that is part of the ground. This leads to water evaporating much faster, meaning you must water more.

When you are dealing with a potted tomato plant, a good rule of thumb is to water the plant until the liquid begins to flow out of the bottom. Water your plants in the morning, and then check the moisture level in the afternoon. This is especially important when the sun is beating down, and it is very hot.

To check the soil, make sure to test with your finger. Remember, place your finger into the soil about an inch deep. If the soil feels dry, you should water the plant again. If you can’t water in the mornings, you can water in the evenings. It’s best to be consistent with watering.

3. How long does it take to grow tomatoes in pots?

In general, tomatoes are ready to harvest approximately 2 – 3 months after you plant them. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. It greatly depends on the variety. For example, a type of tomato called “Bush Early Girl” grows quite quickly. These are ready for harvest about 54 days after planting.

Growing tomatoes in planter

Another variety, “Better Bush,” takes about 68 days after planting before it is ready to harvest. A cherry tomato variety, which is often grown in hanging containers, called “Tumbling Tom,” takes a bit longer. In this case, they are ready for harvesting approximately 70 days after the seedlings are planted.

4. How do you take care of a potted tomato plant?

When it comes to taking care of a potted tomato plant, it’s pretty easy. Once the plants are planted, you have to make sure they have sun, water, and food.

The sun part is easy. Simply make sure that they have a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight each day. If this isn’t possible, you may want to invest in a grow light. You also may have to move the pots throughout the day to ensure enough sun.

Regarding water, you should check the moisture level once in the morning and on very hot days, once in the later afternoon or early evening. You can use your finger to determine if the soil is moist enough. Another easy method is to use a moisture meter which will read the moisture level.

Finally, when growing tomatoes in pots, you should feed the plant with fertilizer once a month. Organic fertilizer is best. This helps them to grow quickly and ensures the best-tasting fruit.

Why Grow Tomatoes in Pots

Try growing different varieties, including determinate and indeterminate. Plant some for cooking, such as Roma tomatoes, and others for eating off the vine. Growing your own tomatoes is easy to do. You buy the tomato starts and grow them in pots. They are a great choice for beginner gardeners.

Another advantage of growing them in planters is you don’t need a lot of space. You can grow them on a patio or balcony. You don’t need a backyard at all.

It’s important to have homesteading skills and to live sustainably. Plus, growing your own food is very rewarding. If you have a large enough pot, tomatoes grow well with basil plants.  

Growing tomatoes is one of the easiest plants to grow for food.  By growing them in a pot instead of a garden, that frees up space for you to grow other fruits and vegetables.