Do you like the idea of harvesting your very own tomatoes? If so, you are in luck. With the weather warming up, it is now time to plant your spring crop of America’s favorite red fruit – the ripe, plump, and delicious homegrown tomato.
Growing tomatoes in your vegetable garden can be intimidating, but never fear. We have put together this Beginner’s Guide to Growing Tomatoes in Containers & Pots so that you are sure to have a successful growing season.
Tomatoes are a fruit that is most commonly considered a vegetable. They’re a versatile food that can be a delicious addition to your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack recipes. After all, there is nothing like enjoying your first bite of a home-grown tomato. Growing fall tomatoes is surely a lesson in patience, but the rewards make up for your hard work tenfold.
When to Grow Tomatoes?
Whether you are growing your tomatoes in a raised bed, or you are container gardening, tomatoes grow best when growing in temperatures under 90 degrees. Tomato plants can even set fruit until the onset of frost, which is why autumn is becoming a favorite season for gardening experts. The joy of fall tomatoes arrives as a reward for making it through the heat of the summer.
Tomato plants are considered in season from the beginning of spring through to the end of fall. Depending on the climate you live in, your tomato crop might thrive differently during different times of the harvest season. Most tomato plants produce their first fruits after 60-75 days and once the temperatures dip below 90 degrees.
If you’re growing tomatoes in Texas, make sure that you plant them so that they are not growing in the middle of a scorching summer! If you are growing a tomato garden in a weather zone that takes a longer time to reach the thick of the summer heat, you can wait a little bit longer to plant your tomatoes.
How Long Does it Take to Grow Tomatoes?
Tomato flowers pollinate when daytime temperatures are below the mid-90s, and nighttime temperatures are below 75 degrees. Depending on the variety of tomato, it can take as little as 45 days for a ripe fruit to grow, or as long as 65 days. If you plant your tomatoes in late April, you should expect to harvest them by early to mid-June – a growth period of about 6-8 weeks.
Type of Tomato Plants
Tomato plants fall into one of two categories: determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are known for being shorter growers, which makes them ideal for container gardening. These plants also produce most of their fruit in a shorter time period. Indeterminate varieties are long and steady growers – in fact, they will grow until the plant is killed off by either a disease or the weather. These tomato plants can grow up to 8-10 feet tall!
There are also heirloom tomato varieties. Heirloom tomatoes are varieties that are open-pollinated, which means that they rely on insects to do the pollination dirty work. Heirloom tomatoes include some fan favorites, such as the Cherokee Purple and the Pink Brandywine.
How to Grow Tomatoes in Containers
When choosing your plant’s home it’s important to follow these steps:
How To Grow Tomatoes in Containers
- Choose Your Container
Look for drainage holes – you cannot plant anything in a container without drainage holes. No black plastic containers! Choose a container that is at least 5-20 gallons, and at least 12” deep.
- Get Your Soil
Choose a loose and loamy soil that has a pH of 6-8.5.
- Plant Your Tomatoes
Be sure to plant your tomatoes deeply. Tomato plants grow roots deep so be sure that you have chosen a container deep enough.
- Water Your Tomatoes
Regularly water your tomatoes. Tomatoes need moist soil but, don’t over water or the plant’s roots will rot. The best time to water tomatoes is in the morning.
- Give Your Tomatoes Nutrients
Be sure to feed your tomatoes growing in your container garden once every 2 weeks. You can feed your tomato plants with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium etc. to ensure that you will have a successful grow!
- Give Your Tomatoes Plenty of Sunlight
Tomatoes require full sunlight, meaning they need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Keep your container in a place where you can water it frequently, and where it can get a lot of sun.
Even if you do have access to a raised garden bed in your backyard, using container gardens is a great way to have a larger amount of control over your harvest. If you want to get really fancy, you could even try growing your tomatoes in a deep-hanging basket. For more tomato growing tips check out our article on 13 Tips on Growing Tomatoes in Containers.
Growing Tomatoes in Pots
Growing your tomatoes in pots is a fantastic option to grow veggies when all you have are small spaces. You truly need to avoid black plastic containers; black containers have the tendency to hold heat. This causes the soil to warm, and can diminish the plant’s growth.
What’s The Best Container to Grow Tomatoes In?
We think the best container to grow tomatoes in is the Gardenuity Grow bag. Remember, when choosing your container, ensure that it is large enough to hold the tomatoes’ large and complex root system. The ideal container for determinate tomatoes is about 18 inches in diameter (24 inches for indeterminate tomatoes). When you’re growing determinate tomatoes, you can use a smaller container. Ideally, you will want a container size that can accommodate at least 12 inches of soil for the root system to grow in.
Tomato Growing Conditions & How To Care
Provide the young plants the nutrients they need throughout the growing season. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so they will need a balanced ratio of sunlight, water, and nutrients. While growing your tomato garden, it is vital to keep in mind where you are planting them in your yard or where you are placing your container gardens. Tomato plants are sensitive to prolonged, direct and full sun exposure, as well as extremely hot weather.
Soil for Growing Tomatoes in Containers
You should be mindful to fertilize your tomato garden beds when you first plant them. You can feed them again in 30 days, and once more at 60 days. When you are fertilizing, make sure to match the correct fertilizer with your potting soil.
The best potting mix for growing tomato plants in containers is a loose, sandy loam. This type of garden soil is good for your potted tomato plants because it has great air circulation, as well as drainage for your plant’s roots. You will also want to look for soil that has a slightly acidic pH level, between either 6 or 8.5.
You can also try using an organic fertilizer, such as homemade compost. To learn more, take a look at our Complete Guide to Composting.
The Ideal Tomato Growing Temperature
After you plant tomatoes, they will need consistent night temperatures between 55°F and 75°F in order to set fruit. The best daytime temperatures to keep your tomato plants growing is between 70-85°F; it is important to keep in mind that plants will quit growing when temperatures go above 95°F. If you are growing your garden from tomato seedlings, then you should maintain a temperature of 58-60°F.
How Much Sun Do Tomatoes Need?
Your tomato garden will require 6-8 hours of sun. That being said, it is best if your garden can soak up the morning sun, and enjoy some afternoon shade during the hottest part of the summer. Make sure you keep your tomato plants away from extreme heat! When the soil temperatures become cooler than 85 degrees, the plants require full sunlight for the best production.
How Much Water do Tomatoes Need
Tomatoes desire consistently moist soil, but certainly not soaking the soil. If you add too much water, your plant’s roots will rot; too little water, and your plants will become weak. This paves the way to blossom end rot. Keep in mind that inconsistent watering will cause cracking or even exploding tomatoes.
To determine if your tomato plant needs water, use the thumb test – stick your finger an inch into the soil, and if the garden soil is dry, your tomato plant needs a drink. The best time to water a tomato plant is in the morning; tomato plants absorb and use water more efficiently in the morning. If it’s hot, you may need to water twice a day.
When watering, be sure to water the soil — not the plants. Wet leaves can encourage blight and fungus.
The best way to stop damage is to spot pests early, especially when you are dealing with tomato pests. Be sure to check in often on your tomato plants, particularly in their early days of growing. You can try introducing beneficial insects, like ladybugs, into your garden in order to naturally control common pests. Pruning your tomato plants will also make it easier to spot pests.
Grow Pro Tomato Growing Hacks & Tips
- If you are growing your tomatoes in a mobile container, you can bring them inside at night where indoor temperatures are below 75 degrees.
- Did you know eggshells provide a calcium boost for your tomato plants? Calcium is great for preventing blossom end rot. After making eggs in the kitchen, wash and dry the eggshells. From here, grind the shells to make a powder, then blend this powder with your soil.
- Tea leaves and coffee grounds are a great way to provide a small nitrogen boost to your plants. If you’re feeling extra creative, you can also throw any pet hair or human hair onto the soil; be sure to cut up the hair finely, so it will mix into the soil. Hair provides keratin, which is a protein that your tomato crop will greatly appreciate.
- Your tomato garden from Gardenuity will include two tomato plants, and companion herbs. Growing two plants together can help them mature and set fruit earlier!
- Your tomato plants will thank you if you use mulch around the main stem of the plant, and across the garden bed. This is because it will protect the lowest hanging fruit from developing rot as it touches the ground.
- When you plant, immediately insert a support system for your plants. If you wait to do so, you may disturb the roots. For determinate types, a tomato cage or staking is a great option. If growing indeterminate tomatoes, use a trellis, stake or sturdy cage.
- Keeping your tomato plants sufficiently watered is essential when it comes to producing a healthy and strong harvest. Be sure to keep your watering can handy, because you do not want to let the soil of your tomato plants dry out. Be careful not to overwater, as tomatoes growing in containers are more susceptible to rotting.
Best Companion Plants for Tomatoes
Companion plants are plants that complement one another’s growing environment; this includes pest control, pollination, and increasing the general crop productivity. The best companion plants for tomatoes are listed below:
Be sure not to grow your tomatoes near cabbage, corn, dill, peppers, or potatoes.
Tomato Growing Stages
Transplanting your carrots can cause the plants to go through a bit of shock from the changed environment. This is okay! Give your plants a little bit of TLC, and don’t panic. Take a look at this article by The Spruce to learn some helpful tips for a safe and healthy transplant.
A healthy tomato plant has softly fuzzed, medium-green leaves. It should continue to grow more stems and leaves, until eventually it begins to bear fruit.
It’s Time to Harvest
Once the first spot of red appears on the skin of the tomato, harvest time for tomatoes is coming up. A tomato can even be harvested and ripened off the vine with no loss of flavor, quality or nutrition – if you’re harvesting your tomatoes to be ripened off of the vine, you can pick them when they’re half green and half pinkish red.
I Waited Too Long, Now What?
Once you notice your tomatoes starting to ripen, be sure to check in on them each day to make sure they don’t over ripen. Keep a close eye on your plants, because over ripening happens faster than you’d think! Once your tomatoes are too ripe, they will fall off the vine and rot.
Best Tomatoes for Container Growing
Certain tomato varieties take better to container gardens than others. See the list below for the tomatoes that will be sure to thrive in your container garden:
- Micro Tom
- Tidy Treats (cherry tomato)
- Plum Regal
- Bush Steak
- Clear Pink Early
- Better Bush Hybrid
How to Harvest Tomatoes
- Check for ripeness every day
- Make sure the skin of your tomatoes is smooth and shiny
- Test the firmness of your tomatoes; if it’s too hard, it needs more time on the vine
- Check the smell – it should smell earthy
- Grasp the tomato you want to pick, and gently twist it away from the main stem
- You can also use garden shears if it doesn’t snap off of the vine easily
- If your tomatoes are cracking, harvest them before they are ripe
When to Harvest Tomatoes
Knowing when to harvest tomatoes is the trickiest part of your harvesting journey. Ultimately, there are two ways to harvest tomatoes: letting them ripen on the vine and picking green to ripen indoors. While letting your tomatoes ripen on the vine achieves the most flavor, there are circumstances (like climate and variety) in which it is better to pick green.
How to Store your Tomato Harvest
Be sure to wash and dry your tomatoes before you store them. For up to a week, tomatoes will store well on a windowsill or a countertop. Don’t forget that lower temperatures will help preserve the fruit, but a fridge often reduces flavor and causes mushiness.
If you have too many tomatoes to eat in one week (is that possible?), you have several options for storage.
Tomato Recipes We Love!
When you’re cooking tomatoes, be sure to take note of how they need to be used in the recipe that you’re making. Some recipes call for the tomatoes to be skinned or seeded, while others require for the tomatoes to be crushed or dried. For more information on how to prepare your tomatoes for cooking, take a look at this article, Tomato Recipes: How to Prepare Tomatoes to Use in Cooking, by tomato dirt.
- Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Salad Recipe
- Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup Recipe
- Tomato and Arugula Balsamic Pasta Salad Recipe
- Tomato Ricotta Bruschetta Recipe
- Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce Recipe
Our Grow Pro Frequently Asked Questions:
The best tomatoes to grow outdoors are the Fandango, Outdoor Girl, Lizzano, and Gardener’s delight.
The best tomatoes to grow indoors are the Siberia, Tommy Toe, Yellow Pear, and Tiny Tim.
As long as you pay close attention to your container garden, your tomatoes should thrive when planted in the right pot. That said, some do prefer to grow their tomatoes in the ground, as the temperature fluctuates much less than when tomatoes are being grown in a pot.
Loam and sandy loam soil mixes are best for growing a hearty tomato harvest. Be sure to get a soil that is slightly acidic, with a pH level of 6-8.5.
Brandywine, Green Zebra, Yellow Pear, Cherokee Purple, San Marzano, Early Girl, Amish Paste, Black Krim, Tami G Grape, and the Yellow Cherry Tomato.
Yes, you can grow tomatoes indoors. In fact, heirloom tomatoes love to grow in a container inside!
Some plants that grow well with tomatoes are basil, sage, mint, and parsley – time to break out your Container Herb Garden!
The most common cause of stunted growth in a tomato plant is lack of water from drought or inconsistent waterings. You should try to never allow your tomato plants to wilt; remember, a tomato plant’s soil should be kept consistently moist, but not over-saturated.
You do not need to worry about growing tomatoes in a container; as long as the container is at least 12” deep, your tomatoes’ root system will have plenty of room to stretch out.
Growing a full tomato harvest can take an average of about 6-8 full weeks.
Tomato plants require a lot of water, because they like to grow in full sun and heat. You should never let your tomatoes’ soil dry out completely.
Start Growing Your Own Tomatoes
Now that you have all of the logistics down to a T, it’s time to do the fun part: choose your tomato varieties and plant your garden! If you’re feeling overwhelmed by picking the right tomato varieties for your climate, never fear. Our Grow Pro services are here to help you grow your way to a successful tomato harvest. Take a look at our available Container Garden Kits.