Do you like the idea of growing, harvesting, and enjoying tomatoes from your very own vegetable garden? If so, you are in luck. With the weather warming up and the danger of frost behind us, it is now time to plant your spring crop of America’s favorite red fruit – the ripe, plump, and delicious homegrown tomato.
Growing tomatoes at home can seem intimidating, but you don’t need to be a master gardener to have a masterful harvest. 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 veggie. 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. From beefsteak to green tomatoes and everything in between, you’d be surprised at how easy—and fun!—it is to go from tomato seed to sprout in the paradise of your home garden. Read on for our favorite growing tips and tricks.
When To Plant 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 growing season spans 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 Far Apart To Plant Tomatoes (Tomato Plant Spacing) in Containers
Ideally, when growing in the ground, each tomato plant should be spaced between 24 and 36 inches apart. Because a container that could accommodate that spacing would be, well, unruly, we recommend planting one tomato plant per container.
6 Tips For Planting Tomatoes in Pots & Containers
Want to hack growing tomatoes in pots and containers? Here are our GrowPro’s gardening tips and tricks for growing tomatoes in a home garden.
- 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 tomatoes 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 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 tomatoes dry out. Be careful not to overwater, as tomatoes growing in containers are more susceptible to rotting.
Tomato Companion Plants
Companion plants are plants that complement one another’s growing environment; this includes pest control, pollination, and increasing the general crop productivity. Be sure to pick some up when you visit the garden center (or Amazon!) to buy your tomato gardening tools.
The best companion plants for tomatoes are listed below:
Be sure not to grow your tomatoes near cabbage, corn, dill, peppers, or potatoes.
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.
Growing Tomatoes in Containers
Once you grow your tomatoes in a container, you’ll never want to grow them in a ground. It’s easy enough to invite your kids in on the process, and you’ll be shocked at just how much fruit you get with your labors.
Here’s a step-by-step process for setting up your tomato container garden.
Choose Your Tomato Variety
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 plants 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.
Certain tomato varieties take better to growing in a container than others. See the list below for the best tomatoes for your container garden:
- Micro Tom
- Tidy Treats (cherry tomato)
- Plum Regal
- Bush Steak
- Clear Pink Early
- Better Bush Hybrid
Pick A Large Container With Great Drainage
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.
Fill Container With Proper Potting Soil
Choose a loose and loamy soil that has a pH of 6-8.5.
Plant Your Tomato Plants In a Container or Pot
Be sure to plant your tomatoes in a deep hole. The root system of tomato plants tends to grow quite deeply, so be sure that you have chosen a container that has enough vertical space.
Choose Companion Plants
Good companion plants for tomatoes include basil, garlic, lettuce, sage, asparagus, mint, parsley, chives, carrots, onions, and marigolds. Avoid cabbage, corn, dill, peppers, and potatoes.
Common Tomato Planting & Growing Problems
Tomatoes are prone to certain fungal diseases such as blossom end rot, as well as other issues, including fruit cracks, sunscald, and blossom drop. Many issues can be prevented by keeping your tomatoes wet but not sopping, giving them plenty of support if gardening vertically, and properly fertilizing the plant throughout its growth cycle.
If you are looking for more in-depth explanations on a specific issue, the Farmer’s Almanac is a great resource for all tomato blights and fixes.
Tomato Plant Care Tips & Tomato Growing Conditions
The best harvests will come from the plants that have been best prepared! When you are setting up your garden and watching your plant grow, watch how much sun, water, and fertilizer you are providing it. Your future tomato harvest will thank you.
Ideal Potting Soil For Planting & Growing Tomatoes
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.
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!
The Ideal Tomato Growing Temperature
You’ll want to plant your tomatoes after the last frost date, as 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 To Grow
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 sun for the best production.
How much Water does Tomatoes Need
Container 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.
How To Harvest Tomatoes
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.
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 Pros Most Frequently Asked Questions
There is no one secret to growing the perfect tomatoes (we know, right!?). However, gardeners that ensure that their tomato plants have enough support, are well fertilized and watered, get lots of sunshine, and are pruned regularly might feel like they hacked the system come harvest.
When growing in the ground, it’s recommended to space your tomatoes between 24 and 36 inches apart. When growing in containers, we prefer to have one plant per pot.
Some gardeners prefer to grow their tomatoes in the ground, as the temperature fluctuates much less than when tomatoes are being grown in a pot.
Get your tomato plant into a container in the late spring or early summer, any time between March and May depending on the last frost date in your area.
As long as you pay close attention to your container garden, your tomatoes should thrive when planted in the right pot.
Tomato plants start to bloom between 45 and 100 days after planting. They’re a sign that you should start to see tomatoes coming in between two to four weeks.
If you are growing tomatoes in containers, make sure you get a well-draining container that is at least 24 inches across and 12 inches deep. We recommend using the Gardenuity Grow Bag.
Mulch around the base of your plant will protect the lowest hanging fruit from developing rot as it touches the ground.
Plant your tomatoes in the late spring or early summer for the best harvest.
Start Planting & 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.