Tomatoes are one of the most satisfying vegetables to grow. Their juicy red sweetness is something that simply can’t be topped. Growing tomatoes in containers means that fresh tomato harvests are accessible to everyone — regardless of where you live.
From balconies, to patios, to fire escapes, to rooftops, you can grow tomatoes anywhere when you plant a tomato container garden. Follow these 13 tips for growing tomatoes in containers.
1. Find the best location.
Whether you’re growing on a fire escape, a patio, or a massive rooftop, the place you choose to grow your tomatoes is very important. Scout out a place on your property that gets at least six hours of sunlight — although eight is ideal. Additionally, make sure you’re either near a source of water, have a hose you can drag to your garden, or feel comfortable lugging watering cans to your plants.
2. Grow the right tomatoes.
When choosing to grow tomatoes, you have two major decisions: indeterminate vs. determinate and seeds vs. seedlings.
Indeterminate tomatoes grow until the frost kills them. Determinate tomatoes (a.k.a. bush or patio plants) are predetermined to grow about 3-4 feet tall and set their fruits and flowers at once. For container gardening, determinate tomato plants are your best bet; they are more easily contained to a pot and thrive in the small spaces.
Then, choose whether to grow from seed or seedling. Growing from seedlings is the easier choice when container gardening. Ideally, purchase transplants that have already been repotted once and have been hardened off properly. Planting seedlings helps your plants develop larger root masses and helps them survive the shock of transplanting and resisting diseases or pests.
When shopping for seedlings, look for thick, sturdy stems and healthy green foliage.
3. Wait for the sun.
Tomatoes like the warmth! Don’t plant until it is consistently warm — often after the last frost date (or be ready to move your garden to protect it from the cold). At the same time, if it is too hot, your tomatoes will fail.
If you stumble on a cold night, be prepared to protect them from the cold. Cover with a frost blanket and swaddle with straw or burlap to protect your tomatoes on chilly nights.
4. Group pots together.
It’s wise to move container garden pots close together in the same area. Being close helps shade the root zones of the plants in the inner pots. However, be careful that the pots are not so close that the plant leaves touch — being that close might spread disease.
5. Choose a large enough container.
Full-grown tomatoes need a lot of space! When choosing your pot, ensure that it is large enough to hold the tomatoes’ large and complex root system. The ideal pot for determinate tomatoes is about 18 inches in diameter (24 inches for indeterminate tomatoes). If growing in a fabric bag, you’ll need at least 5-20 gallons. When you’re growing determinate tomatoes, you can use a smaller container.
6. Avoid these types of containers.
When choosing your plant’s home it’s important to remember these two things: no black containers and containers without drainage holes!
Avoid black plastic containers. Black containers have the tendency to hold heat. This then warms the soil and can diminish the plant’s growth.
Drainage holes are imperative for healthy tomato plants.
Ideally, pick a container with a breathable fabric and built-in drainage holes. Otherwise, simply stick a few holes in the bottom of your plastic.
7. Use the right soil.
Good potting soil is key to a successful tomato garden. Use premium quality potting mix that is light and fluffy. This will allow for air and moisture to move through the soil and create a rich nutrient-dense environment for your tomato plant. Soilless potting mix is best.
8. Plant plants deep enough.
Although many vegetable plants are planted shallow, tomatoes plants need depth to grow well. Plant so that the soil covers about two-thirds of the tomato stem. This will help to encourage more root growth.
9. Support your tomatoes.
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 stake is a great option. If growing indeterminate, use a trellis, stake or sturdy cage.
10. Mulch your soil.
Tomatoes grow best when their soil is covered. Keep the soil one inch below the pot rim. Add a layer of mulch to help keep the soil moist. Use straw, shredded bark, chopped leaves, or newspaper as mulch.
11. Water regularly.
Tomatoes desire consistently moist soil, but not too saturated. Too much water and the plant’s roots will rot; too little water and the plants will become weak and get blossom end rot; inconsistent watering will cause cracking or exploding tomatoes.
To tell if your tomato plant needs water, use the thumb test. Stick your finger an inch into the soil. If the garden soil is dry, your tomato plant needs a drink.
12. Water the right times and places.
The best time to water a tomato plant is in the morning. Tomato plants absorb and use the 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.
Our last tip for growing tomatoes in containers is to feed your plant regularly! Use organic fertilizers. They will help your plant grow strong and produce flavorful harvests.
When you follow these tips, you are primed for tomato growing success. Shop for your Tomato Container Garden kit at Gardenuity.
If you are looking for recipes to use in your harvest, our favorite is this Ricotta Tomato Toast Recipe!