How To Grow Tomatoes In Pots and Containers

How To Grow Tomatoes In Pots and Containers

By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

Growing tomatoes in pots is nothing new. This is a great way to enjoy your favorite crops in areas with limited space. Tomatoes can be grown easily in hanging baskets, window boxes, planters, and many other types of containers. To successfully grow tomatoes in pots or containers, simply match the variety you want to a suitable container and provide the proper care.

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

It’s easy to grow tomato plants in pots. To get the most from container-grown tomatoes, you need to match the eventual size of your plant tomato plants to the overall size of your container. For instance, smaller varieties are well suited to hanging baskets or window boxes, whereas you might want to choose a sturdier planter or 5-gallon (18.9 l) bucket for larger types.

Make certain the pot is deep enough to accommodate the plant’s root system. A standard 12-inch (3.65 m) deep pot with the same diameter is suitable for most plants. Anything from bushel baskets and half barrels to 5-gallon (18.9 l) buckets can be used to grow tomato plants. Just make sure that the container has adequate drainage.

Types of Container Tomatoes

There are several types of tomatoes suitable for containers. When choosing tomatoes, first consider whether they are determinate (bushy) or indeterminate (vining). Generally, the bush varieties are preferable but nearly any type will work. These types do not require staking. Common container tomatoes include:

  • Patio tomato
  • Pixie tomato
  • Tiny Tim tomato
  • Toy Boy tomato
  • Micro Tom tomato
  • Floragold tomato
  • Early Girl tomato
  • Stakeless tomato
  • Big Boy tomato

How to Grow Tomato Plants in Pots

Fill your pot with loose, well-draining potting soil. It’s also a good idea to add in some organic materials like well-rotted shavings or manure. For example, you might try an equal mix of potting soil perlite, peat moss, and compost.

Tomato seeds can be started indoors in early spring or you can purchase young plants once they become available in your area.

For tomatoes that require staking, you may want to add the cage or stake beforehand.

Place the container in full sun, checking them daily and watering as needed—usually weekly with more frequent watering during hot or dry spells. Begin using a water-soluble fertilizer about every other week during midsummer and continue throughout the growing season.

Growing tomatoes in pots is easy and can yield just as much as those out in the garden.

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The Complete Guide to Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Ever wondered how you’ll enjoy delicious, homegrown tomatoes without a sprawling garden? The unruly nature of tomato bushes and vines might sound hard to contain. But they will be contained. In fact, tomatoes grow quite successfully in only about any quite large container you’ll consider.

Since tomatoes are a favorite veggie, the power to grow them easily in pots on a little patio or maybe on a rooftop within the middle of a bustling city makes them a preferred choice for gardeners. Here are the keys to growing tomatoes successfully during a container.


The right container for your tomato is the initiative on your journey to a strong crop. Large container options are endless. Visit your favorite gardening center where you’ll find clay, glazed, and plastic pots galore. As long as you decide on a five-gallon size or larger, any of the containers will work. However, clay pots are the smallest amount of popular choice for tomato gardening. Clay is porous, and soil will dry more quickly in clay pots. Plastic pots are the simplest choice since plastic holds the moisture in better, which is vital for successful tomato gardening.

If you’re a handy sort, you would possibly construct a container from wood. confirm the wood you’re using has not been chemically treated since you’re using the planter for edibles. an easy 2 ft by 2 ft box will do.

For a thrifty idea, hunt around your neighborhood garage sales or secondhand shops for plastic tubs or pots. Some gardeners have effectively used recyclable grocery bags for his or her tomato container. Believe it or not, a five-gallon bucket from your local ironmongery shop is that the perfect tomato planter. For more inexpensive container ideas, see this Cybele Earth news story.

Your container will get to have several drainage holes. Most pots that you simply purchase will have already got a minimum of one hole. If you go the more inexpensive route and choose a plastic tub or a bucket, you’ll get to create drainage holes. Your container will have to be sturdy enough to drill several holes into rock bottom.

Before you add soil to your container, clean your container with warm, soapy water. Place a bit of screen across rock bottom of your container so you don’t lose your soil through the holes over time. the simplest soil to use for container gardening may be a soil that retains water and is filled with organic food.

According to the experts at Ohio State, you ought to mix your soil to satisfy the tomato plant’s requirements for nourishment and moisture level. Use equal parts of potting soil, perlite, sphagnum, and compost. For more tips from the Ohio State horticulture department, visit the Ohio extension site.

Even after you’ve got filled your container with soil, it’ll be light enough to maneuver, which is one great advantage to container gardening. Decide where you’ll place your tomato. Choose a warm location where your plant will get a minimum of 6 hours of full sun a day. Direct sun may be a must, so avoid placement near walls or fences where your plant may spend most of the day during a shadow.


Don’t think that because you’ve got a downsized container garden you’ve got to travel small on size when it involves your actual plant or produces. Most sorts of tomatoes grow well in containers.

It is important to notice that there are two different types of tomato plants. The indeterminate tomato is usually large and vining. it’ll produce fruit continually over the course of the season. A determinate tomato is smaller and bushier. it’ll produce one bulk harvest, then the plant will die.

For the larger-sized plants, try a tomato cage, wire fencing, or bamboo stakes for support. a couple of larger tomato varieties that grow well in containers include “Believe-it-or Not,” “Early Girl V,” or “Yellow Pygmy.”

Here’s an informative YouTube video to assist you to visualize the support large plants need.

And for recommendations on growing larger, vining tomatoes, visit this vegetable corner article.

If you’d prefer a smaller and more compact plant that you simply probably won’t need to stake, choose determinate varieties. Determinate varieties that are very compatible with container gardening. “Patio V” may be a popular choice with its small plant size, yet tennis ball-sized tomatoes. Yum! “Totem” maybe a dwarf variety that produces nice, round cherry tomatoes. “Tiny Tim” may be a cold-tolerant variety that reaches maturity in 60 days.

Check out this mouth-watering line of best tomatoes for containers at veggiegardener.com.

When you have selected an appealing variety and you’re able to plant, consider your container a one-plant show. Plant 3 or 4 seeds in your container a half-inch deep after the danger of frost. When your seedlings have two leaves, thin to at least one plant.

If you select to get your seedling from a nursery or store, transplant it when the weather warms and your soil is a minimum of 60 degrees. Tomato transplants thrive once they are set deep into the soil, so don’t be afraid to plant it, therefore, the lowest leaves of the plant are buried within the soil.

Tomato plants love an honest balance of water. Your goal is to stay your plant moist in the least times. If you’ve got a wet, rainy period, you would possibly move your plant to the shelter so it doesn’t become too soggy. On the opposite hand, when the weather is hot, you’ll get to water your tomato a day. Container gardens have a bent to dry out quickly, so keep an in-depth eye on your plants.

As was mentioned before, tomato plants enjoy much nourishment. If you employ a superb soil mix to start with, fertilizing your tomato isn’t crucial. During the lifespan of your plant, there are 3 times that fertilizer will offer a lift, though.

When you start your seeds, a touch little bit of a granular tomato fertilizer is ok. together with your transplant, add a scanty few granular tomato fertilizers once you attend set it within the soil. As your plant blossoms and is close to producing fruit, adding a fish emulsion every other time you water will offer replenishment. Remember, an excessive amount of an honest thing isn’t an honest thing, which goes for fertilizing your container tomatoes.

For a handy how-to list for your tomatoes during a container, visit our other container gardening tomatoes page!

For a superb and comprehensive guide to making your own tomato fertilizer, Mother Earth News has another good article.

GROWING TOMATOES the wrong way up

Container gardening isn’t limited to upright pots lately. the wrong way up planters is a classy new method for a bountiful harvest. Not all tomato varieties are suitable for this sort of gardening, but cherry tomato plants are especially successful when grown the wrong way up.

Upside down containers could be as simple as a milk jug or as specialized as a Topsy Turvey bag. The sun, soil, and watering requirements are equivalent to those for an upright container. the sole extra consideration you’ve got together with your the wrong way up tomato is where you would possibly hang it.


Determinate plants grow to a certain size (usually 3-4 feet), and then set fruit during a fairly narrow time window. All of the fruit tends to ripen around the same time, but the plant will not continuously produce over the season. While the flavor of determinate varieties is generally considered to be inferior to indeterminates, they are a smart choice if space is limited. Since fruit comes in a narrow time window, they are excellent for canning.

Indeterminate tomatoes grow continuously throughout the season (6 feet or even higher) and fruit set is more spread out. The best indeterminate tomatoes generally have superior flavor. Indeterminates can be a little unwieldy, but size can be controlled through pruning if necessary. Most open-pollinated/heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate. We’ve grown Sungold cherry tomatoes in containers with success.

Dwarf Varieties are a great choice if you have limited garden space, want less maintenance, or wish to grow tomatoes in containers. Dwarf tomato plants are short in stature relative to non-dwarf tomato plants, growing anywhere from 2.5 – 5 ft in height. Dwarf tomatoes behave as if they’re very compact indeterminate varieties—they fruit the same way, persevere until frost, and have superior flavors similar to the best of the indeterminate varieties. The goal with dwarf tomatoes is to grow heirloom quality fruit with shorter stature.

What is the Dwarf Tomato Project? This is a collaborative breeding project among tomato experts spread around the world, with the goal of producing heirloom quality fruit on short, compact plants. All new varieties produced by the Dwarf Tomato Project are designated as Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) varieties, which carry the following pledge: You have the freedom to use these OSSI- Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this Pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.

How to Grow Tomatoes in Containers

When my husband retired from the Navy and we set about gardening on Florida’s panhandle, tomatoes were high on our list of things to grow. We tried valiantly to rise above our soil, a highly acidic and wormless sand. We built raised beds, added organic fertilizers, and spread rock powders. We made compost as fast as we could gather leaves and grass clippings.

We planted our tomatoes and tended them carefully. They grew, sometimes to astounding size. But they always fell victim to the bacterial wilt endemic to our soil. The tomatoes of our dreams, meaty and juicy with a balance of sweet and acid, always eluded us.

We knew that growing tomatoes in the usual way would never produce anything but frustration. Thus we began to experiment with growing tomatoes in pots. The work came to involve not just soil but also tactics to fend off high humidity, broiling heat, frosts, and insects, insects, insects. Our efforts evolved into a system that works well in our small space.

Find the right container

Cage tomatoes for their own good. Concrete reinforcing wire provides sturdy support for tomato vines and a perfect frame to attach anti-bug netting.

We began with terra-cotta pots and whiskey barrel halves. Both proved impractical. Clay pots large enough to retain water for more than an hour in late July were too heavy to move and big trouble to sanitize at the end of the season. The half-barrels were even more unwieldy. They provided a haven for wood roaches, which like tomatoes almost as much as we do, and they were also susceptible to termites.

When the barrels fell apart in the third year, we sighed with relief and purchased 20-in. plastic pots and saucers. They are colored and styled to look like old fashioned terra-cotta. At the end of each year, we scrub them to remove most of the dirt, mold, and algae, and then drop them into our heavily chlorinated swimming pool for cleaning. Dollies my husband made allow us to move the potted tomato plants around the patio with ease.

Drainage comes first when filling the pot

Screening lets water pass. Mesh, cut to fit the bottom of the pot, helps keep soil in place. River rock improves drainage.

Good drainage and healthy roots go together. At first, we tried to achieve the goal by layering pebbles in the bottom of each pot. However, at the end of the season we wanted to dump the exhausted potting mix into our raised-bed vegetable garden. Deliberately adding rocks to our garden beds seemed perverse.

So we moved the river rock into the saucer instead. But we also line the bottom of each pot with a layer or two of plastic window screening, cut to fit. Our soil stays put and drains well.

In heavy rains, we siphon the nutrient-saturated liquid from the saucers with a turkey baster demoted from the kitchen. We recycle the liquid, conserving nutrients and getting rid of the standing water mosquitoes love for breeding.

Cut-and-come-again tomatoes

Photo/Illustration: Nancy King

I found an alternative to rooting tomato plant suckers for a late season crop. When the plants seemed exhausted about the end of July, I pruned them to a few short stems sprouting suckers. This removed the flea-beetle- and fungus-infested old growth. Because it seemed impossible to improve the weary soil in each pot with my preferred organic amendments, I dissolved magnesium sulfate crystals in water, along with several tablespoons of calcitic lime, and poured a gallon of the solution into each pot. A week later, I used a liquid commercial product with an N-P-K ratio of 20-20-20 to get the plants moving again.

In less than a month, small tomatoes formed on new growth. And soon there was another crop, though not as tasty as the first. Cutting weather-weary plants back is practical, however, only if the plant’s vascular system is healthy. The magnesium and calcitic lime treatment may need to be repeated if leaves lose color or growth seems slow. If this doesn’t work, try pounding on their chests.

Add a proper mix to every pot

Iron and trace elements
Soy meal
Kelp meal

Early in the year we purchase our potting mix and begin to improve it. We want to provide the tomatoes with the calcium and magnesium they will need later, so we thoroughly blend 1 cup of dolomitic limestone into each 40-quart bag of potting mix. In addition, we stir in a half cup of iron and trace elements, supplied by a product called Perk. We store the mixture in covered trash cans to mellow.

For the next several months, we turn our attention to growing our seeds to transplant size, with a stocky stem and four to six true leaves.

At planting time, we improve the potting mix again, drawing on a balanced organic fertilizer we’ve already prepared and stored. The recipe calls for 4 cups of soy meal and 2 cups of blood meal for nitrogen 3 cups of bone meal for phosphorous 2 cups of kelp meal and 4 cups of greensand for potassium. This homemade blend provides slow-release nutrition. We add 2 cups to each 40-quart bag of potting mix. We improve the potting mix in two stages because the dolomitic limestone can prematurely activate the nitrogen.

Fill the pots with soil as the plant grows

Nutrients should be well mixed with the soil before the tomato containers are filled.

We fill each pot with 6 in. to 8 in. of potting soil and set a transplant at the bottom of the pot. As the tomatoes grow, we trim the leaves from the stem and add more of the enriched soil mix until the pot is filled. This practice helps build root mass along the stem as it is buried, which is similar to laying the stem in a trench.

This method also allows us to plant earlier. Since the plants stay below the pot rim for a couple weeks, we can cozy the plants in old mattress pads if there’s a cold snap or cover them with old shower curtains if there’s a deluge. Best of all, we can tie layers of nylon netting over each pot to keep early insect marauders at bay.

Netting keeps insects out of range

When the pots are filled with soil, we insert a cylinder cage made of concrete reinforcing wire. For the final touch, we use black nylon netting as a defense against bugs. We buy two 72-in.-wide yards for each pot and enclose the cage with netting, clipping it in place with clothespins around the rims. Heavy rubber bands keep the top closed.

White flies and aphids can still get through the netting, but really voracious predators like tomato worms and stink bugs are kept out. This slight edge can mean the difference between success and disappointment.

We learned this lesson the hard way when we took a week off to visit our son. We could arrange for watering, but nothing could protect our plants from the ravages of caterpillars during our absence. We found hundreds chewing away when we returned, and even quick action with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) could not undo the damage. The netting also helps keep the sun’s rays from scalding the fruit.

Some vigilance is still required, for an occasional enterprising moth will succeed in laying an egg or two. The damage becomes apparent when mysterious holes show up in a leaf here and there. We then act to remedy problems. Insecticidal soaps and Bt can be applied through the netting. We need only unclip the clothespins to side­­dress our plants, prune, or pick the fruit.

Never mind the work involved here and hang the expense. Every time we sit down to a bowl of bright red fruit, sun warm and gently seasoned with salt and pepper, oil and vinegar, basil, and a whisper of oregano, it’s Florida sunshine in a bowl.

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

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.

Choose a loose and loamy soil that has a pH of 6-8.5.

Be sure to plant your tomatoes deeply. Tomato plants grow roots deep so be sure that you have chosen a container deep enough.

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.

Growing Tomatoes In 5 Gallon Buckets

We have actually been test growing tomatoes in large containers for years at the farm. But it wasn’t until creating our 5 gallon bucket planters last spring that we expanded our growing efforts to include all types of heirloom tomatoes. (See: The DIY 5 Gallon Bucket Planter Experiment)

One thing is for sure, we were truly astonished by the results! In the past, the one issue with growing tomatoes in containers is you typically could only grow smaller varieties such as cherry and plum type tomatoes.

But by using 5 gallon buckets, and supplying regular water and a bit of organic fertilizer every few weeks, we discovered we could grow almost any variety. From San Marzano and Roma paste tomatoes, to large heirlooms like Brandywine, Purple Cherokee and Celebrity and more.

In fact, every single variety of tomato (13 in all) we trialed produced a viable crop!

Why Growing In 5 Gallon Buckets Works

As it turns out, 5 gallon buckets really are the perfect vessel for growing tomatoes. Most pots and containers simply don’t allow enough growing room for true slicing or canning tomatoes.

Unfortunately, with most containers, the only tomatoes that will grow and perform well are smaller cherry-style varieties. But by growing in 5 gallon buckets, you can grow nearly any size or heirloom variety you want.

But 5 gallon buckets, with over 14 inches of depth and 11+ inches of circumference, provide plenty of space for strong root growth. And when it comes to growing larger varieties of tomatoes (or any vegetables for that matter), success is all about developing healthy, strong roots.

The Secret To Growing Tomatoes In 5 Gallon Buckets

In our trials, we have found there are a few key “secrets to success” for growing tomatoes in buckets.

The first is starting with a high quality potting soil mix filled with nutrients. We actually create our own potting soil from a mix of soil, compost, worm castings, perlite and spent coffee grounds. (See: The Perfect Homemade Potting Soil Mix)

Using a high quality soil mix is a big part of the success when growing in any container. Container soil needs to be full of nutrients, and loose enough to allow for good drainage and absorption from the roots.

This rich, well-draining mix allows the roots of the tomato plants to absorb nutrients with ease. In addition, the lightweight, loose soil allows the roots to grow with little effort. Even more importantly, it allows them to take up added nutrients in the form of organic fertilizers quickly.


Fertilizing is a must when growing in buckets. Just as in a traditional garden setting, tomatoes will eventually absorb most of the nutrients from even the richest of soils.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders from the soil. But a light, steady dose of added nutrients can fill that void as they become depleted. And the key here is light and steady. Too much fertilizer can grow plants with tons of foliage and growth, but little to no tomatoes.

We fertilize with a dose of compost tea every few weeks, and use a quarter cup of worm castings added to the top of the buckets every month for the first 3 months. If you have never tried worm castings as an organic fertilizer, you will be amazed at their power!

Worm castings are an incredible all-purpose organic fertilizer. Not only do we use them in our potting soil, but in all of our planters and hanging baskets to help power plants all year long.


Beyond good soil and fertilizing, there is supplying good, consistent watering. Tomatoes planted in 5 gallon buckets do need frequent watering to keep plants hydrated.

The good news is that it only takes minutes a day. And, without having to weed – it’s a pretty good trade off! It is good to mention here that we drill holes in the bottom of all of our 5 gallon buckets to help shed off excess moisture.

Supporting The Tomato Crop

The final secret is providing good support for your tomato plants. Just like in a traditional garden setting, staking or caging your tomatoes is important. Without it, they can easily topple and break, especially when loaded down with fruit.

Supporting your tomato plants is a big key to success. With our bucket planters, we simply attach metal fencing inside to hols the plants as they grow. If growing on the ground, stakes can be put in the bucket, or attached to the outside.

That is where the bucket planters really worked like a charm. With their wooden frame, it is easy to attach stakes or metal fencing to provide quick, simple support. If growing them out in the open, you can also secure a stake to the edge of the buckets to provide a place to tie off branches to.

And that’s about it – it really is that easy to grow tomatoes no matter where you live! Make this the year you try growing a few of your favorite tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets. Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary

Watering your tomato plant with the help of vertical irrigation from the PVC pipe is going to help the plant grow faster and get a better supply of nutrients throughout its life cycle. The pipe should be close to the tomato plant so that it assists in supplying water to the roots, where it needs it the most.

  • Cut a PVC pipe to the length of your plant, approximately 12-18 inches long.
  • Without damaging the roots, dig a hole and poke the pipe into the soil and cover it with soil.

Note: Avoid watering for longer durations as overwatering causes root rot.

Watch the video: Growing Tomatoes In Containers - Best Tips u0026 Advice!