11 Tips for Growing Terrific Tomatoes in Pots

Your container tomatoes are about to look great

tomatoes growing in containers

The Spruce / K. Dave 

You don't need a large garden plot to grow perfectly ripe, juicy tomatoes. With some large containers, sunlight, fertilizer, and water, you can plant and grow any tomato variety, from tiny grape tomatoes to large slicing tomato varieties—all on your deck, patio, or balcony. Small-space gardeners have figured out ways to create container crops of healthy, delicious tomatoes.

Here are 11 essential tips for successfully growing delicious tomatoes in pots and increasing your harvest.

Benefits of Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Growing tomatoes in pots or other containers have several benefits.

  • Container-grown tomato plants are space-efficient.
  • Containers can be placed on a patio, balcony, driveway, or in border beds.
  • Containers can be moved to follow the 6-8 hours of sunlight that tomatoes need to thrive.
  • Young plants can be transplanted into containers earlier in the growing season than in the ground.
  • The biggest benefit: ripe, flavorful, homegrown tomatoes just steps away from your kitchen.

The Best Tomato Varieties for Container Gardening

Tomatoes are generally categorized as determinate types, which set their flowers and produce fruit in a single flush, or indeterminate types, vining tomatoes that require support and continue to produce fruit over the entire mature growing season.

  • Determinate tomatoes tend to be more compact plants (commonly called bush tomatoes) that thrive in containers.
  • The best determinate tomato varieties for pots are Glacier, Tiny Tim, Italian Roma, Maglia Rosa (semi-determinate). 
  • If you have room for a vining tomato, the best indeterminate tomato varieties for pots are Sun Sugar, Sun Gold, Cherokee Purple, and Chocolate Cherry.

11 Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Pots

  • 01 of 11

    Choose a Really Large Pot

    planting tomatoes in deep containers

    The Spruce / K. Dave 

    Tomatoes need a large container to thrive due to their expansive root systems. Plant tomatoes in a pot big enough so the tomato plant receives ample water and nutrients during the growing season.

    • For each plant, you need a container that is at least 1 square foot or around two gallons.
    • A larger container of around 2 square feet is better. A 5-gallon bucket, easily found at hardware stores, is the perfect size for healthy tomato plant growth.
    • Avoid black containers. Black plastic can absorb and hold a lot of heat, which can cause roots to be overly warm, leading to stunted plants.
    • Plastic or fiberglass pots are a better choice than clay pots because they don't dry out as quickly. Dry soil is a huge detriment to fruit production.
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  • 02 of 11

    Use a Container With Good Drainage

    small terra cotta plant pots with tomato seedlings inside and soil around them

     coramueller/Getty Images

    Make sure the container has good drainage so that the roots remain moist but not soggy. If you use a 5-gallon bucket, drill holes in the bottom before filling it with potting soil to allow water drainage.

    If the pot you are using has large drainage holes, use a piece of a broken pot, a piece of window screening, or a paper coffee filter to cover it. This way the water can drain out, but the soil won't end up all over the patio.

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  • 03 of 11

    Use the Right Potting Soil

    Tomato plants on a terrace.
    Even a few tomato-bearing plants can offset what you need to purchase at the store. ChiccoDodiFC/Shutterstock

    Soil from your yard or garden is too heavy for container gardening and may contain disease organisms. Use a fluffy, light potting mix that allows roots to freely grow and helps moisture and air penetrate down to them.

    Fill your pot with high-quality potting soil to about an inch from the top rim.

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  • 04 of 11

    Group Containers Together

    Tomato plant potted in gray container with small red tomatoes hanging between support trellis

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

    While the leaves need lots of sun, the root zone of tomatoes can get too hot if the containers are exposed to too much sun. By grouping them, you can provide some shade for the roots and make watering easier.

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  • 05 of 11

    Plant Tomatoes Deeply

    planting tomatoes deeply

    The Spruce / K. Dave  

    When planting a tomato seedling, remove the bottom few sets of leaves, and dig a hole deep enough - 3 to 5 inches - so that most of the plant is buried in the planting hole.

    The tomato plant will produce roots along the buried part of its stem, developing a strong root system and sturdier plants.

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  • 06 of 11

    Add a Support System

    determinate tomatoes surrounded by a cage

    eurobanks / Getty Images

    Both determinate and indeterminate container tomato plants will benefit from a support structure. For indeterminate tomato plants, the structure is necessary to support the vining behavior and the weight of the fruit.

    The support system should be added to the container when you plant each tomato. Waiting until the plant is larger may disturb the growing roots. If you are growing container tomatoes in the yard, the cage can be inserted into the soil outside of the pot.

    • Use a traditional tomato cage or stakes for determinate types. Choose a cage about 15 to 20 inches high and 10 inches wide. For larger breeds, select a cage at least 38 inches high and 14 inches wide.
    • For indeterminant plants, you can make supports or purchase cages to elevate and tie off the stems. Since indeterminant plants grow so large, use a cage at least 38 inches high and 14 inches wide.
    • As the tomato plant grows, secure the stems with a piece of twine, plant ribbon, or plant wire to the support.
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  • 07 of 11

    Add a Layer of Mulch

    Tomato plant in pot surrounded with mulch and support trellis

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

    Once the tomato seedling is planted, add a 1-inch layer of mulch to the top of the potting soil. Straw, shredded bark, or chopped leaves will help keep the growing medium from absorbing too much heat and help preserve moisture.

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  • 08 of 11

    Water Soil Consistently

    water soil consistently

    The Spruce / K. Dave  

    Water plants in the morning to provide hydration all day and enable damp foliage to dry during daylight hours. Apply water directly on the soil and minimize moisture on the leaves, which can encourage blight and fungus. The soil should be moist but not soggy to avoid root rot. 

    During sweltering summer days or hot and windy days, you might have to water plants twice a day. If a tomato plant receives too little water, the plant will wilt and weaken, and the tomatoes could develop blossom end rot or the fruit can crack or split.

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  • 09 of 11

    Fertilize the Tomatoes Regularly

    fertilizing tomatoes

    The Spruce / K. Dave  

    Tomatoes are heavy feeders, and container-grown tomatoes require feeding about every two weeks. Make sure to feed your plants the primary nutrients they require—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

    Tomatoes grown in pots need to be fed regularly throughout the growing season, as often as twice monthly depending on the type of potting mix used. A balanced NPK fertilizer, such as 5-5-5 or 5-10-5 works best applied during watering.

    Some potting soils already have fertilizers included in them, so read the soil bag to determine if these essential nutrients are included in the mix.

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  • 10 of 11

    Find a Sunny and Warm Location

    making sure tomatoes are in a sunny area

    The Spruce / K. Dave 

    Tomato plants require full sun, which means at least 6 to 8 hours per day between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

    Place your pots in a location that receives sunlight all day long, and if conditions change throughout the growing season, move the pots to ensure adequate sun exposure.

    Tomato plants like warm temperatures. If temperatures drop below 50 degrees, bring the plants inside or protect them from the cold. If temperatures soar above 90 degrees, provide more shade because the plant will stop producing flowers and fruit.


    While established tomatoes thrive in full sun, too much sun can weaken or kill young plants that are not hardened off or acclimated slowly to outdoor growing conditions.

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  • 11 of 11

    Harvest Ripe Tomatoes

    A container overflowing with tomatoes
    Renee's Garden

    Every variety of tomatoes has a slightly different growth rate and harvesting schedule. Most produce fruit within 60 to 100 days. While you can pick tomatoes when they are not ripe and allow them to ripen off the plant, you will get the best flavor if you allow them to ripen on the plant.

    Determine a ripe tomato by:

    • Skin sheen: A ripe tomato has a glossy and slightly shiny skin.
    • Skin color: The color should be fairly deep and uniform.
    • Feel: The tomato should give slightly when giving it a gentle squeeze.
    • Stem resistance: Ripe tomatoes should release from the stem with a gentle tug.
    • Smell: The tomato should give off a strong tomato fragrance.
  • Can tomatoes grow indoors?

    Tomatoes can be grown indoors if you take care to provide conditions that are very similar to an outdoor summer garden. When grown indoors, container tomatoes need a warm, bright spot, and often grow lights.

  • How do I start tomato seeds?

    Tomato seeds are easy to start indoors so tomato seedlings can be transplanted outdoors as soon as the danger of frost has passed. All you need is some seed, potting mix, bright light, and warm temperatures.

  • Can I save tomato seeds for next season?

    Yes! If you found a tomato plant you love, you can save the seed from the fruit to plant next year. Collect the seeds from fruits that are fully ripe in mid-summer to fall. 

Originally written by
Kerry Michaels

Kerry Michaels is a container gardening expert with over 20 years of experience maintaining container gardens in Maine. She specializes in writing and capturing photography for gardening and landscape design for print and broadcast media, including the Discovery Channel, Small Gardens, and Disney, among others.

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  1. Tomatoes. University of Maryland Extension