5 Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Containers

growing tomatoes in containers illustration
Illustration: The Spruce / Maritsa Patrinos
  • 01 of 06

    Growing Tomatoes in Containers

    Tomato plants growing on windowsill
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    Tomatoes are not the easiest, but they are a favorite plant to grow. Growing tomatoes in containers can be hugely satisfying or a flat-out disaster. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent tomato fail, whether it's because of bad weather, late blight, or critter problems. However, there are some guidelines that you can follow to improve your chances of tomato success. 

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  • 02 of 06

    Use Really Big Containers

    Tomato plant in container garden
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    One of the most important things you can do to ensure tomato success is to use a big enough container—the bigger the better. For one plant, you need a pot or container that is at least one square foot but 2 square feet is better. Five-gallon buckets are the perfect size for one plant. Fill up that large container with a good quality potting soil and make sure you have good drainage.

    Lots of people suggest growing herbs and other plants in the pot, too. However, it's hard enough to give tomatoes the consistent amount of moisture they need without throwing in other plants that will compete for the water.

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  • 03 of 06

    Plant Tomatoes Deeply

    Planting tomatoes in garden
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    Most plants need to be planted rather shallowly; however, tomatoes are different. Plant your tomatoes deeply so that roots will develop from stems that are underground and your tomatoes will be stronger and healthier.

    When planting a tomato seedling, dig a hole so that most of your plant is covered by soil (though you will want to make sure you have leaves sticking out of the soil). Make sure that you remove all the leaves and branches below the soil line.

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  • 04 of 06

    Water, Water, and More Water (But Not Too Much)

    Watering tomato plants
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    The key to tomato success is to give your tomato plants a consistent amount of water, which can be the biggest challenge for growing tomatoes in pots.

    The goal is to keep the soil moist, not wet. Too much water and your plant's roots will rot. Too little water and your plants will get weak, and your tomatoes will develop blossom end rot. Inconsistent amounts of water and you will have some exploding (or at least cracking or splitting) tomatoes. The easiest way to deal with this is to use self-watering containers. Otherwise, you will have to check your tomatoes every day.

    In the heat of the summer, or if it's hot and windy, you have to water twice a day. If you are using conventional containers, and there's too much rain, protect your tomatoes by moving them into a sheltered area, or cover them if they are small enough.

    Another trick with tomatoes is to water them in the morning, as plants take up and use water more efficiently in the morning. Make sure to water the soil, not the plants, as wet leaves can encourage blight and fungus.

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  • 05 of 06

    Feed Your Tomatoes

    Green tomato ripening on vine
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    Most potting soil, which is essential for growing almost anything in containers, has no nutrients in it. Some have fertilizer mixed in, so make sure you check your bag. It is critical to feed your tomatoes. 

    If your potting soil doesn't have fertilizer already in it, you will need to add a slow-release fertilizer to your potting soil, making sure to mix it in throughout your container. Try a tomato-specific fertilizer, though you can use any all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer.

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  • 06 of 06

    Let the Sun Shine

    Fresh cherry tomatoes
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    When picking where to grow your tomatoes, you will need to accurately figure out a place where they will get enough sun. Tomatoes will be okay with 6-plus hours of full sun—which is the bare minimum, but 8-plus hours is better. Either use a sun calculator or go out and check your tomato containers several times over the day to time how much sun they are getting.

    If your plants aren't getting enough sun, move them. Check the location throughout the growing season; as the sun moves across the sky, what was once a full-sun area can be shaded during a critical part of the day.

    While tomatoes love the sun, it can kill delicate seedlings if they aren't slowly acclimated. Make sure to harden off your tomato seedlings as too much early exposure to wind and sun can weaken or kill your small plants.

    Tomatoes also like heat, so don't put them outside before it gets really warm or be ready to move or ​protect them from the cold. That said, if it is too hot, tomatoes can fail as well.