5 Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Pots

tomatoes growing in containers

The Spruce / K. Dave 

Tomatoes can be challenging to grow in containers, but they continue to rate among the most popular summer vegetables. Because container gardening is also quite popular, especially in small spaces, determined gardeners have figured out ways to create container crops of healthy, delicious tomatoes.

Here are five essential tips for successfully growing tomatoes in pots plus some additional ideas to increase your potted tomato harvest.

5 Top Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Pots

  • 01 of 05

    Use Really Big Containers

    planting tomatoes in deep containers

    The Spruce / K. Dave 

    One of the most important things you can do to ensure success is to use a big enough container—the bigger, the better—so that your tomato plant receives ample water and nutrients.

    For one plant, you need a container that is at least 1 square foot, but 2 square feet is better (5-gallon buckets are the perfect size). Make sure the container has good drainage, though, so that the roots remain moist but not soggy. If you use a bucket, drill holes in the bottom to allow water drainage.

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

  • 02 of 05

    Plant Tomatoes Deeply

    planting tomatoes deeply

    The Spruce / K. Dave  

    Most vegetable plant seedlings are planted at the same depth as their original containers; tomatoes are the exception.

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

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

  • 03 of 05

    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. If your plants are receiving inconsistent watering, tomato fruits can crack or split.

  • 04 of 05

    Feed Your Tomatoes

    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.

    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. If the potting soil does not include fertilizer, feed the plants with an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer or a tomato-specific fertilizer

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Ensure Sun Exposure and Warmth

    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.

    Tip

    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.


Additional Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Pots

  • Determinate types are better suited for container culture than indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate varieties set their flowers and produce fruit in a single flush rather than spacing flower and fruit production over the entire growing season, as indeterminate types do. Determinate types tend to thrive in small spaces.
  • Group pots together to shade the roots. While the greenery needs lots of sun, the root zone of tomatoes can get too hot if the containers are exposed to too much sun. By grouping them together, you can provide some shade for the roots.
  • 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.
  • Use a fluffy, light potting mix. A good porous potting mix allows roots to freely grow and helps moisture and air penetrate down to them.
  • Provide supports. Tomato plants will often surprise you with their sheer size. Most types, even those touted as patio varieties, will benefit from mounting a cage or at least some stakes in the pot, allowing you to elevate and tie off the stems.
  • Mulch the potting mix. A 1-inch layer of straw, shredded bark, or chopped leaves will help keep the growing medium from absorbing too much heat while also preserving moisture.

Once you master growing tomatoes in pots, you may never feel the need to have a traditional garden. A great benefit to growing tomatoes in containers is portability; you can move the containers to take advantage of the best growing conditions.

Containers are particularly useful if you don't have an in-ground garden space. Pots can be placed on a balcony, porch, patio, driveway, or deck. As long as you know the tips and tricks for keeping tomatoes happy, you can enjoy homegrown tomatoes anywhere.

Article Sources
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  1. Tomatoes. University of Maryland Extension