Tomatoes are a classic staple of many summer gardens and something many gardeners try their hand at growing. While traditionally grown in the ground, you can also grow tomatoes in pots and other containers. Today, we’ll look at some tips for growing tomatoes in pots so those with limited outdoor space can enjoy the deliciousness of biting into a fresh-off-the-vine tomato. These tips will be applicable to any type of tomato container growing, with a special emphasis on those growing tomatoes indoors.
1. Choose The Right Variety
The first step to successfully growing tomatoes in pots is to choose the right variety. There are a wide range of choices, and many of these have different size requirements. When growing in containers, it’s in our best interest to work with smaller varieties as these grow better in confined spaces.
In particular, look for determinate tomatoes over indeterminate. The main difference is that determinate varieties grow to a specific size while indeterminate will continue to grow the entire season. This means that determinate ones typically need less space, and do better when grown in containers.
Outside of that, look for ones labeled “dwarf”. These are varieties that are specifically grown for being smaller than traditional tomatoes, and also do much better when grown in containers.
2. Start With The Right Location
Once you have your variety selected the next step is to figure out where you’re going to grow your tomatoes. The biggest requirement to keep in mind here is that tomatoes, regardless of the variety, need a ton of sun.
You’ll want to place them in a location that’s getting at least 8 hours of bright sunlight per day, but more is always better. This can be tricky to hit, especially indoors, but it’s not an area you want to skimp on. Lack of light is the biggest reason for failed tomato plants.
If you’re having a hard time hitting this, using a grow light is the next best option. These can help supplement your natural light, although due to their lessened intensity you should opt to run them for a bit longer than if the light was natural.
3. Use Big Pots
Tomatoes are large plants and need a lot of room. If you want to grow tomatoes in pots, then you’ll need to select a large enough one to accommodate your plant. Even smaller varieties take up a lot of space, so make sure to plan for this.
In general, look for at least 5 gallon containers to grow your tomatoes in. This may seem large, especially for seedlings, but trust us, you’ll be happy with the larger container. Tomatoes grow quickly and you’ll soon see why it needs such a large container.
Using too small of a container is going to limit your plant’s size and, consequently, the amount of harvestable fruit it produces. While you can certainly grow in smaller containers, be prepared to have a smaller plant because of it.
4. Use High Quality Soil
High quality potting soil is a must as it provides the initial nutrients needed for your plant to grow. Always look for potting soil and not garden soil, these are two different types of growing mediums.
Potting soil is much lighter and has better drainage necessary for plants grown in containers. Using normal garden soil in a container is going to kill your plant as it will hold too much moisture and lead to root rot.
If you pick up a bag of potting and garden soil you should be immediately able to tell the difference. Potting soiling is going to feel much looser and lighter, while garden soil is heavier and more compact. You want to have loose soil in your container so that water is able to drain freely.
In terms of soil, most commercial soils you can buy at hardware or garden stores will work perfectly fine. There are some blends targeted towards tomato growing, but these aren’t strictly necessary for a successful grow.
5. Plant Seedlings Deeply
Unlike many other plants, tomatoes are actually able to grow new roots out of their stem. For this reason, it’s best to plant seedlings deeper than other plants; look to cover about ⅔ of your plant in soil with the last ⅓ sticking out.
Before planting, remove the bottom few sets of leaves. This stops them from using energy, and also gives room for the new roots to grow. This buried area of the stem will actually produce new roots which helps provide a solid base for your plant.
This helps to establish your plant quicker, and leads to a healthy strong plant with a well developed root system.
6. Add a Layer Of Mulch
When planting, leave a few inches of room for mulch. This helps to conserve moisture, especially in the heat of summer.
As we’ll see, tomatoes are thirsty plants and require a lot of water to grow. Adding the mulch helps lock in this moisture, and will ultimately lessen the amount of water you’ll need to provide your plant with. It’s not strictly necessary, but can help reduce the amount of time you’ll need to spend caring for your plant and reduce the odds of damage if you forget to water them.
7. Keep Your Plants Well Watered
Tomatoes are thirsty plants, so you’ll need to keep up with their watering schedule. Larger plants will tend to need more water, and during the peak of summer can require daily watering. Make sure you’re checking everyday or you risk underwatering your plant.
To check, stick your finger in the soil about 2-3”. If it feels dry then it’s time to water. Do so until you see water leaking from the drainage holes on your container. Tomatoes like consistently moist soil, so get into a regular watering schedule for best results.
8. Keep Them Well Fed
Tomatoes are also heavy feeders and should be regularly fed during their growing season. While your soil will provide some initial nutrients, it’s going to run out quickly and need to be replenished.
We recommend a continuous release fertilizer that can be added about 3 weeks after planting. This provides a constant release of nutrients to your plant, and takes out the routine effort needed to feed them.
You can also use a liquid based fertilizer if you prefer. You should follow the instructions on the packaging, but look to apply it to your soil roughly once a month during the growing season.
9. Uses Stakes To Keep Your Tomatoes Upright
Tomatoes can get quite top heavy as they grow and this can lead to future growth problems. For that reason, it’s best to use tomato cages, trellis, or similar support to keep them upright.
Vining varieties will naturally tend to latch on, but you can also use twine or ties to attach your plant to them. This is important to keep your plants growing correctly, and prevent undue stress that comes with plants not able to support themselves. Plants without support are more likely to have growth issues, not produce fruit, and be more susceptible to pests/disease.
10. Harvest at The Right Time
Harvesting your tomatoes is easy, and should be done before they are fully ripped. Wait until they are about ¾ ripe, this is the perfect time to harvest. There should still be a little green still visible, but the fruit should be mostly red.
Then, gently remove the tomato from the vine either by gently pulling it or with a sharp pair of shears. Leave the harvested fruit out for a day or two where it will finish ripening and be available for use. The timeframe for this varies based on variety, but on average is about 6-8 weeks.
11. Don’t Give Up
Lastly, it’s important not to give up if your first try isn’t as successful as you’d like. Growing tomatoes in pots can be a bit tricky, and requires lots of care. You need to be persistent and learn from your mistakes if you want to have a full harvest.
In our experience, light is often the limiting factor for tomatoes, especially for those grown indoors. As noted above, you want to hit at least 8 hours of bright light per day, with more being a positive.
If your plants aren’t growing as quickly as they should, or you’re not getting lots of ripe fruits to harvest, then light is likely the culprit. Make sure your plant is getting enough light, or use grow lights to supplement and see if you have better results.
Growing Tomatoes In Pots
Container gardening tomatoes is a great way to grow this delicious fruit with limited space. Being an indoor gardener, I’ve experienced the trouble of growing tomatoes indoors and the extra care needed for a successful harvest. Hopefully the above tips will help you in your journey and save you the time of a failed plant.
As always, we are happy to answer any questions you might have. Please feel free to reach out to us through email, or message us on any of our social media. We are always happy to help fellow gardeners achieve their gardening goals!