An in-ground garden plot isn’t necessary for growing perfectly ripe homegrown tomatoes. It’s easy to raise all your favorite kinds of tomatoes, from deep red slicers to tiny grape tomatoes, in containers in a sunny spot like a deck, patio, or balcony.
You need to give potted tomato plants extra care with water, nutrients, and support. Follow these tips, and your container tomatoes will reward you with juicy, flavorful fruit.
Choose the Right Tomato Variety
Look for compact tomato varieties labeled ‘patio,’ ‘balcony,’ or ‘bush’ types. Though small in stature, these container-friendly tomato plants can produce full-sized fruit. Recommended compact varieties include ‘Tumbler,’ ‘Bush Early Girl,’ ‘Pixie,’ ‘Tiny Tim,’ and ‘Small Fry’.
Pick the Perfect Pot
Tomato plants need deep pots with at least 5 gallons of capacity to accommodate their extensive root systems. Choose containers that are 20 inches or more across. Make sure pots have drainage holes so excess water can escape. Plain plastic buckets actually work well as tomato planters if you drill drainage holes in the bottom.
Use a Potting Mix
For the best drainage, use a quality potting mix instead of garden soil in your tomato containers. Potting mixes are lightweight, nutrient-rich soils blended for excellent drainage.
Tomato plants are heavy feeders. Mix a slow-release fertilizer into the potting soil at planting time. Replenish nutrients every 4-6 weeks during the growing season with more slow-release fertilizer scratched into the top few inches of soil. Organic fertilizer options include fish emulsion, kelp meal, and greensand.
Give Them Sun
Place tomato containers in the sunniest spot possible – they need at least 8 hours of direct sun daily. A southwest-facing location is ideal.
Check soil moisture daily, watering container tomatoes whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry. Provide a deep watering until excess drips from the drainage holes. Try to avoid wetting the leaves.
Allow Air Circulation
Good air flow around plants helps prevent foliar diseases. Position containers so leaves don’t press against walls or other plants.
Insert stakes or trellises in containers when you plant to support heavy trusses of fruit later on. Tie stems loosely to supports as the plants grow.
Watch for Pests
Common tomato pests like hornworms, aphids, and whiteflies can be a problem on container plants. Inspect plants frequently and use organic insecticidal soap, neem oil, or other recommended treatment if pests appear.
Harvest Tomatoes at Peak Ripeness
Check your container tomato plants daily once fruit begins to form. Gently twist tomatoes to remove when they are fully colored and somewhat soft. Enjoy immediately or let them ripen further indoors.
FAQs about Essential Tips for Growing Tomato Plants in Pots
How often should I water my potted tomato plants?
Check soil moisture daily and water container tomatoes whenever the top 1-2 inches of soil become dry. Provide a thorough watering until excess drips from the bottom drainage holes.
What size pot is best for tomatoes?
Use at least a 5-gallon pot, but bigger is better. Large containers give tomato roots plenty of room to grow.
Should I prune my potted tomato plants?
Yes, pruning establishes a strong central stem and removes lower suckers. Prune tomato suckers (small branches that form where leaf stems meet the main stem) as needed to control size.
How much sun do tomato plants need?
Tomatoes require a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight daily for best growth and fruit production.
What fertilizer is best for tomatoes in pots?
Use a slow-release fertilizer formulated for vegetables mixed into the soil at planting time. Replenish nutrients every 4-6 weeks with more slow-release fertilizer or organic options like fish emulsion.
How do I know when my potted tomatoes are ripe?
Check containers daily once tomatoes start forming. Ripe tomatoes will be fully colored and slightly soft. Pick promptly when ripe.
How do I prevent diseases on my container tomatoes?
Choose disease-resistant varieties, allow for good air circulation around plants, and keep foliage as dry as possible by watering at the base of plants.
What causes blossom drop on tomatoes?
Excessive heat, drought stress, and extreme swings in soil moisture can all cause tomatoes to drop blossoms before they can form fruit. Keep plants consistently watered.
How close can I plant tomato containers together?
Leave at least 2 feet between containers to allow for adequate air circulation around plants. Closer spacing increases humidity and disease risk.
Can I bring my potted tomato plants indoors for winter?
No, tomato plants will not survive being overwintered indoors. At the end of the season, toss spent plants and start fresh with new ones next year.