Key Takeaways for Growing Tomatoes in Containers
To summarize the top tips for ensuring a big harvest of container-grown tomatoes:
- Use large, deep pots or tubs for each plant – at least 5 gallons, preferably 10+ gallons.
- Fill with high-quality potting mix designed for vegetables, not garden soil.
- Plant seedlings deep, burying much of the stem to encourage root growth.
- Water regularly and use drip irrigation if possible to moisten the soil.
- Fertilize weekly with a complete organic fertilizer to provide regular nutrition.
- Install strong stakes, cages, or trellises at planting time to support heavy fruiting plants.
- Prune suckers and leaves to focus energy on fruit production and air circulation.
- Harvest ripe tomatoes frequently to keep plants productive through the season.
- Monitor closely for pest and disease issues. Take preventive measures and treat them promptly.
The Ultimate Guide to Growing Lots of Tomatoes in Containers
Growing juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes is one of the great joys of gardening. But if you don’t have space for a sprawling vegetable garden, don’t worry! You can grow tomatoes successfully in containers right on your porch, patio, or balcony.
With the right techniques, you can harvest bushels of tomatoes in pots, even in urban spaces. This comprehensive guide shares all the secrets, tips, and tricks for container tomato gardening. Let’s dive in!
Benefits of Growing Tomatoes in Containers
Before we get to the how-to, let’s look at some of the benefits of container tomato gardening:
- Works in small spaces: You can grow tomatoes on a balcony, porch, patio, or any small outdoor area. No large garden is required!
- Easy access: Potted tomatoes are at your fingertips for harvesting and care. Avoid stooping and bending in a garden bed.
- Portability: Roll containers around to move plants into optimal sun or shade. Bring them indoors if needed.
- Control over soil: Use high-quality potting mix and add fertilizers or compost as needed. Not limited by native soil.
- Prevents disease spread: Separate pots prevent soil-borne disease transmission.
- Less weeding: Containers help minimize weeds without herbicides.
- Flexible watering: Give each plant just what it needs. Change watering for each container as needed.
- Choice of varieties: Grow any tomato in containers, from tiny cherries to giant slicers.
You can yield over 20 lbs of fruit with proper care from just 1-2 large containers!
5 Key Secrets to Maximize Tomato Yields in Containers
Growing big, bountiful tomatoes in pots takes more effort than sowing in garden beds. But follow these secrets, and you’ll be harvesting armloads of tomatoes through the season:
1. Choose Large, Deep Containers
Tomato roots need room to grow. For full-sized tomato varieties, use at least a 5-gallon container per plant. Even larger is better.
For smaller cherry tomatoes, you can get by with a bit less space. Aim for 3-5 gallons per plant.
The most important factor is depth. Tomato roots grow deeply; containers should be at least 12 inches deep to accommodate them.
Deeper pots also help buffer soil temperature changes. Insulated containers are ideal.
Pro Container Gardening Tip
Plant 3-4 plants close together in a large 20-30 gallon tub for an easy tomato tower. The plants will support each other as they grow tall.
2. Use High-Quality Potting Mix
- What you plant into matters just as much as what you plant!
- Avoid using garden soil in containers. Over time, it will compress and drain poorly.
- Instead, use a high-quality organic potting mix made for vegetables. It will provide the aeration and drainage of tomato roots.
- Look for mixes containing compost, coconut coir, perlite, and vermiculite. They retain moisture while still draining well.
- You can also buy premixed ‘tomato soil,’ which already includes the nutrients tomatoes need.
To save money, make your potting soil. Mix 1 part compost, 1 part coconut coir or peat moss, and 1 part perlite or vermiculite.
3. Plant Tomatoes Deep
Tomatoes form roots all along their stems. For best growth, plant them deeper than you would other veggies.
Bury tomatoes up to their top set of leaves. The underground portion will form strong roots.
Deeper planting also supports the plant better as it grows tall and heavy.
Just be sure not to cover any leaves, as they need sun exposure.
4. Water and Feed Regularly
Potted tomatoes need more frequent watering and fertilizing than in-ground plants. Their limited root zone depends on you for all nutrients and moisture!
Water container tomatoes daily in hot weather. Wait until the top few inches of soil are dry before watering again.
If possible, use drip irrigation to apply water to the soil. Overhead watering encourages foliar disease.
Feed weekly with a diluted tomato fertilizer or compost tea. Watch for signs of deficiencies and adjust your fertilizer regimen as needed.
5. Use Stakes, Cages, or Trellises
Left to sprawl, container tomatoes easily become diseased and damaged. Provide vertical support to keep plants tidy and productive.
Use tall stakes and tie plants loosely to them as they grow. Place stakes as deep as possible for stability.
Tomato cages offer nice support, though plants often outgrow short commercial ones. Look for extra tall (over 4 feet) robust models.
A trellis panel attached to the container is an easy way to keep plants contained and supported. Use heavy-duty trellis netting.
5 Secrets to Grow LOTS of Tomatoes in Containers (Video)
Add decorative obelisks, pyramid supports, or DIY constructions to make tomato supports into interesting garden features.
Follow those five secrets, and your container tomatoes will thrive! Now, let’s look at some key steps for care through the season.
Planting and Caring for Container Tomatoes
Growing tomatoes in pots isn’t difficult, but it does take some extra care compared to sowing directly in garden beds. Here are the basic steps:
Start Seeds or Use Transplants
You can start tomatoes from seed indoors or use transplants from a nursery.
If starting from seed, sow them 8-10 weeks before your last expected frost date. Harden off seedlings before transplanting.
Whether using seeds or transplants, select disease-resistant, container-appropriate varieties. Look for compact, determinate tomatoes under 3 ft tall.
Choose smaller fruits like cherry, Roma, or paste tomatoes, which don’t require as much plant energy.
If you want full-size slicers, look for container-specific cultivars.
Tomato Variety Suggestions
Cherry: Sungold, Sweet Million, Juliet
Paste: Roma, San Marzano
Slicers: Patio Choice Yellow, Bush Beefsteak, Container Roma
Prepare Soil Mix and Containers
- Fill containers with quality potting mix, leaving 3-4 inches of headspace for watering.
- Mix in a balanced organic fertilizer according to package directions to provide nutrition.
- Ensure containers have drainage holes on the bottom to prevent waterlogging.
- Place containers in a sunny location before planting. You’ll need at least 6 hours of direct sun daily.
Transplant Seedlings Deep
Remove seedlings from pots and bury stems to the lowest set of leaves.
Pack the soil firmly around each plant to support it. Leave 2-3 feet between plants if possible.
Water thoroughly after transplanting and for the next few days to help roots establish.
Install Support System
Install stakes, cages, or trellises at the time of planting. Tomato stems are fragile and easily damaged if supported later.
Be sure supports are tall enough for the variety planted and anchored deeply in the container.
Mulch Container Surface
Cover the soil surface around transplants with 2-3 inches of organic mulch like straw, leaves, or grass clippings.
Mulch retains moisture and keeps the soil evenly moist as plants grow. Replenish as needed.
Water and Feed Regularly
Check soil moisture daily, watering when the top few inches become dry. Add water until it drains from the bottom.
Feed weekly with balanced liquid fertilizer mixed per instructions. Watch for signs of deficiencies like yellowing leaves.
Prune and Trellis Vines
- Pinch off suckers (new shoots between main stems and branches) to encourage a tidy growth habit.
- Gently tie and weave vines to supports as they elongate. Avoid damaging fragile stems.
- Remove lower leaves up to the first fruit cluster to improve air circulation.
Monitor for Pests and Disease
- Inspect the undersides of leaves frequently for signs of insects or disease. Catch issues early and treat them as needed.
- Common tomato pests include aphids, hornworms, whiteflies, and cutworms. Remove by hand or use organic pesticides if severe.
- Prevent disease by spacing containers apart, using drip irrigation, and leaving ample airflow between plants.
Begin harvesting cherry and smaller tomato varieties when fruits reach full color. Pick larger types when mostly colored but still slightly firm.
Make regular passes through plants, harvesting ripe fruits to keep plants productive. Don’t allow rotting tomatoes to remain on vines.
Enjoy tomato season! With excellent care, container plants will keep producing until frost.
Common Container Tomato Growing Problems and Solutions
You may encounter common tomato troubles when growing in containers, even when following best practices. Here are some potential issues and how to remedy them:
- Leggy, weak growth: Plants aren’t getting enough sun. Move containers or prune lower leaves for better light penetration.
- Blossom drop: This is often caused by temperature extremes. Provide shade or move containers during hot afternoons over 85°F.
- Cracks in fruits: Fluctuating soil moisture levels lead to cracking. Use mulch and consistent watering to keep the soil evenly moist.
- Bottom rot on fruits: Blossom end rot is due to calcium deficiency. Correct soil pH to 6.0-7.0 range and supplement with calcium powder or crushed eggshells.
- Wilting leaves: Plants are too dry. Check the soil and rinse thoroughly. Leaves may not recover, but new growth will be fine.
- Yellow leaf margins: This chlorosis is usually due to magnesium deficiency. Supplement soil around plants with Epsom salts per package rates.
- Curled, spotted leaves: Leaf diseases are common in wet conditions. Improve airflow and use drip irrigation to keep foliage dry. Remove damaged leaves promptly.
- Pests: Aphids, whiteflies, hornworms. Check the undersides of leaves frequently and use organic pesticides if needed. Remove badly infested leaves.
With attentive care, you can minimize issues and keep container tomato plants growing strong all season!
Container gardening lets you closely monitor and tend to each plant. Inspect frequently and remedy problems right away before they escalate.
Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Tomatoes in Containers
What size container do I need for a tomato plant?
Use a minimum 5-gallon container for full-sized tomatoes and 3-5 gallons for smaller cherry types. The deeper, the better – at least 12″ deep.
How many tomato plants can I fit in a container?
That depends on container and variety size, but a good rule of thumb is 1 large slicing tomato or 2-3 cherry tomatoes per 5-gallon bucket.
Is potting mix better than garden soil for containers?
Yes! Potting mixes are sterile light, providing good drainage for container plants. Garden soil compacts over time.
How often should I water container tomatoes?
Check the soil daily and water when the top few inches become dry, being careful not to oversaturate.
Do I need to fertilize tomatoes in containers?
Yes, weekly fertilization is recommended since containers provide limited nutrients. Use organic tomato fertilizer per label instructions.
When should I start tomato seeds for containers?
Start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before your last expected spring frost date. Harden off before transplanting outside.
How can I prevent diseases with container tomatoes?
Choose resistant varieties, allow ample airflow between plants, use drip irrigation, and keep foliage dry. Remove diseased leaves promptly.
What kind of support should I use for container tomatoes?
Use strong stakes and ties, robust tomato cages, or trellis panels attached to containers. Support plants as soon as transplanted.
How much sunlight do container tomatoes need?
Tomatoes require at least 6 hours of direct sun daily. South-facing areas are ideal. Move to follow the sunlight as needed.
Can I overwinter tomato plants in containers?
It is challenging to overwinter container tomatoes. Most gardeners treat them as annuals and start with new plants each spring.
Enjoy Bountiful Tomatoes on Your Balcony or Patio
Growing tomatoes in pots is rewarding and produces such beautiful plants and delicious harvests!
Use this guide to understand the keys to success with container tomato gardening. Follow the tips above, and with attentive care, you’ll be rewarded with ripe, juicy tomatoes throughout the season.
No matter how small your outdoor space, you can enjoy homegrown tomatoes. Give your container plants the needed root room, nutrition, support, and care.
Here’s to a prolific patio tomato crop this year!