Tomatoes are a container gardener’s dream vegetable to grow in the garden. I’ve wanted to grow some myself. But there are some important things to learn if we want to be successful in growing them. This post has all my research that you need to grow tomatoes at home in pots.
I’ve also summarized the main points into a quick checklist you can use if you don’t have the time to read the entire post. Click the image below to download the checklist.
What are tomatoes?
A tomato is a fruit vegetable that you can get in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors.
The main classification of the tomato plant is whether it’s determinate or indeterminate. A determinate tomato plant grows to a limited size while an indeterminate tomato plant can keep growing.
The determinate variety is an annual that grows for just one season while the indeterminate variety is a perennial that keeps growing.
The tomato plant can be a vine that needs support to grow well or it can be a bush variety. The height of the tomato plant can vary a lot depending on the variety. You may find tomato plants that grow 1-10 feet tall.
The time when the tomato plants will grow fruits also varies a lot based on the variety. Determinate plants will usually grow all the fruit at the same time so you get a big harvest. Indeterminate tomato plants will keep growing fruit throughout the growing season.
The tomatoes can come with a ton of different flavors and texture. They originated from South and Central America but now are a staple ingredient in many parts of the world.
What are some varieties of tomatoes?
You will find an infinite variety of tomatoes that you can grow in a garden. And you can grow determinate and indeterminate varieties in a pot. But I would recommend growing a determinate one as a beginner. I’ve listed some of them below that you can start growing.
The Celebrity is a determinate tomato variety that has a red color and deep, tangy flavor. This variety is resistant to many diseases.
The plant can grow 36-40 inches in height and it takes about 70 days to reach maturity making it a good choice for growing in a pot.
The Roma is a determinate tomato variety that produces tomatoes resistant to diseases like Verticillium and Fusarium wilt.
The plant is compact but grows fleshy fruits with few seeds in them. They can grow 30-36 inches tall and produce fruit in 76 days.
As the name suggests, Fresh Salsa is a determinate tomato plant variety suitable for use in salsa and Italian sauces. The meat is firm and does not drip when you cut the tomato up into small pieces.
This tomato plant grows 36-40 inches in height and takes 60-75 days for it to produce a lot of fruit.
This is a determinate variety that is an alternative to the indeterminate Beefsteak variety. So you get a compact plant that grows large, meaty tomatoes and a good amount of them.
The plant is quite small growing 22 inches in height and produces large tomatoes in just 64 days.
The Supertasty is a variety that is tasty with its deep red color and rich, tangy taste. It is a determinate variety that is resistant to many diseases.
The plant can grow 36-40 inches in height and matures to produce tomato fruit in 70 days making it a great choice for growing in a container.
The Mighty Sweet is a determinate variety that produces small, grape tomatoes that are beautiful and delicious.
The plant is resistant to diseases like Fusarium wilt and tomato mosaic virus. It can grow to a height of 60 inches producing a lot of fruit. And it takes just 55 days to produce the small tomatoes.
The Sweet Tangerine is a determinate bush variety that produces delicious, golden, and large fruit. The plant is disease resistant and produces a big harvest at maturity.
This variety can grow up to 36-40 inches in height and produces fruit after 68 days.
Bush Early Girl
The Bush Early Girl is a determinate, bush variety that is very compact but produces lots of large tomatoes. It grows just to a height of 18 inches in 65 days making it a great choice to grow in a pot.
The plant is resistant to many diseases and is self-supporting so you don’t need to worry about using a tomato cage.
Golden Fresh Salsa
Another good tomato plant variety that is determinate and makes for a good addition to your salsa. The tomatoes are plum-shaped and don’t drip when you cut them up into cubes. You can add them to salsa, Italian sauces, and bruschetta.
The plant can grow up to 40 inches in height and reaches maturity in 70 days’ time.
The Atlas variety is another alternative to the Beefsteak indeterminate tomatoes. It is a small, bush plant that produces large tomatoes.
The plant is strong and can support itself even with the heavy load of the tomatoes. The plant can grow 50-60 inches in height and the tomatoes mature in 65-75 days.
Where can you buy tomato seeds and seedlings?
The best place to buy tomato seeds or seedlings is your local garden center or nursery. If you don’t have them nearby, you can also buy them through an online store.
I’ve listed some of the determinate tomato varieties that are suitable for growing in pots.
|Days to maturity
|Bush Early Girl
When is the best time to plant tomatoes?
Tomatoes are a warm-season plant so the best time you want to plant them is in the summer.
The ideal temperature to grow tomatoes is between 65-85 °F. If the temperature is lower than that range, the germination won’t take place. And if the temperature is above that range, the tomatoes will split.
So the best time to start growing tomatoes is late spring when the weather starts to warm up. This depends on the weather of the region you live in.
If the growing season is short, you will need to start seeds indoors and transplant them outdoors when the weather warms up. If the growing season in your area is long, you can even start growing the plants at the start of spring or earlier.
It will take a couple of months at least for the determinate tomato plants to mature and develop fruits. Do not harvest the tomato leaves for consumption as they are toxic.
The determinate tomato plants are annual so they will grow to develop fruit and then die after the growing season.
How to choose the pots for growing tomatoes?
The best pot to use for growing determinate tomatoes is a round pot. The size of the pot depends on the variety you want to grow.
A tomato plant that grows 3-4 feet tall can grow in a 5-10 gallon container. But a tomato plant larger than that will need a 10-20 gallon container.
It’s best to grow one tomato plant in one pot because the plant roots will need to spread to get the required nutrients and moisture from the soil.
The large pot will help the tomato plant grow well without competing with the other plants for the required nutrients.
You can get pots made from plastic, terracotta, ceramic, metal, and even concrete. You can even use a grow bag for growing the tomato plants.
The material you choose depends on your personal choice. If you like something decorating you can choose plastic, metal, or ceramic pot. If you want something that looks earthy, terracotta is a good choice. And if you want a pot that is really strong against the wind and elements, a concrete one works well.
I prefer plastic pots or grow bags because I have to grow tomato plants on the balcony. The plastic ones are durable, lightweight, and inexpensive. It’s easy to move the pots around when there’s rain, wind, or too much heat for the plant.
A fabric grow bag is a good alternative to plastic. It has the same benefits of being durable, lightweight, and inexpensive. But it also helps with air pruning the roots of the tomato plant.
This means that as soon as the roots touch the edge of the fabric grow bag, they tend to avoid growing any further and branch out into the existing soil.
This avoids the problem of the tomato plant becoming root bound where the roots circle and swirl inside the pot creating a tangled mess of roots.
You can buy new pots, reuse existing ones, or recycle some containers from your house. As long as the size of the pot is sufficient, it does not matter.
The important thing is to ensure the pot is free from pests and diseases before planting the tomatoes. You can do this by soaking the pot in a mix of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water for an hour.
After the hour has passed, you can rinse the pot well with water and leave it out to dry. Then it will be ready to plant your tomato seeds.
Another important factor for choosing a pot is to check for drainage holes. You will need to give a lot of water to your tomato plants. But the excess water should drain out of the pot. Otherwise, the roots will rot or the tomatoes will suffer from blossom end rot.
The drainage holes at the bottom will help ensure such excess water drains out. If the pot does not come with drainage holes, you will need to drill some yourself.
I’ve researched some grow bags you can use for growing tomatoes and listed them below.
|VIVOSUN 5-Gallon Grow Bag
|JERIA 7-Gallon Grow Bag
|EIIORPO 10-Gallon Grow Bag
|Smart Pot 15-Gallon Grow Bag
|PANACEA 20-Gallon Grow Bag
Which potting soil should you use?
Tomato plants need good soil that is loose enough to allow air and moisture circulation but drains out the excess moisture.
It’s not a good idea to use garden soil to grow your tomato plants. They will contain too much sandy or clay which will either not retain moisture or keep too much of it.
It would be even worse if the garden soil contains pests, diseases, or chemicals harmful to the plant as well as you.
It’s better to invest in a good potting mix that would be sterile and free from such issues. It’s worth the price as you get the best chance of germinating the tomato seeds and growing tomatoes for harvesting.
Fill the pot completely with such potting mix but leave out 1-2 inches from the top of the pot. This avoids the water and soil to spill out when you’re watering the plant.
The tomato seeds contain enough energy to help them grow and germinate. But once they have germinated, you’ll need to give the plants a boost of nutrients.
Tomato plants are a heavy feeder so you need to give them good fertilizer to encourage them growing foliage and fruits.
The best thing to do would be to add compost to your potting mix when preparing the pot. This contains rich, organic nutrients and microorganisms beneficial for plant growth.
If you don’t have compost, you can add a slow-release organic fertilizer to the potting mix when preparing the pot. This fertilizer will release into the soil slowly after each watering you give. The fertilizer can be a balanced one with N-P-K values of 5-5-5 or 10-10-10.
Here’s a list of potting mixes that would be suitable for growing your tomato plants.
- Fox Farm Happy Frog Organic Potting Mix
- Burpee Natural Organic Premium Growing Mix
- Black Gold All Purpose Potting Soil
- Perfect Plants Organic Potting Mix
- Espoma Organic Potting Mix
How to plant tomato seeds in the pots
You can either start the tomato seeds indoors in a seed-starting tray or you can directly grow them in the pot itself.
The benefit of starting in a seed tray is you can start growing the plants indoors before the growing season has started. This is useful if you have a short growing season.
When the seedlings grow to a certain height, you will need to transplant them to a larger pot outdoors.
I’m a beginner and too lazy to start my seeds indoors. And the growing season in my area is pretty long. So I will be planting the seeds directly into the pot.
Whether you’re planting the seeds indoors in a seed tray or directly into the pot, the basic idea remains the same.
You should plant more than one seed in the pot because it increases the chances that at least one seed will germinate. If all the seeds germinate, you can always thin them out later.
Water the potting mix well to make it moist before planting the tomato seeds. You want it to be moist but not damp or soaking wet.
Place the tomato seeds in the soil at a slight distance from each other. You can place 2-3 seeds together because we can thin them later.
Place the seeds in the soil and cover them up with about 1/4th inch of potting mix.
Once you’ve sowed the seeds, water the potting mix well so that it is moist and suitable for the seeds to germinate.
You will have to monitor the potting soil every day and make sure it is moist. Water the potting mix well when you see that it’s drying out.
The tomato seeds will germinate in 5-10 days depending on the variety that you’re growing.
How to transplant tomato seedlings to the pots?
If you grow the tomato seeds in a seed tray you will have to transplant the seedlings after they germinate. You will have to do this even if you purchased the seedlings from a garden center or nursery.
Fill the larger pot with a potting mix till it is almost full. Leave 1-2 inches from the top of the pot.
Scoop some soil from the center of the pot just enough to place the seedling in it.
Gently press the seed tray or container at the bottom to loosen the root ball so that it comes out. Hold the plant near the base as you remove it from the tray or container. This will avoid damaging the plant.
If the tomato plant does not come out of the container with ease, you may need to cut the tray or container.
Once the plant is out, place the root ball inside the hole you scooped in the larger pot. Add potting mix so you cover up the root ball and firm it up to make the plant stable.
Water the potting mix well so the tomato plant can continue getting the nutrients and moisture to grow well.
I would recommend hardening the seedlings when you transplant them to the pot. This will help avoid transplant shock that can damage the tomato plants.
Once you’ve transplanted the seedlings in the larger pot, just keep them out for a few hours every day and then bring them back indoors. Avoid keeping them in direct sunlight or windy locations.
Keep increasing the time for which you keep the pot outside and gradually you’ll be able to move the pot outdoors.
Where to place the pots?
Tomatoes are a warm-season plant that needs at least 8-10 hours of sunlight to grow fast. You need to be careful of too much heat as that is not good for the plant.
If the afternoon heat becomes too much, you may need to move the tomato plant in a shaded location of the garden.
So choose a location in your garden or balcony that receives full sunlight for most part of the day. If the weather becomes too hot, you can move the pot into the shade.
How to water the tomato plants
Tomato plants need a lot of water to grow well. The soil has to be moist but not damp or soaking wet. The roots should get enough moisture to absorb nutrients from the soil.
Watering the pot regularly is important if you want good germination and growth of your tomato plants.
If you’re starting seeds, the best way to keep the soil moist is with a gentle spray of water from a spraying-can. This helps keep the moisture in the soil without displacing the seeds.
Once the seeds have germinated, you can use a watering can to speed up the process. It’s important to avoid underwatering or overwatering the potting soil. Too little or too much water will drown the roots causing root rot.
I use an easy method to find out whether there’s enough moisture in the soil. Stick your finger 1-2 inches into the soil. If the tip of your finger does not feel moisture, it’s time to water the soil.
The way to water the soil is to keep watering until it drains out from the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes. This ensures that the water is reaching all the roots in the soil from the top to the bottom.
The best water you can use is rainwater if you can collect it. The next best option is distilled water if you have a distiller at home.
I only have tap water available to water the tomato plants. But before using it, you need to keep it in a container for one day. This helps dissipate the chemicals like chlorine and fluoride that are harmful to the tomato plants.
I like to water the plants in the morning as it gives time for the roots to absorb the moisture before the sun comes out and dries the soil.
It’s important not to splash water on the foliage when watering the tomato plants. The excess water will create a humid environment that can attract fungal diseases.
Here’s a list of watering cans you will find useful for watering your tomato plants.
- Bloem Aqua Rite Watering Can
- Novelty Watering Can
- Cado Watering Can
- Gardener’s Select Watering Can
- Calunce Watering Can
How to thin the tomato seedlings
We grow more than one seed either in the seed tray or the pot. That’s because we want to increase the chances that at least one tomato seed will germinate.
But if more than one seeds germinate, it means you need to take some of them out leaving only one to grow. That’s called thinning.
Thinning is the process where you cut off some of the seedlings that may have germinated leaving just one. You also need to cut out the seedlings that may be too close to another one leaving a few inches of space between the seedlings.
The thinning helps to reduce the competition between the tomato seedlings for the nutrients in the pot. It also helps improve air circulation and lower problems of humidity.
You can start the thinning process when the seedlings have grown 2-4 inches in height. You can see a few leaves on the plant which is the right time to start the thinning.
You can use a pair of pruning scissors to cut off the unwanted seedlings. The best method to pick the seedlings to thin is to pick the ones that appear weak. Hold the base of the seedling and cut it out with the scissors.
How to add support to tomato plants
You can use either staking or caging to support the tomato plants. The benefits of supporting tomato plants are the plants grow vertically, making it easy to harvest the tomatoes.
There is good room between the leaves when the plants are supported. This allows good air circulation and prevents diseases that can occur due to a moist environment.
The support also helps keep the fruit and foliage above the soil that protects them from soil-borne diseases and pests.
To use staking, you need a wooden stake that is either rooted inside the pot or in the ground outside the pot. You can also put the stake in another heavier pot.
As the tomato plant grows, you need to prune the unwanted leaves and tie the main stem to the stake at regular intervals.
The benefit of using staking is it’s easy to harvest the tomatoes. The disadvantage is that you get fewer tomatoes as many stems need to be pruned.
To use caging, you use a tomato cage and grow the tomato plant inside the cage. As the tomato plant grows, it takes the support of the cage. You don’t need to tie the plant to the cage.
The benefit of using caging is you get a good harvest as the tomato plant grows several stems and fruits. The disadvantage is that it’s harder to harvest the tomatoes when in a cage. And the cage can be expensive if you buy it from a garden center or nursery.
Do the tomato plants need fertilizer?
The best fertilizer you should be adding to tomato plants in your garden is organic compost. You can add this to your potting mix when preparing the containers to plant the seeds.
Compost contains the rich, organic nutrients that will make your tomato plants grow well. It also enhances the texture of the potting mix making it suitable for moisture and aeration. The beneficial microorganisms in the compost help achieve this.
You can add compost once more after the tomato seedlings have germinated and grown well to give a boost to the tomato plants.
If you don’t have compost, you can mix in a slow-release organic fertilizer with the potting mix. This will be slowly released into the soil as you water the plant.
Make sure to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer on how much and how often to use the fertilizer.
Mix the slow-release fertilizer with the potting mix when you’re adding it to the pot before planting the seeds or seedlings. You could also add an organic liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks rather than the slow-release one.
Spray the liquid fertilizer on the soil as well as the foliage to give the plants a boost of the nutrients they need.
When preparing the potting mix you can use a balanced organic fertilizer with N-P-K of 5-5-5 or 10-10-10. But once the plants have grown, don’t use a fertilizer rich in nitrogen.
Because it will encourage the plant to focus on growing foliage rather than the tomato blossoms and fruit.
Instead, you want to use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and rich in phosphorus and potassium like one having N-P-K of 5-10-10.
Be careful not to overuse the fertilizer on your radish plants as it will damage the leaves and roots.
Here is a list of slow-release organic fertilizer you can use for tomato plants.
Here is a list of organic liquid fertilizer you can use for tomato plants.
How to protect tomato plants from weeds
The advantage of growing tomatoes in a pot is the plants are in a protected environment that keeps them away from weeds.
But there will still be some weeds growing because birds, animals, and wind may carry some over.
The best solution to the problem of weeds is to add a layer of mulch to the pot. This could be organic material like grass clippings from the lawn, dried leaves from the yard, or moss you collect near the house.
The time to add mulch to your tomato plant pots is when the seedlings have grown 2-4 inches tall. The mulch will help protect the plant from weeds by blocking the sunlight and preventing the weeds from germinating.
The mulch helps keep the soil moist for a long time because it prevents the heat from drying the soil. It also keeps the temperature in the soil regulated so it’s not too hot or too cold.
The organic mulch also breaks down over time and adds beneficial nutrients to the potting soil.
How to prune tomato plants
The benefit of pruning tomato plants is you can remove the unwanted leaves. This includes the leaves that are turning yellow, brown.
You can also prune the leaves that are on the inside of the tomato plant and not helping produce energy for the plant.
This relieves the plant from expending energy on growing such unwanted and dead leaves. And it can focus energy on growing fruits and useful leaves. The tomatoes that grow on a pruned plant will also be larger in size.
Pruning the tomato plant also helps improve air circulation through the plant and leaves. This prevents a humid environment from forming which tends to attract fungal diseases on the plant.
To prune the bush variety tomato plant, find out where the flower cluster is. You then can leave 2-3 suckers below this flower cluster and prune all the remaining ones.
You want to avoid being too aggressive when pruning as this can cause stress to the plant causing problems like leaf curl.
You can use your fingers to pinch off the suckers at the stem to remove it. If the suckers are too big, you can even use a pair of pruners to cut them off.
How to harvest tomatoes from the pots
Determinate tomatoes are one of the easier vegetables you can grow in a pot. They mature relatively fast in about 60-70 days’ time.
Check the seed packets or the seedling labels to know exactly when your tomatoes will be ready for harvest.
You will also know this by looking at the tomatoes. If they are firm to touch and bright in color, you can harvest them.
The tomatoes will continue to ripen as you store them in a dark, dry place in the house.
I would suggest harvesting the tomatoes when you want to use them in your food. This helps you get the most flavor and nutrients from the tomatoes.
You can harvest the tomatoes using your fingers to pluck them. Or you can use a pair of pruning scissors to clip them off the plant.
Remember to clip the tomatoes along with the star-shaped top attached to them. This helps the tomatoes last longer in storage.
Once harvested, you can keep the tomatoes in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. They will last you a few days.