Craving garden fresh tomatoes, but don’t have the space for a garden? Consider growing your tomatoes in containers!
You may have heard that getting a good crop off your container grown tomatoes can be difficult. Sometimes the plants won’t produce many tomatoes, and the ones you do get can be watery and lack flavor.
If you’ve ever experienced these problems, then you are not alone! Tomatoes can be one of the more challenging plants to grow in containers, but here are a few tips that will increase your yield and allow you to enjoy your own delicious homegrown tomatoes this year.
Before we dive in, I want to mention two very important things.
First, whether you grow tomatoes in containers or in the garden, make sure you pick a good location where they will get at least 6 hours of sun per day. Tomatoes placed in too much shade will not produce well.
Second, don’t plant your tomatoes too early. If it’s too cold when you put them out in the garden, they’ll really struggle to get going and will be slower to produce tomatoes. Get your timing right with this customized planting guide.
Okay, on to the tips!
Tip 1: Get an appropriately sized container.
A container that is too small will cause stunted root growth and lead to fewer tomatoes. Be aware that many of the popular tomatoes sold at gardener centers are indeterminate plants.
Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow larger and longer until they don’t have adequate growing conditions. In an ideal location, they can be 6 to 8 or more feet tall. So this type of tomato plant needs plenty of space for root growth.
Keep your indeterminate tomatoes happy with at least a 20 gallon pot. But smaller varieties, like determinate and dwarf tomato plants, will be okay in smaller pots.
The type of tomato plant is not always listed on the plant label, so do your research about tomato varieties before you go shopping.
Pick your variety wisely with your space in mind. You’ll have more options if you grow your own tomatoes from seed, but you can grow any purchased tomato plant in containers with these tips.
Tip 2: Use good quality potting soil and/or compost.
Make sure you give your tomato plants a healthy start by providing them with good soil. Both potting soil and compost are available for purchase at gardening centers and home improvement stores.
Whatever you do, don’t use soil from your yard or garden area in containers.
Garden soil is full of debris and material that you don’t want to put in your container garden. Soil from your yard will probably not have adequate drainage for use in containers. And there’s a very high risk of bringing disease pathogens, weed seeds, and even caterpillar pupae into your container.
Since the container is by definition limited in space, you don’t want your tomato to have any competition for space or nutrients. Tomatoes can be plagued by all sorts of pests and disease, so don’t make things harder on yourself by inviting them in from the get go.
Tip 3: Be sure to provide growing support for your tomato
Most tomatoes, sometimes even dwarfs, will require some support as they grow. Since the plant grows very much like a vine, the stem is not nearly strong enough to hold it upright. Without support, your tomato will flop over the edge of your container and end up growing on the ground.
Always try to keep you tomato off the ground to minimize hiding spaces for pests, increase air flow, and allow you to see and access your delicious tomatoes.
Something as simple as a wooden or metal stake and loosely bound twist ties is sufficient to support your tomato plant. Tomato cages are fine, but can make it harder to access and prune your tomato plant.
Tip 4: Prune off the suckers
To make the most out of your container tomato, make sure you’re pruning off suckers.
Suckers are the little sprouts that come out from the stem at the leaf nodes. These are the beginnings of additional growing stems.
If left intact, they’ll grow to be their own little tomato plant sucking the life out of your main stem. It may seem like you’d want to let them grow for more tomatoes, but you’ll actually get more and better tasting tomatoes if you remove them.
Left alone, the plant will try to do too much. Allow your tomato to dedicate all its energy to making delicious tomatoes on one main stem.
Also make sure to prune of dead leaves from the bottom up. It’s natural for the earliest leaves to start to turn brown. Don’t leave them on to invite disease or pests. Use clean, sharp pruners to cut them off. This will keep your plant healthy and facilitate good airflow.
Tip 5: Apply liquid organic fertilizer every 2 to 4 weeks
Whether you plant your tomatoes in the ground or in a container, make sure you provide adequate fertilizer. Tomatoes require lots of nutrients to make flavorful fruit.
Fertilize at least once monthly with a liquid organic fertilizer for the best results. If you see your plant’s leaves are looking pale or yellow, that’s a good sign that they need more nutrients. Hungry plants will also display stunted growth, drop flowers, and produce fewer fruit.
If you choose organic fertilizer, you are less likely to over fertilize and burn your plants. If you’re using inorganic fertilizer, use a bit more caution so you don’t over do it. Always read the directions on your fertilizer label.
Learn more about fertilizer and how to choose the right fertilizer for your veggie garden.
For the healthiest plants, monitor them every day. Observe your plant for pest issues, signs of nutrient deficiency, and watering requirements. Depending on the weather, they might need to be watered daily or only every other day.
When you do water them, try to avoid the leaves and fruit by providing water directly at the base of the plant.
Water that is retained on the leaves and fruit will encourage mold and fungal disease. The plants don’t need to take up water from their leaves or fruit. Watering the base supplies water directly to the roots where they need it.
Tomatoes are really interesting plants! If you want to know more about them, read these 10 things about tomatoes every gardener needs to know.
With these tips, you’ll be able to grow your own flavorful homegrown tomatoes no matter where you live.
- Growing your tomatoes in containers can be very rewarding! Planning ahead and understanding what your tomatoes need is the key to getting delicious tomatoes from container grown plants.
- Choose an appropriately sized tomato and container. Place it where it can get at least 6 hours of sun every day.
- Use quality garden soil and/or compost. For the best results, don’t use dirt from your yard.
Provide growing support for your tomato. Don’t allow it to grow along the ground.
- Prune off the suckers and dead leaves to increase your yield. Healthy tomatoes have good airflow between their leaves and stems.
- Apply liquid organic fertilizer every 2 to 4 weeks. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and need lots of nutrients to make the best tasting tomatoes.
Bonus tip: Water at the base and avoid wetting the leaves and fruit to minimize mold and fungal disease.
This article was written by Laura Seabolt from YouShouldGrow.com. Laura is the author Seed Starting For Beginners and The Ultimate Garden Planning Spreadsheets. She and her family grow thousands of tomatoes every year on their farm in Northeast Georgia. They also breed tomatoes and have a micro-dwarf variety they grew in containers through the winter! Get Laura’s free e-book: Three Secrets To Growing The Best Garden Ever.
And check out her Instagram feed and Facebook page for their most current garden adventures.
My Hubby LOVES fried Green Tomatoes. Is it okay to pick them while they are Green?
Dianne Fishel says
I received seeds for tomatoes from a relative and she got them from her grandmother in Italy! Three seeds survived and are now growing on my property in Dillsburg,Pa.17019 ! We haven’t had any frost yet, and it’s October 2nd. One is approximately 18 inches tall, the other 2 are approximately six inches tall , What can I do to keep them alive if I pot them and bring them inside. What size pots, or buckets, best ground, if not my own soil, what fertilizer, how much light, and any other tips to keep them alive there the winter! Thanks for any tips or hints that would be easiest for me! I am 70 years young (as l say) and would appreciate any advice from you that you think would help! I appreciate any help you can pass on to me!
I read your post right now, in March.
Hope your tomatoes have survived! Keep them at the warmest and sunniest place possible.
Put suckers in water so you get new plants in case the mother plant dies.
Grow in spring, not in autumn…
Margaret Patterson says
This article is very helpful. I am a first time novice tomato container grower.
Prior to this new experience, I’ve grown lettuce and egg plants in pots.
I think that due to watering the lettuce pot with compost water, it became a perennial and returned on its own the following summer. That particular lettuce was the red leaf variety.
How do I tell if my plants are determinant or indeterminant where will the flower buds form..
I think I pruned them too much
What should I do
I have a rabbit or another animal in my yard eating all the green tomatoes. They have stripped my plants. I am now seeing yellow flowers on the top Do you have any tips to discourage animals
Thank you for such good advice. I just love reading & learning.
I have not had good luck with my container tomatoes this year. I have a net over my tomatoes, but some pets are still eating every one of them. A large amount, like half a green tomato if I don’t get to it every day. I’ve also tried pepper spray, but it’s getting so hot I don’t want to over due the spray & take the chance of burning the plants.