Growing Tomatoes in Containers | Grow 100s with these Tips
Growing Tomatoes is one of those vegetables that every aspiring gardener seems to start with. Starting with growing tomatoes in containers is a perfect introduction to vegetable gardening. You’ll discover some expert tips that you can easily use to grow 100s of tomatoes on your patio.
One year when I first got married, my wife and I lived in a small apartment. My love of gardening was always present even though I did not have a big backyard. We were fortunate enough to have a back door entrance that had a small fire escape staircase.
The small little area on the fire escape landing had just enough room to put 2 containers side by side and got about 6 hours in the sunlight. My green thumb sprang into action to get all the materials needed and 2-3 months later we were picking 100s of cherry tomatoes and some Mortgage lifters all from that tiny nook. We had the best tomatoes out of all our neighbors because we were the only ones that grew any. Haha.
As you can see, it does not take much to grow tomatoes in containers. Container, dirt, water, food, sunlight and then comes the harvest. Fast forward to this day and we have a good size raised bed. We still continue to grow tomatoes in containers to maximize our growing area. It is so simple if you follow all the tips below.
1 – Benefits of Growing Tomatoes in Containers | For my salad of course
Tomatoes are one of the coolest vegetables around since they come in so many shape and sizes. There is nothing like slicing open the first tomato you pick from your garden in July to serve up in your salad. Popping succulent juicy cherry tomatoes directly from the vine as you survey your growing gardens.
Growing tomatoes in containers certainly conjure up these good memories we form as gardeners. You can certainly grow tomatoes easily no matter how little space you have. This is by far why container gardening is such a unique way to grow tomatoes. There is no excuse if you really want tomatoes to grow.
Here are just a few reasons to grow tomatoes in containers:
- Container Tomatoes location is flexible – You can place containers just about anywhere that you have at least 6 hours of sunlight. You can grow tomatoes on a porch, deck, patio or even your driveway. You’d be surprised at how little space you need to grow tomatoes.
- Wider Variety of Tomatoes available – The tomatoes you find in your local market may only have a few different varieties. Growing your tomatoes in containers has almost an endless possibilities of tomatoes varieties. Currently, we have 30 different types of tomatoes growing for this summer season.
- Extend Your Tomato Growing Season – Growing tomatoes in containers will allow you to extend your season at both ends. You can start growing your tomatoes indoors long before your last frost date given you provide it with adequate conditions. You are also able to move them indoors before your first frost date to continue to grow more tomatoes or allow the ones to ripen. This is perfect for those in the northern areas with shorter growing seasons.
2 – Best types of Tomatoes to Grow in Containers | Tomato Breakdown
The tomatoes that you grow in containers can be just about any type as long as you know how tall they grow. Growing tomatoes in containers hinge on this bit of information, so make sure you note this if you are not familiar with these terms.
There are 3 different types of tomatoes that you need to be aware of:
- Determinate – This type of tomatoes are the bush variety. Determinate tomatoes grow in a more compact area, so a low cage will be enough for these to grow. These types of tomatoes set their fruit out and pretty much don’t produce any more tomatoes.
- Indeterminate – These types of tomatoes are basically vining tomatoes. These varieties have some of the best flavors in my own opinion. These tomatoes will continue to grow given the right conditions and set fruit out until the first frost appears.
- Dwarf – These types of tomatoes have the best of both characteristics of determinate and indeterminate. These plants may get anywhere from 2- 4 feet high, yet some of the varieties will continuously grow as long as you pick them and the growing season continues. The flavor of these tomatoes seems to match the more diverse indeterminate varieties. Check out what Craig LeHoullier and other tomato dwarf project pioneers have done for these types of tomatoes here.
Make sure that you research the different varieties of tomatoes that you want to grow. Be aware that the indeterminate tomatoes will need some way to grow vertically such as with a cage or stake of some sort. Check your labels if you purchase the tomato plants at your local nursery to see what type they are so you can plan ahead.
Growing tomatoes in containers can be done with either of these types with the right conditions. However, it is best to stick with dwarf or determinate varieties if you are not sure what to expect with the vining tomatoes. These types of tomatoes plants won’t grow very large, but you will still get some tasty tomatoes to add to your salad or sauce.
3 – Optimal Time to Grow Tomatoes in Pots | Summer Glory
Tomatoes are definitely one of those vegetables that are best enjoyed fresh in the summertime. The tomatoes that you get in the market during the other seasons always seem to have a bland taste because they are breed to be shipped far and the taste was not a consideration.
Ideally, the best time to grow tomatoes in containers is during the summertime. The biggest needs that tomatoes have is adequate sunlight & some moderate warmth. Summertime has longer days and more exposure to the bright sun & heat.
It is worth noting that you can easily start your tomatoes indoors much earlier if you have access to proper lighting and a room temperature location with some bottom heat. The lucky few who have a greenhouse or an indoor setup can grow tomatoes year round.
My advice would be to grow a very compact tomato plant such as a bush or dwarf plant if you plan to grow it indoors. Growing these types of tomatoes in containers will be much easier to care for and manage since the overall size will be much smaller than indeterminate types.Growing tomatoes in containers can be done with either of these types with the right conditions. Click To Tweet
4 – Tomato Container Size | There is a pot for every tomato
The container you use to plant your tomatoes is really important. The summertime is really hot in many areas so going with the largest container size that you can get your hands on is best.
The minimum size container that you should use for most varieties of tomatoes plants is ideally 5 gallons. We have grown tomato plants in 3-gallon containers before but you can’t forget to water them daily or the plants will suffer. The smaller sized containers may even need to be watered 2x a day during the dog days of summer.
You can pick up some free containers from some nurseries. Typically, they have so many of the empty containers and happy to get rid of some of them. Those containers may not last many seasons, but you can get a few years worth for nothing. Make sure you give them a good cleaning before you use them for your plants to prevent any potential diseases.
Another option for containers is the grow bags. We prefer the 10-gallon sized bags to use as our container to grow tomatoes in. Essentially, they are fabric pots that look almost like those reusable shopping bags. Check out these ones that we have purchased before here for the latest prices.
5 – Quality Soil Needs for your Container Tomatoes | Best Soil Mix Recipe
Most new gardeners think that all the magic of growing tomatoes are in the leaves and vines you see. That is only partly true because the sun rays help give it the energy to help the tomatoes plants thrive. However, it is the living soil that carefully wombs the ever-growing tomatoes.
The difference in the soil you use in your raised bed and in your containers is very minimal but important to heed. Raised beds and traditional garden beds are more insulated from moisture evaporation where containers evaporate more rapidly. Don’t let this discourage you from planting tomatoes in containers, but just follow along in the recipe we use.
Green thumb Gardener Container Tomato Soil Recipe:
- 2 parts of Peat Moss or Coco Coir – either one or a combination of both will suffice.
- 2 parts of Rotted Manure or Compost – The best type of compost is vermicompost if you can make your own. This stuff is black gold for soil
- 1 part Pelite and/or Vermiculite – We prefer a combination of both as they both help with water absorption and vermiculite delivers some minerals
- 1/4 tsp of dolomitic limestone (garden lime) per gallon of mix – This helps to neutralize the peat moss since it is acidic.
Optional Additions to your Container:
- Worm Castings – This is the best thing for tomatoes since bacon, lettuce, and bread. We have to mention this twice because it really is the best thing you can add to your soil. Start yourself a worm farm and get someone else to do the build healthy soil for you.
- Greensand, Rock Phosphate, Bone Meal, & Blood Meal are some good additives that will break down slowly, so we usually add some to our pots in addition to good quality compost. We typically add these when we first make our potting soil as we reuse the same soil each year. Some of these are more for long term health of the soil because they take some time to break down. Click on the links for each to see some good choices & the latest prices.
You will need to figure out how much soil you need based on the volume and number of containers you have to fill. It is always best to round up and have some leftover. You never know you might spill a little when moving it or maybe you just want to add another pot.
Check on the package of each of the optional additives to see how much is recommended the volume of containers you have. These
You want to use a container such as a wheelbarrow or big tub to mix all of your ingredients. Aim to mix this at least 1 week ahead of time and water it to help the lime disperse throughout the mix. Just wet it enough where it is moist throughout once.
Check out our seed starting mix video if you are starting tomatoes from seed here.
6 – Best Place to Grow Tomatoes in Containers | Pretty Much Anywhere
Containers give you the best option to grow tomatoes because you can place them just about anywhere. You need to make sure that you are getting at least 6 hours of sunlight in order to get the best results for growing tomatoes in containers. Tomatoes that are grown in areas with less than 6 hours of sunlight will still grow, but it may take much longer to grow and your yields of tomatoes will be less.
You can grow them on your porch or deck as long as you can have some adequate support for the tomato plants once they grow and reach their full height. Some tomato varieties can get pretty tall (6 feet tall or more) if left unchecked.
You can get creative with your tomatoes supports on your deck. One year I decided to get tomatoes as close to the kitchen as possible. I found a beautiful trellis that was about 5 feet high and matched our porch decor. I placed the tomato plants in the best spot for sunlight and put the trellis right above it. Not only did we have plenty of tomatoes, but we had some added privacy as well.
7 – Support for Your Potted Tomatoes | Do they really need it?
I am not talking about having your plants go to therapy for help & support. The support needed is to hold the tomato plants once they grow to their full height. As mentioned above, some varieties of tomato plants can grow as high as 6 feet. This can prevent a challenge for those growing tomatoes in containers.
You really have 2 (well actually 3) different options to be successful growing tomatoes in containers:
- Grow a smaller variety of tomatoes such as determinate or dwarf tomatoes. Either of these options is perfectly suitable. You may still need to have some small support such as a mini cage that is suitable for your container or even a bamboo stick.
- Indeterminate tomatoes need support by using a cage or trellis. Here are some creative ideas to support these types of tomatoes in containers:
- Stakes – You have several options for this. You can use bamboos sticks or commercially made poles. This is really ideal if you are able to place it next to the container in the ground since you want it to be stable once the tomato plant grows larger. Other options are to have it attached to something to weigh it down or attached to another structure.
- Trellis – This is perfect if you have a container on your porch. you can add an ornamental trellis and attach it to your porch for more support.
- Tripod – This is where you take 3 or more long pole of either wood or metal and form a tripod. You tie it at the very top and then you add string or twine around the sides of it as the tomato plants grow in the container.
- Florida Weave – You can use this method if you have a row of containers in a location where you can put some fence poles in between every 3rd or 4th one. The idea is to have twine weaved in between the tomato plants and poles. A new layer of twine is added a little higher as the tomato plants grow. A very effective and efficient method that many farmers use.
- Leave them to grow as they are – Yes, this is an actual option to do. Tomatoes grew just fine without much intervention from humans at one time. In Sicily, where my family originated from, they tend to just let the tomatoes sprawl out just as it is. The variety of this tomatoes has probably adapted to this type of growing. Please leave me a comment if you know of a variety that I can get my green thumb on.
8 – How Often to Water my Tomatoes in Pots | Too little or too much
Tomatoes are made mostly up of water, so it is natural that they would require a good deal of water. You need to water your tomato plant moderately as they are growing from little seedlings.
However, once the tomatoes are close to ripening, you want to ease up on the watering. Overwatered tomatoes prior to ripening are prone to cracking. Remember I said they are made mostly up of water.
I have been known to look at the weather during this time to see if any rain was forecast. I hold off watering the tomatoes if there is a good chance of rain.
One tip to help with keeping your container tomatoes happy is to apply a good mulch over the soil. Here are a few types of mulches you can use:
- Leaf mulch – This is by far my favorite mulch. Take a look at the bottom of a leaf pile in the forest and you will see some of the best soil. Your container doesn’t need much. Just enough shredded leaves to cover the soil with an inch or so.
- Harwood Bark Mulch – A few good ones such as pine, cedar, or redwood are some good options. You can use the smaller chipped or shredded type. just make sure they don’t have any colorants in them that you may find at some hardware stores.
- Plastic mulch – Using a plastic mulch for your container is really the best option for areas that don’t get too hot and a shorter growing season. Some research was done at both Cornell and Clemson University that showed that using red plastic lead to higher yields.
9 – Fertilizing Needs of Tomatoes in Containers | Cow Poop Helps
Your transplanted tomato plants will need to have a good start. You need to start them off right with some fertilizer to get them going. We hit them with a weak solution of balanced liquid fertilizer once we plant our tomatoes in containers.
I should back up a bit because tip # 5 already covered this, but it is so important to gardening and especially with container gardening. The main drawback of growing plants in containers is that the nutrients get depleted at a much quicker rate than in a raised bed of traditional plot.
The reason is that as the plants consume all the nutrients, but can only reach so far in the container. That’s’ why going a little bigger for your container is better because you can add more healthy soil. You also add in the fact that watering the container naturally leeches out some of the good stuff.
You have to add this back in periodically for tomatoes since it is long growing season for most of them. Start off with some good quality soil and added a balanced non-soluble fertilizer (see this article here if you don’t know) as it will break down much slower.
You can feed them a supplemental feeding every 2-3 weeks unless they start to really start fruiting heavily. My suggestion is a good liquid fish fertilizer that is balanced.
Here is what I use. I simply mix this in my gallon watering bucket and this has served us well for all of our tomatoes:
- Fish Emulsion Fertilizer 5- 1 -1 | My plants love this stuff and it is organic. Check out the latest prices for it on Amazon here.
- 1 -2 tablespoons per gallon of water.
- Fish Morbloom Fertilizer 0 -10 -10 | This is added to make it more complete. A bit more P and K for tomatoes are best to help them flower more and prevent blossom end rot. Check out the latest prices for it on Amazon here.
- 1 -2 tablespoons per gallon of water.
10 – Harvesting All those Tomatoes
You made this far and you get to harvest all the fruits of your labor (yes, tomatoes are actually fruits). You may have some perfect tomatoes if you followed all these tips. Hopefully, you also managed to grow 100s of them (grow cherry ones if you want that many in a small space).
Don’t fret if some of the tomatoes may look deformed or not perfect. Those always seem to be the better tasting ones. Another good tip is to also grab all the tomatoes if you have a frost coming even if they are not completely ripe. You can actually ripen them inside by putting in a paper bag for a few days or so.
You may also be lucky enough to grow some heirloom tomatoes, so save those seeds. Check out one of another post about saving tomato seeds here.