Gardening

A Helpful Guide to Grow Tomatoes in Containers

Growing tomatoes in pots or containers are very popular to the home gardeners. People love to have some fresh juicy tomatoes in their daily meal.

If you live in a small space’s apartment, then you can easily grow a couple of tomato plants in your apartment windowsill using containers. You can also grow some tomato plants in your apartment rooftop or tiny balcony.

So, if you get the taste of fresh and flavorful homegrown tomatoes, containers are the best solution for you to have it.

In this article, I will give you some helpful tips and a complete guideline from the beginning to the end, for growing tomatoes in pots.

Growing tomatoes in containers

 Step-01: Find the right tomato variety for container

Choosing the right tomato varieties is very important while growing tomatoes in a container. Typically, you can grow any types of tomato varieties in containers using different sizes of containers.

Nevertheless, some other factors also influence to determine the right tomato varieties. Such as:

A. Types of tomatoes:

Tomatoes can be classified according to their genetic line as an heirloom and hybrid varieties.

On the other hand, they can also be classified by their growing habit like determinate and indeterminate varieties.

For choosing potting tomatoes you should consider the growth habit to determine the right tomato varieties. Generally, you can grow both the tomato varieties in containers. But I recommend you to pick the determinate tomato varieties if you are a beginner gardener.

Determinate tomatoes:

They are the bushier type which can grow up to a certain height around 2-4 feet. After that, they stop growing and start producing fruits all at once.

After producing a bunch of fruits plants become dry out.

They need small space to grow and harvest as well as suitable for containers. Determinate tomato varieties are the first choice for the apartment, balcony, and ornamental gardeners.

Indeterminate tomatoes:

They are the vine type which can grow taller around 5-8 feet height on average and need staking or caging. Besides, they don’t produce fruits all at once rather continue a small bunch of fruits until the end of the season.

They need a bigger container to grow and harvest. You can place this indeterminate tomato container in your backyard, patio or rooftop garden.

Learn more about the types of tomatoes.

B. Length of the season:

Duration of the growing season is another vital factor in choosing tomatoes for the container. Determinate tomato varieties need shorter growing period comparatively indeterminate varieties.

C. Purpose of uses:

If you have some specific purpose behind growing tomatoes like cooking and making salad round the year then you need to choose indeterminate varieties.

On the other hand, choose determinate tomatoes for canning, freezing or making sauces of it.

D. Based on space and care:

Determinate varieties are suitable for small and limited space in your apartment, balcony or rooftop where you can set small sizes containers.

On the other hand, indeterminate varieties are suitable where you can set large sizes of containers.

 

Step-02: Choose the perfect location for growing potting tomatoes

A tomato needs 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to produce healthy fruits. So, choose a place where sunlight is available.

Besides, the Sun moves across the sky over the season. And so, check the place regularly and move the containers in a suitable area where sunlight is available.

As an apartment gardener, you can place your container on the windowsill or balcony to get the sunlight exposure. If the sunlight is not available in your apartment area provide artificial lighting through the fluorescent lights placing them a minimum distance from the plants at night.

As an outdoor gardener, you may place the containers in your patio, front porch or rooftop.

Always remember tomatoes are warm loving plants so you must ensure the minimum sunlight exposure and bring them inside if the nighttime temperature down below 55° F.

Maintain a minimum distance between containers for enough air circulation. It helps to reduce spreading diseases and allow good pollination.

Step-03: Container size

Container size really matters on growing up tomatoes in pots. Different tomato varieties need different sizes of containers to give them the required spaces they need. Like as:

Container size for determinate tomato varieties:

At first, determine the tomato varieties after considering –

  • The length of the season
  • Purpose of use and
  • The location where you want to set the tomato pots

Typically, a 12-inch or 5-gallon pot is very common to grow determinate tomatoes. However, it mainly depends on the varieties you choose. If the seed packet instruction says you need a bigger container, do as it says considering the above factors.

You can ever grow some ornamental tomatoes in a 6-inch or 1-quart pot. In that case, you need to see the seed packet instructions or plants tags to confirm the exact measurement for the varieties you choose.

Container size for indeterminate tomatoes:

Indeterminate tomatoes need a larger pot to grow and harvest. They develop strong rooting system a little bit deeper in the soil, so large sizes containers are the only choice to grow indeterminate tomatoes.

Typically, 18-inch or 15-gallon containers are the minimum sizes to grow indeterminate tomatoes but bigger is better.

Moreover, you need to provide proper staking and caging from the beginning to ensure healthy growth.

Container size for growing cherry tomatoes:

Cherry tomatoes are mostly indeterminate varieties. So, choose the bushy varieties for your containers.

Typically, 1-2 cherry tomatoes can fulfill the daily need of a single person. Therefore, calculate the demand of your household and the space you have, then start growing.

A 15-gallon container with 18 to 20-inches height and 14-inches diameter will be perfect for cherry tomatoes.

Container holes for proper drainage system:

Make sure you have sufficient holes at the bottom of each container. This act helps your potting soil moisten but wet free which is very essential for tomato plants. Water soaking in container encourages many diseases.

After making some holes, put some small pieces of rocks at the bottom of each container. Then fill the container with potting soil mix. It will make easier to come out the water from the containers.

 

Step-04: Staking and casing

Staking is great support for the indeterminate as well as the determinate tomato varieties. It helps the tomatoes to stand strong and hold the extra burden of fruits. Moreover, it also reduces the chance of soil-borne diseases of tomatoes.

For determinate tomatoes, you need 4-feet height and 1-inch diameter stake. Set the stake close to the tomato plants and push it under the ground around 6-8 inches. Then tie the plants up with the stake with a ribbon a little bit looser.

You can also collect some medium size store brought wire cages for determinate tomatoes from the nearest garden store or make your own cages.

Indeterminate tomatoes need 2-inch diameter and 7 to 8 feet height wooden sticks or bamboo poles. Set the stake under the ground around 14-18 inches deep to stay strong.

Caging is also very essential for indeterminate tomatoes. It helps the plants to produce more tomatoes and protect them from some soil-borne diseases.

You can make some homemade wire cages for bigger tomatoes. Use 5-feet by 5-feet wire fencing for a container with a grid opening around 4 by 6 inches rectangle.

Then roll up the wire fencing into a cylinder according to your container diameter and set it inside the containers. After that fill the container with potting soil mix

Step-05: Pruning

Pruning is not necessary for determinate tomatoes. They grow for a certain period of time in a certain height and start producing fruits and die off.

The suckers of the determinate tomatoes don’t grow bigger and hamper fruit production so you don’t need any unnecessary pruning.

Indeterminate tomatoes need regular pruning. They grow taller up to 8-foot height and produce fruits until the first frost fall.

The suckers of the indeterminate tomatoes growing bigger and turn into the main stem and heavier the plants if they are not pruned timely. Besides extreme foliage can reduce the production of the fruits.

So, prune the suckers earlier when they appeared on stems. You should also prune some over the foliage of the plants.

Step-06: Plant tomatoes deeply

Tomato plants need a strong root system to get nutrients from the soil. So, plant your tomatoes deeper in the container because any part of the tomato plants under the soil can develop a root system.

So, I suggest you plant 60-70 percent of plants stem under the soil while transplanting tomato seedling in the containers.

 

Step-07: Hardening off before transplanting

Harden off your indoor tomato plants before transplanting them in the containers. It helps them to adjust gradually in the new weather condition.

It takes around 7-10 days to harden off the tomatoes. Keep the plants outside for an hour in the beginning. Gradually increase the time and place them outside in different part of the day for 7 days.

After that, the plants will be ready to transplant.

Before transplant makes sure the soil temperature of the containers constantly above 55° F at night. If not, move them inside at night.

Read more about transplanting tomatoes.

Step-08: Watering tomatoes in pots

Container tomatoes need every day watering because you need to use well-drained potting soil mix for the containers which cannot hold water for a longer period of time. Moreover, container soil heats up early than garden soil.

So, you should apply water in a different part of the day but never water your plants after sunset anyway.

Morning is the best time for watering tomato plants. Before watering check the soil moisture if they need water or not. You need watering twice or three times in hot weather condition or windy days. As well as supply minimum water in cloudy or rainy days.

Too much water creates root rot problem and too little water causes blossom end rot of tomatoes. To avoid these problems, you can use a self-watering system.

Self-watering containers or drip watering system or bottle drip watering whatever you use, it can control the over watering of tomato plan and supply a certain range of water consistently all day long.

Keep remember always water in the soil around the tomato plants and avoid watering over the leaves if you use the traditional watering method. It will invite blight and fungal diseases.

Learn more about tomato watering systems.

Step-09: Soil preparation for tomato pots

Potting soil is a little bit different from the garden soil. So, don’t put the garden topsoil to grow your container tomatoes.

You can collect premium quality potting soil mix from the gardening store or make your own.

To do that, you need –

  • Peat moss or coco coir
  • Aged compost
  • Cow manure or poultry manure
  • Sand or perlite
  • Vermiculite and
  • Other organic matters

Mix equal portion of the components and fill them up in the containers. This potting soil mix ensures proper drainage system as well as provide necessary nutrients to the plants. Provide liquid tomato fertilizer regularly to get a good harvest.

Read more about preparing the soil for tomato plants.

Step-10: How to fertilize tomatoes in pots

When preparing your potting soil mix using a proprietary brand. If you are going to prepare your own potting soil then add necessary nutrient components and slow release organic fertilizer. In that case, chicken manure pellets are a great source of nutrients for tomatoes.

But those are not enough for your potting tomatoes. You need to provide additional nutrients supply every one or two weeks later depending on your plant’s growth.

If your tomatoes produce more leaves than fruits that means you are providing too much fertilizer to the plants. In that situation, you need to reduce nitrogen supply and provide more phosphorous and potassium. A little pruning will help the plants produce more fruits.

On the other hand, if the plant leaves turn yellow and reduce the fruit production that means you are providing fewer nutrients supply to the plants.

Liquid tomato fertilizer works better for container tomatoes. Besides, applying this fertilizer, a little bit easier than solid fertilizer. You can buy different types of liquid fertilizer from gardening stores.

You can also make your own liquid fertilize at home using your kitchen garbage or groceries like-

  • Liquid fertilizer from boiling water of vegetables and foods
  • Liquid fertilizer from kitchen waste
  • Fish emulsion fertilizer
  • Banana peels liquid fertilizer
  • Potato peels liquid fertilizer
  • Epsom salt liquid fertilizer and so on.

Read more about making your own homemade liquid fertilizer for tomatoes.

Step-11: Inspect your plants regularly

Inspect regularly your plants is an important part of tomato care. It helps your tomatoes to grow more safely. Such as-

  • Insects attack: Regular inspection notify you of the appearance of insects in tomato plants, leaves, and fruits.
  • Diseases: Scheduled inspection can prevent spreading out tomato diseases and helps you to take necessary steps early.
  • Pruning suckers: Unnecessary suckers’ growth can reduce fruit production. Regular checking and pruning suckers at the very beginning can help plants producing more fruits.
  • Watering: Container tomatoes need regular watering. You can confirm your tomatoes need water or not by checking them regularly.
  • Sunlight exposure: The sunlight exposure to your containers may change due to the sun moving across the sky. So, if your plants don’t get the direct sunlight exposure due to that reason, you can easily move your containers where sunlight is available.

 

Step-12: Harvest your tomatoes

Typically tomato plants need 45-100 days to harvest after transplanting. So, when you choose the seed varieties, carefully see the seed packet instructions for the number of days to mature the fruits.

Pick the short length growing varieties if you want fresh juicy tomatoes earlier than others.

Determinate tomato varieties take shorter length than indeterminate varieties to grow and harvest. Besides their fruits are ripen all at once within one or two weeks.

On the other hand, indeterminate tomato varieties ripen gradually and you will get a small bunch of fresh fruits at a time from each plant. This varieties continue fruiting and ripening until the first frost kill them.

Step-13: Clean up pots after the season ends

After the end of the season clean up your containers for the next growing season. Remove the old soil and wash them up thoroughly. Sterilize the containers with hot water at first. Then wash them again using a suitable bleach solution.

Filter the old potting soil mix and remove the plant roots and other unusual components for reusing the soil. After that mix additional soil nutrients and organic fertilizers and fill up the container with the new soil mix once again.

Don’t use the old potting soil mix if your plants were affected by any soil-borne diseases last season.

### Common mistakes in growing tomatoes in pots

It is very usual to make mistake when growing tomatoes for the first time. Even pro gardeners also get mistake every now and then.

Sometimes the disaster comes naturally which you can’t control like late frost fall, extreme heat summer, over raining and so on. These natural imbalances invite many diseases of tomato plants.

On the other hand, tomato fruit production may fall down because of your negligence or lack of knowledge about growing tomatoes in pots. The most common mistakes are shown as follows-

 

Wrong containers for wrong varieties:

Tomato performs better in bigger container whether it is determinate or indeterminate varieties. But if you choose a small size container for any particular variety which comparatively needs a bigger pot, it will ultimately lessen your production.

A bigger container means enough space for soil, more nutrients supply, and water holding capacities which produce more fruits.

Imbalanced watering:

Too much water or too little water both are harmful to tomatoes. Besides inconsistent watering also showing plants stress and encourage many diseases.

If you want to control these problems, you just need to avoid traditional watering system and apply a self-watering system for your potting tomatoes.

Potting soil heats up earlier and dries out quickly, so drip watering system or bottle drip watering will work better for potting tomatoes.  This watering method consistently moist the soil without wasting water.

Besides, check the soil moisture before supply water to the plants.

 Overcrowding:

Tomato plants need proper spacing between plants around 2-3 feet length. Short spacing between plants encourages diseases, reduces the fruit production and hampers pollination.

Blocking sunlight:

A tomato needs unobstructed sunlight throughout the season. But the direct sunlight spots will dramatically change in your garden area over the growing season.

So, you need to move the containers time to time to receive the direct sunlight over the growing season.

Early planting:

Early planting doesn’t bring you early fruit production. Tomatoes are warm loving plants and perform better when the temperature consistently above 55° F at night.

So, if you plant them early when the temperature down below 50-55° F, ultimately the flowers will not bloom. Moreover, it can kill the plants or invite some diseases.

Staking or caging lately:

Staking and caging is a great support for tomato plants. Both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes need caging. Typically, you should set up the cage in the container before filling it up with potting soil.  Caging too late doesn’t work like the same as caging timely.

As well as stake your tomato plants during transplanting tomatoes for better output.

Using black color containers:

Container potting soil heats up earlier than garden soil. In this condition, if you use a black color container for growing tomatoes it will absorb more heat and dry out the soil quickly.

As a result, you need to provide more water supply and your plants get stressed.

Lack of nutrients supply:

A tomato needs regular nutrients supply in different stages of plant growth. Such as-

At the beginner stage before flowering, they need to develop stems and leaves. In this stage provide fertilizer ratio (NPK) 10-10-10 to the plants.

The second stage during flowering provide fertilizer ratio (NPK) 5-15-10 and third stage during fruiting provide fertilizer ratio (NPK) 5-10-15 to the plants for better performance.

Growing tomatoes upside down:

It’s experimental gardening. Tomatoes taste better when they are grown traditionally.

Besides you need extra care for watering, fertilizing and pruning to grow tomatoes upside down. So, I suggest you avoid this method if you are a beginner tomato grower.

Conclusion:

Growing tomatoes in pots have some benefits and challenges. After all, this is fun to grow some fresh fruits of your own spending a little time.

And I promise you that, your precious time for growing tomatoes will not frustrate you after a successful harvest.

So, keep in mind the above tips and instructions to grow tomatoes in containers.

Happy gardening.

Sources and Citations:

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