Growing tomatoes in pots are very popular with home gardeners. People love to have some fresh juicy tomatoes in their daily meals.
If you live in a small spaces apartment, then you can easily grow a couple of tomato plants on your apartment windowsill using containers. You can also grow some tomato plants on 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 complete guidelines from the beginning to the end for growing tomatoes in pots.
Step-01: Find the right tomato variety for the container
Choosing the right tomato varieties is very important while growing tomatoes in a container. Typically, you can grow any type of tomato variety in containers using different sizes of containers.
Nevertheless, some other factors also influence determining the right tomato varieties. Such as:
A. Types of tomatoes:
Tomatoes can be classified according to their genetic line as heirloom and hybrid varieties.
On the other hand, they can also be classified by their growing habits, 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 tomato varieties in containers. But I recommend you to pick the determinate tomato varieties if you are a beginner gardener.
They are the bushier type which can grow up to a certain height of 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 spaces to grow and harvest as well as suitable containers. Determinate tomato varieties are the first choice for apartment, balcony, and ornamental gardeners.
They are the vine type that 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:
The duration of the growing season is another vital factor in choosing tomatoes for the container. Determinate tomato varieties need shorter growing periods comparatively indeterminate varieties.
C. Purpose of use:
If you have some specific purpose behind growing tomatoes, like cooking and making salad around 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 spaces 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 to a suitable area where sunlight is available.
As an apartment gardener, you can place your container on the windowsill or balcony to get sunlight exposure. If 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 on 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 the spreading of diseases and allows 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 –
- 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 even grow some ornamental tomatoes in a 6-inch or 1-quart pot. In that case, you need to see the seed packet instructions or plant 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 a 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-inch 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 containers 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 it 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 in tomatoes.
For determinate tomatoes, you need a 4-feet height and a 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 a four by six 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.
Pruning is not necessary for determinate tomatoes. They grow for a certain period of time at 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 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 the plant stem under the soil while transplanting tomato seedlings in the containers.
Step-07: Hardening off before transplanting
Harden off your indoor tomato plants before transplanting them into the containers. It helps them to adjust gradually to 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 parts of the day for seven days.
After that, the plants will be ready to transplant.
Before the transplant, makes sure the soil temperature of the containers is 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 everyday 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 to see if they need water or not. You need water twice or three times in hot weather conditions or windy days. As well as supply minimum water on cloudy or rainy days.
Too much water creates root rot problems, 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 systems, bottle drip watering, or whatever you use can control the over-watering of tomato plan and supply a certain range of water consistently all day long.
Keep always remember to water 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 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 portions of the components and fill them up in the containers. This potting soil mix ensures a proper drainage system as well as provides 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 the 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 an additional nutrient 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 the 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 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 is 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 fertilization 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
Inspecting your plants regularly is an important part of tomato care. It helps your tomatoes to grow more safely. Such as-
- Insects attack: Regular inspection will notify you of the appearance of insects in tomato plants, leaves, and fruits.
- Diseases: Scheduled inspection can prevent the spreading of 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 produce more fruits.
- Watering: Container tomatoes need regular watering. You can confirm whether 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 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 lengths than indeterminate varieties to grow and harvest. Besides, their fruits 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. These varieties continue fruiting and ripening until the first frost kills 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 thoroughly. Sterilize the containers with hot water 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 common to make mistakes when growing tomatoes for the first time. Even pro gardeners also get mistakes every now and then.
Sometimes disaster comes naturally which you can’t control like late frost fall, extreme heat summer, over rain and so on. These natural imbalances invite many diseases in 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 containers, 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 nutrient supply, and water holding capacities which produce more fruits.
Too much water or too little water is both harmful to tomatoes. Besides, inconsistent watering also shows plants stress and encourage many diseases.
If you want to control these problems, you just need to avoid the traditional watering systems and apply a self-watering system for your potting tomatoes.
Potting soil heats up earlier and dries out quickly, so a 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 supplying water to the plants.
Tomato plants need proper spacing between plants around 2-3 feet long. Short spacing between plants encourages diseases, reduces fruit production, and hampers pollination.
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 from time to time to receive direct sunlight over the growing season.
Early planting doesn’t bring you early fruit production. Tomatoes are warm-loving plants and perform better when the temperature is consistently above 55° F at night.
So, if you plant them early when the temperature is 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 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 a regular nutrient supply at different stages of plant growth. Such as-
At the beginner stage, before flowering, they need to develop stems and leaves. In this stage, provide a fertilizer ratio (NPK) of 10-10-10 to the plants.
The second stage, during flowering, provides a fertilizer ratio (NPK) of 5-15-10, and the third stage, during fruiting, provides a fertilizer ratio (NPK) of 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.
Growing tomatoes in pots have some benefits and challenges. After all, this is fun to grow some fresh fruits of your own by spending a little time.
And I promise you that your precious time growing tomatoes will not frustrate you after a successful harvest.
So, keep in mind the above tips and instructions to grow tomatoes in containers.
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