5 Easy Steps to Growing Tomatoes in Pots: A Beginner’s Guide

Do you love the taste of homegrown tomatoes? If you want to learn how to grow tomatoes in pots, this is the blog post for you! In just five easy steps, we will show you how to get your tomato garden started. Growing tomatoes in pots is a great way to enjoy fresh tomatoes all season long, even if you don’t have a lot of space. So grab your gardening gloves and let’s get started!

Step 1: Pick the Right Tomatoes

The very first step to growing tomatoes in pots is to find the perfect tomatoes for you!

There are two parts to picking the right tomatoes for you. First decide if you want determinate tomato plants, indeterminate tomato plants, or a mixture of both. Then, select the type of tomato plants you want (i.e. bite-sized salad tomatoes, cooking tomatoes, or slicing/sandwich tomatoes).

Determinate or Indeterminate

There are two different types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate tomatoes are varieties that grow to a certain size and then stop, while indeterminate tomatoes will keep growing and producing fruit all season long.

The benefit of determinate tomatoes is that they typically bloom early (usually within 65 days), but will stop producing fruit before the end of summer.

Indeterminate take longer to fruit but will continue to produce fruit until the first frost. Indeterminate also requires a support structure for their vines.

Salad Tomatoes

These are small, bite-sized tomatoes that you’d typically put on a salad or use for snacking. Here are our favorite varieties if determinate and indeterminate tomato plants.

Determinate Varieties

  • Tumbling Tom Yellow Tomatoes
  • Tiny Tim
  • Small Fry
  • Patio Pik

Indeterminate Varieties

  • Golden Nugget
  • Early Cascade
  • Husky Cherry Red Tomatoes
  • Sweet Melon Cherry Tomatoes

Cooking Tomatoes

Tomatoes for cooking are typically larger and have lower water content. This makes them ideal for canning or making tomato sauce. Here are our picks for cooking tomatoes.

Determinate Varieties

  • Roma Tomatoes
  • Monica Roma Tomatoes
  • Sunrise Sauce Tomatoes
  • Viva Italia 

Indeterminate Varieties

  • San Marzano
  • Big Mama
  • Polish Linguisa

Sandwich or Slicing Tomatoes

Slicing tomatoes or sandwich tomatoes are ones you would eat raw, either on their own or as a condiment on a sandwich. They are usually sweet, a little juicy, and have an amazing texture.

Determinate Varieties

  • Celebrity Tomato
  • Bush Early Girl
  • Better Bush
  • Polbig

Indeterminate Varieties

  • Beefsteak
  • Bodacious
  • Damsel
  • Chef’s Choice Green

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are unaltered varieties of tomato that you can grow from the seeds of your fruit year after year. Unlike other tomatoes we see in the grocery store, these have not been bred to feature the most desirable traits, such as disease hardiness, visual appeal, etc. Heirloom tomatoes are sometimes preferred to their hybrid counterparts because of their flavor and texture.

Determinate Varieties

  • Silvery Fir Tree
  • Tumbler
  • Peron Tomato

Indeterminate Varieties

  • Sungold
  • Brandywine
  • Black Krim
  • Japanese Balck Trifele

Step 2: Give them Plenty of Space in the Right Containers

Tomatoes need room to grow, both in terms of the pot they are planted in and how far apart they are from other plants. One of the biggest rookie mistakes new gardeners make is not giving their plants enough space.

Spacing

When it comes to pots, we recommend at least a 18-inch diameter pot for determinate and at least 24-inch diameter for indeterminate plants. When in doubt, size up!

If you are planting more than one tomato plant in a single container, make sure they are at least 12 inches apart.

Containers

There are no shortage of potential containers for your tomato plants. You can grow a wonderful tomato crop in:

  • Hard plastic planting containers
  • Fabric planting containers
  • Hanging containers
  • Hardware store buckets
  • Any large, clean container you have laying around!

Hard Containers

Hard containers are the most popular type of container for growing tomatoes. They are typically made from:

  • plastic
  • terra cotta
  • concrete
  • glazed

Hard containers are nice because they are durable and typically have drainage holes already drilled in the bottom. On the downside, they restrict airflow, which can lead to root issues. Maintaining consistent moisture can also be a challenge with hard containers.

Fabric Containers

Another popular choice is fabric planting containers for growing tomatoes. Fabric pots are often made from:

  • canvas
  • burlap
  • jute
  • cotton mix

Fabric containers are breathable, so they offer better airflow to the roots than hard containers. They are also typically lighter weight, making them easier to move around. The downside is that they are not as durable as hard containers and need to be replaced more often.

Hanging Containers

It is possible to grow tomatoes in hanging containers. You’d want to select a tomato variety that is on the smaller side and doesn’t require a lot of support. Some people like to grow cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets.

The upside to hanging containers is that they take up less space than other types of containers. The downside is that they can be difficult to water and may not provide enough support for some tomato varieties.

Drainage Holes

No matter what type of container you choose, make sure it has drainage holes. Tomato plants need to be watered regularly, but they don’t like to sit in wet soil. drainage holes will help prevent your plants from getting too much water.

Drainage holes also help you maintain consistent soil moisture, which is important for the health and quality of your tomatoes.

If you are using a container that doesn’t have drainage holes, you can drill them yourself.

Step 3: Plant Deeply in High-Quality Soil

Planting your tomatoes doesn’t take long, but it’s important to do it right. Start by filling your container with high-quality potting mix. We recommend using a mix that is specifically designed for vegetables.

High-Quality Soil for Tomatoes

Do not use regular garden soil for your tomato plants. Garden soil is too dense and won’t drain well in a container.

Most garden centers sell potting mix that is specifically designed for vegetables. These soils contain the right amount of nutrients for your tomato plants. They also may contain fertilizer to help your plants get started.

Planting Your Tomato Plants

When you are ready to plant, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball of your tomato plant and slightly deeper than the root system of your plant. Gently loosen the roots and place the plant in the hole.

Backfill the hole with potting mix, ensuring all roots are covered. It’s ok to bury the stem of the plant. Tomatoes are unique in that the buried stem will actually grow roots!

Tomatoes are deep-rooted plants, so planting them deeply will encourage a strong root system. A strong root system is important for a healthy plant that can withstand disease and pests.

Step 4: Feed & Water Consistently

Tomato plants grown in containers depend on the grower to provide consistent amounts of food and water so they can remain healthy.

Watering

Tomato plants need a consistent amount of moisture in the soil to produce juicy, flavorful fruit. If the water level fluctuates too much, your plant may not produce as much fruit, and the fruit might be mealy (or grainy). Your fruit could also split or crack.

If your plants do not get enough water, they will wilt and the fruit could develop blossom end rot.

If your plants get too much water, your plants will develop root rot.

The soil in a container will dry out quicker than the soil in your garden, so it’s critical that you remember to water your plants regularly.

The amount of watering will depend on your climate and weather. In very hot areas, you might have to water tomato plants twice a day. As a general rule, we recommend watering your tomato plants every day in the morning to give them the moisture they need to make it through the hottest part of the day.

Check the soil before you water it to make sure it is dry. If it is, give your plant a thorough watering until the soil is moist, but not soggy.

Quick Tips for Watering Your Tomato Plants in Containers

  • Check the soil before each watering
  • Water the ground, not the leaves of the plant (this encourages other diseases and infections)
  • Water in the morning
  • Make sure your container has plenty of drainage holes
  • Invest in self-watering products/equipment if necessary

Feeding

Fertilizer is important for tomato plants, especially when grown in containers. You’ll need to feed them about every two weeks.

Look for a fertilizer that contains the primary nutrients they require, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Ideally, use a tomato-specific fertilizer. If you cannot find one that is specifically for tomatoes, look for an all-purpose, slow-release variety.

Important Note: Your soil might already contain a fertilizer mix, so be sure to check the soil before applying more.

Step 5: Let the Sun Shine

Your tomatoes require full sun. That means they need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Ideally, this sunshine would occur between 10 am and 4 pm.

As with all aspects of growing tomatoing, you can get “too much”… that includes sun!

Young plants can get sunburnt if they experience more than eight hours of direct sunlight. This can cause the leaves to turn yellow and eventually die.

If you live in an area with hot summers, you might want to provide some afternoon shade for your plants. This will help prevent the leaves from burning.

You can also move your pots around to get the best sunlight for your plants. For example, if you have a patio that gets full sun in the morning but is shaded in the afternoon, move your pots to the sunniest spot in the morning and back into the shade in the late afternoon.

If you do not have an outdoor space that gets full sun, you can grow your plants indoors near a south-facing window. Just be sure to provide them with a grow light if they are not getting enough natural light.

The Bottom Line

To recap, the 5 steps to growing amazing tomatoes in containers are:

  1. Picking the right type of tomatoes
  2. Picking the right container
  3. Plant your tomatoes in high-quality soil
  4. Feed and water your tomatoes consistently
  5. Give them the right amount of sunshine

Growing tomatoes in pots is a great way to enjoy fresh, homegrown fruit even if you don’t have a lot of space. By following these simple steps, you can grow healthy plants that produce an abundance of delicious fruit. Just be sure to give your plants plenty of sun, water, and fertilizer

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