How to Grow Tomatoes in Pots in 11 Steps
When growing tomatoes for the first time, it's highly recommended to purchase tomato seedlings from a nursery rather than starting from seed. With your seedlings in hand, you're only a few simple steps away from enjoying your own homegrown tomatoes.
- Pick the type of tomato you wish to plant. Tomato varieties are classified into two categories: determinate (bush type) and indeterminate (cordon type). Determinants are the best tomatoes for beginner growers since they only grow up to four feet tall, require a smaller pot size, yield fruit in a shorter window of time, and usually don't require staking or trellis support. Indeterminate tomatoes grow up to eight feet tall, require a large container, need extra support, and yield their fruit throughout the entire growing season.
- Determine the right pot size. In container gardening, the type of container you choose can make or break your plant before it even begins to grow. It's essential that your pot has enough space for your mature tomato plant's root system. If you've chosen a determinate tomato, you'll need at least a 10-gallon container, and if you've chosen an indeterminate tomato, you'll need at least a 20-gallon container.
- Choose the pot material. Terracotta pots are classic, but their porous nature means your plants will require frequent watering. Plastic pots are usually the cheapest and most lightweight, and they hold moisture well, but some studies show chemicals in certain plastics can leak into the soil. Breathable fabric pots don't retain heat very well, but if you live in a warmer climate, they are a good option for tomato plants. For determinate bush-type tomatoes, hanging baskets are a good choice since they allow the tomato plant trail over the side of the pot.
- Make sure your pot has several drainage holes. Unless you've chosen a fabric pot, your pot should have several drainage holes in the bottom so your soil doesn't become oversaturated with water. If you have a plastic pot, you can even drill drainage holes yourself.
- Plant your tomatoes in spring. Make sure the last frost has passed before you plant. If a late cold spell ever occurs, you can still protect your tomato seedlings using a floating row cover or frost blanket.
- Choose a sunny location protected from wind. Tomatoes require at least six to eight hours of sun a day to thrive. If you only have a partial shade location available, try planting cherry tomatoes, which require less sunlight than larger tomatoes. Choose an area that is protected from wind; too much wind can knock down indeterminate tomato plants and hanging baskets.
- Use well-drained, high-quality potting soil. A potting mix will provide your tomato plants with better air circulation and water flow. Mixing organic matter, like aged compost, into your soil will also provide your tomatoes with additional nutrients. When filling your pot with soil, make sure to leave an extra inch of space on top so you can add a layer of mulch after planting. Mulch helps your soil retain moisture.
- Plant tomatoes deep enough to cover at least half of the main stem. You can bury up to two-thirds of the stem. Since tomatoes are capable of growing roots from their entire stem, planting your tomato plants deep into the soil promotes additional root growth.
- Set a consistent watering schedule. Whether you use a watering can or a drip irrigation system, regular watering is essential to growing successful container tomatoes. When watering, consider the size of your pot and plant, the weather conditions, and the soil type. In general, larger plants and pots require more water than smaller plants and pots, hotter weather necessitates a more frequent watering schedule, and soil with lots of compost retains water better than soil without compost. Before watering, test the soil by sticking your finger an inch into the top layer—if it's dry, it means your tomatoes need a drink. Once you land on a watering schedule, keep it consistent. An irregular watering schedule can cause tomatoes to develop blossom end rot.
- Give your tomatoes a support structure. This is particularly important for taller indeterminate tomato varieties. Popular ways to support your tomato plants include using wooden stakes, a trellis, or a tomato cage. Smaller tomato varieties and tomatoes planted in hanging baskets do not require extra support.
- Fertilize regularly with organic tomato fertilizer. Adding organic fertilizer to your soil can increase your chances of a bountiful harvest. Consistently fertilizing throughout the growing season using a slow-release tomato fertilizer.
Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass All-Access Pass and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.