Growing Tomatoes In Containers: 11 of the Best Tips For Getting Lots Of Tomatoes
Want to grow healthy, beautiful tomatoes in a small space? Growing tomatoes in containers is the answer! Get the scoop on the best way to grow tomatoes in pots for a bumper crop this summer.
Growing Tomatoes In Containers
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Like a lot of people, my favorite vegetable to grow is tomatoes.
They taste so much better from the garden than they do from the store…and if you grow them properly, you get a lot of tomatoes for your buck!
However growing tomatoes can be a little frustrating since they are susceptible to disease that greatly reduces the number of tomatoes a plant produces. To get around that, I like to grow the plants in containers…that way you have more control over the conditions that could cause disease.
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Keep reading to find out my 10 tips for growing tomatoes in containers.
Choose The Right Variety of Tomato
Because tomatoes are so popular with gardeners, it seems like there a million different varieties! Tomato breeders have come up with all kinds of different varieties that grow in different conditions. So make sure you get the kind that suits your environment.
The one problem with tomato plants is that they are susceptible to a few different types of diseases that will affect how many tomatoes you will get from your plants. And the last thing you want after spending the time and effort to grow tomatoes is to not get any!
Most plants (and seeds) will have the disease resistance letters on the label. These tell you which diseases that particular variety is less likely to contract. (But noote that even resistant varieties can still develop those diseases…they are just less likely to contract them).
Here is the list of disease resistance letters and what they stand for:
- V – Verticillium Wilt
- F – Fusarium Wilt ( two F’s indicate resistance to both races 1 and 2, three F’s indicate resistance to races 1, 2 and 3 )
- N – Nematodes
- ASC – Alternaria Stem Canker
- TMV – Tobacco Mosaic Virus
- St – Stemphylium ( gray leaf spot )
- SWV – Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
- LB – Late Blight
If you want to get more information on diseases, Clemson University has a great article on tomato diseases and disorders.
The other consideration is whether you want a Determinate or Indeterminate variety of tomatoes.
Determinate varieties tend to produce all of their tomatoes in a short period of time, and usually have more compact plants. These are great if you want to use your tomatoes for canning or making sauce.
Indeterminate varieties produce tomatoes over an extended period of time and can grow very tall.
I usually like to grow one plant of each type…that way I have lots of tomatoes for making tomato sauce and still get a bunch for using in salads.
Choose a Large Container
Choose a container that is at least 18″ wide and tall*. If you have one that is 24″ x 24″, that is even better.
I have found that plastic planters work better than clay…The clay planters are just too heavy when they are filled with dirt and dry out really fast. Your tomatoes will do much better if you can keep them from getting too dried out!
Wash The Container Well
Make sure that the container is washed well, especially if you used it for planting tomatoes last year.
A lot of the tomato diseases get passed on from year to year in the containers, soil and support…so make sure you wash them well.
I usually do a mixture of 1/4 cup bleach to a gallon of water. Use the regular chlorine type of bleach…the non-chlorine bleaches don’t kill bacteria as well. Make sure to wear gloves so that the bleach doesn’t burn your skin.
Make Sure There Is Good Drainage
While tomatoes do like to be well watered, they don’t want to be soaking wet. So you need to make sure your container has good drainage.
For whatever reason, the large plastic planters often have very small and very few drainage holes in the bottom of the container.
If yours is like this, you can use a drill to make some additional holes.
Fill the bottom with stones or pieces of clay pots to make sure that the soil doesn’t block the holes.
I also like to add a layer of landscape fabric. This really prevents the soil from getting to the holes, and makes it easier to separate the stones/clay pieces from the dirt when you empty the container.
Use The Right Soil
Your standard planter’s mix soil is not what you want to use for growing tomatoes….triple mix (1/3 topsoil, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 compost) will work much better for growing big, juicy tomatoes!
Also make sure that you use new soil…as with the containers, diseases can be passed on through the soil and you don’t want to take that chance.
If you have grown any other plant that is affected by the same types of diseases as tomatoes (like peppers, potatoes, and Cosmos among others), they can pass the bacteria on to the tomato plants as well.
Plant the Tomatoes Deep
To give the tomatoes extra plant strength, plant them deep in the soil, so that a lot of the stem is buried. Roots will grow all along the stem to give the plant more access to water.
To prevent rot, remove any leaves that would be covered by the soil.
Set Them In A Sunny Spot
Tomatoes need at least 6 hours of day to be successful. One of the great things about planting them in containers is that you can place them where you want to. Make sure to put them in a sunny location.
Tomatoes are one of the few plants that really does want full sun…even in the South…so the more sun the better!
Support Them Well
Even though the plants seem like they are really small when you first plant them, they will grow really fast. It is much easier to put the tomato supports in place now than after they have started to grow.
The standard metal tomato cages that you can find at your local big box store will work for most determinate types of tomatoes.
If you are growing indeterminate tomatoes, you may want to invest in tomato cages that can extend with the size of the plant*.
Mulch The Soil
Spreading a layer of mulch over the top of the soil will give you an extra layer of protection in preventing the plant from getting dried out…which is always helpful in growing healthy tomatoes!
Water Them Consistently
As I’ve said before, tomatoes don’t like to dry out…so make sure you keep them well watered.
However, there a number of diseases that are more likely to happen if they have wet leaves, so water the soil and not the plant.
Tomato plants need a lot of nutrients to create big tomatoes. So make sure to fertilize them often.
Using an organic tomato fertilizer (like this one*) will make sure they get the right nutrients (Potassium is important for fruit production) and that you don’t have extra chemicals on your plants.
Try A Tomato Crater
This is one tip that I haven’t tried myself…yet. But I have heard great things about them.
Installing a tomato crater around your tomato plants helps to keep the weeds down, funnels the water towards the roots, and prevents the soil from splashing up on the leaves and spreading disease. It sounds like a great idea to me, so I’ll be adding it to my tomato planting process this year.
If you follow these tips, you should have great success growing tomatoes in containers…and then you might need our post on what to do with so many tomatoes 🙂
Have comments or questions on growing tomatoes in containers? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on June 1, 2016 but was updated with new content on June 1, 2022.
Any ideas on keeping squirrels from eating your tomatoes.
Hi Roseann…I would try building a frame around the plants and hanging bird netting or chicken wire over the top and down the sides. I haven’t done this for tomatoes, but it works well with my blueberry bushes. I have also heard that spraying them with some kind of hot sauce mixture will keep the squirrels from eating them so that could be another option. Good luck! Those squirrels are pretty sneaky 🙂
I grow my tomatoes in containers and have good luck. But one thing I have problems with is that after they get so big he leaves start wilting. What is the problem and what am I doing wrong. How can I correct this problem?
Hi Sue…the easiest answer is that the plants may need more water. Tomatoes need a lot of water and they tend to dry out faster in pots. Unfortunately, it could also be that the plants have one of the common tomato wilt diseases (could be a fungus, virus or bacteria). If this is the problem, there isn’t much you can do about it other than buying plants that are resistant (the label should tell you if they are). I run into this issue a lot when I buy plants from the big box stores, but have better luck when I get them from my local nursery. Hopefully that helps!
I started growing tomatoes in pots organically since 3 years, without any success. Have started them with fertilizers NPK 20-20-20 (1 tablespoon) every two weeks this year. And will go to 0-45-0 when the flowers come. Will the tomatoes be bad for us to eat, if I do get them?
Hi Aarti…your tomatoes will be fine. I think the worst part of non-organic tomatoes is all of the pesticides they use. So if you’re just using fertilizer and not spraying them for bugs, you’ll still be better off eating yours instead of what you can buy in the store.
I am trying to grow Rona tomatoes in a large pot. They keep wanting to grow taller and there are yellow blooms but will this turn into tomatoes ? How long does it take?
Hi Laura…It sounds like your tomatoes are doing just fine 🙂 Most varieties do tend to grow quite tall, and the yellow flowers will turn into tomatoes. How long they take to produce the tomatoes depends on the variety you have but it’s usually between 8 and 12 weeks.
Congratulations. Good article.
I had a problem with my tomatoes. The funji affect them. Now I want to plant again. What could I do to cure the soil to use again with others tomatoes and to prevent the same sickness.
Hi Evelyn…I haven’t had very good luck re-using the same soil after it has been infected. If it’s in a container, I usually start over with all new soil (and give the pot a good cleaning). If the plants were in the ground, then I would replace the top 1 foot of the soil around where they were planted. Having said all that, planting them in a different location is usually the best way to prevent the disease from coming back.
I’ve tried growing tomatoes in containers the last 2 years, but they grow tall without producing. I use potting soil with mulch at the bottom and fish fertilizer. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.
Hi Julie…you might want to try changing your fertilizer. Fish Emulsion is high in Nitrogen which is good for getting tomatoes started. But once they start getting flowers, they need a fertilizer with high Potassium levels in order to set fruit.
Can we put more than one tomato plant in an 18” pot? Or is this for more of a single plant sort of idea?
Hi Beki…I wouldn’t recommend putting more than one plant per pot. They’ll be too crowded when they get bigger, which makes it more likely that they’ll get diseases.
Hi. If I bought a tomato plant from Home Depot, should I transfer that plant into a different pot or leave it ?
Hi Jaelynn…I would put it in a new pot. The ones that they come in are usually too small so they dry out quickly and don’t provide enough room for the roots to spread out.
This is my first year to try growing tomatoes in containers… we have two plants, both with green tomatoes right now but I’m wondering if it would hurt the plant to transfer it to a bigger container? I didn’t realize how large the tomato plant would get and I can see the roots right under the top layer of soil… I think it is outgrowing the pot but don’t want to hurt it by transferring it this late… do you have any advice? Thanks!
Hi Andrea…Tomatoes are pretty tough. You should be able to transfer them into bigger pots if you’re careful not to disrupt the soil they’re in too much.
Hi…can I grow my tomatoes in hardy plastic buckets? I need to be able to move them around easily and the buckets are economical…
Hi Rhonda…Yes, that should work. Just make sure to drill some holes in the bottom so the water can drain.
Something is eating my tomato flowers as
Soon as they come out. I don’t know what it is. How can I protect my plant.
Hi Carlota…sometimes birds will eat tomato blossoms. You can try putting stakes around it and covering it with netting. It’s also possible that you’re experiencing blossom drop, which is a pretty common problem with tomatoes if they don’t have enough water, the temperatures are too high (or too cold) or if they are getting too much Nitrogen in their fertilizer.
Need info on planting potatoes in 5 gal containers???
Hi Bud…I haven’t tried to grow potatoes in containers so I don’t have any tips for that. But I found this article (with a video) that should help: https://www.growveg.com/guides/how-to-successfully-grow-potatoes-in-containers/