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How To Plant Tomatoes In Pots

10 Essential Tips: How To Grow Tomatoes In Pots

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by Helen
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One of the best ways to enjoy homegrown tomatoes, even with limited space, is by them in pots or containers.  Container gardening offers an excellent solution for people who live in apartments, have small yards, or want to add a touch of greenery to their balcony or patio.  Growing tomato plants in pots can be a fun and rewarding experience, and it's relatively easy to start.  With the right container, soil, and care, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious, fresh tomatoes all season long.  Learn how to grow tomatoes in pots easily.  You can grow them from seed or with starts.  If you grow enough tomatoes, you can preserve them and make your own pasta sauces and more.

Growing tomatoes in pots is an excellent option for those who want to enjoy homegrown tomatoes but don't have enough garden space.  With pots, you can grow tomatoes anywhere you have a sunny spot, whether on a deck, balcony, rooftop, or even a fire escape.  You can also grow other vegetables in pots, raised beds, and containers.  To help you get started, how to care for tomato plants in pots:

Pick A Good Spot To Grow Your Tomatoes In Pots

To grow healthy tomatoes in pots, it's essential to place them in a spot where they can get at least six hours of sunlight daily. If the pots are not placed near a water source, ensure you can easily water them with a garden hose or watering can, as tomatoes require a steady moisture supply. It's best to group pots, but make sure they are not too close to each other to avoid the leaves rubbing against each other, which can spread diseases. Grouping pots will help shade the root zones of the plants in the inner pots, especially when placed on concrete or asphalt driveways that tend to absorb and reflect heat.

How To Grow Tomatoes In Pots

Find The Best Tomatoes For You

There are numerous varieties of tomatoes that you can grow in pots, whether you want them for snacking, cooking, sandwiches, slicing, or all of the above.  Here are some of our suggestions.

Bite-Sized

Pastes & Sauces

Slicing

Do you want to learn more about the various tomato options available?  If you plan to grow tomatoes in pots, then determinate tomatoes are a better choice.  However, you can still grow tomatoes in containers if you prefer indeterminate tomatoes.  But you will have to provide enough support and soil volume.  We like to cook with fresh tomatoes, as in our authentic Mexican Picadillo recipe (Ground Beef & Potatoes).  I like substituting the can of tomato sauce for a couple of fresh, very ripe tomatoes.

Choose the Right Pot For Your Tomatos

Seedlings may appear small, but their fully grown versions require enough space for a robust root system. How big of a pot you need for your tomatoes to thrive will depend on the variety. For maximum yield, it is recommended to use an 18-inch diameter pot for determinate tomatoes and a 24-inch diameter pot for indeterminate tomatoes. When using fabric pots or other containers sold by volume, aim for at least 20 gallons. While smaller pots, such as 5 or 10-gallon containers, can be used, sticking with smaller patio- or bush-type tomatoes like Better Bush, Bush Goliath, or Patio for optimal results is best. 

Keep in mind that smaller pots require more frequent watering and feeding. Ensure that all containers, except fabric ones, have drainage holes; if no holes are present, drill several. If you reside in a warm area like the Deep South, Texas, or Desert Southwest, it may be best to avoid black plastic containers as they retain heat, hindering plant growth.

Use Premium Quality Potting Soil

When it comes to container gardening, using the right soil type is essential. Prepare the soil before you plant your tomatoes in pots. Garden soil from planting beds is often too heavy for containers and can over-compact and contain disease organisms. Tomatoes are particularly susceptible to diseases and pests that can be present in soil, so growing them in pots can help reduce outbreaks. 

Fill your containers with high-quality potting mixes, such as FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil Mix Indoor Outdoor for Garden and Plants, for the best results. This mix type is light and fluffy, providing plenty of space for air and moisture to move through the soil.

Plants Tomatoes Properly

When you plant your tomatoes, ensure you dig a hole deep enough to bury two-thirds of the stem. This will encourage more root growth. As a general guideline, it's best to wait until after the last frost date in your area before planting. In case of a cold night, you can protect your pots by covering them with a frost blanket and wrapping them with blankets, straw, or burlap. If you can't wait to plant, learn how to start growing tomatoes early indoors.

Plant Support

Proper care is essential when planting your tomato plants, as it is necessary to insert support for them. This is because doing it later when the roots have grown may disturb their growth. For determinate types, a traditional tomato cage or stake works well. For indeterminate tomatoes, it is recommended to use a string trellis, tall stake, tomato toutour, or sturdy cage. If you want to create your own tomato cages, you can bend metal fencing or hog wire into a cylindrical shape and use wire to connect the ends. Once you have made the cage, you can insert it into the soil or slip it over the outside of the pot and then secure it to stakes driven firmly into the soil.

Grow Tomatoes In Pots: Cover The Soil

When planting tomatoes in pots, it's essential to keep the soil level at least one inch below the top of the pot. This allows you to add a layer of mulch on top of the soil, which helps to keep it moist. You can use various materials for the mulch, such as straw, shredded bark, chopped leaves, or newspaper. However, make sure to avoid glossy circulars. Keep in mind that paper mulch decomposes quickly, especially in hotter regions, so you may need to refresh the layer periodically throughout the growing season.

Feed Your Plants

Proper watering is crucial when you grow tomato plants in pots. To avoid blossom end rot, keep the soil moist but not saturated. You can use the finger test to determine if a plant needs water: push your finger into the top inch of the soil, and if it's dry, it's time to give it a drink. 

Plants taller than knee-high may need to be watered almost daily after summer heat arrives. Place a saucer under each pot to catch the water that runs through the soil so plants can absorb that extra moisture throughout the day. This will also protect your decks and patios. 

If you're growing a large crop of potted tomatoes, a drip irrigation system can help you quickly save time and pay for itself. If you're only taking care of a few pots, watering allows you to inspect your plants and watch for problems. If you plan on going on a summer vacation, make sure to line up someone to water your plants, or you may need tomatoes to pick when you return.

Care For Tomatoes In Pots: Water Regularly 

Starting with a premium potting mix is a great way to give your tomato plant the necessary nutrients for a healthy start. However, to ensure optimal growth, it is essential to continue to feed your tomato plant regularly throughout the growing season. You can use a continuous-release fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition Granules for this. This fertilizer helps your plants become strong and produce juicy tomatoes. It contains calcium that can protect them against blossom end rot. Remember to follow the package instructions when using any fertilizer.

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Clean Up

Removing the spent tomato plants from the pots is recommended at the end of the growing season. If you plan to grow anything in the tomato family, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, or potatoes, in those pots in the following season, it is advisable to use fresh soil. Remove any remaining soil, and wash and scrub the soil from the pots. Sterilize them by wiping or spraying with a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.

Final Thoughts: Tips For How To Grow Tomatoes In Pots

Follow these 10 simple tips, and soon, you'll enjoy plump and juicy tomatoes, even if you don't have a traditional garden space.

Choose a location that is somewhat sheltered from the wind. This is particularly helpful if you're growing indeterminate tomato plant varieties in pots. Because they tend to produce long branches that grow in every direction.

If squirrels, chipmunks, birds, or other critters take bites out of your ripening tomatoes, consider protecting them with bird netting.

When selecting a nozzle for your hose, consider using a watering wand like the two longer ones. They allow you to water directly into the soil beneath a leafy tomato plant.

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