Growing Tomatoes in Pots
While there are many advantages to growing tomatoes in containers, there are definitely some things to keep in mind to help ensure success. Here are tips and top varieties for patio tomatoes.
‘Little Napoli’ Tomato
Want a Roma for containers that yields enough ‘maters for salsa or sauce? 'Little Napoli' is the plant for you. This beauty flourishes in pots and yields fruit in flushes, easily producing enough meaty fruits for a batch of your favorite concoction. Plants have strong disease resistance.
Ball Horticultural Company
Tomatoes of all shapes and sizes are classic choices for growing in a vegetable garden, but there are also lots of great reasons to try them in containers, too. It’s much easier to protect the plants from critters such as deer and rabbits if the plants are growing close to your house, and having them nearby keeps them handy for harvesting. Container growing keeps the roots away from troublesome pests and diseases that might be in the soil, too. It helps you control how much water they get and when, a big plus if your garden soil tends to be especially soggy or sandy. Pots are also a perfect solution if you want to enjoy fresh-picked tomatoes but your gardening space is limited to a patio or balcony.
12 Patio Tomato Tips
Use this advice specifically for growing tomatoes in pots, and consult our Tomato Growing Guide for more information on growing any type of tomato.
1. Select healthy plants meant for pots.
Any variety that grows in the ground can be grown in a pot, but some stand out more than others. See our list of suggested varieties below.
2. Choose a large container — the bigger the better.
Container soil heats up and dries out quicker than garden soil because of the confinement, so the more breathing room you can give the plant’s roots the better. It’s possible to grow any kind of tomato in a container, but it’s important to match the size of the pot to the size of the plant. The most compact, or dwarf, varieties can adapt to life in an 8- to 12-inch pot or even a hanging basket. Typical bush-type (also known as determinate) tomatoes can grow well in 5-gallon pots or buckets, though 8- or 10-gallon pots are even better. Vining (or indeterminate) varieties, such as ‘Brandywine’ slicing tomatoes or ‘Sweet 100’ cherry tomatoes, do best in 15- to 20-gallon tubs, so they can produce plenty of roots to support their continually lengthening stems and heavy fruit production.
3. Choose lightweight pots with good drainage.
Avoid terra cotta pots, which retain heat and are heavy to move around, and half whiskey barrels, which, though large, also are burdensome and attract wood roaches. Instead, choose lightweight plastics with drain holes.
4. Position the container in full sun.
Tomatoes perform best when they receive six to eight hours of sun per day.
5. Use a potting soil rich in organic matter.
Or replace about 25 percent of standard potting soil with equal parts perlite, sphagnum peat moss and compost to improve drainage and provide additional nutrients. Add a 1- to 2-inch layer of pebbles in the bottom of the pot to help with drainage. Do not fill containers with regular garden soil which is too compact for pots.
6. Mix slow-release fertilizers into the soil.
Make sure the soil doesn’t already include it; if it does not, choose tomato-specific fertilizers such as Espoma, though all-purpose ones are effective as well.
7. Plant the tomato deeply.
Fill the pot one-third with soil and then plant the tomato. Continue adding soil, packing it around the stem of the plant until it is about half covered, removing any leaves as you go.
8. Water to keep the soil evenly moist.
You want soil to stay wet but you don’t want it drying out completely, either. Instead of automatically watering tomatoes on a set schedule, consider the weather conditions and the look of the plants. In dry, hot, windy weather, you may have to water them once or even twice a day to keep them from wilting. During rainy spells, hold off on watering, and make sure that the pots are not sitting in trays or saucers of standing water, which can lead to root rot.
9. Give tomato plants growing support.
Stake them or install a tomato cage (or build your own out of concrete reinforcing wire) for helping take the weight of the fruit off limber vines.
10. Feed plants once a week starting around week six.
Choose a water-soluble fertilizer and apply according to instructions, and keep an eye out for pests, such as aphids.
11. Add companion plants only if there’s room.
Ornamental annuals such as marigolds and zinnias make pretty accents in a tomato container garden, but remember that additional plants compete with tomatoes for water so add them only if using an oversized pot.
12. Harvest tomatoes once they are nearly completely red.
This helps ensure the freshest, tastiest fruit. Of course, if your variety is yellow, green, or brown, harvest when the fruit reaches its intended color.
Tomato Varieties to Grow in Containers
Ready to give patio tomatoes a try? Here’s a selection of some dwarf and compact types that are particularly well suited to life in pots.
Courtesy of Park Seed
You don't need to stake tumbler tomatoes like these 'Tumbling Tom's. The weeping stems trail up to 2 feet over the edge of containers, and they're loaded with bright red, 1 to 2-inch fruits. Try this determinate variety in window boxes or hanging baskets, too.
‘Bush Early Girl’: This classic slicing-type tomato produces generous yields of flavorful, 3- to 4-inch red fruits on 3-foot-tall plants. It ripens quickly, too, making it a great choice if you just can’t wait to start the summer harvest.
‘Little Napoli’: One of only a few paste-type tomatoes bred for growing in pots, this determinate variety of Roma tomato grows 12-18 inches tall and ripens fruit at the same time so that it can be harvested and used for canning and preserving.
‘Red Robin’: This popular container cherry tomato produces good-looking, upright plants that reach just 12 to 18 inches tall, with an abundance of sweet, rounded red fruits.
‘Silvery Fir Tree’: With its lacy, grayish-green leaves, this intriguing heirloom variety hardly looks like a tomato plant — at least until its 3-inch rounded fruits ripen to bright red. The productive plants are bushy and upright, typically reaching 2 to 3 feet tall.
‘Super Bush’: Growing 3 to 4 feet tall, ‘Super Bush’ gives you an early harvest of great-tasting, meaty, 3- to 4-inch red fruits on sturdy-stemmed, upright plants.
‘Sweet Pea’: The 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch red fruits of ‘Sweet Pea’ are tiny in size but big on flavor, delicious for fresh eating or for drying. The plants produce tiny leaves, too, on long stems that reach to 6 feet or more; let them trail out of a large hanging basket or grow them upright in a pot supported by a large cage.
‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Yellow’: It’s tough to beat ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Yellow’ for a long harvest of yellow cherry tomatoes from a container. The branching plants usually grow to about 1 foot tall, small enough to grow indoors. For a mix of colors, try ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Red’ and ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Scarlet’ too.
‘Tumbler’: This red-fruited cherry tomato has nicely branched stems that can cascade 3 to 6 feet out of a hanging basket. It also looks good in a regular pot and will grow upright if you support the plant with a cage.
‘Tumbling Tom Red’: The trailing stems of ‘Tumbling Tom Red’ can reach 18 to 24 inches long, with clusters of rounded to slightly oval, 1- to 2-inch red fruits starting about 60 days after transplanting. ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow’ may not produce quite as many fruits, but they’re very sweet. A combination of the two colors makes for a beautiful hanging basket display.