Easy Step-by-Step Guide to Tomato Container Gardening
There are few things more satisfying than biting into a homegrown tomato at the peak of summer. And with all the ways to serve up fresh tomatoes, there's no shortage of reasons to grow tomatoes at home. So if you want to dig into an abundance of juicy, ripe tomatoes this summer, follow these simple steps on how to grow tomatoes in a pot.
1. Wait Until It's Warm Enough
Pay attention to frost dates. Tomatoes can't withstand frost. To figure out the best time to plant tomatoes, know when nighttime temperatures don't dip below 55°F.
If you purchased young plants early or started them from seed indoors, set them in a sunny windowsill or under a grow light until it's safe to move them outdoors. If you decide you want to grow your tomatoes inside, you may experience some success with them, but you'll get far fewer, much smaller tomatoes than if you grow them outside.
2. Select the Right Pot
Choose a large container so your plant can develop a root system and have room to spread. A plastic or metal container will hold moisture better than terra cotta, but any sturdy pot will work. If the container does not come with drainage holes, drill several into the bottom.
3. Select Soil Carefully
Tomato plants need well-drained soil to avoid becoming waterlogged. You should use premium potting soil rather than garden soil which tends to be too heavy and hold too much moisture for tomatoes.
Look for a natural, organic potting mix to provide the plant's roots with aeration and important nutrients. This will help you avoid the additional step of having to fertilize your soil. Supplementing with calcium will help prevent blossom end rot, a common tomato ailment where the ends of the fruits turn black.
4. Plant Your Seedlings
Start with tomato seedlings rather than seeds–it's best not to grow tomatoes from seed because the plants probably won't have enough time to mature by the end of the growing season.
Select a "determinate" tomato variety like the dwarf tomato plants which only grow to be one or two feet tall, or one that grows in a bushlike habit. That means you want to avoid "indeterminate" tomatoes which grow until frost kills the plant. If a tomato plant grows too tall, it will become rootbound and eventually topple over.
The best tomato plants for containers:
- Any type of cherry tomato
- Baxter's Bush Cherry Organic (an early bloomer that requires no staking or training)
- Better Bush (close to the typical grocery-store tomato)
- Tasmanian Chocolate (a great way to get heirloom taste from a container)
- Tumbling Tom Yellow (trailing vines with yellow fruits)
5. Place Container in a Sunny Location
Tomato plants need full sun. That means they require approximately eight hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive. Covered or shaded decks or patios will not likely yield good results.
Instead, consider placing the container on your front porch or even interspersed in your landscaping. Avoid windy spots as much as possible.
6. Water & Feed as Necessary
In general, container plants require more watering than their in-ground counterparts. Make sure the soil stays consistently moist, which may mean daily watering during warm weather.
Before you water, check to see if the top inch of soil is dry. If it's not dry, don't water or you'll risk overwatering the plant. The plants are susceptible to fungal disease and bacteria when wet for too long. However, using a high-quality potting mix for container gardens can also help you avoid these issues. If you can, water in the early morning hours and focus on the base of the plant.
After a month or so, you may need to help your plants along with an organic plant food that's designed for fruits and vegetables.
7. Stake as Needed
Larger plants may benefit from a metal tomato cage and smaller varieties may need to be tied with string and held in place by wooden stakes, but some may not need any help at all.
Be sure to look at the plant's tag for any recommendations on staking so you have the proper staking in place before the plant becomes unwieldy. It's much easier to be proactive than reactive when it comes to staking.
8. Harvest When Ready
Your tomatoes are ready to enjoy when they have reached their mature color and pull away easily from the stem. Wash them thoroughly and store at room temperature–not the refrigerator, which can interfere with flavor and texture.
Pictured Recipe: Baked Parmesan Tomatoes
Celebrate your success with one of these recipes that maximizes the mouthwatering flavor of fresh tomatoes:
If you have a bumper crop and need some ideas for using up all of those tomatoes, extend their lifespan with one of these options: