Planting and Growing Tomatoes In Containers

Want to know how to grow tomatoes in containers or pots? We share our best tips for planting and caring for tomatoes in containers, pots and fabric grow bags. This year we’re growing dwarf tomatoes—a great option if you have limited garden space, want less maintenance, or just want to grow tomatoes in containers.

Flowering tomato plant in a fabric grow container

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We have a whole garden bed dedicated to growing tomatoes, but we just can’t seem to get enough of them. That’s why we started growing some tomato varieties in containers.

If you want to squeeze in some extra tomato plants and don’t have enough space in your garden, or if you have no garden space at all, growing tomatoes in containers is a great idea.

WHAT TYPE OF TOMATO SHOULD I GROW IN A CONTAINER?

Determinate plants grow to a certain size (usually 3-4 feet), and then set fruit during a fairly narrow time window. All of the fruit tends to ripen around the same time, but the plant will not continuously produce over the season. While the flavor of determinate varieties is generally considered to be inferior to indeterminates, they are a smart choice if space is limited. Since fruit comes in a narrow time window, they are excellent for canning.

Indeterminate tomatoes grow continuously throughout the season (6 feet or even higher) and fruit set is more spread out. The best indeterminate tomatoes generally have superior flavor. Indeterminates can be a little unwieldy, but size can be controlled through pruning if necessary. Most open-pollinated/heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate. We’ve grown Sungold cherry tomatoes in containers with success.

Dwarf Varieties are a great choice if you have limited garden space, want less maintenance, or wish to grow tomatoes in containers. Dwarf tomato plants are short in stature relative to non-dwarf tomato plants, growing anywhere from 2.5 – 5 ft in height. Dwarf tomatoes behave as if they’re very compact indeterminate varieties—they fruit the same way, persevere until frost, and have superior flavors similar to the best of the indeterminate varieties. The goal with dwarf tomatoes is to grow heirloom quality fruit with shorter stature.

What is the Dwarf Tomato Project? This is a collaborative breeding project among tomato experts spread around the world, with the goal of producing heirloom quality fruit on short, compact plants. All new varieties produced by the Dwarf Tomato Project are designated as Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) varieties, which carry the following pledge: You have the freedom to use these OSSI- Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this Pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.

THE DWARF TOMATO VARIETIES WE’RE GROWING IN CONTAINERS

WHAT TYPE OF CONTAINER SHOULD I USE TO GROW TOMATOES?

Any outdoor planting pot will do—we use fabric 20-25 gallon containers (grow bags).

Dwarf tomato planted in grow bag with straw as mulch

WHY WE LIKE FABRIC GROW BAGS TO GROW TOMATOES

  • Grow bags are breathable. They’re well aerated and have superior drainage over traditional plastic pots.
  • Grow bags moderate temperature.
  • Grow bags allow for better root development. When a container has no aeration, the roots keep growing until they reach the walls of the container. Once this happens, the roots signal the plant to make more roots. This results in a root bound plant.
  • Grow bags are moveable. You can bring them inside or into the garage if there’s a cold night or threat of frost.

WHAT SOIL SHOULD I USE FOR CONTAINER GARDENING?

  • DON’T use garden soil
  • Use a high quality organic potting soil specifically for growing vegetables in containers.
  • Add nutrients. Mix in some compost and organic fertilizer to the top 12 inches of the soil.

HOW TO PLANT TOMATO STARTS IN CONTAINERS

  • Tomato plants develop a stronger root system if you bury part of the stem beneath the soil.
  • Remove the lowest branches of the tomato plant by pinching them off. Keep the topmost branch and growing main stem intact.
  • Cradle the stem between your index and middle finger, turn the plant upside down and the plant should slide out of the pot.
  • Place the tomato plant roots first into the hole, covering the stem with soil all the way up to any remaining branches. Tamp the soil down with your hand.
  • Once the plant is in the container, cover with 2-3 inches of mulch. We use straw for mulch.
  • Water well after covering with mulch.

HOW TO CARE FOR TOMATO PLANTS IN CONTAINERS

  • Since the soil in the container dries out quickly, you’ll have to water possibly once or twice a day to keep the soil moist.
  • Fertilize once a week with an organic liquid fertilizer. We use fish emulsion.
  • Monitor the plants for stress and fertilize accordingly.

HOW TO SUPPORT TOMATO PLANTS IN CONTAINERS

Tomato plants will grow best in containers with a support structure. It’s best to put the structure in place immediately after planting so you don’t damage the roots when installing. If you’re growing determinate or dwarf varieties, a tomato cage is a good option.

Most tomato cages you can buy in the store are too small for indeterminate varieties, so we recommend pruning plants to one or two main stems, which you can support with stakes. Just remember that indeterminate plants can get very tall, so make sure the stakes are at least 6 ft in length. For information on how to prune tomatoes check out the pruning section in our How To Grow Heirloom Tomatoes post.

3 tomato plants in containers on side of house

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