How to Grow Tomatoes in Containers

How to Grow Tomatoes in Containers

Are you hankering for the taste of homegrown tomatoes, but lack the real estate for a garden plot?

Well there’s no need for despair. You can have your own tasty crop without the back forty, because technically, a garden isn’t even necessary!

A vertical picture of a large, healthy tomato plant with red ripe fruits growing in a terra cotta container in bright sunshine on the patio. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white text.Choose Your Location

Tomatoes are sun-loving plants and require a location where they can receive at least six hours of full sun each day.

A close up of a row of black pots with plants growing on a wooden deck.Photo by Lorna Kring.

And because they need regular watering, you’ll also want to set up your containers close to a water source, like drip irrigation or a garden hose.

Plants can be grouped together, but not so close that the leaves brush against each other. This helps to avoid plant-to-plant transmission of disease and pests.

Also, if you plan on collecting seeds from heirloom cultivars, keep them at least 10 feet away from other varieties to prevent inadvertent cross pollination.

Varieties to Select

It’s a good idea to decide on the types of tomato you’d like to grow before you head out to the garden center.

For size considerations, determinate varieties, with their limited growth, are always a good choice for containers.

But indeterminate ones work too, provided they have room to grow – and they’ll need ample supports as well.

You can find more information on the difference between determinate and indeterminate varieties in this guide.

Next, look for your favorite features in the three main categories of paste, snacking, and slicing.

Here are a few reliable recommendations from each category to get you started.

Canning, Pastes, and Sauces

Paste tomatoes have meaty flesh, low moisture levels, few seeds, and a terrific taste.

And it’s these features that make them the go-to choice for canning, dehydrating, juice, ketchup, pastes, purees, and sauces.

Amish Paste

‘Amish Paste’ is an indeterminate heirloom variety with six-ounce, teardrop-shaped fruit that are ideal for putting up delicious preserves.

A close up of 'Amish Paste' tomatoes, freshly harvested and set on lettuce leaves. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo with text.‘Amish Paste’

Fruits mature in 85 days.

Seeds are available at True Leaf Market.

Fresh Salsa

‘Fresh Salsa’ is a determinate hybrid cultivar with firm flesh that doesn’t drip or squish when chopped – perfect for bruschetta and salsa.

A close up of whole and sliced 'Fresh Salsa' tomatoes set on a wooden surface pictured on a soft focus background.‘Fresh Salsa’

Fruits are ready to harvest in 65-70 days.

Plants are available exclusively at Burpee.

San Marzano

‘San Marzano’ is an indeterminate heirloom, beloved for the rich, deep flavor they give to tomato sauces.

A close up of ripe 'San Marzano' hanging from the vine, pictured on a soft focus background.‘San Marzano’

Plants mature in 85 days.

Seeds are available in a variety of packet sizes and can be purchased at Eden Brothers.

And check out our guide to 15 of the best canning tomatoes for even more suggestions.

Sandwiches and Slicing

Sandwich and slicing tomatoes are medium to large sized fruit with a bold flavor, plenty of juice, and a meaty texture.

These are the perfect complement to burgers or sandwiches and sliced into salads.


‘Brandywine’ is an indeterminate heirloom beefsteak, beloved for its big, brawny fruits and full flavor.

A close up of a freshly harvested 'Brandywine' tomato on a wooden surface.‘Brandywine’

Fruit is ready to harvest in 85 days.

Organic seeds are available at Eden Brothers.

Cherokee Purple

‘Cherokee Purple’ is another indeterminate heirloom cultivar and features large, deep maroon fruits with a sweet taste.

A close up of freshly harvested 'Cherokee Purple' heirloom tomatoes set on a wooden surface.‘Cherokee Purple’

Seeds and plants are available at Burpee.


‘Phoenix’ is a hybrid, determinate, bush-type cultivar bred to withstand extreme heat and reliably produces a heavy yield of tangy, baseball-sized fruits after 75 days.

A close up of a large red, ripe 'Phoenix Hybrid' tomato, on a soft focus background. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo with text.‘Phoenix’

Seeds in a variety of packet sizes are available at True Leaf Market.


Tumblers and cherry tomatoes are the first to ripen and make the perfect bite-sized snack.

Black Cherry

‘Black Cherry’ is a prolific indeterminate heirloom cultivar with a deep mahogany color and rich flavor that’s perfect for an exotic salsa.

A close up of freshly harvested 'Black Cherry' tomatoes.‘Black Cherry’

Fruits are ready for harvest after 85 days.

Seeds are available at Eden Brothers.


‘Sungold’ produces an abundance of sweetly-tart, tropical flavored fruits on indeterminate vines after only 57 days.

A close up of 'Sungold' with red ripe fruits, growing in the garden in bright sunshine. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo with text.‘Sungold’

Seeds can be purchased at True Leaf Market.

Sweetheart of the Patio

‘Sweetheart of the Patio’ is sweetly delicious and produces a superior yield on semi-determinate vines. This cultivar has a draping growth habit that’s ideal for hanging baskets.

A close up of a 'Sweetheart of the Patio' plant laden with ripe fruit, pictured in bright sunshine.‘Sweetheart of the Patio’

Fruits are ready to pick in 65 days.

Seeds and plants are available at Burpee.

For more ideas, be sure to read our roundup of the best cherry tomatoes to plant in your garden.

Preparation for Planting

The minimum container size should be 12 inches high and 12 inches in diameter, or a five gallon capacity. This is a good size for bush, determinate, dwarf, or patio vines.

A close up of a large plastic pot with healthy tomato plants laden with ripe fruit, growing on the patio, pictured in bright sunshine.coconut coir, peat moss, perlite, or vermiculite

And for convenience, you can always pick up pre-mixed soil at your local garden center and online.

A close up of the black packaging with yellow text of Miracle-Gro Performance Organics potting soil on a white background.Miracle-Gro Performance Organics Container Mix

Like this bag of organic container mix from Miracle-Gro, it’s blended with aged compost.

You can find six-quart bags at Home Depot.

Container Care

Seedlings can be planted up and moved outdoors when all risk of frost has passed.

A close up of a small green watering can, and plants growing in containers in the background.two to three inches of straw mulch, if desired, to help retain moisture and keep weeds down.

Provide Support

After planting, add supports in the form of cages, stakes, or trellises.

This can look a little disproportionate with a small seedling, but it’s best to add them at planting time to avoid damaging growing roots later on.

A close up of a cage for growing vining vegetables pictured over a small plant in a black pot.Galvanized Steel Plant Supports

Collapsible cages of galvanized steel are available at Wayfair.

If space is an issue, choose dwarf or patio varieties.

These are typically determinate and bred for compact growth, and staking is often optional. Check your seed packets or plant tags for mature sizes and support requirements.

Water Deeply and Regularly

Proper watering is a key factor to successful, container-grown tomatoes.

A close up of unripe, green tomatoes growing on the vine, pictured in light sunshine with a white wall in the background.Photo by Lorna Kring.

Pots dry out from the sun and wind faster than the soil in garden beds, and consistent moisture is crucial for well-formed, healthy fruit.

Irregular or shallow watering can lead to problems like blossom end rot and cracked skins.

For the healthiest plants, encourage deep rooting by keeping the soil consistently moist, but not saturated.

When the top one inch of soil is dry to the touch, give plants a slow, deep drink so that the entire root system gets water.

And in the heat of summer, you may need to do this every day for large plants.

Use a saucer beneath each pot to catch any water overflow.

This allows plants to absorb moisture back up through the roots during the day and also protects decking and patios from moisture and stains.

If you plan on growing a large crop, a drip irrigation system is an economical way to free up watering time and ensure your plants are watered regularly.

Fertilize Frequently

Healthy, rich soil gives your plants a nutritious foundation, but they’ll need supplemental feeding during the growing season as well.

When the flowers appear, top dress plants with a one to two-inch layer of organic compost and work in one to two tablespoons of Epsom salt at the same time.

Once fruit appears, feed every 10 to 14 days with a water soluble fertilizer such as fish emulsion, a balanced N-P-K blend (10-10-10), or a tomato and vegetable blend of 18-18-21.

A close up of the packaging of Organic Plus Fish and Kelp Fertilizer on a white background.Kellogg Organic Alaska Fish Emulsion Fertilizer

Kellogg organic Alaska fish emulsion fertilizer is available at Home Depot.

Disposal and Cleanup

After your harvest is complete, remove spent plants from their pots and dispose of healthy ones in your compost pile. Any diseased plants should be burnt or thrown out with the trash.

Discard the soil, rinse out the pots, then sanitize by spraying or swishing with a 1:10 solution of bleach and water.

Store them upside down over the winter.

Container Convenience

Growing tomatoes in containers and pots is a fun and convenient way to enjoy your own harvest – even if you don’t have a garden!

A close up of a metal basket with freshly harvested tomatoes, set on a kitchen counter, with tins of homemade jam in the background.Photo by Lorna Kring.

Remember the key elements of full sun, consistent and deep watering, and regular feeding for strong, robust plants, and they’ll reward you with a bountiful crop of fresh, delicious fruits in no time.

What are your favorite tomatoes for containers? Drop us a line in the comments below.

And to learn more about growing tomatoes, check out these guides next:

Lorna Kring

A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!

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