Container gardening is a great way to grow your own food in a limited space. Tomatoes are a tried and true vegetable (well, technically, a fruit) that you can grow in a container on your balcony, back deck, or even your front porch. Many beginner gardeners start with a little tomato plant in a pot.
Often times, you can purchase pre-potted tomato plants from big box stores. All you have to do is give them water regularly and they will provide you with plenty of delicious tomatoes.You aren’t limited to what is available at big box stores, though. There are plenty of tomatoes varieties that you can grow in a container. Keep reading for more information on the best tomatoes to grow in containers.
Best Tomatoes for Containers
The first thing you need to know is what type of tomato grows best in a container. You aren’t limited to tiny tomatoes, although cherry tomatoes are a great variety to grow in a container garden. You may have a favorite type of tomato – such as cherry, beefsteak, or paste.
You could also choose your tomato based on how it grows. Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain height before producing fruit. They tend to grow more quickly and compactly but stop fruiting sooner. Indeterminate tomatoes take longer to grow, but produce all season long until frost sets in.
However, these plants tend to be much larger and require more extensive supports. You could grow both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes in containers, depending on your needs or the type of tomato you want to grow.
Another factor to consider in choosing a tomato to grow is the length of your growing season. If you live farther north in the United States, your growing season will be shorter, so you will need to plan accordingly by choosing tomatoes that mature more quickly.
If you have a longer growing season, you can choose either quicker maturing varieties or longer maturing varieties, or even a combination of both, so you can have tomatoes the entire season long.
Check out these varieties to see which ones you like best.
Best Tomatoes for Containers
The easiest tomatoes to grow in pots are cherry tomatoes, due to their small size. Smaller plants and smaller fruit means the plant doesn’t need quite as much water or nutrients to grow. Just make sure to give them plenty of sunlight.
Cherry Tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are smaller, bite-sized tomatoes. They have thin skins, are sweet, and they also have a high water content. They are great for snacking, salads, and event roasting. The following cherry tomato varieties should work great in your container garden.
Bing Cherry. Bing cherries are big producers just at the peak of summer. This variety is perfectly suited for container growing and barely reaches a height of two feet tall. Bing cherry tomatoes are prolific producers of flavorful cherry tomatoes.
Bartelly F1. Bartelly F1s are great for greenhouses and containers alike.This variety of tomato plant is highly resistant to diseases. These somewhat sweet little tomatoes mature in as little as 60 days.
Husky Red. This cherry tomato is a dwarf variety, making it suitable for containers that are 10 inches or larger.
Peacevine. Peacevine gets its name from its abundance of a particular amino acid that is calming to the body. These ¾ inch tomatoes are high in vitamin C and mature in about 75 days.
Black Cherry. Perfect for backyard barbecues, these bite size tomatoes mature in about 64 days. These prolific plants will provide plenty of dark red, slightly sweet fruits.
Bumblebee. A perky little indeterminate tomato just right for container gardening, the bumblebee is aptly named for its beautiful stripes and variety of colors. This pretty tomato plant will continue growing all season long, so it might need room to sprawl or a trellis to climb for best results.This variety is highly resistant to cracking, making it a great all around container tomato.
Sweetheart. Sweetheart tomatoes get their name from their subtle heart-shaped fruit. These are some of the smallest tomato plants, with low acid and a sweet flavor.
Tiny Tim, Small Fry or Patio Pik. For a quickly maturing, small variety, try either Tiny Tim or Patio Pik tomatoes. They’ll be ready in as little as 65 days. Tiny Tim tomato plants only reach about 12 inches in size.
Golden Nugget and Early Cascade. For cooler regions, you’ll want to try something like Golden Nugget or Early Cascade. Early Cascade is an indeterminate type of hybrid red cherry tomato and Golden Nugget, like its name implies, produces yellow cherry tomatoes.
Sweet Million. This sprawling, indeterminate variety of tomato plant produces many sweet and small red cherry tomatoes, giving it its name.
Sun Gold. This indeterminate yellow cherry tomato is well-suited for container gardening as long as you have a long growing season.
Moby Grape. Technically a grape tomato, this variety won’t get too large but is very sweet.
Jet Star. This tomato is on the smaller side, with a smaller plant, as well. It matures quickly, but it is best known because it is one of the lowest acid tomatoes available.
Paste. A paste tomato is a more solid, firmer type of tomato – it has more flesh on the inside than water. These tomatoes are great for processinginto sauces and paste and are also known as plum tomatoes or processing tomatoes. They are larger than cherry tomatoes, but still easily grown in a container.
Polish Linguisa. These are easy to grow in five gallon buckets and stake easily, as well. They are flavorful and resistant to blossom end rot, a common tomato issue.
Plum Regal. Plum Regal is a bush tomato plant. It is disease resistant as well as blight resistant. The bushy plants grow three to four feet tall, producing fruits that are shaped like plums, deep red, and around 4 ounces each.
Sunrise Sauce. Sunrise Sauce is an excellent choice for container gardens with its compact, three foot tall plants. This variety is new to 2020 and is highly productive. This determinate tomato plant produces a high yield in a short amount of time, making it great for preserving and sauce-making. These four to six ounce fruits are a rich, golden color.
Glacier. Although glacier is an indeterminate variety of tomato plant, its smaller sizedfruits begin to mature early. These plants grow three to four feet tall, making them an excellent choice for containers.
Beefsteak. Beefsteak tomatoes are the largest varieties of tomatoes. They have plenty of seeds and are great for slicing. Even though beefsteak tomatoes are large, they can still be successfully grown in containers, but they will need larger pots and extra water. You may need to provide some extra supports for these plants, as the tomatoes can grow very large. Some beefsteak tomatoes can grow to a size of at least one to two pounds.
Mortage Lifter and Grosse Lisse: These two beefsteak varieties are great if you are living in a humid climate. These tomatoes mature in 85 days. Mortgage Lifter wasdeveloped by M.C. Byles, who sold enough $1 tomato plants to pay off his $6,000 mortgage, giving them their name.
Tidwell German: This is one of the largest varieties of beefsteak tomatoes. This indeterminate variety produces large pink fruits in around 80 days. These tomatoes are relatively drought-hardy.
Merisol Red. This variety of beefsteak tomato is a high producer, and will provide you with many tomatoes, even when grown in containers.
Tappy’s Finest. This heirloom tomato was named after “Tappy,” who selected it for its sweet flavor and low seed count. It is sweet, great for slicing, salads, and sandwiches. This variety has very few seeds.
Tips on Growing Tomatoes in Containers
It is always rewarding to grow your own food, and tomatoes are no exception. This versatile fruit is the staple for many pasta dishes, salads, and other great meals. Many different types of tomatoes can be grown in containers, but a little knowledge will make the process easier and will increase your tomato yield. Follow these tips to increase your container tomato harvest.
Container Type and Size
Tomatoes have pretty large root systems, so the bigger the container, the better. You’ll want to choose a container that is at least 1 foot deep, but even bigger is even better, when possible. Food grade five gallon buckets make great containers for growing tomatoes, as do large grow bags, large terracotta pots, or any other large container. A plastic or glazed container will hold moisture in better than a terracotta pot, which is good if you live in a less humid climate.
A larger container will hold more soil, and the soil won’t dry out as quickly as a smaller container. The more soil you have, the more nutrients the plant will be able to absorb and the less often you will need to water. This will reduce your chances of problems suchas blossom end rot. Blossom end rot happens when the plant cannot absorb enough calcium due to uneven watering. So use a larger container whenever possible.
Make sure your container has a good drainage hole in the bottom. Water needs to be able to drain out freely so the roots of the tomato plant don’t sit in water. If your container doesn’t have a hole, like a five gallon bucket, you can drill a hole or even a few holes in the bottom with a standard drill. You may want to put a layer of gravel in the bottom of the bucket or pot, as well, to keep the soil from falling out of the bottom and to provide a little extra room for drainage.
You may want to use a self-watering container since tomato plants need a lot of water. These containers typically have a reservoir underneath. Keep the reservoir filled and you won’t have to worry that your plants are receiving enough water.
When growing tomatoes in buckets, you will want to use good quality soil. You could purchase a premixed soil that has already been formulated for growing vegetable plants in containers. It will probably have excellent drainage and some kind of fertilizer already mixed in, which will increase your chances of success.
This is the simplest method, of course, and takes the guesswork out of creating your own soil mix. However, this can also get pricey. Large bags of soil can be difficult to lug around, so it may not be practical if you are growing a large number of tomatoes and other vegetables in containers. You might want to create your own tomato soil, instead.
When creating your own soil mix for growing tomatoes in containers, you’ll want to focus on a couple of key things. First, you need a neutral pH to keep your tomato plants happy. You will also need a mix of dirt, perlite, and some compost. Dirt is the basis of your soil mix. You can scoop dirt out of your garden or yard, so long as it hasn’t been treated with chemicals or something you wouldn’t want to contaminate your food supply.
You will also want to mix in some perlite. Perlite is a naturally occurring mineral that has been heated. It expands and creates little tiny balls that resemble Styrofoam. These little balls will add aeration to your soil. They will help it to have better drainage, better oxygen content, and prevent it from compacting when watered. Perlite is inexpensive and is easy to find online or in garden centers.
Your tomato plants will also need some nutrients. Aside from using chemical fertilizers, you can also mix some compost into your soil mix to add nutrients to the soil. Well-aged compost will have plenty of nutrition without harboring lots of bacteria. If you don’t have any compost, you can use rabbit or goat manure to mix into your pots.
The hardest part of growing tomatoes in containers is keeping them well-watered. Inconsistent watering can cause blossom end rot because the plant cannot absorb calcium correctly. However, correct watering will help ensure the health of your plants and will increase your tomato harvest.
The soil in containers heats up much more quickly in the sunshine than soil in the garden does. This will speed up evaporation and you will need to water container tomatoes much more frequently than garden tomatoes. For this reason, it is good to grow your container gardens nearer to your water source.
The best rule of thumb for watering tomato plants in containers is to water them until water begins to freely run out of the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Water your tomato plants early in the morning, before the sun is hot, and try to water the plant at its base, not over the leaves. Allowing water to sit on the leaves of the plant will increase its risk of disease or bug infestation.
Check the soil of your plant again in the afternoon. If the top inch or so of soil has become dry, you’ll probably need to water it again, being careful not to get the leaves wet in the heat of the day. If you notice your pant is wilting or the tomatoes are starting to shrivel, make sure to quickly water your plant. If this keeps occurring, you may need a bigger pot or to water much more frequently.
Tomatoes need lots of sunlight to grow. Place your pots where they will receive at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. And as long as your pots don’t dry out too quickly, even more sunlight will help your tomato plants to grow bigger and faster. However, direct sun doesn’t ripen your tomatoes. The summer heat helps your tomatoes to ripen faster.
Growing tomatoes in pots gives you the unique advantage of being able to move your tomato plants around with the sun. If necessary, you could put your plants on wheels to make moving them even easier.
If you have planted your tomatoes in commercially prepared container vegetable soil, you won’t need to add much in the way of fertilizer. However, if you have used your own soil mix, you may need to feed your tomatoes for best results.
You could mix some compost into your soil before you plant your tomatoes and you can use it as a top dressing throughout the season. However, you can also use a prepared fertilizer, such as Miracle Grow to give your tomato plants a great boost.
Tomato Tone is a granular fertilizer formulated specifically for tomato plants. You could also use Neptune’s Harvest, which is a water-soluble fertilizer.
If you like, you can mulch the tomato plants in your containers. Just put several inches of mulch around the bottom of the tomato plant. This will help keep moisture in and prevent them from drying out as quickly. It will also insulate the roots from heat or cold. Even better, top dress the pots with a bit of compost to give them both nutrients and mulch.
If your tomato plants are limping along, you might need to do a little troubleshooting to figure out what they need. Here are a few common problems that you might encounter when growing tomatoes in containers.
Problem: Wilting Plants
If your plants are wilting frequently, you may need to water more often. It isn’t unusual to water tomato plants in containers twice a day. If they are still wilting, you may need to repot them into a bigger pot to hold more water.
Problem: Yellowed leaves and stunted growth
If your tomato plants just aren’t growing, they probably need more nutrition. Try adding compost or giving them some fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Problem: Fruit Cracks
If your tomato plants have cracks in them, it could be from uneven watering as the fruit is growing. If the tomato plants get too dry, then take up too much water, they may grow unevenly and crack open. Of course, you can’t change the weather, but you can try to make sure you plant gets watered evenly each day.
Its best to water the tomato plant thoroughly each morning, and then allow the excess water to drain out of the holes in the bottom of your pot. Check the soil in the afternoon. If the top inch of soil is dry, give the base of the plant a thorough drink again.
Problem: Blossom End Rot
Blossom end rot looks like a small, rotten or wet spot on your tomato. This usually happens when plants are not watered evenly and therefore cannot take in enough calcium. Again, try to make sure your plants are watered evenly each day.
Problem: Leggy Tomato Plants
If your tomato plants are long and stringy, they probably aren’t getting enough sunlight. Move your potted tomato where it will receive 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. You can also add more soil to your pot. It doesn’t hurt the tomato plant to be buried a little extra deep.
Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.