Insider Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Pots
While you may not beat the world’s record for the most tomatoes harvested in a year—1151.84 pounds collected at Walt Disney World—you can harvest more than enough for your family and friends even when you are growing tomatoes in containers. Here’s what you need to do to enjoy a bumper crop of container-grown cherry tomatoes.
Do You Prefer Your Cherry Tomatoes Red or Green?
What Your Tomatoes Will Love
If you give cherry tomatoes the things they love and need, you’ll be rewarded with a huge crop of tasty, juicy fruit from even the smallest plants. Here’s what your container-grown tomatoes need to be happy and fruitful:
- Give them lots of sun; at least eight hours of full sun daily.
- Keep them in balmy temperatures. They should get no colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit and no warmer than 85 degrees, with between 70 and 75 degrees being optimal for germination purposes.
- Feed them good food like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Use an organic potting mix (ideally, a loamy mixture of sand, silt, and clay) that contains a slow-release fertilizer containing these nutrients to save time and effort.
- Mulch them to keep their roots cool and retain moisture. Fill containers with about 12 inches of potting mix and insert the seedling. Put two inches of mulch around the seedling, and firm it around the plant gently.
- Give them lots of space because tomato roots can grow eight to ten feet (in the ground) so they need plenty of container room to stretch and expand those roots. One plant per container gives the best result.
- Use roomy pots. The smallest pot size for cherry tomatoes grown in a container is eight inches, but a container that is between 15 and 24 inches gives adequate room for the roots.
- Give them lots of warm water.
Jennifer Bennett’s advice for growing tomatoes in containers, given in The Tomato Handbook, is “Tomatoes need about one gallon of water per square foot of soil every week.”
The sun and warm water speed up the plant’s cellular activity and encourage growth. The mulch is critical to prevent stressing the plant with too-hot temperatures. Having a large enough pot is a key element because if the plant is root-bound, it becomes exhausted and stops growing and producing fruit. Just for fun, try planting cherry tomatoes in an upside down planter.
Now that we know what our tomatoes love, let’s discover what tomatoes hate.
Things Your Tomatoes Will Hate
Eliminate these five things to have healthy plants and a good harvest when growing cherry tomatoes:
- Cold temperatures or frost
- Drought-like conditions
- Stress (handling the plants excessively or disturbing the roots)
- Wet, soggy roots
- Pests like aphids and cutworms
To solve problem number one, move the pots inside if temperatures could drop, and transport them to sunnier locations on overcast days. Frequent watering ensures hydration (and solves number two), so if you must be away for any length of time—on vacation, for example—you may want to invest in self-watering pots or an irrigation system to furnish adequate moisture.
The solutions to numbers three, four and five are as follows. Make sure your containers have adequate drainage to prevent wet roots, and be gentle when handling the plants. Container grown tomatoes do not need cultivation, so there is no need to bother the root system. Wash aphids off with water, and protect against cutworms with cutworm collars around the plants.
Tomato Growing Tips
Best Tomato Choices for Container Gardening
What varieties should you choose? As we’ve discussed, growing cherry tomatoes in containers is fun and easy when you give tomatoes the proper environment for growth, and protect them from bugs and neglect. Use varieties like these for the best tasting, highest yields:
- Tomato Yellow Pygmy
- Tomato Tumbler
- Basket Boy Red or Yellow
- Large Red Cherry
- Sweet Million FNTS
- Sweet 100
- Sun Gold FT
Any or all of these cherry tomatoes can be grown successfully in containers—even topsy turvy containers—and will produce an abundant harvest of sweet, juicy tomatoes all season long.