Small Space Gardening: How To Grow Tomatoes In a Pot

If you have only a small balcony or terrace, you may think that planting tomatoes is not a possibility for you. Think again. Growing these delicious and juicy fruits in a small space is not only attainable but it’s also rather easy when you pick the right species. If you’re an aspiring gardener, you may be wondering how to grow tomatoes in a pot.

The truth is that tomato plants are a perfect fit for container gardening. No matter how big or small your green corner is, there’s a variety of tomato to suit everyone’s needs.

In this guide, we’ll explore the different types of tomato varieties, how to set up your pots to ensure successful growing, and tips on the best watering and sunlight methods.

Best Tomato Varieties To Grow In a Pot

Before you pick your tomato seedlings (baby plants) or tomato seeds, you’ll need to learn about the different types of tomatoes and their needs. Doing so will help you make an informed decision that suits your specific situation.

To begin, tomatoes fall into one of two categories:

  • Determinate tomatoes: Most experienced gardeners would agree that determinate varieties are best to grow in pots as they are more compact and don’t usually require a prominent supportive structure — such as a trellis or tomato cage. These species are also called bush or dwarf varieties and grow no more than three to four feet tall. They require a smaller pot size — a 10-gallon container should be fine — and yield fruit in a short period. Bush types, such as cherry tomatoes, also grow really well in hanging baskets, as these allow the plant to trail over the side of the pot and make fruit picking quite practical.
  • Indeterminate tomatoes: If you have space for larger pots and outdoor planters, you may want to have a go at growing indeterminate tomatoes. These varieties usually need larger containers — like a 20-gallon bucket — and require some structure to support their growth. Also called vining tomatoes, these species grow quite tall and can reach heights up to eight feet. Indeterminate varieties yield fruit during the entire growing season.

Once you decide what type of variety suits you best, it’s time to determine if you’re starting from seed or getting a tomato seedling. While seedlings seem like an obvious choice for a beginner, you’d be surprised to know that seeding has great benefits.

Ask any veteran gardener, and they’ll tell you that one of the best things when it comes to seed starting is the immense variety of species you have access to, including heirloom tomatoes. If you’re serious about growing your own tomatoes, then opting for organic, high-quality heirloom seeds is one of the most important things you can do to successfully grow these veggies.

Heirloom plants come from open-pollinated plants that pass on their characteristics to their offspring seeds. They are non-GMO seeds characterized by enhanced flavors and highly nutritional profiles. These species are also more resistant to pests and diseases, which means that organic heirloom seeds can give you the best head start possible.

Getting Started: How To Grow Tomatoes In a Pot

How to grow tomatoes in a pot: Several tomato plants in pots

Before we get you started on how to grow tomatoes in a pot, there are a couple of things to cover.

Tomatoes are summer veggies and love full sun, so make sure you pick a location that will allow your plants to enjoy at least eight to ten hours of sun every day.

If you’re starting from seed and you’re a first-time grower, we’ve got you covered. Have a look at our comprehensive article about growing tomatoes from seed for a step-by-step guide.

When starting from seed, check your seed packets to find out the best time to begin the germination process. (It’s worth mentioning that most gardeners decide to do this indoors as they have more control over the growing conditions.) You’ll notice that tomato seed packets usually recommend you sprout the seeds a few weeks before your last frost.

If you have no idea when that is, use the Back to the Roots grow calendar to find out. When it comes to transplanting your baby tomato plants outside, wait until the nighttime temperatures are consistently above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you’ve opted for a tomato seedling instead, carefully inspect it before purchasing it. Look for sturdy stems and vibrant leaves, and avoid plants with yellowish foliage, which can be a sign of nutritional deficiencies.

Setting Up Your Tomato Pots: Soil, Fertilizing, and Staking

How to grow tomatoes in a pot: Woman tending to a tomato plant in a fabric pot

The first thing to focus on when you’re learning how to grow tomatoes in a pot is, well, pots.

When it comes to tomatoes, the bigger the pot, the better. Both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes possess vast root systems that can quickly run out of room to grow when planted inside pots or containers.

Even though plastic pots may be cheap and convenient, they also break more easily under prolonged sun exposure. They may also leach harmful chemicals into the potting soil, and ultimately into your tomato plants.

A more natural option is terracotta pots, which are more breathable and allow good air circulation to support healthy root growth. Keep in mind that terracotta is a porous material. As such, the potting soil will dry out quicker, which means more frequent waterings. Before you buy a terracotta pot, ensure it has a drainage hole at the bottom for proper water drainage.

If you live in a warm climate, fabric pots are the best option when you don’t have a lot of space but still want to grow delicious tomatoes. These pots come with loads of benefits for plants with extensive root systems, just like tomatoes, as they encourage the plant’s natural “air prune” process.

Air pruning occurs when the roots are exposed to air while in the absence of high humidity. As a result, these roots are naturally “burned off,” allowing for the constant growth of new and healthy branching. Consequently, your tomato plant develops new fibrous feeder roots, which increase its capacity to absorb more water and nutrients. It also boosts its natural defenses.

Fabric pots are permeable, making them quite effective at properly draining and improving the roots’ oxygenation. In other words, your plant will have the perfect conditions to stay healthy and produce a bountiful yield of tomatoes.

No matter what kind of container you end up choosing, make sure to place a high-quality saucer underneath it. It will protect your terrace or balcony floor while allowing your tomato plant to grab any extra water during the hottest hours of the day.

Create or Pick a Balanced Combo of Soil and Fertilizer

Whenever you opt for container gardening, picking a high-quality, light potting mix is essential to support your plant’s growth.

Light soil prevents waterlogging and helps the roots of your plant to breathe properly. Avoid using garden soil as it’s too heavy for plants in pots and may contain pathogens that can’t be detected by the human eye.

You should also know that tomatoes are heavy feeders. In other words, they need a lot of nutrients to thrive and produce fruit. Combining organic potting mix with a high-quality organic fertilizer is key to supporting your plants’ rapid growth and ensuring they keep fruiting abundantly during their growing season.

When picking an organic fertilizer, look for things like bone meal, fish emulsion, liquid seaweed, and earthworm castings, as these substances are all excellent natural sources of plant nutrition. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers if you can. You may end up with a tomato plant full of beautiful green leaves but without flowers or fruit. Plant your tomato plants deep into the soil to encourage strong root growth.

Finally, add some mulch to your tomato plant pots. As containers tend to suffer from quick evaporation compared to garden soil, mulch is essential when growing tomatoes in pots. Substances such as shredded bark, straw, and arborist wood help retain moisture in the soil, keeping your plants hydrated during hot weather.

When In Doubt, Add a Support Structure

If you’ve opted for a bush variety, consider adding staking or a tomato cage, even though it may not be necessary.

While your seedlings might look cute and tiny, they will grow tall and produce tomatoes, which means they’ll carry some weight once the fruits mature. There are plenty of ways you can support your plant’s growth.

Tomato cages, trellises, or stakes all work efficiently in keeping your tomatoes upright. Just make sure you loosely tie the main stem to the structure to accompany the plant’s growth.

Set up these support structures as soon as you plant tomato species to avoid disturbing or damaging their roots later on. Plus, it’s much easier to put them in place early on instead of trying to wrestle a full-grown tomato plant into a cage.

Tips For Watering and Sunlight

Tomato plants in pots on a window sill indoors

Now that you know the basics of how to grow tomatoes in a pot, it’s time to delve into one of the most important aspects of container gardening: water.

Container tomatoes need thorough, infrequent waterings instead of small, constant sips. Aim your watering can for the root zone until the area is moist, and don’t assume that the soil is hydrated correctly just because there’s water coming out of the bottom of the pot.

By taking your time watering your tomato plants properly, you may not need to water them again within the next three days — depending on the weather conditions, of course. Keep in mind that the smaller the pot, the more often you’ll need to water your green babies.

Whenever in doubt, do the finger test. Insert one of your fingers into the soil — three to four inches deep — and if it feels dry, it’s time to water your plants.

Be aware that too little or too much water can stunt your tomato plant’s growth and can contribute to the development of blossom-end rot. This disease is caused by calcium deficiency resulting from inconsistent watering. It can be identified by dark, leathery-looking spots that appear on the blossom-end of the tomato fruit.

To prevent this problem, stick to a regular watering schedule or add powdered eggshells to your potting soil to correct the calcium imbalance.

Growing Tomatoes In a Pot Is Easy and Fun

Most veteran gardeners have started their journeys into the plant world by growing tomatoes. Although this fruit may come with a few challenges, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of picking (and eating) your first ripe tomato.

That said, you can always go the ultra-easy route and use a kit. That’s right, you can grow juicy tomatoes right on your windowsill even if you have no outdoor space. The Back to the Roots Organic Cherry Tomato Windowsill Planter is a complete Mason jar grow kit that includes a custom soil blend and fertilizer to give your plant all the nutrients it needs. As with all Back to the Roots products, it’s 100% organic and non-GMO, and you don’t even have to transplant it. You’ll have delicious cherry tomatoes year-round. (No green thumb required.)

After reading this article about how to grow tomatoes in a pot, you may feel inspired to learn more about other veggies that are equally easy to cultivate and don’t take up a lot of space. Be sure to check out our guide to the easiest vegetables to grow in your home garden and have fun.

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