Growing tomatoes in pots

Drew
Drew
Drew
Drew

Having worked as a journalist for many years I studied horticulture and now work as a professional gardener. I work as a specialist kitchen gardener, growing a wide range of vegetables, fruit and herbs for chefs in the north of England. I am passionate about gardening and writing, and love growing edibles and trying to inspire others to get outside and grow their own.

Favourite fruit: Apples and Raspberries
Favourite vegetables: Beetroot, celeriac, parsnip and broad beans

Tomatoes are incredibly popular and enjoyable to grow and there is a wealth of choices available when it comes to colour, size and shape. It is also a crop that does not require a lot of space and grows excellently in pots.

A tomato plant in a container
Determinate cherry tomato plants are great options for pots [Photo: lmfoto/ Shutterstock.com]

Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are one of the most popular crops to grow. There is a huge range of varieties available, and the taste of a fresh homegrown tomato is a delight. You can grow tomatoes even if you are short of space, as they thrive in pots and containers. Read on to learn more about growing tomatoes in pots.

Best tomatoes to grow in pots

The vast majority of tomato varieties are suitable for growing in pots, provided they are given the right space and set-up. Determinate tomato varieties are ideal for growing in pots. These types stop growing when the fruit sets on the top truss and are generally bushier and smaller in size.

Smaller varieties require smaller pots to grow in, whereas larger indeterminate varieties need much larger containers and bigger support set-ups. One of the simplest ways to go is growing cherry tomatoes in pots. These small and sweet tomatoes are prolific and require more lightweight set-ups than weightier tomato varieties. Some of the best cherry tomatoes for containers include ‘Gardener’s Delight’, ‘Sakura’, and ‘Sungold’. Learn more about the ‘Sungold’ variety in our article on this fantastic yellow tomato.

The smaller-fruiting bush tomatoes with a trailing habit are also ideal varieties for containers or hanging baskets. These include the likes of ‘Tumbling Tom’, ‘Tiny Tim’ and ‘Rambling Gold Stripe’. Find out more about the ‘Tiny Tim’ bush tomato in our article on what is one of the smallest tomato varieties.

Bright red tomatoes on the vine
Tomatoes are a hugely popular crop to grow [Photo: Fotokostic/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing tomatoes in pots: instructions

Growing tomatoes in pots is a quick and easy way to reap the benefits of homegrown tomatoes. One advantage of using pots is that you can place them wherever you want in the garden, finding that corner where the tomato plants will get the most sun every day.

If you opt for planting tomatoes in pots, it is a versatile and convenient method. It means that you can enjoy homegrown tomatoes even if you only have a courtyard, terrace or balcony. And growing tomatoes in pots is simple and efficient, even just one healthy plant could keep you supplied in delicious fruits all summer long.

When to pot on tomato seedlings?

Sow tomato seeds in grow pots indoors from late-January until the end of March. You can also buy young tomato plants at your local garden centre. It is time to pot on tomato seedlings into a slightly larger pot when they are around five cm tall. Once the young plant has four true leaves and reaches 15 – 20 cm, it is time to plant out the tomato into its designated pot for outdoors. Place the pot outdoors once the risk of frost has passed, usually from mid-May onwards.

A small tomato plant in a pot
Tomato seeds can be started indoors from January until March [Photo: Veronika Idiyat/ Shutterstock.com]

What size pot to choose?

Tomato pots need to be large and the bigger the container, the easier it should be to look after the plant. Each plant needs a minimum of 30 cm of space, this can be up to 80 cm for some cultivars, and the pot needs to hold at least 20 L of compost. A good pot size for tomatoes is one that is at least 50 cm wide and 60 cm deep. Make sure that your chosen pot has holes in the bottom for good drainage. Add a layer of gravel or broken pieces of pot to the bottom of the pot to help the water drain freely.

A deep trough or window-box is a good tomato container size if you can space the plants a minimum of 35 cm apart. Small-growing tumbling cherry tomato plants can also prosper in large hanging baskets that are at least 40 cm wide.

Tomato plants growing in a trough
A deep trough can be used to grow tomato plants [Photo: Viavirga/ Shutterstock.com]

What is the best soil for potted tomatoes?

The best soil for tomatoes in pots is rich in nutrients and free draining. Tomatoes are hungry plants and revel in a fertile soil with a pH of between 5.8 and 7. You can buy bespoke tomato compost that contains all the nutrients required for strong, healthy plants. For example, our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost is peat-free, organic, and provides your plants with all the nutrients to ensure a fantastic harvest.

If you use a multi-purpose compost for your potted tomatoes, then it is important to add extra nutrients. Either mix in well-rotted garden compost or work in a slow-release fertiliser like our Plantura Tomato Food to provide food for the plants throughout the summer. Avoid using garden soil as your potting soil for tomatoes, as it tends to be heavier and more compacted than potting compost, can be depleted of nutrients, and can contain weed seeds or even harmful soil-borne diseases that could kill your tomato plants.

Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost, 40L
Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost, 40L
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(5/5)
  • Perfect for tomatoes & other vegetables such as chillies, courgettes & more
  • For strong & healthy plant growth as well as an abundant vegetable harvest
  • Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition
£16.99

Planting tomatoes in pots: step-by-step

If you are growing tomatoes in pots outdoors, then place them outside after the last frosts have passed, around the end of May. Tomatoes grow poorly in low temperatures and like a minimum of 15 °C. A cold spell can stunt its growth, if not kill it completely.

Fill your tomato pots to around 2.5 cm beneath the rim with your chosen potting soil for tomatoes and moisten the compost. Make a deep hole with a trowel for your plant. Unless it is a very large container, place only one plant per pot. If you are using a trough, then ensure each plant has a minimum of 35 cm, ranging up to 80 cm, of space between. The exact spacing will depend on the variety chosen.

Bury each tomato plant deeply in the planting hole. Plant up to the first set of leaves, carefully remove any leaves that would be buried, and fill the hole and press down around the plant. Planting deeply encourages more root development and helps ensure a strong, sturdy plant. Water the pot well after planting.

Larger indeterminate varieties of tomatoes will require a support structure for them to be tied to. It can be canes, cages, or strings, but put the support in place when planting.

Summary: Planting tomatoes in pots

  • Wait until the risk of frost has passed from mid-May onwards
  • Use a large pot of at least 20 L, depending on the variety
  • Make sure the pot has drainage holes
  • Plant one tomato per pot
  • Bury the roots of the plant deep and remove the lowest set of leaves
  • Water well after planting
  • Put any required supports in place
A watering can watering a tomato plant
Water your plants in well after planting [Photo: Ja Crispy/ Shutterstock.com]

How to care for potted tomatoes

Watering tomatoes in pots requires consistency and vigilance. Check the soil regularly and water as required to prevent it from drying out. Being consist with watering will help prevent fruit splitting and blossom end rot. On warmer days, water daily, and even more than once in very hot weather.

Tomatoes are hungry plants and require regular applications of fertiliser when grown in pots. Start feeding tomatoes in pots when fruits start to form and feed the plant once a week with tomato food or high-potash fertiliser. Our Plantura Liquid Tomato Food is perfect for growing tomatoes in pots and provides your plants with all the nutrients they need to give you a bumper crop of tomatoes.

Tip: Putting some mulch around your tomato plants reduces evaporation and actively improves the soil. Check out our other article for more advice on watering, mulching and fertilising your tomato plants.

Liquid Tomato Food, 800ml
Liquid Tomato Food, 800ml
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(5/5)
  • Perfect for tomatoes & other vegetables
  • Liquid fertiliser for healthy plant growth & an abundant harvest
  • Quick & easy application - child & pet friendly
£10.99

Once the first fruits have formed, remove the leaves that are shading the truss to allow more sun to get to the tomatoes to ripen them; this also improves air flow. Continue to remove leaves as more trusses start to bear fruit.

Regular pinching of tomato side-shoots is essential for indeterminate cultivars, as it focuses the plant’s energy on growing vertically and producing fruits. Bush tomatoes do not need to be pinched out and it is optional for cherry tomatoes. Once four or five trusses have formed, cut off the top of the plant to stop it from growing upwards and to focus on ripening fruit.

If you have been inspired to try growing tomatoes in pots, then why not try growing your own tomatoes from seed. Learn all about sowing tomato seeds in our step-by-step guide.

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