It is easy to grow tomatoes in containers, as long as you keep them watered, and give them big pots. Confining tomatoes in too small pots will stunt the plants and depress their yield, because they are heavy feeders with a big root system. This also means that you’ll have to water two to three times a day on hot days, especially when the plants are setting fruit. Growing tomatoes in pots has advantages and disadvantages. The mobility of pots is the biggest advantage. You can move your tomatoes to a safer location, if pests like rats, squirrels, or deer go after them.
In addition, pots allow you to grow tomatoes on hardscapes like terraces, decks, as well as other impermeable surfaces. Frequent watering is the main disadvantage of growing tomatoes in pots. Pots dry out quickly on a sunny day, especially small pots. You need to water mature container tomatoes once a day, even when they are in big pots. They may need to be watered twice a day during hot weather. On the other hand, tomatoes planted in the ground can typically go several days between watering.
Growing tomatoes in pots
Tomatoes in pots need at least 6 to 8 hours of sunshine a day to produce a worthwhile harvest. Place them where they will get maximum sunshine, if you grow them indoors, moving the pots from window to window if you must. Regular potting soil is fine for hanging planters and small pots. However, you may want to use a lighter-weight, soilless growing mix with larger containers.
It retains moisture well and this is very important for tomatoes. It is okay to use garden soil, but needs to be lightened with perlite, vermiculite or peat moss to improve its drainage. Almost any container will do. You’ll have a great crop from a plant in a small hanging planter, a 5-gallon bucket or even a bushel basket. All you have to do is make sure that the containers have holes in the bottom for drainage.
Planting and care
In order to plant, choose stocky, sturdy transplants and set them in the pots, hanging planters or bushel baskets up to the bottom set of leaves. Take 6- to 8-inch suckers or “slips” from tomato plants in the garden for fall pot plantings, and set them in a deep pot and water heavily for 1-2 days. They will root in 7 to 14 days and start growing shortly afterwards. You can extend the tomato harvest for many weeks when you bring these baskets or pots indoors and give them a sunny home. Tomatoes in pots need watering often because the plant roots cannot reach for extra moisture as garden tomatoes do.
Water them on a daily basis in the heat of summer, when the plants are big. Every week or so mix a small amount of soluble, balanced fertilizer into the plants’ water. Tomatoes prefer regular feedings of small amounts rather than infrequent, large doses of fertilizer. Once the plants have flowered, make sure to give them a little shake each day to help pollination along, and don’t forget that tomatoes need protection from insects and diseases just like garden plants, whether they are in the house or on the back porch.