help! how do you grow tomatoes in a container?

You’ve all heard about my black thumb before (and, in case you’re wondering, I finally gave up custody of that ill-destined terrarium). But I’ve recently moved to a new pad with a pretty fantastic balcony that gets all kinds of wonderful sun exposure…and I’m thinking tomatoes. Is there anything better in the middle of summer than wandering out to your garden, picking a few fresh tomatoes for your salad? I can’t imagine.

With all of those beautiful outdoor planting containers available now (have you seen the options at West Elm and Crate & Barrel lately?), I’m seriously tempted to try my hand at growing edibles in a container-style garden. But, as ever, I have no idea where to start…or, really, if such a thing is even possible.

So, here’s the question: what do you green thumbs know about planting tomatoes in a container? Is it do-able? Any tips, tricks or rules to follow? Can a beginner even grow tomatoes, or is this a project best left to serious gardeners? Leave me your best ideas in the comments!

Photo via Farmscape Nursery

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Here’s what I’ve found: Yes, it’s doable, but look for a variety of tomato designed for containers. I’ve had good luck with those. I’ve found that my plants don’t give me a whole lot of tomatoes at any given time, though. That may be b/c I don’t bother fertilizing, or because I have smallish containers (& thus smallish plants), or maybe b/c I have less sun than I’d like. And watch out for cherry tomatoes, unless you have several plants–the year I did those, I’d get two or three at a time, at most.


Oh funny! I am not an expert (I was checking the comments for tips, in fact), but the one thing I was going to suggest actually directly conflicts with the last commenter! I have cherry and grape tomatoes in pots and they each have dozens of (still green, but hopefully will ripen sort of soon) tomatoes, whereas my full size tomato plants don’t seem nearly as happy. So I was going to suggest cherry and grape tomato plants. As a gardening novice though, I wonder if my situation is just a fluke? Well good luck! And I’ll be checking back to see if other people have tips! :)


This is so easy — you can totally do it. Go to a garden center/nursery and choose varieties that are adapted for containers. Use the biggest containers you can fit in your space. You will need some sort of tomato cage, stakes or other system to support the plants. (Cages are easy because you just set them around the plant, and then the plant generally takes care of the rest. Stakes or another system are fine, but usually require that you keep more of an eye on the plant and make adjustments as needed.)

The biggest key is to keep on top of the watering. (Containers can tend to try out more quickly.) I’ve had the best results with cherry- or grape-sized tomatoes — mostly because my kids find it really, really painful to wait for a big tomato to ripen! – but big varieties can work as well.



As the commenters above have stated, use the tomatoes specifically for patios. The variety you need is called determinate–avoid the indeterminate, the vines keep growing all season long and can overtake your pot. I’ve had better luck with the cherry and grape tomato variety, and lots of sun seems to be a determining factor for quantities of tomatoes for me. This book has helped me a lot, too: McGee & Stuckey’s Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey. Best of luck!

I grow several types of tomatoes in containers. You just need a pot big enough for a lot of soil, make sure its roots stay covered and need a trellis to hold them up once fruit starts coming through. Water every morning (using Miracle Grow every 2 weeks). The best for containers are patio tomatoes, and they grow in a bush-like style, which is neat and delicious. :) Good luck!

You guys are totally giving me hope…keep those tips coming!

What Julie said. Totally doable. I nice thick layer of mulch will help the roots from drying out. I’ve grown both cherry and large varieties in containers with success. Your first tomato sandwich will be delicious!

This is my third year doing this very thing. I had great success by following You Grow Girl’s advice:

Here’s what has been working for me:

* Get the biggest planter you can afford/accommodate (I used a free, empty food services bucket from a restaurant).
• Determinates are easier to accommodate than indeterminates but I grow an indeterminate with a cage and it does well.
• Cages are easier to use; if you use stakes, use strips from an old pair of nylons to tie the plants to the stakes. The material is gentle on plants.
• You can use empty soda pop bottles in the bottom of the bucket to assist with drainage and to lessen/lighten the quantity of soil in the planter.
• Keep them well-watered.

I never get bumper crops but it is very satisfying and fun. Also, they look great and smell wonderful.
Good luck.

I just want to know, when’s dinner?

I second the above comment about using 5 gallon buckets to grow tomatoes. I even dressed mine up using some plastic friendly spray paint so they looked less bucket-y. I drilled some drainage holes in the bottoms of my buckets before filling with soil too. I often use an inverted wine bottle with the spout inserted into the soil to target my watering. Tomatoes do not like to have wet leave and watering should be directed at the roots. Also, put 1 TBSP of epsom salt in your planting hole and put the tomato plant right on top of it. I water mine with epsom salt and water about once a month from there (2 TBSP epsom salt to 1 GLN water). And one more tip, cornstarch sprinkled on the leaves can help with garden pests. Good luck!

I found a great variety at a local big box store:

I grow mine essentially in a big window box (west exposure) on my balcony and I have a lot of little yellow flowers that will hopefully turn into tomatoes pretty soon.

Have you tried those ones that hang upside down, I don’t get enough sun light in my apartment so I hooked up a rod that would swing out the window during the day to collect sun.

Highly suggest growing cherry tomatoes my favorite is “Sungold”. will produce a good quantity and look great as they are yellow in colour.