Grow tomatoes in pots


“What potting mix should I use for growing tomatoes in pots or containers?”

One of the first steps in growing tomatoes in pots is to pick a good potting mix. You need to fill the pots with a soil medium that works best for container growing.

There are a lot of options to choose from: potting soil, potting mix, topsoil … even soil straight from the garden.


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Growing tomatoes in pots: top tips

Don’t go super cheap. Tomatoes grown in containers need well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. It can be tempting to load up your containers with soil dug from your backyard or garden – the dirt is free, right?

Don’t use garden soil. It compacts making it difficult to water and keep aerated by mid-season. Also, garden soil is infested with fungi, weed seeds, and pests, which can wreak havoc in your containers, infect your tomato plants, and cost you your crop in the long run.

Don’t go super easy. It may seem to be convenient to pop open a bag of potting soil, pour it into your container, and be done with things. But potting soil can be too heavy for containers – leading to drainage problems.

Tomato Dirt best advice

Fill your container with a good potting mix (rather than potting soil) and wet it slightly. (Some gardeners call this an “artificial medium” or “soil-less mix.”) Potting mix is different than potting soil. Nurseries all over the country use a good mix to start seeds and plant containers. You can find affordable mixes at your local discount store, home improvement store, or local garden center. Or you can make your own – here’s how.

How to choose a good mix

Check the ingredients. Good potting mixes contain peat moss, compost, vermiculite, perlite, and sand. The best mix holds moisture but doesn’t stay soggy.

  • Standard mixes. Designed to sustain the plant but has little fertilizer or extra nutrients added. Some gardeners prefer standard mixes because they are less expensive. If you’re able to stick to your own fertilizing and watering schedule during the growing season, a standard mix could be a good solution for you.
  • Premium mixes. Includes additions such as fertilizer, wetting agents, and extra water-holding capacity. Premium mixes cost more. Some gardeners find the convenience a plus.
  • Commercial mixes. Popular brand name soil mixes such as Jiffy Mix®, Bacto®, Promix®, and Jiffy Pro® are available at garden centers.

How to make a good mix

If you’re planting several containers, you can save money by making your own potting mix. Find these ingredients at your local discount or home improvement store or online. For best proportions, mix together 1 part each. Moisten the mix before filling containers for planting.

  • Potting soil. Usually a mixture of peat, composted materials, sand, perlite, and vermiculite. Some commercial potting soils contain ground limestone (to regulate pH) and others have small amounts of fertilizer or slow-release nutrients. Commercially available potting soil is sterilized, preventing the spread of diseases, pests, fungi, and weeds. Interestingly, most potting soils contain very little soil.
  • Perlite. Helps prevent water loss and soil compaction
  • Sphagnum peat moss. Increases soil’s ability to hold water
  • Compost. Decayed, decomposed, screened organic matter that provide nutrients and helps provide a rich growing medium.

Should you add water holding gels to your mix?

There’s some controversy about adding water holding gels (also called hydrogels, water retention granules, or root watering crystals) to your mix. These gels swell several times their size when hydrated. They then release water slowly over time. The idea is to reduce, or at least balance, the need for watering in containers, gardens, and landscapes. Gels have become increasingly popular with home gardeners.

Yet horticulturalists have discovered that the gels, manufactured as polymers, are biodegradable. They are not a long-term solution to water management. Their breakdown can release potentially damaging byproducts into your soil.

More about Growing Tomatoes in Containers

How to make your own potting mix for growing tomatoes …

Sterile potting mix: do you need it for growing tomatoes?Growing tomatoes in pots: the basics …
Choosing containers for growing tomatoes in pots …

5 Tips for Planting Tomatoes in Pots: Plan for Success …Review: Self-watering tomato planter: Tomato Success Kit …
Tomato bags are sturdy, grow healthy tomatoes …
Choosing tomato varieties for large containers …
Best tomato varieties for small containers …
Tomato planting in pots …
Tomato fertilizer to use for container tomatoes …
Watering tomatoes in containers, pots, baskets…
Tomato pests that attack tomatoes in containers …
Growing cherry tomatoes in containers or pots …
Tips for growing cherry tomatoes in containers …
Better Boys in containers: fruit is small, what should I do?

More tips for growing tomatoes in pots on our Pinterest board …How to grow hanging tomatoes …

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Good, healthy soil is one of the most important parts of gardening, especially when you’re growing tomatoes.

Whether you’re raising your plants in pots or a raised bed, it still needs the same things. When it comes to the best soil for tomatoes, it should have a neutral pH and be packed with nutrients.

If you’re growing your plants in containers, one big advantage is that you have complete control over the soil. For the best results, a mix of soil, perlite, peat moss, and natural compost materials is a safe bet.

Let’s take a look at some great soils and what makes them so effective.

The 6 Best Soil for Tomatoes to Grow

Whether you’re planning to grow your tomatoes in pots or outside in your garden, it’s important to have the right soil in order to promote strong, healthy growth.

Picture Soil for Tomatoes Ideal for Link
Organic Potting Mix by Perfect Plants for All Plant Types Containers, Indoor & Outdoor Plants
Compressed Organic Potting-Soil for Garden & Plants Indoor & Outdoor, Containers, Inground, Raised Beds
FoxFarm FX14053 Ocean Forest Organic Potting Soil Containers
Super Soil Organic Concentrate Containers
Miracle-Gro Expand ‘N Gro Potting Soil Containers, Inground, Raised Beds
Espoma AP8 Organic Potting Mix Indoor & Outdoor, Containers

Best Soil for Tomatoes Reviews

1. Organic Potting Mix by Perfect Plants for All Plant Types

When it comes to organic soil, this mix from Perfect Plants is at the top of the list. The all-natural ingredients are enriched soil is the perfect place for your tomato plants and it comes in a heavy-duty resealable bag that’s ideal for storage.

This mix helps roots grow strong and keeps harmful bacteria under control. How? With ingredients like mycorrhizae for strong roots, worm castings to remove toxins, and composted pine bark to maintain the proper moisture and nutrient levels for superior growth.

One of the best things about this soil is how well it manages moisture. It uses coconut coir and perlite to produce air pockets in the soil to facilitate draining and root expansion and peat moss as a rich source of nutrients.

This is a perfect choice for plants in containers because it maintains proper moisture balance so well. It not only helps achieve longer production periods but it also helps make the plant more durable whether it’s kept inside or outdoors.

2. Compressed Organic Potting Soil for Garden & Plants

Another great choice for your tomatoes is potting soil from Organic Plant Magic. This compressed soil expands to seven times its size when mixed with water. It’s convenient to store and easy to carry to your garden.

This mix contains 100% natural ingredients, including ground coconut coir, worm castings, and beneficial bacteria that boost nutrients and can make your plants grow up to three times larger. It feeds plants for months and works really fast at getting water deep down to the roots.

Although this is only a two-pound bag, when mixed with water in a 3:1 ratio, it actually makes a total of three gallons of potting soil. It’s versatile, too. You can mix it with your existing soil or put in it a raised pet, pot, or container.

Plus, because it holds up to 50% more moisture than regular potting soil, you won’t need to water as much. If you’re not happy with your results, no problem. It’s covered by a 100% money back guarantee.

3. FoxFarm FX14053 Ocean Forest Organic Potting Soil

FoxFarm organic potting soil has everything your plants need to thrive. This is a unique blend of premium, organic ingredients that are particularly good for plants kept in a container though it can also be used in raised beds. It works well both indoors and outdoors, too.

What’s so special about it? It has some of the same ingredients we’ve seen in other mixes including earthworm castings to remove toxins and purify the soil and peat moss to deliver a lot of the necessary minerals and nutrients.

That said, it also has a lot of unique additions, like bat guano, Northwest fish and crab meal, composted forest humus, and sandy loam. This blend of ingredients not only feeds and hydrates your plants, but they also aerate the soil to facilitate drainage and root growth.

4. Super Soil Organic Concentrate

Super Soil Organic Concentrate is a little different. It’s actually a catalyst for a living soil technique that was pioneered over a decade ago. The idea is you mix this concentrate with any organic soil and your tomatoes will grow faster and stronger.

Here’s how you do it. Add one pound of Super Soil for every five gallons. Add regular potting soil until the pot is ⅓ full and mix it all together. Then, fill the rest of the container with potting soil, plant, and water. That’s it.

This product is a concentrated powerhouse of everything your plants need to thrive. It contains earthworm castings, bat guano, blood meal, bone meal, dolomite lime, Epsom salt, and Aloe Vera. There are also a lot of microorganisms, too.

Very simply, it adds everything basic potting soil needs to maintain proper pH levels and provide the right amount of nutrients and water. It’s extremely effective and plants love it.

5. Miracle-Gro Expand ‘N Gro Potting Soil

Next up is this expanding soil from Miracle-Gro. It can be used both in-ground and in potting containers so you can make sure your tomatoes are well-nourished, wherever they’re planted. It’s a great substitute for potting soil or garden soil and holds up to 50% more water.

This is expanding soil. Just add water and it grows up to three times its size and feeds plants for up to six months. The primary ingredient is coconut coir which absorbs and holds onto water and is largely responsible for the expansion.

Because the texture of this soil is so light and airy, it’s easy for roots to spread and take hold. This gives them more stability and makes them grow bigger and stronger. It also makes the bag very lightweight so you don’t have to worry about carrying it your garden or shed.

6. Espoma AP8 Organic Potting Mix

This mix from Espoma is perfect for containers and can be used for both indoor and outdoor plants. It has exceptional water retention and draining to deliver the moisture your plants need without any worries of root rot.

Sphagnum peat moss provides the nutrients and minerals your tomato plants need while peat humus, perlite, and worm castings keep the soil clean and help with water retention and drainage.

What is the Best Soil for Tomatoes?

The best soil for tomatoes is Perfect Plants Organic Potting Mix for All Plant Types. It’s loaded with all-natural, organic ingredients that give your plants precisely what they need to grow bigger, stronger and produce better tomatoes.

This soil manages moisture well so your plants get what they need and you don’t have to worry about root rot. Plus, the light and airy texture allow roots to expand better for solid, stable growth.

The heavy-duty resealable bag is perfect for storage. This is an ideal soil for containers, gardens, or raised beds and can be used inside or outdoors.

Type of Soil for Tomatoes

Even though tomatoes are notoriously easy to grow, you still need to use the right type of soil if you want to get the best possible crop. When it comes to tomatoes, here are some of the things to keep in mind when choosing a soil.

First, tomatoes can grow in just about any type of soil except those that are clay heavy. Clay is notoriously hard which makes it very difficult for roots to grow properly. Plus, a lot of clay makes it extremely difficult for water to pass through.

So, what kind of soil is ideal for growing tomatoes? Loam. It has all the right ingredients for proper moisture, effective nourishment, and stable root growth.

What Is Loam?

Loam is a mix of sand and silt with a little bit of clay. The ratio of sand to silt is about equal.

Each ingredient serves a purpose. Silt is sediment that easily compacts and is good for allowing water to drain. Because it doesn’t hold onto water, sand is used for drainage and aeration.

Finally, there is a small amount of clay in loam in order to provide essential nutrients. It also helps keep the silt and sand evenly mixed.

Why Loam?

Because loam is an even balance of material, it provides the right amount of everything tomatoes and other vegetables need.

It’s porous so that water can flow through quickly enough to avoid overwatering but slow enough so that the roots can take what they need from it. It has a loose, crumbly texture that makes it easy for roots to take hold. Plus, the small amount of clay is packed with nutrients.

What about Water?

Tomatoes don’t like soil that is too dry but it’s also important not to overwater because it can lead to other problems. Avoid waterlogged soil or planting anywhere water collects frequently after it rains. Soil should ultimately be moist but well-drained and have a loose, almost airy texture.

When watering, it’s also important to water at the base of the plant. Never water from the top of the leave down. This can actually cause too much water to collect on the leaves and lead to mold or fungus growth.

pH of Soil for Tomatoes

pH tells you how acidic or alkaline the soil is. It ranges from 0 to 14. The lower the number, the more acidic the substance is. For tomatoes and most vegetables, actually, a good pH range is 6 to 6.8 which is just slightly acidic.

It’s a good idea to check the pH of your soil before you get started planting. Then, once your garden is established, you don’t need to worry about testing it again for about 3 years or so, as long as your tomatoes and other vegetables are growing properly.

If the pH is too low, the soil is too acidic so you have to add something alkaline to the soil to even it out. Lime is the most common choice. If the pH is too high, that means it’s too alkaline and you’ll need to add something acidic. Sulfur is typically used in this case.

The Depth of Soil for Tomatoes

Soil depth depends on the kind of tomatoes you’re growing. Small, compact plants are usually hybrids. They grow to a certain size and then they stop growing and can reach about two feet wide. These plants are ideal for container growth because they don’t need as much room.

Natural, indeterminate varieties of tomato just keep growing until something stops them and therefore take up more space. Their roots can reach as far as six feet across and usually need to be staked in order to grow to their full potential.

That said, it’s important to know that tomato plants tend to grow out instead of down. That is, they don’t root very deeply. The main part of the root system is within the first foot of the soil.

Tomato plants should be planted deeply in the soil. A good rule of thumb is to plant ⅔ of the young plant under the soil, essentially leaving only the leaves sticking out of the surface. This gives your plant the best chance at growing the necessary intricate root system.

How to Grow Tomatoes in Containers?

We’ve already mentioned that tomatoes are generally easy to grow but growing them in containers can be just a little more challenging. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Make sure you use a really big container. Remember, most of the rooting takes place in the first 12 inches of soil and the roots spread out so one plant needs a lot of room. Two square feet or a 5-gallon bucket are ideal.
  • Choose the right variety of tomato as not all of them to do well in containers. Some good ones to try are Big Boy Bush tomatoes, Bush Goliath, Bush Champion, Celebrity tomatoes, Tumbling Tom, Sunsugar, and Manitoba among many others.
  • Plant tomatoes deeply. While this is something you avoid with most other vegetables, tomatoes require deep planting to help facilitate strong root growth.
  • Use a stake or cage to help support the plant so that the weight of the fruit doesn’t cause it to sag later.
  • Don’t plant anything else in the same pot, not even any small herbs. If you want the most successful plant, nothing should compete with it for water or nutrients.
  • Remember that regular potting soil doesn’t have any nutrients in it which is why you need to use something like the products on our list for effective growth.
  • In addition to using the right soil, pay close attention to the drainage. The soil should be moist but not wet. Too much water can lead to root rot.
  • Water at least once a day, preferably in the morning. If it’s particularly hot or dry, check the plant in the afternoon, too, to make sure the soil hasn’t dried up. Tomato plants that don’t get enough water don’t produce good fruit.
  • Make sure you water the roots and not the leaves. Spraying water directly on the leaves can actually lead to fungus and other problems.
  • Use self-watering containers if possible. This really is the easiest way to avoid any problems with watering.
  • Choose a place where your containers will get a lot of sunlight, at least six hours a day but eight is better. The good thing about containers is you can move them pretty easily so if you discover your plants aren’t getting enough light, move them to a different spot.
  • Tomato plants don’t like cold weather so keep them inside and protected from the cold until the temperature at night reaches a steady 50 degrees F.
  • Tomato plants also don’t like temperatures that are too hot. Anything about 85 degrees F can affect fruit production.
  • Moving the container and plant indoors during extreme weather is the easiest way to keep it protected from damage that could be caused when it’s too hot or too cold outside.
  • Harvest your tomatoes when they’re firm and red. If they fall off the stem before they’re the right color, place them in a paper bag, stem side up, and store them in a cool dry place until they ripen.
  • Tomatoes shouldn’t be placed on a windowsill to ripen for any extended period of time. They can quickly over-ripen and rot.


Whether you’re planting them outside in raised beds or in pots and containers on your porch, tomatoes are generally easy to grow.

Remember, regular potting soil just doesn’t have the nourishment that tomato plants need to thrive. That’s why you need to make sure you pick a soil with the right mix of ingredients to provide nourishment and allow excess water to drain effectively.

By using the right planting technique, good soil for tomatoes, and proper watering, you should be able to grow successful plants and have a delicious harvest in the fall.

See also:

6 Best Soil for Succulents – (2020 Reviews & Guide)

Tomato plants are floppy by nature, so don’t fault your gardening skills if your stems won’t stand upright. That doesn’t mean you should let them droop wherever they please, though.

If left to sprawl, the plants become more prone to disease and the fruit quality can suffer. Choose a trellising system that lifts the plants off the ground and allows for air circulation. Not only will it look tidier, but you’ll grow a bigger haul.

Here are the four best options for taming those unruly tomato plants:


itakefotos4uGetty Images

Install wood or rebar stakes at least 6 feet-tall at planting time. As the plants grow, tie the stems loosely to the stakes with twine or strips of fabric.

Tripods and Tuteurs

J. Paul MooreGetty Images

Fashion three stakes into a basic tripod for extra stability in windy regions. Then train a tomato plant on the upwind stake. The weight of the plant will anchor the trellis to the ground.

If you’re feeling fancy, tuteurs made of wood, bamboo, or bent twigs look add to the look of an ornamental kitchen garden. Simply lash one end of three 8-foot sticks together, spread the untied ends about 3 feet apart and equidistant from each other in a triangle over the tomato plant, and press the feet 4 to 6 inches into the soil. You can also string a length of twine from the top and (loosely) tie it to the base of the plant as an added trellis.

Florida Weave

VvoeValeGetty Images

Used commercially for determinate varieties, this training technique supports tomatoes with twine woven horizontally between rows of stakes. You can then just snip the string at the end of the season and compost the plants.


jahall4Getty Images

Cylindrical or square wire cages keep tomatoes upright without the need for tying the stems. Commercial versions can be small and flimsy, but homemade cages fashioned from livestock panels will stay strong and durable. Learn how to make one in the video below:

Tomato Time

SERIES 29 | Episode 35

How to grow your own tomatoes, no matter the size of your garden

With the weather warming up, it’s the perfect time to be planting summer fruit and veg and to me, the standout has to be tomatoes.

Whether you’ve got a big garden or just a courtyard, you can grow tomatoes, provided you’ve got plenty of sun and you can grow them in the ground or in pots and today, I’m going to show you how to do both.

Soil matters

First step – soil prep. To begin with, fork over the soil and take out any old roots from the last crop. Don’t be too fussed with the fine ones…they’ll soon break down, but any big chunks – they come out. Next, add a combination of aged sheep and cow manure. It’s not particularly strong, but it contains a broad range of nutrients and lots of organic matter and tomatoes love them.

Don’t be tempted to overfeed your tomatoes. If you do, particularly with a high nitrogen fertiliser like chook manure, you’ll find they put on lots of leaf at the expense of flowers and fruit which is why I use rock minerals for trace elements. Mix that in to the depth of your garden fork and smooth it down, put your drip line back in place if you have one and then water it in to settle it all down.

Determinate vs Indeterminate

I’m planting climbing tomatoes, also known as ‘indeterminate varieties’ which simply means they are the type that keep growing throughout the season, setting flowers and fruit as they go. They’ll need a really sturdy trellis system, so stakes at least two metres tall and they should be firm in the ground so they can hold kilos of fruit and not blow over in the wind.

I’ll be planting ‘Mighty Red’ (Tomato ‘Mighty Red’ – Solanum lycopersicum cv.) which is a bit of an old favourite and it produces beautiful, large, almost perfectly round fruit. Great for salads and sandwiches. Alright. When you’re planting these guys, don’t be afraid to plant them a little bit deeper – even part way up the stem because they produce aerial roots and they’ll soon develop into really strong plants.

In the second bed, I’m planting a cherry tomato called ‘Sweet Bite’ (Tomato ‘Sweet Bite’ – Solanum lycopersicum cv.) and the method is exactly the same. The beds are done – now for pots.

Prize pots

The next tomato I’m going to plant is this called ‘Patio Prize’ (Tomato ‘Patio Prize’ – Solanum lycopersicum cv.). It’s a shrub tomato or ‘determinate’ type which means that it grows, flowers and sets fruit and that’s it. They also tend to be shorter plants. This one will grow about 50 to 60 centimetres and I’m planting it in a pot. The mix is a combination of regular potting mix, compost and coir or cocopeat and I made up the mix using equal parts. The last thing I’ll do is give it a little bit of a feed with that same mix of manure and then a little dressing of rock minerals and then, of course, mulch. Even in pots, mulch is critical during the warm, summer months to help retain moisture and keep the roots cool.

The most important thing when you’re growing tomatoes in containers is that you should have at least 20 to 25 litres of volume so you can actually keep enough moisture and nutrients around the roots as the plant grows. Of course, you’ll also need drainage holes.

Staking your claim

Finally – training. Shrub types don’t really need much staking – because of their compact nature, they’re largely self-supporting – but I do find typing them to a single stake helps keep it upright as the fruit comes on and it gets a bit heavy.

The climbing types – they do need training. Ideally keep the plant to two – a maximum of three – leading branches. Pinch out any other shoots that form between the leaf and the main stem to stop the plant from getting congested and becoming a target for disease.

Follow those tips and you will be laughing!

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Trying to figure out the right way to grow potted tomatoes without killing them? We’ll show you the five most common ways people kill their potted tomato plants, and how you can avoid making the same mistakes in order to enjoy piles of fresh tomatoes this summer.

Last updated: May 7, 2019

We’re not judging you. After all, you didn’t intend to murder your potted tomato plants. It just seemed to happen.

In the spring, you started with the noblest of intentions. You filled your pots with soil, plopped in some tomato plants or seeds, then waited.

Things started off well… Your tomato plants looked happy and started growing. Then along came summer and soon your tomato plants were limp, brown, and crispy. Those bountiful summer-long harvests you’d hoped for didn’t quite materialize.

“Next time will be different,” you tell yourself.

Well, we’re here to help make sure that your next time (right now) is different! Below are the top-5 reasons that potted tomato plants die, and how you can avoid these problems with your potted tomato plants this summer.

We want you to grow piles of gorgeous heirloom potted tomatoes this summer. These are ‘Black Beauties’.

Top 5 Reasons You Kill Your Potted Tomato Plants… And How To Get It Right Next Time

1. Wrong Sized Pots for Tomato-Sized Plants

As kids grow, they need bigger clothes. Planting a large indeterminate tomato in a 1 gallon pot will eventually work out like trying to put your college kid into toddler clothing.

The roots will end up strangling each other, the plant won’t be able to get enough water or nutrition, and eventually it will die.


Get the right size containers for your tomatoes (see below). As we’ve written about here, pot sizes are not standardized and are notoriously difficult to decipher.

However, here are some general recommended minimum pot size numbers for you to work with depending on the type of tomato you’re growing:

  • Micro-dwarf tomato varieties – minimum 3 gallon pots/grow bags
  • Dwarf tomato varieties – minimum 4 gallon pots/grow bags
  • Large/indeterminate tomato varieties – minimum 6-8 gallon pots/grow bags

Keep in mind that these are *minimum* sizes, which means these are the smallest sizes at which you can expect your tomato plants to be able to grow well. Larger sized containers would be ideal.

*Each sized pot and growbag listed above is available in the GrowJourney organic supply store, which is conveniently sectioned off by container size (in gallons).

2. Water Stress

In the intense heat of summer, tomato plants need lots of water – and they need consistent water. Planted in the ground, their large root systems and mychorrhizal fungi partners can source water from a large growing radius.

However, when grown in pots/containers, tomato plants can only access whatever water is immediately in the pot. Making matters worse, the water in the potting soil is warmed faster (heated from all sides) and evaporates faster than it does when it’s in good in-ground garden soil.

Tomato plants growing in a pot of dried out soil get stressed. Severely stressed plants are more prone to disease and are unable to set fruit or carry their fruit to maturity. Depending on how dry they get, your potted tomato plants may even die.


A. If growing tomato plants in conventional pots & grow bags…

Place saucers under your pots/grow bags to trap the water that flows through the pot when it rains or gets irrigated.

Also, when you’re watering your pots, fill the saucers up in the morning (if the saucers are empty) so that the water is soaked upwards through capillary action, helping ensure better moisture distribution.

B. If growing tomato plants in sub-irrigated planters…

If you haven’t already invested in pots, we highly recommend getting sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) instead. Read all about SIPs here, including how to make your own.

SIPs are much more water-efficient than traditional pots. Depending on the SIP you get, you may only need to fill the water basin 1-2 times per week in the summer, rather than watering every day like you need to with traditional pots and grow bags.

Another problem many gardeners run into when trying to grow potted tomatoes is “blossom end rot,” a dark rotten spot on the bottom of a tomato. Common causes of blossom end rot is inadequate water, calcium deficiency, and too much nitrogen fertilizer. Pot saucers and SIPs can help prevent blossom end rot as well.

*Saucers for every pot size plus our top-recommended sub-irrigated planters are available here in our store.

Fresh-picked and stunningly beautiful ‘Pink boar’ tomatoes from our back porch taste as good as they look.

3. Wrong Type of Soil

Soil is soil, right? Nope.

As we’ve written about here, seed starting mix, potting soil, and garden soil are each quite different. If you dig soil out of your garden and plop it in to your pots, it will soon form an impenetrable brick, choking your tomato plants’ roots in the process.

Make sure you use a good OMRI listed/organic POTTING soil (like this one) in your pots. Do NOT use garden soil.

4. Inadequate Nutrition

If you notice your tomato leaves looking yellow or your plants not growing, that’s more than likely due to inadequate nutrition.

For in-ground garden plants, we highly recommend focusing on biological soil fertility, e.g. developing the microbiology of your soil with composts and mulches to the point that your plants don’t need any chemical or mineral fertilizers.

However, inside a pot, nutrition is limited by space and the microbes are accordingly limited in how much nutrition they can cycle or source for your plants.


Even though your potting mix starts off with some fertilizer already in it, you’ll still need to plan to fertilize your potted tomato plants multiple times over the summer growing season.

Two good OMRI listed organic fertilizer options for potted tomato plants:

  • liquid kelp emulsion,
  • dry/granulated pellet fertilizer formulated specifically for tomatoes and similar veggies.

5. Airborne Diseases

Sometimes you do everything right, but an airborne foliar/leaf disease (fungal or bacterial) comes along and slowly infects your previously glorious potted tomato plants.

The leaves start turning brown or getting spots all over them. Then it spreads, either killing the plant or taking enough leaves to drastically reduce fruit production.

In an organic garden or farm, you fight biology with biology and you try to design your system so as to prevent problems from happening in the first place.

We love making actively aerated worm casting “tea” to use as a soil and leaf drench on our plants. However, that might be a little more work than most gardeners want to go through.

Thankfully, there’s a fantastic organic solution that also comes in an easy-to-use spray bottle: Serenade. Serenade is a strain of beneficial bacteria (Bacillus subtilis) that either consumes or outcompetes a huge number of pathogenic bacterial and fungal species. And, yes, it’s completely safe to humans, pets, and pollinators. You can eat your produce the same day as you apply Serenade.

For best results, we recommend using Serenade preemptively before you start noticing leaf diseases on your plants. However, it also works as a treatment. Spray on early in the morning or late in the evening once per week on a dry (non-raining) day to allow the beneficial bacteria adequate time to set on your leaves. If rain is frequent, use it more often.

  • If you have a spray bottle and lots of plants, get the Serenade concentrate and make it as often as needed.
  • If you don’t have a spray bottle or a lot of plants, a single ready-to-use bottle of Serenade will get you through the summer.

Another tip to prevent tomato diseases in your potted plants: don’t grow tomatoes in the same potting soil year after year, especially if your tomato plants had diseases last year. Use different types of plants or start with new potting soil this year.

Want to learn more about growing tomatoes organically? Check out:

  • 5 tomato growing tricks you need to start using
  • GrowJourney’s complete guide to growing tomatoes

We hope this information was helpful! Have questions? Ask away in the comments section below.

The featured image for this article is a tomato harvest from Monika Melsha, who grows amazing potted tomatoes each summer in Plymouth, MN.

Love Apple Farms

You CAN grow any tomato in a pot, if you do it right! Growing tomatoes in pots or containers is much more demanding than growing them directly in the ground. They rely on you for all of their needs. It took master tomato grower Cynthia Sandberg four years of trial and error before she perfected her technique. Here it is:

Size matters: We recommend a 20 gallon GeoPlanter pot. GeoPots are made of a durable fabric, rather than plastic or wood, and lets roots breathe. When roots reach the fabric edge in the pot, they are air pruned, rather than becoming root bound. This pruning of the root tips at the wall of the container forces branching of thousands of fibrous feeder roots throughout the plant container. GeoPots are also convenient because they are light weight and able to be folded for storage. A 20 gallon container will hold only one plant. Anything smaller will hamper the plant’s ability to produce fruit and remain healthy. Love Apple Farms will have the 20 gallon GeoPlanter pot available for purchase at our Tomato Plant Sale in Scotts Valley. The 20 gallon size is 20″ tall and 15″ wide. If you are using something other than a GeoPot, it must hold 20 gallons of soil and it must have drainage holes. A half wine barrel will hold two plants.
If you are re-using a container, you should disinfect it first. We use a bleach solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. A simple quick dunk or spray, followed by a rinse with fresh water, should do the trick.

Potting Soil: Do NOT use garden soil or home-made compost in your pots. Tomatoes are disease-prone and one of the benefits of growing in a pot is that they cannot pick up any soil- or compost-borne diseases if you use a sterile potting mix. We recommend G&B Organic Potting Soil. It’s available at our retail greenhouse in Scotts Valley, CA. You should also be able to pick it up at your good local California nursery. Check the Kellogg Garden website to locate your closest supplier. You can go very wrong with potting soil, so don’t deviate from this instruction. We still want you to put in the container all our recommended additives, but first add four inches of soil on the bottom of the pot.

Fertilizers: Our perfect planting amendments for pots are: One cup of G&B Fish Meal, one cup of G&B 4-6-3 dry organic Tomato, Vegetable & Herb fertilizer, one cup of G&B Bone Meal, three or four crushed chicken eggshells, one cup of 100% pure worm castings (available at our Plant Sale), and two aspirin tablets.

Once the amendments have been added (stir them around a bit), add more potting soil and place your tomato plant in the container, backfilling with soil as you go, until you’ve put at least half the stem under the soil. Tomatoes like to be planted deep – they benefit from it. Continue filling around the plant until the soil is at the very top of the pot. There’s no need to firm down, watering will do that for you.

Watering: Water them in well. We’ll water then once, wait about 10 minutes, then water again, wait, then again. It takes a lot of water to completely saturate the potting soil. Even if you see water draining out of the holes, that doesn’t necessarily mean the root ball is soaked.

After you water the new plantings three times their first day, you probably will not need to water again for at least a week and probably longer. Tomatoes do NOT like to be saturated all the time, and you can easily kill the tomato by overwatering it in a cool springtime.

As the weather really heats up and your plant is getting big, they need more water. You may end up watering once a day if your tomato plant is 6 or more feet tall and it is consistently over 80 degrees. When a tomato is grown in the ground, it never needs watering that often. But in a pot, it does indeed (once the plant gets big and the weather gets hot). And the smaller the pot, the more often they will need watering.

Staking: The tomato in the pot will still need staking. Our 7 foot tall custom-made tomato cages can be popped right over them. If you treat the plants right, they can and will get up and over that 7 foot cage. We have a tutorial for you on how to make these mondo cages, found here.

Supplemental fertilizing: Even with all the goodies in the pot, your plants will start to decline in health around week six or so if you don’t start fertilizing them from the top down. We use worm casting tea, made out of pure organic worm castings. Mix a handful in a five gallon bucket of water and fertilize with two gallons of that at least once a week. If you can’t get worm castings, then use a good all-purpose organic liquid fertilizer once a week. You’ll need at least two gallons of the diluted-according-to-directions fertilizer per pot per week. Start the fertilizing regimen around week six to avoid the summer doldrums.

We love to spray the worm casting tea on the foliage (along with an aspirin tablet for disease suppression). But tomatoes in a pot need more fertilizing than that, hence pouring a fertilizer mix IN the pot as noted above.

Shading the pots: If you’re growing in a black plastic pot, the tomatoes love soaking up the extra warmth in late spring and early summer when the temperatures are still mild. But you need to take extra care starting in mid-summer to protect the rootball from overheating from excess sun on the black plastic. No amount of watering will keep the rootball happy. This realization was the last piece of the puzzle when we were trying to figure out how to grow a really great tomato in a pot. Here is a photo of our tomatoes in pots, with their 7 foot tall cages on them, with shade cloth pinned to the south side:

You need only shade the lower part of the cage, but we still pin it about a foot above the top of the pot, all the way to the ground. Small binder clips work great for pinning. Shade cloths can be purchased at good hardware stores.

Finishing up the season: As your tomato plant winds down in vigor in the fall, you can compost your plants and the soil, but you should not re-use the soil next year in the pot. Re-using potting soil inside a container is never a good idea, as viruses and other harmful diseases can infect your plants the following season.

There is one way, however, to salvage your soil for next year, and that is by sowing a cover-crop in your pots and nurturing that throughout the winter. When you are planting your tomatoes in these same pots the following spring, simply pull out the cover crop (compost them), then remove half the soil to a tarp, add your amendments listed above, and plant accordingly using the remainder of the soil you initially removed. You will no doubt need to top off the pot, as you will have lost several inches of soil throughout the year. Top off with G&B Potting Soil.

Any questions? Email Cynthia at [email protected] Or take Love Apple Farms’ Tomato Masters class or Container Vegetable Gardening Class.

You can find more information all about tomatoes on the World Tomato Society website.

I love eating tomatoes from the summer garden, but it took me awhile to come around.

I used to HATE raw tomatoes. Blech! I pushed the bland, watery wedges to the edge of my salads and peeled the red, round slices off hamburgers. I just didn’t get it.

Then, I grew my own tomatoes…

And homegrown tomatoes changed my mind (with a little help from basil and mozzarella).

If you want the deliciousness of homegrown tomatoes, but you have limited space or poor soil, growing tomatoes in pots is your solution.

Ready to grow almost anywhere! Here’s how to plant a tomato in an inexpensive container like this one.

In this tutorial, I’ll share how you can grow tomatoes in an inexpensive storage container. This is a simple project your whole family can do in an afternoon.

Here’s What You Need:

  • 20-gallon tub
  • Coarse vermiculite – 5 gallons, or just under 1 cubic foot. (We called around and found the best deal on a 4-cubic-foot bag from a local ag store.)
  • Coconut coir – 5 gallons, or about 4 pounds. (We ordered a compressed 10-pound brick. Peat moss is a less sustainable choice, but it would work here, too.)
  • Compost – 8 gallons, or a little more than 1 cubic foot. (If you’re buying compost, look for a blend or buy two different kinds to mix.)
  • Optional: You can buy a pre-made potting mix instead of the last three ingredients. You’ll need 72 quarts, or about 3 cubic feet.
  • A determinate tomato plant
  • A tomato cage
  • Mulch – 3 gallons. (We’re using shredded leaves from last fall.)
  • Drill
  • 1/4-inch drill bit
  • Wheelbarrow or tarp
  • Shovel
  • Scissors (for trimming lower leaves off plant)
  • Water

Step 1. Select Your Location.

Choose your tomato-growing site. Then, you’ll know how many containers you have room to add.

  • Tomatoes do best with about eight hours of sunlight a day, although the minimum for growth and fruiting is about six hours.
  • In many places, your tomato can be planted in full sun.
  • If you live in the Deep South or a hot, dry climate, your tomatoes will benefit from some afternoon shade.
  • Pick a place you pass often. Containers need regular attention and watering.

Step 2. Prepare the container.

We chose this 20-gallon storage container for its size and price ($8). Larger containers, like this one, hold more soil and moisture. You can find large planters, but they are more expensive ($30-40).

(Side Note: Do NOT try to pick this container up by the handles when it is full…trust me, those handy ropes are not for heavy lifting!)

Drill 10-12 holes in the bottom using a quarter-inch drill bit.

Step 3. Make the potting mix.

(If you purchased pre-made potting mix, fill your container halfway and go to Step 4.)

We are using a homemade potting mix that is lightweight and holds water well. Since we can add our own compost, it is less expensive than pre-made potting mix. Plus, we can source organic materials.

Use a 5-gallon bucket to measure one bucket each of coconut coir, compost and vermiculite into a wheelbarrow (or on a tarp). Add another half-bucket of compost to the mix.

Mix it well and fill your pot halfway up.

A closeup of the finished mix.

Step 4. Add tomato-boosting amendments (optional)

Whenever we plant tomatoes, we add a little extra love in the bottom of each planting hole. The mix is our garden version of a casserole. It changes based on the amendments we have on hand. This season’s mix includes the following:

  • Dried, crushed egg shells
  • Azomite rock dust
  • Mycorrhizal spores
  • Biochar
  • Epsom salt
  • Additional compost

Step 5. Plant the tomato.

Our seedling is a Plum Crimson, which is a determinate hybrid variety.

Determinate tomatoes are usually shorter, bushier plants that bear one main harvest of fruit. These compact plants are easier to manage in a container than the vining indeterminate varieties, which can grow over eight feet tall. (On the other hand, a benefit of indeterminate tomatoes is the way they bear fruit continuously through the growing season. Just be ready to prune and train the vines if you go with indeterminate!)

We kept this seedling in a shady spot for a couple weeks, and you can see how leggy it grew. (Red = leaves trimmed off. Green = soil level after transplanting.)

We bury our seedling deep. Tomatoes can grow roots all along their stem. When we plant most of the seedling underground, we’ll get a strong root system in return.

  • Trim off leaves on the bottom half of your plant.
  • Remove the seedling from its pot.
  • If your seedling’s roots are circling, tease them loose.
  • Place your seedling into the hole, keeping 2 or 3 sets of leaves above the soil level.

Topping off the container with soil mix. And yes, a cleverly wrapped cape is perfectly acceptable garden attire.

Fill in around the tomato with the rest of your potting mix. Allow space at the top to add mulch a little later.

Step 6: Add Support.

Push your tomato cage into the container around the plant. It will support the plant as it grows and keep leaves and fruit off the ground.

You can also use the cage to add some southwestern shade while your seedling gets established. If you live in an area where tomato pests are a problem, you can even use the cage to support protective row cover material.

Step 7: Water.

Optional: Add a Mini-Irrigation System,

Water your seedling well after planting. Then, aim to keep the pot damp but not soaking wet.

When possible, keep the water off the tomato’s leaves. Wet leaves are more likely to get blight and other fungal diseases.

Containers tend to dry out more quickly than in-ground plantings. Be sure you pass by the container regularly to check on it. We’ve got our container near a raised bed, and we can hand water both at the same time.

If life is crazy and you won’t be able to water regularly, add a mini-irrigation system. Use a timer and drip emitters or a soaker hose, and you’ll know that your plants are always getting the water they need.

Step 8: Add Mulch

Add a couple inches of mulch to the top of your container to help conserve moisture. We’re using shredded leaves. You could also use pine needles, straw, or even shredded paper. Layer it on top of the soil.

Have you grown tomatoes in a container before? What is your favorite tip for keeping tomatoes healthy in pots? Tell me in the comments below.

Seed Availability

Seeds are now available at our seed store.

Days to Maturity

50-62 days.

Growth Habit

Indeterminate. VF/VFF hybrid. (verticillium and fusarium wilt)


An F1 hybrid originally released in the United States beginning in 1975.

Germination Info

1) Prepare for planting. Sprout tomato seeds in small containers, preferably 4″ or smaller. In-ground germination is not recommended. Use a standard potting mix that is well drained. Start seeds in containers approximately 8 weeks prior to the planned set-out date. Plants should ultimately be transplanted to the garden 1-2 weeks after the expected date of last frost.
2) Plant seeds. Plant seeds 1/4″ deep in the soil. Cover with soil and water carefully. Overwatering can cause fungal growth which leads to seed rot. Excess water can also bury seeds deep in the soil where they will not be able break the surface. Water when the soil surface just begins to dry. Multiple seeds can be planted in a single starter container, but should be thinned once seedlings appear so only a single plant remains. Seeds do not require light for germination but some light source should be provided for seedlings once they emerge from the soil.
3) Germination. Soil should be kept consistently warm, from 70-85F. Cool soils, below about 60-65F, even just at night, will significantly delay or inhibit germination. Hot soils above 95F will also inhibit germination.
4) Care of seedlings. Once a few true leaves have developed, seedlings should be slowly moved outside (if sprouted indoors) to ambient light. Care should be taken not to expose seedlings to direct, scorching sun so plants may need to be hardened off via slow sun exposure. Hardening off can be done using a shaded or filtered light location, as well as protection from strong winds, rain or low humidity. Hardening off time varies, but can take 5-10 days.
5) Planting out. Plant in the ground once danger of frost has past and daytime temperatures consistently reach 65F. Plants can be spaced as close as 24″ apart.
Germination time: 1-3 weeks under ideal conditions.

Related Species

Solanaceae – Tomatoes
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Blue Fruit Tomato
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Carbon Tomato
Chocolate Tomato
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Early Girl Tomato
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Fahrenheit Blues Tomato
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Gardener’s Delight Tomato
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Gary’s Golden Bear Tomato
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Gold Medal Tomato
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Gold Nugget Tomato
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Golden Pineapple Tomato
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Grape Tomato
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Green Zebra Tomato
Henderson’s Pink Ponderosa Tomato
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Ivory Pear Tomato
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Jersey Devil Tomato
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Juliet Tomato
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Lemon Boy Tomato
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Longkeeper Tomato
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Marianna’s Peace Tomato
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Micro Tom Tomato
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Momotaro Tomato
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Mr. Stripey Tomato
Negro Azteca Tomato
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Oaxacan Jewel Tomato
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Opalka Tomato
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Orange Banana Tomato
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Orange Icicle Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Paul Robeson Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Pineapple Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Pink Brandywine Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Pink Ice Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Primary Colors Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Pruden’s Purple Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Purple Cherokee Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Riesentraube Tomato
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Rutgers Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Siberia Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Snow White Cherry Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Sun Gold Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Sun Sugar Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Super Marzano Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Sweet Gold Tomato
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Taxi Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Thai Pink Egg Tomato
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Tiny Tim Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum
Violet Jasper Tomato
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White Beauty Tomato
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Zapotec Pink Ribbed Tomato
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