Growing organic tomatoes in containers is a popular and easy way to enjoy fresh, homegrown, tomatoes. All that’s needed is a large pot, potting soil, a plant or two, and a sunny location.
Tomatoes are hardy, easy-to-grow plants, so you really don’t even need a green thumb to grow them!
These tips and tricks will get you started on the pathway to planting and harvesting fresh organic tomatoes this growing season.
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1. Container Selection
Tomato plants have deep roots and will need to be planted in a pot that is at least 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide.
Bigger is better, and other plants can grow along with tomatoes as companions (more about that later).
Any large container that can hold soil and water will make an excellent growing pot for tomatoes. A five-gallon bucket, an oblong wooden planter or half of a wooden barrel will work perfectly.
Incorporating sturdy, long lasting wooden planters or barrels as part of your landscape will enable you to create a container garden that is both aesthetically pleasing and fruitful for many years.
2. Tomato Varieties
Select bush or dwarf varieties of your favorite tomatoes for growing in containers.
These plant varieties will produce the same tomato, just on smaller plants. Many plant varieties are specifically developed to grow best in pots.
Popular and flavorful choices for growing in pots:
- Bush Goliath
- Better Bush
- Sweetheart of the Patio
- Patio Princess
Traditional and/or heirloom tomato plants can be grown in pots too, but you will have to provide a support system for the plants.
Better Boy, Beefsteak and other similar varieties can produce plants that reach up to 10 feet when mature.
These plant types will need tomato cages, wooden/metal stakes or trellis for support so the heavy tomatoes won’t break the vines.
Dwarf plants may need to be supported as they mature also. Porch railings and posts make good support system if they are located in the sun.
3. Fertile Soil
The soil feeds the garden plants and tomatoes are very heavy feeders. The soil in pots must be very fertile to supply the nutrients throughout the growing season.
Start with a good quality, organic potting soil mixture that contains perlite and compost
- Perlite is a form of amorphous volcanic glass and looks like small pieces of white Styrofoam. Perlite has an amazing ability to trap and retain water for the plant to use as needed.
- Compost is decomposed plant matter and keeps the soil loose and well-draining, plus it’s packed with nutrients.
Make sure pots have sufficient drain holes in the bottom, then place a coffee filter over each hole inside the pot. The coffee filter will prevent soil from leaching out, but won’t hinder excess water from draining through.
Place 2 inches of compost in the bottom of the pot, then add potting soil until the pot is two-thirds full.
4. Plant Tomato
Place plant in the center of the container.
You want to bury the stem up to the first set of leaves because roots will develop all along the buried portion of the stem and enable the plant to take in more nutrition and moisture.
If the first set of leaves is above the rim of the pot, remove a little of the potting soil until they are equal to the pot rim.
Hold plant upright with one hand and add potting soil around it until the pot is filled to within one inch of the top.
Gently firm soil around the plant. Water plants until water are running out of the bottom drainage holes.
Install the support system when you plant each tomato, as doing so later on, may disturb the growing roots.
5. Companion Planting
If the pot is large enough, grow some companions for your tomato plant.
Companion planting is simply planting two or more plants near each other for mutual benefits. If the tomato pot is not large enough, plant some companions in separate pots and create a grouping (as mentioned earlier).
Perfect companions for a container grown tomato plant are:
- Dwarf marigold
All these plants have the same soil, sun, and water needs.
The oregano and basil will enhance the tomato flavor while the fruit is growing, and the dwarf marigold looks pretty while it acts as an organic pest deterrent for the plant. If space is limited, any one of these will make a good companion for the tomato plant.
6. Organic Mulch
Add a layer of organic mulch to keep the soil cool, retain moisture and help keep plants fed.
You can use traditional mulch materials, like compost, straw, shredded bark, chopped leaves, or newspaper (black print only). Mulch will decompose quickly and will need to be replenished at least once during the growing season.
7. Sunny Location
Tomato plants thrive in the sun and must have at least 6-8 hours of direct sun each day. Select a location that will provide plants with that much, or more, sunlight.
A sunny patio, porch, rooftop, driveway or walkway is a great place for garden pots.
If you don’t have one location that will provide enough direct sunlight, place pots on wheels so they can be moved around easily to follow the sun.
8. Create a Group
A group of containers not only look better but will allow plants to provide benefits for each other.
Grouping pots help shade the root zones of the plants in the inner pots, which can be helpful when plants are sitting on concrete or an asphalt driveway, both of which absorb and reflect heat.
Grouping the pots will also make taking care of the plants easier since they are all located in the same space.
9. Food and Water
Tomato plants are heavy feeders and drinkers, and container gardens, in general, need more water than in-ground gardens since evaporation is higher.
Keep the soil in the pot moist at all times as the plant is growing. Inconsistent watering leads to diseases like blossom end rot.
When tomatoes begin to ripen, reduce watering slightly and only water when the soil is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pot.
The compost in the pot provides some of the organic food the plants need, but not enough for the months of growing and producing.
Create organic compost tea by placing a garden trowel full of compost in a five-gallon bucket of water. Place the bucket in a sunny location for 3-4 days to steep. Use the compost tea once a week to feed and water plants.
There are several organic fertilizers on the market you can purchase (if desired) to help feed your plants a balanced diet.
10. Diseases and Pests
While tomatoes are hardy and easy to grow, there are a couple of diseases and pests they are susceptible too. Tobacco Mosaic Virus and blossom end rot are two of the most common. Both of these diseases are easily prevented — wash hands before touching plants and keep the soil consistently moist.
Mix up one or both of these organic pest controls to keep tomatoes pest-free:
- Mix 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap, 4 tablespoons of any type of cooking oil in 1 pint of water. Pour into a spray bottle and saturate plants, especially on the underside of leaves where most sap-sucking pests like to hide out. Controls sap-sucking garden predators like aphids, thrips, spider mites, and whiteflies.
- Red pepper spray is an organic pest control that will repel most insects, like leafhoppers, spittlebugs, beetles, and loopers. Place 1 tablespoon of red pepper powder and 6 drops of liquid dish soap into 1 gallon of water and mix thoroughly. Pour into a spray bottle and spray on plants as needed.
Create some DIY organic fly traps to catch white flies which love to feast on ripening tomatoes
Cut 2-inch strips of hard plastic from a recycled container (milk jug, detergent jug, etc.) and coat the strips with cooking oil or Vaseline. Place 1-2 of these DIY organic sticky traps near tomato plant. Insects will flock to the strips and become stuck. Remove sticky traps as they become full and replace with new ones until whiteflies are no longer visible in the garden.
11. Fresh Soil
Start each new garden season with fresh soil.
Pests and diseases like to hide in the soil during the winter and will come back to life and destroy plants in the spring.
The old soil can be recycled by placing on the compost pile so it can go through the “cooking” process that will kill pests.