Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Tomatoes are great candidates for growing in containers.  This is a great option when space is limited, a suitable full-sun location can only be found where a garden cannot be established (like a patio), or when you do not have access to an in-ground garden plot or raised bed.  

Containers  |  Growing Media  |  Suggested Cultivars  |  Care  |  Staking  |  Harvest  |  Potential Problems  |  More Information

dwarf tomatoes in a container By Ekaterina AdobeStock
Dwarf cultivars of tomatoes are good candidates for growing in containers. 


Any type of container can be used as long as it has drainage holes in the bottom. Drill drainage holes in plastic and wood containers if no drainage holes are provided. If using wood, avoid treated lumber and select containers made of red cedar or redwood.

Tomatoes need a relatively large volume to produce well.  In general, the larger the container, the better.  For each plant, cherry tomatoes should have at least a 2-gallon pot (~10-inch diameter).  Standard tomatoes should have at least a 4-gallon pot (~12-14 inch diameter).  

Growing Media

The container requires a growing medium that drains well, yet does not dry out too fast. Soilless potting mixes have several advantages over garden soil. They are free of plant disease organisms and weed seeds, are less likely to compact, hold moisture and plant nutrients well, and are lightweight—making the container more portable. Soilless potting mixes can be purchased from garden centers and retail outlets.

Suggested Cultivars

Any type of tomato can potentially be grown in a container, although determinate and dwarf types tend to perform better as they are less likely to grow too large for the container.  

Suggested cultivars include:

  • Standard
    • Bush Early Girl
    • Celebrity 
    • Jetstar
  • Patio
    • Patio Hybrid
    • Patio Princess
    • Mega Bite
  • Cherry
    • Little Sun Yellow
    • Terenzo



Tomatoes grow and produce best when grown in full sunlight. Plants require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.


Plants grown in containers require frequent watering because they dry out quickly from sun and wind. Some plants may require daily watering. 

Apply enough water to reach the bottom of the container and allow the excess to drain through the drainage holes. Never allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings; this may cause the plants to drop their fruits and flowers. However, over-watering also will slowly kill plants because the roots will not receive enough oxygen. 

Avoid wetting the leaves, especially if watering late in the day. Wet leaves encourage the development of plant diseases.  Fruit cracking and blossom end rot are common problems when watering is done inconsistently. 


Container-grown plants require fertilization more frequently than garden-grown vegetables because they have less soil from which to obtain nutrients. A soluble fertilizer (15-30-15 or 20-20-20) applied once every week or two is recommended. This can be applied while watering. Many commercial potting mixes contain a slow-release fertilizer. If using one of these mixes, it may not be necessary to begin fertilization until mid-summer.


When growing standard-sized tomato varieties, use a stake or cage to keep the vines upright. If staked, plants should be pruned to produce manageable one- or two-stem plants. To prune a tomato, remove the small shoots in the leaves' axils and stems. If these shoots are not pinched out, they will grow, making the plants difficult to train. Tie the stems loosely to the stake. Tomato cages should be made of at least 4-inch mesh fencing material so the fruit can be harvested easily. Cages should be at least 24 inches in diameter.


The fruit of most tomato cultivars generally begins to ripen in August. Fruit production for early maturing cultivars such as ‘Early Girl’ or many of the cherry and grape tomatoes generally begins mid- to late-July.

Tomatoes should be allowed to ripen fully on the plant. Pick carefully from the plant when the entire fruit is a uniform color.  When ripe, the fruit will be slightly soft to the touch, rather than firm or hard like unripe green tomatoes.  The fruit of most cultivars is red when fully ripe. However, in hot weather, the fruit of red-fruited cultivars is often yellow-orange. The red pigments in tomato fruit don’t form well when temperatures are above 90°F.

Potential Problems

Often, diseases like leaf spot diseases and wilts are less problematic in container-grown plants because the potting soil starts sterile and free from these diseases.  

Disorders caused by environmental conditions, such as blossom end rot and cracking, may be common, especially if plants are not regularly and properly watered.  

More information about managing potential problems found on tomatoes in home gardens in this article: Managing Tomato Diseases, Disorders, and Pests.

More Information

Photo credit: Ekaterina/AdobeStock

Last reviewed:
April 2024