Tomatoes in Pots: 14 Important Answers You Have to Know!

Growing tomatoes in pots isn’t hard, but you need to know how to do it properly.

There are many overlooked things online on this topic, so today, I will explain to you, for example how deep pots for tomatoes need to be, whether is 5-gallon bucket enough for tomatoes, and many more questions.

1. Do Tomatoes Grow Well in Pots?

Tomatoes tend to grow really well in pots, as long as you provide proper conditions for them. If you choose the right size of pot, provide them enough sun, and water them frequently, they will thrive in containers.

Any tomato variety can grow well in pots, and with proper care, they can do as well as tomatoes in the ground. But you should remember about few things.

First, you need to choose a container that’s big enough. It should be a container that is at least 1 square foot (0,09 square meter), but ideally 2 square feet (0,18 square meter). 5-gallon buckets are perfect for tomatoes.

Second, you have to plant a tomato seedling deep enough, so that most of the plant is buried in the planting hole.

Also, you should make sure the soil is constantly wet, so water your plants in the morning, or if it’s hot, do it twice a day.

If you want to grow your potted tomato properly, provide water drainage. To do that, drill a few drainage holes in the pot.

Tomatoes in pots need to be fed. They can either get nutrients from potting soils, or from fertilizers that contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

And of course, sunlight is important. They need to be located in a sunny place where they can get 6-8 hours of light every day to grow well.

2. Is it Better to Grow Tomatoes in Pots or in the Ground?

It’s better to plant a tomato plant in the ground than in pots, mostly because when planting in the ground, you have more flexibility when it comes to choosing a variety, and they usually require less care.

However, the differences between growing tomatoes in pots and ground are slight.

Most tomato varieties grow well in a 5-gallon bucket, but not every variety. There are some varieties with deep roots that require a huge pot, for example, a 6, or 8-gallon container. If you don’t have such big containers, you have to buy them or choose smaller varieties. When planting tomatoes in the ground, your options are unlimited.

Also, tomatoes in the ground are less likely to die from drought and diseases. The soil in the pot tends to dry faster, and if you forget to water your plants, they might be underwatered, and get a disease quite easily.

But growing tomatoes in pots also has its advantages. For example, you can plant them earlier, and leave them indoors until the outdoor air temperature stays above 60 degrees F (15 °C). That way, you can harvest them earlier. With tomatoes in the ground, you need to wait for the right temperature.

As I said, the differences aren’t big, and if you are willing to take care of your tomato plant regularly, and you choose to plant a normal, not any extravagant variety, growing it in the pot might be a great idea.

Related: How Much Do Tomato Plants Cost (with 7 Examples)

3. How Deep Do Pots Need to Be for Tomatoes?

As a rule of thumb, the deeper the pots are, the better. However, you should keep in mind, that the minimum depth of a tomato container for the right root development should be 24-36 inches (60-90 cm).

It all boils down to the variety of tomatoes. If you choose a popular variety, 24 inches (60 cm) deep container will be more than enough. When choosing some more exotic, and bigger variety, you might need to consider a deeper container.

Miniature, patio, bush, determinate, short-season, or dwarf tomato plants can be planted in 24 inches (60 cm) containers, like 5, or 10-gallon buckets. Plants larger than 3 feet tall (90 cm) should be planted in deeper containers. They will do ok, for example, in a 20-gallon bucket.

Keep in mind, that these container sizes apply to tomato seedlings. When planting a tomato from seeds, you can use something smaller like seed-starting trays or a small temporary container.

You should also pay attention to the container’s width. It should be at least 20 inches (50 cm) across the top, which will provide enough space for wider roots.

4. How to Prepare Soil for Tomatoes in Pots?

To prepare good soil for tomatoes in pots, you need to mix 4 ingredients: potting soil, perlite, sphagnum peat moss, and compost. Usually, commercial potting mixes will contain all the ingredients.

When planting tomatoes in pots, you can make your own potting mix, or buy a commercial potting mix that will contain all that’s needed. I’d recommend you buy this potting mix on Amazon for the best results, so you don’t have to make your own mix.

A good potting mix for tomatoes in pots should contain:

  • Potting soil
  • Perlite
  • Sphagnum peat moss
  • Compost

Potting soil is usually a mixture of peat, composted materials, sand, perlite, and vermiculite. Commercially available potting soils are sterilized, preventing the spread of diseases, pests, fungi, and weeds.

The presence of perlite in potting mix prevents water loss and soil compaction. Sphagnum peat moss increases soil’s ability to hold water, and compost provide nutrients and helps provide a rich growing medium.

5. How Many Tomatoes Can I Plant in a Container?

You should plant one tomato seedling in a container. Planting one seedling ensures that the tomato plant gets enough nutrients from the soil and has enough room for root expansion.

Usually, it’s best to plant one tomato in one container. If two or more tomato seedlings are planted in one container, they may stunt each other’s growth by interfering with their roots. Also, if you plant one tomato seedling, no more plants get its nutrients from the soil.

So, in general, each tomato seedling should have its own container. However, there are some exceptions.

For example, if you plant a dwarf tomato variety, it’s possible to plant 2 seedlings in one container. They only need 2 1/2 gallons (11 liters) of soil for every plant, and enough surface area to space the plants 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) apart.

6. Do Potted Tomatoes Need Full Sun?

Potted tomatoes require 6-8 hours of unobstructed, direct sunlight a day. Otherwise, your tomato plant will produce dwarf-sized fruits with little taste.

When choosing a location for your potted tomatoes, make sure it’s the sunniest spot in your yard. That way you can be sure that your plant will produce big, healthy, and tasty fruits.

Every tomato variety should get at least 6 hours of sunlight. Potted tomatoes have the advantage that you can change their location.

So if you choose a spot with too little sunlight, you can always move the container to another place. You should also observe how sunny a place is from time to time because during the growing season, the angle of sunlight changes.

7. What to Feed Tomatoes in Pots?

Watering leaches nutrients out of container tomatoes. To prevent that, you need to feed them.

Before tomatoes in pots show signs of producing vegetables, use a 24-8-16 fertilizer. This high content of nitrogen gives your plants a good kick-start and causes them to grow rapidly. After the first flower disappears, switch over to an 18-18-21 fertilizer.

If you switch over from a 24-8-16 fertilizer to an 18-18-21 fertilizer, once your potted tomatoes start producing green vegetables, the higher content of potassium will help with disease resistance and drought resistance.

Also, higher content of phosphorous is great for flower and fruit production.

Until the plants begin flowering, I’d recommend you buy the Miracle-Gro 24-8-16, for example here on Amazon.

Switch over to the soluble, balanced tomato fertilizer like the Miracle-Gro 18-18-21 that you can buy here on Amazon.

To fertilize potted tomatoes, you just need to mix 1 tablespoon of Miracle-Gro for every gallon of water in a watering can, and soak the base of the plants. That way, you fertilize and water at the same time.

8. How Often to Fertilize Tomatoes in Pots?

Tomatoes prefer light and regular fertilizing. Therefore, you should feed your potted tomatoes once a week.

Potted tomatoes like regular feedings of small amounts of fertilizer rather than infrequent, large doses. As a rule of thumb, applying fertilizer once a week is enough.

However, there are lots of variables, like tomato variety, container size, plant size, weather, and potting mix type.

Many gardeners feed their tomatoes once every 2 weeks. I think the best way to decide how often you should fertilize potted tomatoes is by observing them.

Hungry plants will have pale or yellow leaves, stunted growth, drop flowers, and produce fewer fruits. That way, you can adjust your fertilizing schedule. You may find out that your plants do better when they’re fertilized every week, every 10 days, or every 14 days.

9. Can You Overwater Tomatoes in Pots?

You can overwater tomatoes in pots by watering them deeply more than 2 times a day. It will cause root rot, and split of ripening fruits.

The signs of overwatering a tomato plant are:

  • Wilted or yellowed stems
  • Wilted or yellowed leaves
  • Bumps and blisters on leaves
  • Galling leaves
  • Dark-colored root

Overwatering is a huge problem, and in many cases, it might kill the plant.

You can try to rescue it by pulling it up, shaking off excess dirt, and resting the roots on a stack of newspaper until much of the excess water has soaked up. Then you can plant it again in a container that fits its roots, filling in around the plant with compost.

To avoid that, water your potted tomato plants properly. Not too little, because it can reduce yield or cause issues like blossom end rot, but also not too much.

Potted tomatoes need to be watered more often than the ones in the ground because they’re grown above the ground where the tops and sides of the container are exposed to full sun. Plus, there is a smaller volume of soil available to the roots.

The frequency of waterings depends on the size of the plant, the material, and size of the container, the growing medium, and the weather.

However, in most cases, you should water your potted tomatoes once a day, but as the weather starts to heat up, you might need to water twice a day. Water the plants slowly until water comes out of the drainage holes to prevent root rot and other problems in the plant.

You should do it with a sprinkler, watering can, or hose. Water your plants, ideally in the morning.

10. How Long Do Potted Tomato Plants Last?

Potted tomato plants usually live one season. Their lifespan from seedling to fruit development lasts about 6 months (up to 100 days). As soon as it gets cold and freezes, the tomato plant dies.

It’s always the case with grounded tomatoes that grow outdoors, however, you should know that in some conditions, your potted tomato might live 2 seasons.

Usually, the lifespan of a tomato is about 90-100 days, and after fruit development, it dies. However, under ideal growing conditions, tomato plants may survive indoors for up to 2 growing seasons.

However, you should know that it’s not recommended to grow the same tomato plant twice, because in the second year, the growth will be leggy and straggly, so your fruits will not be too big, and too tasty.

Keeping your planted tomatoes at home would not make them survive, because they won’t get enough sunlight. To save your plant for the next season, you need to keep it in the greenhouse.

In the greenhouse, they should get an ideal temperature range of 65-85 °F (18-29 °C), 6-8 hours of full sunlight, and soil with a 6.2-6.8 pH range. Watering, and feeding with high-potassium fertilizer is also needed.

They will also be susceptible to pests, and diseases, so you should observe and prevent them all the time. You should also take healthy cuttings and rooting them in separate pots or propagate them.

In summary, it’s best to let the potted tomato plant die after it matures, and plant the new plant in spring because keeping the same plant for the next season requires lots of work and effort.

11. Is a 5-Gallon Bucket Big Enough for a Tomato Plant?

You can easily grow most tomato varieties in a 5-gallon bucket because it provides enough space for the proper development of a strong root.

Just make sure your 5-gallon bucket is over 14 inches deep (35 cm) and has over 11 inches (28 cm) of circumference. A 5-gallon vessel is enough to plant miniature, patio, bush, determinate, short-season, or dwarf tomato plants. For bigger varieties, you probably need bigger buckets, even up to 20 gallons.

The secret to growing a tomato plant in a bucket is to drill four to six drainage holes in the bottom, plant, and care for the plant properly.

If you want to know how to properly grow a tomato plant in a 5-gallon container, scroll up to the previous sections at the beginning of this article.

12. How Many Tomatoes Can You Put in a 5-Gallon Bucket?

For the proper root development, make sure you put only one tomato seedling per 5-gallon bucket.

A 5-gallon bucket has a relatively small circumference. A tomato plant needs space to develop its roots, so planting more than one seedling may affect the growth of both plants.

Micro dwarf tomatoes are tiny tomato plants, and they are exceptions to the rule. They grow no more than 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm) tall and have small roots, so you can put 2 seedlings in a bucket. Just remember to plant them at least 5 inches (12 cm) apart.

Varieties that can be grown with the amount of 2 in a 5-gallon bucket are:

  • Andrina
  • Hahms Gelbe
  • Mohamed
  • Orange Hat
  • Vilma

When planting other varieties, just put one seedling per bucket.

13. Where Do You Drill a 5-Gallon Bucket for Tomatoes?

You need to drill holes at the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. It’s recommended to drill 4-6 holes per bucket to provide the proper drainage, and shed off excess moisture.

To execute that, use a drill, or if you don’t have one, you can hammer a nail into the bucket, and take it out. Make sure not to crack the bucket while doing it.

Remember that drainage holes are crucial for the right growth of your tomato plant, so always drill them. Otherwise, your plant might die from too much moisture.

14. How Often Do You Water Tomato Plants in a 5-Gallon Bucket?

You should water your tomato plants in a 5-gallon bucket once per day, ideally in the morning. If the weather is hot, and the soil dries quickly, water the plants twice.

Watering tomatoes more than 2 times can cause your plant to die. So, water the tomatoes in a bucket deeply, but don’t let them seed in the puddle. You should stop watering when water comes out of the drainage holes. You should keep the soil moist, but not overwatered.

For more information, scroll up to the 9th headline of this article.