One of the easiest ways to grow tomatoes and other vegetables is in pots. There’s freedom from worrying about soil conditions, watering, etc., when you grow tomatoes this way. You can grow both pole (indeterminate) and bush (determinate) tomatoes in pots.
Because I like using large containers to grow tomatoes, I chose fabric pots, including 20-gallon Smart Pots—made in Oklahoma—and 30-gallon Grassroots pots—constructed in California. This year, I also bought Vivosun. While you only need a five-gallon bucket or pot to grow a tomato, the larger pots make sense in my garden. I plant marigolds with tomatoes because they’re cheerful flowers for pollinators. I also grow peppers, pentas, and Asian eggplants in my containers.
Fabric pots can be emptied and folded up at the end of the gardening season if desired.
Which potting soil?
Good potting soil of any type is all you need to grow tomatoes and other vegetables in pots. The year before last, I tested three different potting soils: Redbud Organic No-till living soil, Foxfarm’s Happy Frog potting soil, and Miracle Gro Performance Organic Container Mix. Why organic? Because if I’m going to grow my own food, I’m not going to use chemicals.
All three potting soils worked great in containers. I have since also used Black Gold Organic Potting Soil, which you can find at Westlake Ace Hardware. Walmart may also carry it. These are all peat-based mixes, but Foxfarm also makes Coco Loco potting mix which is coir. It performs well too.
Last year, after listening to a podcast interview with a California tomato grower, I tried interspersing potting soil with Back to Nature cottonburr compost. Although it worked, it kept the tomato plants pretty wet after spring rains and made the containers heavier. I won’t do that again.
Do I replace the potting soil each season?
I do not. I use it for three seasons and top it off with fresh potting soil. After that, I dump it in my compost pile or use it in my garden in various places because I don’t want to waste it. I also don’t want tomato diseases and other stuff to build up in the potting soil, so three seasons is all I get out of a container full of soil. I do the same thing with my ornamental containers. Here is my ornamental container 101 if you’d like to learn more.
Pour potting soil into the container until it’s about an inch from the top. Check the bag size of potting soil for amounts. I used three containers of RedBud soil in the 30-gallon containers, but I was also able to grow two tomato plants plus marigolds or basil in each of those. The larger bag of Miracle Gro potting soil filled up one 20-gallon container.
Tomatoes are determinate or indeterminate.
Determinate tomato plants grow smaller and produce most of their fruit over approximately a three-week period. They don’t need as much support as indeterminate tomatoes that grow and produce fruit throughout the entire season.
I bought some of my tomato plants from The Tomato Man’s Daughter in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She sells heirloom tomatoes, and most are indeterminate. I also started my own seeds for many of my tomatoes, peppers, some of the marigolds, and three kinds of basil, including Everleaf Emerald Towers basil, my favorite type.
Plant tomato plants as deeply as possible. You can remove branches and bury the stem to about an inch below the top set of leaves. The plant will form roots all along the buried stem. This also gives your tomato plant a sturdier footing in its pot. To prevent cutworms, place the plant tag or a large nail right next to the stem at the time of planting. The cutworm can’t make the circle and cut off the stem.
You can water the containers with a hose-end sprayer. I use the Dramm 9-Pattern revolver spray nozzle, but it means you must water the containers every single day, never missing a day. If you want to go on vacation or save your aching back, you can install drip irrigation using Netafim piping and adjustable drip emitters. You can also buy drip irrigation kits for containers. Use a simple timer for the watering system to work automatically. We use one adjustable drip emitter per pot.
You can use tomato cages to grow determinate (bush) tomatoes and larger cages or stakes for indeterminate (pole) tomatoes. We drilled one-foot holes in the pavement of our old driveway and used five-foot 3/4-inch rebar, which we sanded into the holes. We then attached 6 x 6 wire used for reinforcing concrete pavements. You could use wire fencing. We attached the wire with black zip ties so that they wouldn’t show.
To grow tomatoes, place containers in full sun for the best conditions. Vegetables need six to eight hours of sun to grow their best. If you place your containers on a raised deck or an apartment balcony, use plastic or fabric pots that aren’t too heavy.
Wait and watch for flowers.
Then, just wait for the plant to grow, flower and produce fruit. You do not need to provide more fertilizer unless your potting soil is old and worn out. My tomato harvests from the containers have been the best and earliest ones I’ve had. I’ve also had less trouble with blossom end rot when I grow tomatoes this way. I hope your harvest is great too! Drop me a line if you try to grow tomatoes this way.
Don’t forget that Carol Michel and I drop a new podcast episode on Wednesdays each week. I’ve embedded the latest link below.
Patricia Evans says
I’ll be interested in how you like the Vivosun pots compared to the Smart Pots. Amazon keeps sending me ads for the Vivosun pots and they are cheaper than the Smart Pots,
What else can I grow in fabric pots? I have an alley that gets morning sun and would like to put some fabric pots against the wall on the sidewalk.
Anything. I’ve grown lots of small trees, shrubs, tomatoes, etc in smart pots and plastic pots for 10 years. I use smart pots with the handles b/c there made in OK.
Hope this info is useful or spurs an idea for more applications of smart pots. Also these are generalities of my experience.
USES OF SMART POTS-
Think of them as mobile raised beds. Customize soil properties for each plant. Move inside over winter, into shade in Aug, & out of winter winds.
I put them in ceramic pots b/c black bags arent attractive. Add mulch & you can’t tell.
Prevents the dreaded 200lb immovable planter.
Rotate whats in a planter when in bloom.
Fabric pots need less watering, have more fibrous roots, healthier growth habit compared to plastic or ceramic pots.
Pastic pots have more “seeker roots” circling along the wall & out the bottom holes.
Growth cycle seems to start & end earlier & produces taller plants( Not wider)
I dont consider that “healthier”, but those characteristics can be advantageous at times.
Year 3+ smart pot plants grow faster & get bigger than in plastic pots.
EXPLANATION- my guess.
Sun heating the black plastic + no air flow = an oven
Causing high Soil temperature fluctuations.
Dee Nash says
That all sounds good to me.
Dee Nash says
Hi Karen, I was out of town so just seeing this. You can grow almost anything in fabric pots. Seriously. I mean, you could even grow corn, but you’d need to have a 4′ x 4′ block to get good wind pollination. What were you planning to grow?
I have a couple of raised beds where I do tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc. I noticed the morning sun against the wall in my alley so I wanted to take advantage of it. It probably only gets 4- 6 hours of sun.
I want to find a spot for raspberries but I don’t want them to take over my yard since I am limited on space.
Dee Nash says
Hi Karen, there are dwarf varieties of raspberries you can also grow in containers. I’ve done it before. Congrats on your container veggie garden!~~Dee
K King says
Something is eating the leaves of my jalapeño and other hot pepper plants. I’m spraying them every day with a Monterey BT which controls worms and caterpillars on fruits and vegetables. Doesn’t seem to be helping
Dee Nash says
The best thing you can do to control insects on small plants is to cover them. You may have some beetle damage or something and Bt only works on caterpillars. Once the plants get bigger, they can fight off many insects.
Good advice! I’m growing more and more plants in pots for various reasons–some of which you mention here. 🙂
Dee Nash says
Hi Beth, they’re just so easy once you get them set up. They look good too.~~Dee
This is a great post, Dee. I think anyone could follow your advice and be very successful growing tomatoes (and other veggies) in Smart Pots!
Dee Nash says
Thanks, Carol. I think growing vegetables in pots is so easy and rewarding. ~~Dee