Step-by-Step Guide to Planting Container Tomatoes

The EarthSoul team recently started some tomato vines on an underused, south-facing balcony to test out affordable, deep soil container options.

Here’s how we got started:

You'll need some deeeep pots

First and foremost, tomatoes love deeeeeep soil. Deep soil retains more moisture to allow plants to build deep root structures.  Deep root structures protect the plants from temperature and moisture fluctuations and allow them to reach all the nutrients available in the container.  Large, deep containers can be really expensive - this tall Smith and Hawken pot from Target will put you back almost $70.

Deep pots are expensive - try this affordable alternative

We found these 20-gallon trash cans at Home Depot and figured they’d be ideal for the depth we were looking for - they're almost as tall as the expensive Smith and Hawken pot. Their rectangular shape also allows us to take advantage of the limited space on the balcony, and at $35 each, they were way less expensive than the designer pot.

Start by drilling plenty of drainage holes in the bottom of your containers. Don’t go crazy with the holes - you still need to keep the soil in - but be sure to allow for holes in both the bottom of the pot as well as the deepest points of the pot, like this foot ridge around the outer edge.  This will ensure you don't have soggy sections at the bottom of your pot.

Start filling your pots with a nutrient-rich bagged soil

We like starting new pots with fresh, organic potting soil designed for raised vegetable beds and containers.  This brand shows that there are enough nutrients to provide food to your plants for 60 days.  We used a little more than 4 bags of this soil to fill the two 20-gallon containers (each bag contains 1.5 cubic feet/42 liters of soil). 

Create a nutrient 'payload' in the bottom third of your pots

Our vines should produce well into the late summer or even early fall here in Southern California so we’ve mixed in some well-composted chicken manure with the first bag of potting soil in each container to provide nutrients for when the plants send their roots down toward the bottom of the containers.  Use about a gallon of chicken manure added to 1/2 bag of soil for each container.

Add water to the soil as you fill your pots to ensure even moisture distribution

Add enough water at this point to saturate the soil that you’ve just added and get ready to add your next bag of soil.  Into this layer, we’ve mixed in a couple of good-size scoops of Perlite to add moisture-retaining properties to the soil as well as support for tiny air pockets which help make nutrients from the soil available to the roots.

Moisten this layer as well.  Your soil should be approximately 2-3 inches from the top rim of your container and by pre-moistening the layers of soil you’ll be well on your way to simply topping up the moisture through periodic deep watering once your tomatoes are planted.

Plant your new plants 2 - 3 inches up the stem for stability

Create your planting holes roughly the diameter of the young plant’s soil/root ball - in this case, we planted two cherry tomato varieties into one container - and deep enough to put about 2 or 3 inches of the main stalk below the surface of the soil.

You can clip off the lower one or two leaf sets in order to accomplish this if your plant has a shorter stalk. Initially planting your tomatoes deeper provides stability to the young plant early on, especially if the plant became “leggy” before planting.

Support your plants as they grow

Finally, you'll want to create a structure for your plants for when they get taller.If your plants are determinate - meaning they grow in a multi-stemmed bush shape - a tomato cage that fits your pot should be ideal.  For indeterminate varieties - those that grow a vine-like central stalk - a taut piece of twine that you can anchor from above, like to a roof overhang, works well.

We secured ours around and under the lip of the container then aligned it with the plants before sending it up to an eye hook we placed in the roof.

Every few feet or so of vertical vine growth allows for the plant to be gently twisted around the taunt twine. The twine can be tightened and re-tied to the eye hook as the plant grows in height and weight.


If you've followed our steps, you’re now well on your way to enjoying your own homegrown tomatoes - and being an EarthSoul.

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