How to Grow Tomatoes
Tomatoes are true berries - a simple fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary. They are available in a huge number of varieties that vary in size, color, vegetation period, etc.
They are commonly grown in small and home gardens and consumed mostly fresh (salads) and in various dishes.
Since tomatoes are not the easiest plants to grow, if you decide to grow them, be sure to know:
- how to select and prepare the soil for planting,
- how to select tomato varieties that suit your soil, position, and needs,
- how to maintain tomato plants in order to achieve higher yields and good quality tomatoes.
But, if You have a small patch free, or You have a few larger flower pots free, go for it and plant them.
Soil Preparation and Fertilization
It is very important where tomatoes are planted in the garden. To grow and produce well, tomatoes need at least six to eight hours of sun a day.
Positions with full sun are the best, especially in northern, colder climates. Tomatoes don't like cold, and late spring frost can kill the plants. Regardless if you grow them directly from the seeds, by transplanting small plants, or in the containers and pots, be sure that tomatoes are always protected from frost - wait till at least two weeks after your local last frost day and only then move them permanently outside.
If you grow tomato plants for transplanting and/or in the pots, it is good practice to expose young tomato plants to the full sun gradually and a little bit of colder air - this will strengthen the plants and prepare them for outside conditions.
Tomato roots do well in well-drained, nutrient-rich, slightly acidic (pH 6 - 6.7), and moist soil. They don't like soggy soils, while too sandy soils don't retain moisture and nutrients well.
Soil preparation can start in autumn before the soil is frozen, but early in the spring is not too late to make good tomato soil.
If you have heavy clay soil, add some sand and plenty of organic matter in the form of aged manure (or manure in pellets) and some compost/humus or similar.
Also, add some balanced NPK fertilizer like 10:10:10 or 15:15:15 and till the soil at least 25-30 cm (10-12 inches) deep.
Personally, I prefer manure in the form of fully dried pellets, but if you do have rather heavy soil, aged manure is somewhat better. Organic matter and sand help with water drainage, while NPK fertilizer and organic matter feed the plants.
If you have light, sandy soil, add aged manure or manure in pellets (or both) and compost/humus. They will help the soil to retain moisture and nutrients and will feed the plants. Also, adding balanced NPK fertilizers is highly recommended to improve the plants' growth.
When transplanting the plants to the permanent position, the easiest method for small gardens is planting the tomato plants in individual holes - make a 15cm (6 inches) hole, add some more (10-15g - one third to one half of an ounce) of NPK fertilizer and a handful of compost/humus, mix little bit everything and plant the tomato.
If you live in colder regions - make a deep furrow (30cm, one foot), and fill it halfway (15cm, 6 inches) with aged animal manure, compost/humus, and some balanced NPK fertilizer.
Cover it with 7-8cm (3 inches) of soil, and in the remaining 7-8cm, plant the tomatoes. Decomposing manure/humus/compost will produce some heat and warm the roots but also feed the plants for a longer period of time. This is very important if you prefer to transplant tomatoes early and to grow indeterminate varieties.
If support is required (stakes, cages, etc.), position them right away to avoid any later damage to the roots.
Since determinate varieties have relatively short vegetation periods, if the soil is prepared well, subsequent fertilization is not required.
However, indeterminate varieties can grow for a long time and can become huge - some up to 10 feet. When first flowers and tomatoes appear, feel free to add 10-15g of NPK fertilizer with lower nitrogen levels (for example, 5-10-10 or 10-15-15) per plant every month (depending on the plants' density, variety, soil type, etc.).
Tomatoes like nitrogen, and with too much nitrogen, they will grow tall but also weak and prone to various diseases. Having more potassium and phosphorous ensures plenty of healthy tomato fruits.
Watering Tomato Plants
Constant watering of tomato plants is very important - tomato plants require 2-5cm (1-2 inches) of water per week.
To avoid any damage to the fruits, especially during the summer heat, watering should be done on a daily basis, or one should use a dripping system.
Without moisture, calcium and other nutrients often become unavailable to the plants, leading to reduced growth and, in the end, reduced crops.
Mulching can prevent or decrease moisture loss and helps keep the soil warm during colder days.
Moisture fluctuations can lead to damaged plants and especially damaged fruits, while having "warm feet" promotes higher yield and strong plants (phosphorous intake is highly decreased if roots are cold).
Also, good mulch decreases the amount of weeds and prevents fruit from touching the soil - fruit rot.
The best mulch is an organic one. It includes materials like compost, straw, newspaper, shredded leaves, grass clippings, sawdust, wood chips, etc.
As these materials decompose, they add organic material to the top of the soil. This is also very important for both heavy and sandy soils - a few years of mulching and crop rotation and such soils will improve their quality significantly.
Tomato Types and Varieties
There are numerous types and varieties of tomato plants. Choose tomato plants according to your needs and preferences, but also feel free to experiment a little bit.
Common tomato types that can be found in homes and small gardens are beefsteak tomatoes, beef tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, plum tomatoes, cocktail tomatoes, campari tomatoes, plum tomatoes, patio tomatoes, black tomatoes, etc.
The most popular tomato varieties are: San Marzano, Roma, Brandywine, Better Boy, Black Cherry, Sun Gold, Early Girl, Homestead, etc.
Planting the Tomato Plants
Tomatoes can be planted into pots and containers, grow bags, raised beds, or directly into the garden soil. One of the most underestimated but very important factors is the distance between the tomato plants in the rows and the distance between rows.
Tomato spacing depends on tomato plant type and variety (determinate/indeterminate, large/small/dwarf plant, etc.), local climate, growing soil, watering, available nutrients, and sunlight, and the list continues.
If you are not sure about the proper plant spacing, it is better to leave somewhat larger room between plants than to "over-plant" your garden.
With enough room around the plants, tomatoes will have more sunlight and more room for the root ball, there will be less competition for water and nutrients, disease outbreaks will be easier to control, etc.
Tomatoes should be planted into prepared soil early in the morning or late in the evening, if possible. After planting, add support (tomato cages or poles) immediately, and water the plants with stale water.
Caring for Tomato Plants
Tomato plants are not the easiest plants to grow and care for, but in most cases, with little effort, they will reward you with great-tasting tomatoes.
Besides regular watering and fertilization, most tomato plants require some sort of support in order to grow vertically - tomato stakes/poles, tomato cages, vertical wires/lines, wooden or metal fences, etc. Tying tomato plants to support keeps plants away from the soil, prevents fruit rot, prevents damage to the plants due to bad weather (wind, for example), etc.
Removing side shoots from tomato plants is not required in some varieties, but in most cases, it is something that must be done. Leaving one or two lower side shoots and growing them on separate poles can sometimes increase crop harvest, but it requires skill and good timing - it is perhaps easier to grow two plants relatively close to each other than to grow one plant with the main stem and some side shoots.
Pests and diseases can be great problems when growing tomatoes.
Aphids, flea beetles, leafminers, stink bugs, spider mites, fruit worms, etc., threaten tomatoes in many ways.
They damage the foliage, but real damage may result either from their feeding on the fruit (fruit is in most cases inedible) or by spreading various diseases. In the home garden, it is normal to have "some" bugs, and strong and healthy tomato plants can cope with a few pests - most of them (at least larger ones) can be removed by hand.
In the case of a stronger attack, one has to use insecticides - try to use organic insecticides according to the instructions, and be sure to mark the date when you used them (just to be sure).
Tomato diseases are spread through the soil, infected tools, animals, water supply, gardeners, etc.
Most of the diseases are not fatal, especially if discovered early and treated accordingly. It is very important to monitor plants almost on a daily basis and to react quickly.
If you live in an area where tomato diseases are a common problem, act preemptively and treat your plants. Personally, I mix copper based with sulfur-based fungicides (both soluble in water) and treat plants with a mild solution several times before the first tomatoes start to ripen.
Or, one can choose organic fungicides and insecticides.
Plant treatment, choosing more resilient varieties, and crop rotation are usually more than enough to keep the tomatoes healthy - some might disagree with this practice, but in wet and humid seasons, this helps a lot ...
Note: if a tomato plant is lost, remove it from the garden and burn it.
In order to prolong the harvesting season, grow indeterminate tomato varieties, but also grow several different varieties. Personally, I like to vary my salads from yellow/red/black cherry tomatoes to large beefsteak tomatoes.
Also, since most of our neighbors prefer heirloom varieties, we often exchange seeds.
In the end, we grow 2-5 plants of each variety - cherries are mostly in hanging baskets, while big indeterminate varieties are in the garden, in permanent locations, well protected from wind, pets, and kids. Other varieties are somewhere in between :)
For more information about tomatoes, feel free to check the following:
or check the following tomato articles:
15+ Most Common Tomato Pests: How to Identify and Control Them
Tomatoes are one of the most widely grown crops but are also prone to numerous pests.
These pests can cause significant damage to the plants, reducing yield and ultimately impacting your harvest.
Published: March 29, 2023.
Growing Tomatoes In Raised Beds: The Complete How To Guide
Tomatoes prefer slightly acidic, well-drained but moist soil, rich in organic matter and nutrients. Heavy clay types of soil are anything but that.
Many gardeners with heavy clay soil in their gardens quickly give up growing tomatoes and similar plants in their gardens, but they shouldn't since the solution is relatively simple - growing tomatoes in raised beds.
Published: March 20, 2023.
Tomato Types and Varieties
There are numerous types and varieties of tomato plants, so choose tomato plants according to your needs and preferences, but also feel free to experiment a little bit - having different tomato types and varieties can be very decorative and also can prolong the harvesting season.
Not to mention that different tomatoes can be used for different purposes, including salads, tomato purees, sauces, etc.
Updated: February 16, 2023.
How to Plant, Grow, And Care For Roma Tomatoes
Roma tomatoes are a variety of plum tomatoes. They are egg or pear-shaped red tomatoes, although there are also golden Roma tomato varieties.
Roma tomatoes are open-pollinated tomatoes but are generally not considered heirloom tomatoes. Roma tomatoes grow 3-5 feet (0.90 - 1.50 m) tall and produce large crops.
Updated: February 8, 2023.
How To Grow Tomatoes in Clay Soil: From Seeds to Harvest
Clay is far from being an ideal growing medium for tomatoes and many other plants.
When wet, the clay becomes heavy, sticky, and lumpy, and it is practically impossible to work with. When it dries out, it cracks and becomes very hard, making it again almost impossible to work with.
But, with a few tricks, tomatoes and many other plants can be successfully grown even in clay soil.
Published: January 11, 2023.
Black From Tula Tomato: The Ultimate Guide
Black From Tula tomato is a large heirloom tomato variety featuring a slightly salty, but rich and smoky flavor.
Black From Tula tomatoes variety is native to the Tula region of Russia, hence their name. If You are a fan of heirloom tomatoes or simply looking for something new, delicious, but also rather decorative to grow in your garden, give Black From Tula tomatoes a try.
Published: January 6, 2023.
How to Grow and Care for San Marzano Tomatoes
San Marzano is a variety of plum tomatoes, with thinner, elongated, and more pointed, meaty fruits than Roma tomatoes.
San Marzano's taste is stronger, sweeter, and less acidic, considered by many people to be bittersweet. San Marzanos are indeterminate, heirloom tomatoes.
Updated: December 3, 2022.
Guide to Tomato Companion Plants
Are you looking to boost the health and growth of your tomato plants? Companion plants can be an excellent way to accomplish your gardening goals! If you’re hoping to benefit from this gardening strategy, chances are, you’ll also benefit from this guide to tomato companion plants!
Tomato plants flourish in conditions of full sunlight, drained soil mixtures with 6.2 to 6.8 levels of pH, and warm temperatures. These conditions make plants like lettuce, borage, and basil beneficial companions to the tomato plant. This is especially true because such companions can warn away pests like tomato hornworms and aphids and enrich the soil.
Published: November 17, 2022.
Why Are My Tomato Leaves Turning Yellow?
Growing fresh tomatoes is the dream of every green thumb enthusiast, but there are a lot of hiccups you’re going to have to deal with along your journey. One of the most common problems is when the leaves turn yellow. What causes tomato leaves to turn yellow, and how can you fix it?
Yellowing leaves are very commonly associated with improper watering habits or transplant shock. Most often, tomato leaves will start to yellow when the plant is being overwatered and suffering from rot.
There are a number of reasons why your tomato plant leaves are turning yellow, but the most important thing is not to panic and work yourself up about it.
Published: November 12, 2022.
Why Are My Tomato Leaves Curling?
Growing tomatoes is the pride and joy of many gardeners, but along the journey, you’re likely to meet with a few challenges. One of the most common problems people experience with their tomato leaves is curling. What causes this behavior, and what should you do about it?
Tomato leaves often curl due to improper watering habits, excessive heat, and an overabundance of nitrogen. If you overstress your plant by pruning it too much or have just recently transplanted it, you may also experience tomato leaf curling.
Published: November 8, 2022.
Are Coffee Grounds Good For Tomato Plants
If you are growing tomato plants, you might be wondering whether coffee grounds are good for them. A lot of people put coffee grounds around their plants to help them grow, but is this something that will make your tomato plants happier, or should you avoid it?
Coffee grounds do have some benefits for tomatoes, but they need to be used in moderation. Coffee grounds are thought to be good for coffee because they contain some great nutrients, and they are often acidic, which tomatoes like. However, in large quantities, they can strip nitrogen out of the soil.
Published: October 17, 2022.
What Is A Black Strawberry Tomato And How To Grow It
Black Strawberry Tomato is a very decorative and very tasty tomato variety that can be easily grown on a permanent garden patch or even in a large enough pot.
Black Strawberry Tomato can be consumed both fresh and processed, but personally, it is perfect for salads, cocktails, and for decorating various meals.
Published: October 4, 2022.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes
If one is willing to grow tomatoes in their own yard or in containers, and if they have heard about determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, they might wonder what these types are and how to differentiate between them and choose the right one among them.
Well, tomatoes fall into these two categories, i.e., determinate and indeterminate, which are decided by their growth habit. Each of them has its own characteristics from which one can identify which variety they are looking at. It’s also important to identify the category because which category one chooses will be determined by their space, usage, and growing season duration.
Published: August 6, 2022.
Tomato Plant Fertilizer: How to Fertilize Tomatoes for a Great Harvest
Tomatoes are hungry plants with relatively shallow root systems that depend very much on a constant stream of water and nutrients to bear healthy and tasty fruits in larger quantities.
From the seed germination to the harvest, nutrient-rich, moist and well-aerated soil with proper pH is of utmost importance for having strong and healthy tomato plants. This may sound complicated, but actually, it is not - and it can be a very pleasant task to the care of your own plants while watching them grow, flower, and ripen ...
Published: February 24, 2022.
How To Store And Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors - Turn Green Tomatoes Red
Green tomatoes can be stored green for a long time and ripen indoors easily. Such tomatoes are not as tasty as red tomatoes ripen on the plant in the garden, but they still taste much better than tomatoes found in supermarkets.
Published: March 19, 2021.
Growing Tomatoes in Grow Bags
Growing tomatoes is fun. The best part is that tomatoes can grow almost anywhere. If someone doesn’t have a yard and wish to grow tomatoes, they don’t have to be disappointed.
Although they can grow this lovely crop indoors in containers, a still better option is to use grow bags.
Published: January 16, 2021.
How to Grow Cherry Tomatoes in Pots
Cherry tomatoes are flavorful and nutritious, and they look so attractive that even children are tempted to eat them.
Therefore, it’s a rewarding experience to grow cherry tomatoes of one’s own, and growing them in pots is one of the best and easiest ways. One just needs to take good care of their plants.
Published: November 2, 2020.
Growing Tomatoes Indoors and Outdoors in Pots and Containers
Tomatoes are easily grown in pots, containers and hanging baskets, both indoors and outdoors. When grown indoors, tomatoes spend their entire vegetation period protected from strong winds, sudden drops of temperatures and rainstorms, and can provide gardener with steady supply of tomatoes year long. Growing tomatoes in pots and containers outdoors, plants can spend some time indoors and when danger of late frosts is gone, pots and containers can be positioned on permanent outdoor location.
Updated: January 7, 2020.
Open-Pollinated vs. Heirloom vs. Hybrid Tomatoes - What's The Difference?
When growing tomatoes and other berries and plants in general, terms like open-pollinated, heirloom and hybrid seeds and varieties are commonly mentioned. But, what is actually the difference between those three?