How to Grow Tomatoes

Basics of Growing Tomatoes Indoors and Outdoors

There is nothing like taking a bite of a fresh-from-the-vine tomato in the summer. Learn how to have an abundance of organic tomatoes in your very own home with this simple to follow article on how to grow tomatoes.


Basic requirements for growing tomatoes

Tomatoes are relatively predictable things in some respects. Get these basic tomato growing components in place, and you should have no trouble achieving a nice harvest of tomatoes in the fall:

  • Sunshine: Tomato plants are sun worshippers – they love the warmth and they need the solar energy. So be sure you select a location for your tomatoes – whether in your garden or a spot for your container – where they will receive full sun for no less than 8 hours every day. You can boost the effects of the sun with things like covering the soil with mulch or black plastic, draping clear plastic over rows, or adding reflective fences or barriers. (Note: consistent temperatures of above 90° F will inhibit your tomatoes, in which case you’ll need to shade them).
  • Space: Though you will need space for your tomatoes, the amount will depend on the variety you choose to grow. Check the labels and allow adequate space in order to permit the plants to grow naturally and to full capacity.
  • Soil: You’ll want well-drained soil with a pH between 5.8 and 7.0 (they’re not overly fussy, as you can see). Test your soil each spring to ensure it’s in the correct pH range and amend the soil if necessary.


How to select tomato types for your garden or container

There are two main types of tomato plants you’ll need to consider which will indicate the height and growing requirements, determinate and indeterminate:

  • Determinate: These plants will form flower clusters at the terminal growing point, which then stops the plant from growing any taller. These ripen fruit over a shorter period of time, which may allow for successive plantings.
  • Indeterminate: By contrast, indeterminate tomatoes will never set terminal flower clusters and will continue to grow in height. These are often late in maturing, though they will provide lots of foliage and beautifully ripe fruit.
  • Heirlooms: You may also want to consider whether you choose to grow heirloom varieties or not. These plants are grown from seeds saved for decades, if not hundreds of years, and have the benefit of giving you unique shapes and colors, as well as interesting flavors. Groups like Seed Savers are working to preserve these varieties in order to maintain a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem.

Once you have determined the above, you’ll want to consider several other characteristics of both plant and fruit:

  • Growth habit– compact or sprawling
  • Height– mature plant size
  • Harvest timeline– length of time to mature tomatoes
  • Fruit size, shape, color
  • Difficulty– some varieties are easier to care for than others
  • Flavor and texture– some tomatoes are grown for cooking, canning, and tomato paste, while others are cultivated for eating fresh
  • Seeds or seedlings– you can grow tomatoes from seed or buy pre-grown seedlings and full grown plants


When to transplant tomatoes

Tomato plants, whether grown from seed by you or purchased from your local greenhouse, should be kept indoors until all chance of frost is gone and soil temperatures reach 55-60° F. Once these conditions have been satisfied, you can begin to harden them off. This is a multi-step process that looks something like this:

  • Put your plants outdoors in the shade and protected from wind for 2 hours, then bring them back indoors.
  • Slowly increase outdoor exposure time over several days.
  • Begin to introduce tomato plants to full sun and wind for portions of the day.
  • After 7 to 10 days, your tomato plants should be prepared to be in full sun permanently.

When you’re finally ready to plant them in the ground or your containers, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Transplant the tomatoes on a cloudy day.
  • Bury tomatoes deeper than they currently are in the pot, even putting some of the lower leaves below the soil. Tomato stems will grow roots, so this will provide added stability to the plant.
  • Using compost tea, water the plants before transplanting.
  • Pinch off the lower leaves of the tomato plant.
  • After putting the plant in the ground, water it thoroughly.


Maintaining healthy tomato plants

You’re now the proud gardener of your very own tomato plants, and with that comes some ongoing responsibilities in order to help your plants produce the most delicious, vine-ripe fruit. These are the basics of tomato garden maintenance:

  • Regular watering: In addition to sun, tomatoes also crave water. It’s best to soak the soil 6 to 8 inches deep often – two times weekly at the least. The soil should never dry out between watering.
  • Mulching: It’s a good idea to mulch your tomatoes, not only to reduce evaporation and moisture loss, but also to maintain even soil temperatures and fend off pests and weeds.
  • Feeding: Give your organic tomatoes frequent doses of compost tea and other organic fertilizers – tomatoes love this too and will drink it up.
  • Pruning: You will only need to prune indeterminate tomatoes plants. Do this by removing suckers – growths at the junction of the main plant stem and the leaf stem. Without pruning, you’ll achieve more fruit, but smaller in size throughout.
  • Support: Though some compact tomatoes can be grown without supports, most will benefit from some type of support, be it stakes, cages, fences, trellises, or other support structures. Start training your tomatoes once they reach about one foot in height and continue bolstering the support as the plant grows.

You’ll know your tomatoes are ready for harvest once they reach that full-colored appearance – start to pick and enjoy! If you live in an area with a short growing season, you can extend the growing time by covering plants at the first sign of frost and even bringing your tomatoes indoors. Looking for more? We've put together a list of tomato growing tips


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