How long tomatoes grow?

Germination speed mainly depends on the temperature of your room. The warmer the environment, the faster the germination. The best average temperature to grow your plants is 18 to 24’C (64 to 75’F).

Usually it takes 1 to 2 weeks to germinate. Some plants such as mini tomato, chili pepper and rosemary may take up to 3 weeks. The lettuce plants are very sensitive to high temperatures so their germination might be inhibited by that.

You will find the most precise details from your plant pod package as well as from our plant list here.

Please make sure you keep the transparent germination domes on the pods until the sprouts reach them.

With the Smart Gardens, most of the heavy lifting will be done by the technology developed by us! Your plants will get everything they need from our LED lights, watering system and of course the SmartSoil.

You can just set it up and watch the magic happen!

The Smart Soil creates the perfect environment plants need to thrive. It releases nutrients in sync with the plant’s life cycle, keeps the soil’s pH balanced, and employs tiny oxygen pockets to guarantee that plants get ample breathing room and nutrients even when the soil is wet.

This way the germination process is sped up and you’ll find yourself growing your own herbs, salads and fruits in no time at all. Soon you’ll be growing tomatoes in the winter and wondering how you got by without them before!

If your plants have not sprouted after 3-4 weeks or you have questions about your Smart Garden, then make sure to get in touch with our support with some photos of your plant pods and they will be able to help you out.

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Contents

Tomato Plant Stock Photos and Images

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  • Tomato plant with red and green tomatos
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  • Cherry tomatoes on plant
  • Tomato plants in varying stages of ripeness
  • Pests – small red spider on the tomato plant, harming the plant
  • TOMATOES tomato on plant fresh growing grow green leaf leaves plantage plantation garden gardening full bright fruits many much
  • TLCV – tomato leaf curl virus symptoms on a glasshouse tomato plant
  • Fully ripe tomatoes in tomato garden
  • Tomatoes ripening on the plant
  • Gardeners Delight home grown tomatoes
  • Tomato plant with red and green tomatos
  • Red tomato still on the tomato plant waiting to be picked, or harvested, for eating
  • Cherry tomato plant.
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  • Young tomato plant in pot
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  • Fresh cherry tomato plant in a jar isolated over white
  • Cherry Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme)
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  • Tomato Plant. Aizuwakamatsu Fukushima Prefecture Japan
  • Tomato plant with green and red tomatoes in a pot on a balcony, urban gardening or farming
  • SOLANUM LYCOPERSICUM CONTAINER GROWN TOMATO PLANT 20 LITRE POT VARIETY FERLINE
  • Still life of tomato fruit ripening
  • Manganese Mn deficiency symptoms on glasshouse grown tomato plant leaves
  • Young Plum Tomato Plant (Pomodoro Tomato Roma) in a Brown Pot, against a White Background
  • Potted Tomato Plant
  • RIPE AND RIPENING BRITISH TOMATOES GROWING IN GREENHOUSE WITH BLUE SKY AND SUNSHINE UK
  • Tomato plant with red and green tomatos
  • Tomato plant closeup
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  • Cherry tomato plant on a balcony
  • Tomatoes ripening.
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  • Red tomato beef type hybrid f1 indeterminate in a plastic
  • Tomato plants staked and planted in rows
  • Pretty blonde looking at tomato plant
  • pachino tomato plants in vegetable garden
  • Fresh tomatoes on the branch
  • Tomatoes
  • Ripe Sweet Million cherry tomatoes on plant (Sweet Million), Andalucia, Spain, Western Europe.
  • Outdoor grown Cherry tomato plant, F1 Sweet Million, tomatoes ripening on the vine in a garden.
  • Tomato plant
  • Domestic Apple (Solanum lycopersicum), fruit of different varieties, studio picture.
  • Hands holding soil and plant
  • Stock Photo of a Plant Held in a Gardener’s Hand
  • RIPE AND RIPENING BRITISH TOMATOES GROWING IN GREENHOUSE WITH BLUE SKY AND SUNSHINE UK
  • Tomato plant with tomatos
  • Plant of of red ripe and green unripe tomatoes
  • Rootstock tomato plant on table
  • Heirloom Tomato Tlacalula Pink Covered in Rain Drops Growing on Vine in Indiana
  • Hands holding young ‘tomato’ plant,
  • tomato isolated on white
  • Tomato plant flower
  • Baby plant
  • Close up red tomato on garden field
  • Farmer standing beside an oversized tomato plant, genetically modified food
  • Vegetable tomato plant lycopersicon esculentum in field Khidrapur Kolhapur Maharashtra India
  • Tomato and half of one. Isolated on a white background.
  • Young tomato plant in a garden.
  • Israel, Aravah Desert Tomatoes in a greenhouse. tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) crop growing in a greenhouse.
  • Single tomato with leaf on white background isolated with shadow
  • Tomato Moneymaker seedling with two seed leaves and two true leaves
  • Tomato plant on the balcony, balkoning, home pull out outdoor air light trend home growing style stylish fruti vegetables on the
  • Stock Photo of a Plant Held in a Gardener’s Hand
  • Tomato plant blossom
  • Sweet Pea cherry tomato plant
  • Home-grown organic tomato plant
  • Tomato plant seedling covered with plastic bottle
  • Tomato plant Solanum lycopersicum seedlings in small pots.
  • 1 litre plastic containers of Westland Tomato plant food
  • Tomato plants in a greenhouse, habit view
  • heirloom tomato plant with two yellow and green heirloom tomatoes
  • Green tomatoes ripen on a tomato plant in an urban garden.
  • A tomato plant in a cedar container, sits on a patio. Oklahoma, USA.
  • Yellow tomato leaf suffering from Septoria leaf spot fungal disease – diseased tomato plant – common tomato fungus
  • Andine Cornue tomatoes tomato plant plants
  • tomato plant on the vine-Solanum Lycopersicum agricultural
  • Cherry tomato plant
  • Gardening gloves, a garden trowel and a potted tomato plant ready for planting outside in the garden.
  • Artistic closeup of a cherry tomato plant setting fruit, little green tomatoes and blossom flowers
  • tomato seedling
  • Tomato Plant in Grow Bag
  • Stock Photo of a Plant Held in a Gardener’s Hand
  • Tomato plant blossom
  • Sweet Pea cherry tomato plant
  • Tomato plant, detail, fruits, wet,
  • Using watering can to water tomato plant
  • Tomato plant, IWallowa Valley, Oregon.
  • 1 litre plastic containers of Westland Tomato plant food

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Tomatoes: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties

A favorite of home gardeners, tomatoes are easy to grow, and just a few plants will supply an abundant harvest.

About tomatoes
With hundreds of varieties to choose from, and more being introduced every year, there is a tomato for every garden situation and every personal taste. The size of the fruit is no indication of plant size — tiny “currant” tomatoes might grow on huge, vining (indeterminate) plants, while large “beefsteak” varieties can be found on more manageable bush (determinate) plants. Newer hybrid varieties have been bred for disease resistance, but don’t overlook heirlooms that are famous for their rich flavors. By planting early-, mid-, and late-season varieties, you can extend the harvest.

Choosing a site to grow tomatoes
Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil. In very hot climates, light afternoon shade may help prevent blossom drop. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.

Planting Instructions
If you don’t purchase plants, start seeds indoors in flats or pots 6 to 7 weeks before the average last frost date, and set out transplants when the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past. Set up trellises, cages, or stakes at planting time. Dig planting holes 18 to 24 inches apart if you plan to stake or trellis the crops, 36 to 48 inches apart if the plants aren’t trained. Pinch off two or three of the lower branches on the transplant and set the root ball of the plant well into the hole until the remaining lowest leaves are just above the soil surface. The plant will form additional roots along the buried stem. Water generously and keep the plants well watered for a few days.

Ongoing Care
Provide an even supply of water all season. If staking or trellising, prune suckers to allow one or two central stems to grow on staked plants, two or three central stems for trellis systems. Apply a thick layer of organic mulch 4 or 5 weeks after transplanting. Contact your local County Extension office for controls of common tomato insect pests such as tomato hornworms and whiteflies.

How to harvest tomatoes
For best flavor, harvest tomatoes when they are firm and fully colored. Fruits will continue to ripen if you pick them when they are half-ripe and bring them indoors, but the flavor is often better if you allow fruits to ripen on the vine.

5 Tomato Growing Tricks That Will Make You a Better Gardener

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These five tomato growing tricks will help you grow your best tomatoes ever this summer!

Last updated: May 8, 2019

If you’re like most people, tomatoes are probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a garden.

There are thousands of varieties of edible fruits, veggies, roots, tubers, herbs, edible flowers, mushrooms, and grains that might adorn your garden throughout the year. However, tomatoes have managed to capture the American gardener’s imagination more than any other type of produce.

Perhaps it’s due to the piles of showy, delicious fruit a tomato plant can produce in a relatively short period of time. Or perhaps it’s because tomatoes are quiet, juicy geniuses who have domesticated human beings so that we’ll take care of them and spread their seeds throughout the world.

Whatever the case may be, if you plan to have a summer garden, you’re probably going to be growing tomatoes. If so, here are five tomato growing tricks we’ve learned over the years that will boost your yields and save you time and money…

Mmm – fresh picked, organically grown heirloom tomato!

These tomato growing tricks are arranged chronologically based on the order in which you do them:

Tomato Growing Trick 1: Learn to start your own plants from seed

This might not seem like a “trick,” but once you master seed starting, it can save you more money than perhaps anything else you’ll ever do in your garden while also allowing you to grow any variety of produce you want, not just what your local garden center happens to carry.

A packet of USDA certified organic tomato seeds will cost you about $3-4 depending on how many seeds are in the packet. Most usually have at least 25 or more seeds. That means you could grow a minimum of 25 tomato plants that could each produce a pile of tomatoes for you in a few short months.

Considering that the average beefsteak tomato plant will produce 15 – 25 pounds of fruit, that single packet of seeds could give you a yield of 625 pounds of fruit. If you go to a store and buy a pound of crummy hothouse tomatoes, you’re going to pay $3/lb; if you buy a pound of certified organic heirloom tomatoes, you’re probably going to be paying closer to $6/lb.

So, if you expertly use 25 seeds to grow 625 pounds of your own organic, heirloom tomatoes, you just grew $3,750 in tomatoes!

Tlacalula tomato, an heirloom stuffing tomato from Mexico. Cost of the single seed that grew this beauty? About 10 cents. And the tomato was full of new seeds that we can grow in future years.

New tomato seeds for future years

Also, if you’re growing heirloom tomatoes (which are always open-pollinated), you can save enough seeds from your tomatoes to give a seed to every person on earth after about two growing seasons (seriously, do the math!). See why heirloom/open-pollinated seeds are the gift that keeps on giving?

“Sure,” you’re thinking, “but what about the time and cost involved in growing tomatoes from seed?”

We grow our own tomato seedlings with minimal time and investment. We reuse our durable Bootstrap farmer seed cells and flats, so our primary cost is the organic seed starting mix.

Since we grow so much food, we built our own indoor grow light setup for about $300, but this is an investment that more than pays for itself each gardening season — and we garden in all four seasons every year.

Our indoor grow light setup ( to learn how to make your own). All the plants have “graduated” and gone to live outdoors for the summer, but it will be full of fall seedlings by late summer.

Why not get tomato seedlings or plants from a garden center?

Now, consider this: if you go to a garden center and get a tomato plant/seedling, you’re going to pay somewhere between $4-10 per plant depending on where you live, the variety of tomato, and the size of the plant.

There’s a pretty good chance that you’re only going to be able to buy a hybrid tomato plant, which means you won’t be able to save seeds that will grow the same type of tomato again next year. There’s also a good chance the plant was treated with a systemic pesticide soil drench like a neonicotinoid, which over 800 peer reviewed scientific studies say kill birds, bees and other beneficial critters even when used as recommended by the manufacturers.

That’s the most expensive tomato plant you could possibly grow in your garden.

Tomato Growing Trick 2: Buried Stems = Better Roots

Ladbrooke soil blocks. Every fuzzy hair you see on the tomato stem can become a root when buried in soil. 5 tomato growing tricks by GrowJourney.com” class /> Young tomato seedlings growing under our grow lights in Ladbrooke soil blocks. Every fuzzy hair you see on the tomato stem can become a root when buried in soil.

See those fuzzy tomato stems? As it turns out, tomato stems can form adventitious roots if they’re planted in the soil. Larger, deeper root systems mean less water and fertilizer inputs, healthier plants, and larger fruit yields.

Now, the first time you do this trick, you’ll feel like you’re murdering your plants, but it will pay off big time.

Here’s what you do when you’re ready to transplant your tomato seedlings:

1. Remove lowers branches

Cut off all the lower branches on your seedling, leaving only the top few branches and the growth tip.

2. Dig a trench

Dig a trench larger enough to lay your tomato seedling down sideway while still giving the first stems enough room to stick out a few inches above the soil surface.

By laying the plants sideways, you’ll help them develop better vertical roots. This is especially helpful if you have leggy seedlings.

It’s also better to dig a vertical trench rather than a deeper horizontal hole to bury your tomato transplants. That’s because tomatoes are heat-loving plants.

The deeper you bury the root ball and stem, the cooler the soil will be, which will slow its growth. A horizontal trench keeps the plant in the warmer, upper levels of the soil.

3. Bury the stem and lay the plant sideways

Add some worm castings (these are the best quality and most affordable worm castings on the market) or finished hot compost into the hole. This will provide your tomato plants with biological fertility via beneficial microbes that also help protect the plants from pathogens.

Don’t use synthetic nitrogen fertilizer products since these are bad for the long term health of your soil and have also been proven to make your plants more attractive to pest insects. Once your trench is ready and you’ve added a good microbe-rich media (worm castings or compost), bury the tomato plant and stem up to a few inches below the first branches.

Step 1: Removing the leaves. Step 2: Disrupting the soil as little as possible, dig a trench; add worm castings or finished hot compost. Step 3: Bury the plant sideways, covering the stem to just below the first leaves (which will help the plant grow more robust vertical roots). Put mulch back over the soil surface and add a stick next to the stem to prevent cutworms (the “stick trick” mentioned below).

Your buried tomato stems will soon produce new roots and you’ll end up with plants that will outgrow and outperform a shallow rooted tomato plant.

Tomato Growing Trick 3: The “Stick Trick”

The “stick trick” is especially important if you’re growing your own seedlings rather than buying mature thick-stemmed plants at a garden center.

Cutworms are the bane of many farmers’ and gardeners’ existence. They’re the seedling-munching larvae of Noctuidae moths.

Cutworms can make you think evil, murderous thoughts when you go out on a spring or summer morning to find your once beautiful, healthy seedlings chopped down and lying dead on the ground. Our first year of gardening, we lost a bunch of plants this way. So we set out for revenge…

Surely, our brains could outsmart a moth baby’s brain without resorting to using pesticides, right? Yep. And the solution is stupid simple, free and 100% effective if you do it right.

Here’s how to stop cutworms in your garden:

When you transplant your young seedlings, gently insert a stick (about the size of a toothpick or slightly larger) into the ground right next to the stem of your seedling.

The larvae will feel around the stem of your plant, detect the stick and be fooled into thinking that the plant’s stem is too tough to chew through. Then it will move on in search of another victim.

The stick trick = no more cutworms!

We use the “stick trick” on all the spring/summer plants that we start indoors and transplant: melons, squash, cukes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, etc. We have yet to lose a single plant to cutworms when using this technique.

Tomato Growing Trick 4: Got Mulch?

Many people talk themselves out of gardening by saying I don’t have time to plow, water, weed, fertilize, etc.

Great. Neither do we.

  • We haven’t plowed our soil in seven years. In fact, we don’t ever plan to till our soil again because of how destructive it is to the soil ecosystem.
  • We only water during periods of drought or when our seedlings are very young.
  • The only weeds we have are in the few patches of grass we have left, and many of those “weeds” are edible plants that we eat.
  • We don’t use conventional fertilizers; instead we focus on long-term biological soil fertility. This is because we have a pretty good appreciation for the living systems that make soil work (the soil food web).

We feed our soil what it knows how to eat and our soil feeds our plants what they know hot to eat so that our plants can feed us what we know how to eat.

Soil is like the skin on your body: it’s a protective organ. Scrape off your skin, and a scab will form.

Likewise, nature does not tolerate having its soil scraped off and exposed to the elements. Uncovered soil will soon begin healing via “weeds,” nature’s scabs, aka the pioneer plants in plant succession.

In your garden or farm, you have two options:

  1. always cover your soil with the plants and/or mulches of your choosing; or
  2. be prepared to let nature cover her own soil with the plants of her choosing.

You probably won’t like option #2, and it usually causes conventional gardeners and farmers to engage in perpetual chemical warfare.

We like using a combination of green mulches (cover crops), fall leaves, and wood chips that we get free from local tree service companies. All three types of mulch will drastically improve your soil biology/fertility, and can eventually replace your need to fertilize.

Especially if your soil is young, we’d recommend you take things a step further by also using some combination of worm castings, hot composted compost (aka using the Berkeley method), compost teas and really good mycorrhizal inoculants like this one.

Our personal favorite mulch to top-dress our garden beds with is wood chips, which we get for free from local tree service companies. Wood chips form an insulating surface on your soil surface, reducing soil temperature fluctuations and plant stress, while increasing water penetration and retention.

Wood chips also prevent weed seeds in your soil seed bank from germinating and growing in your garden beds. Less work + less inputs + less money spent + more and better food. That’s our kind of gardening!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Top Dress With Wood Chips, Do NOT Plow Them Into Your Soil!

We top-dress our beds with about 3-4″ of wood chip mulch twice per year, and let the soil microorganisms slowly convert the wood chips into bioavailable nutrients that they bring down to our plant roots for us. The plants also feed the microbes all kinds of goodies in return via their root exudates.

It’s very important to note that you do not want to plow the wood chips into your soil, or you’ll lock up the nitrogen in your soil as the soil microorganisms borrow it while they digest the carbon. Low nitrogen = plants that don’t grow. So, just put the wood chips on top of the soil surface and let nature do the rest of the work for you.

Mulch also reduces tomato foliar diseases

Many common tomato foliar (leaf) diseases are caused by rain splashing soil pathogens onto the lower leaves of the plants. Well, you’ll also be pleased to know that using wood chip or other mulches reduces or eliminates this problem too.

When transplanting your tomato seedlings into your mulched garden beds, simply pull back the mulch from the planting spot, make a small hole and plop it in the ground (see trick #2 above). You can do the same thing when you direct sow, but only make a hole big enough for the type of seed you’re planting.

Tomato Growing Trick 5: Don’t Get Suckered

What the heck is “tomato suckering”? As tomato plants grow, they’ll produce a branch and a “sucker” between the stem and the branch. The sucker grows like a new stem, producing new branches and suckers along the way.

A closer look at tomato suckers via TyrantFarms.

Many people tell you that you have to remove the suckers to reduce plant diseases and get the biggest fruit from your tomato plant. The idea being that more air can flow through your plants and the plant will put more energy into fewer fruits.

If you’re trying to grow the world’s biggest tomato and you have the time to remove all the suckers as your tomato plant grows, then you might want to go ahead and sucker your plants (and be sure to sanitize your tools as you go so you don’t spread diseases).

However, if you’re growing more than one tomato plant and you’re into low-maintenance gardening like we are, you don’t need to sucker your tomato plants. You might end up with slightly smaller tomatoes on your beefsteak varieties, but if you’ve got good soil and healthy plants, you’re probably not going to notice a dramatic difference in fruit size.

Also, one of the fastest ways you can spread diseases throughout your tomato plants is by constantly touching them, cutting them with non-sanitized clippers or other tools that have pathogens on them, and/or leaving exposed wounds on the plants where you removed the suckers.

In our opinion: suckering simply isn’t worth the time and effort relative to the supposed benefits, so don’t be suckered into suckering!

Additional Tomato Growing Resources:

  • How to graft heirloom tomatoes on to disease-resistant rootstock
  • 5 tips to successfully grow tomatoes in pots or containers
  • How to make your own large, indestructible tomato cages that will last for decades
  • GrowJourney’s complete guide to growing tomatoes

We hope these tomato growing tricks help you have your best summer garden ever!

-Aaron @ GrowJourney

Salsa time at Tyrant Farms! Fresh-picked tomatoes, hardneck garlic and peppers ready to go into the blender.

Sometimes our articles will contain Amazon affiliate product links. These products have been carefully curated by our team. We use them, trust them, and know they work (or in the case of books, know that the information is extremely helpful). GrowJourney may earn a small commission on any sales that are generated via these affiliate links (without any additional cost to you).

Growing Perfect Tomatoes

“There’s only two things money can’t buy. That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes,” wrote singer-songwriter Guy Clark. Those of you who have tasted a lip-smackingly ripe tomato fresh from the vine will agree with Clark.

Rob Cardillo

Tomatoes are the most popular crop for backyard gardens—about 90 percent of vegetable gardeners grow them. Even folks who don’t have vegetable gardens grow tomatoes. A half-dozen plants thriving in pots on a sunny deck can supply a family of four with a summer of good eating. Follow these gardening guidelines for your best crop yet.

Picking the Right Type

There are countless varieties of tomatoes available, each of which differs from the others in taste, the size, shape and ripening time of the fruit, as well as in the plant’s disease resistance.

To get an idea of what’s out there, check out print and online seed catalogs. Two good sources are

Totally Tomatoes and

Tomato Growers Supply Company; both feature hundreds of varieties.

Local nurseries offer an ever-expanding array of tomatoes. You’ll find the newest disease-resistant hybrids alongside some of the old-fashioned favorites, such as ‘Brandywine’, prized for luscious taste.

When deciding what to grow, choose varieties proven to perform well in your area. Talk to neighbors and check with your extension service to learn the local favorites. And, if you’re a novice grower, choose at least a few varieties designated as All-America Selections winners. This nonprofit group tests new varieties all across the country and awards only those with outstanding growth and flavor. Their logo appears with plant descriptions in most catalogs.

It’s always a good idea to experiment with a few plants of several varieties to determine the ideal tomatoes for your garden and taste buds. What’s more, growing different varieties is an insurance policy of sorts — a disease that strikes one variety might not harm the others. These are the qualities to consider when selecting tomatoes for your garden.

Growth forms. Tomatoes are classified as either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate, or bush, varieties grow to a set height (from 18 to 36 in.) and then form tomatoes at the ends of their branches. All fruits ripen during a concentrated period, usually within four to six weeks — good if you cook vats of tomato sauce. These plants don’t necessarily need staking, and the true dwarf varieties among them, such as ‘Patio’ and ‘Tiny Tim’, fit perfectly in pots.

Tomato sizes range from grape and cherry to truly giant. Literally hundreds of varieties are available through seed catalogs and nurseries

Rob Cardillo

Indeterminate plants grow, blossom and fruit all through the season, but they have fewer mature tomatoes at any one time. Plants reach 3 to 6 ft. or more and need staking so they don’t sprawl on the ground.

There’s a subgroup called semideterminate. Among them, varieties such as ‘Bush Big Boy’ and ‘Husky Gold’ are more compact than indeterminate plants, but they will produce full-size tomatoes until frost. Choose indeterminate and semideterminate varieties if you want a long, continuous harvest.

Days to maturity. Seed catalogs and plant labels usually list the approximate days to maturity from the time of transplanting. You can use this number as a guide for choosing early, midseason and late varieties. If you live where summers are short, growing early-maturing varieties (52 to 65 days) gives you the best shot at an abundant harvest before frost kills the plants. If you have a long, sunny growing season, you can probably grow most any variety, including the beefsteak types that yield huge tomatoes. They typically require 80 days or more to ripen. In general, late-maturing varieties give larger, more flavorful fruit than short-

season varieties.

Disease resistance. The initials V, F, N, T and A after a variety name indicate the variety is resistant to certain diseases or tolerates a common tomato problem: verticillium wilt (V), fusarium wilt (F), nematodes (N), tobacco mosaic virus (T) and alternaria (A). ‘Celebrity’ (VFNTA) is an example of a variety with outstanding disease resistance. Grow at least a few plants with built-in disease resistance to be on the safe side.

• • •Q: Fruit or vegetable?

A: Botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit, the ripened ovary of a seed plant. But in 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are a vegetable, not a fruit.

‘Early Cascade’ bears ripe fruit just 55 days after transplanting. Here, a single stake supports the tall vine, which is attached loosely with twine.

Walter Chandoha

Growing Basics

•Start with healthy plants. Whether homegrown or store-bought, plants should be short and stocky (6 to 10 in. tall). Avoid plants with blossoms or fruit. You’ll pay more for plants in individual 4-in. pots, but they usually have larger root systems than those growing in cell packs. As a result, they will grow faster after transplanting.

•Choose the right site. Tomatoes grow best in full sun (at least 8 hours daily) and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Work a couple inches of compost or decomposed manure into the upper 6 in. of soil prior to planting. If a soil test shows the pH is below 6.0, apply lime.

•Plant right. Set plants in the garden after the danger of frost and when the soil temperatures are above 60°F. (Experienced gardeners sometimes plant earlier and shelter plants to protect them from cold and frost.)

Space plants 1 1/2 to 3 ft. apart (closer for determinate varieties, which spread less). Wide spacing assures good air circulation, which discourages diseases.

Plant seedlings in the ground deeper than they were growing in their pots so the lowest leaves are just above the soil level. Roots will grow along the length of the buried stem, resulting in stronger plants. And, don’t forget to water freshly planted seedlings.

Most experts recommend fertilizing at planting time. But go easy on the fertilizer. In this case, less is best because too much nitrogen fertilizer results in vigorous vines with few tomatoes. The recommendation from Clemson University Extension is fairly standard: Pour about 1 pint of starter solution (2 tbs. of 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 fertilizer per gallon of water) around each plant.

There are many types of tomato supports, including homemade bamboo tepees (above), stakes with string guides (below left) and space-saving tomato spirals (below right), which cost about $4.50 each

Walter Chandoha

•Support plants. Stake or cage indeterminate plants (which develop long stems) at the time of transplanting. This keeps vines and tomatoes off the ground so the fruits will be larger, cleaner and less apt to rot. Supported plants are also easier to care for and tomatoes are easier to harvest. Many ingenious systems for supporting plants have been devised. To view a sampling from simple to elaborate, read the University of Missouri guide,

Pruning and Training Tomatoes.

The most common method is to support each plant with a single sturdy stake, 6 to 8 ft. tall and at least 1 in. thick. Drive the stake into the ground, about 4 in. from the plant. As the plant grows, attach its stems to the stake using commercial tomato ties, strips of soft fabric or old panty hose. Leave a little slack around the stems. The general idea with staking is to limit the vines to a couple of main stems, which requires regular pruning. Supporting tomatoes in wire cylinders or cages is also popular. This method requires more work initially, but there’s no need to prune or train the plant.

Don’t waste your money on cheap commercial cages; they’re too small, and they break apart easily and topple over. Instead, buy extra-large cages or make your own from concrete reinforcing wire or galvanized wire mesh. Make sure the holes are large enough to get your hand through to harvest tomatoes without damaging them. You’ll need about 3 ft. of material for every 1 ft. diameter of cage. Aim for a cage 24 to 30 in. dia., and hook the ends together. (If you’re using several cages, make each one successively smaller by a couple of inches so you can nest them inside each other for easy storage.)

Place the cages around the plants, and anchor them with stakes driven into the ground on one or two sides. Or, remove the bottom cross wires on the cage, and push the prongs into the soil for support.

•Give them TLC. Tomatoes aren’t one of those crops you can plant and forget. Check soil moisture and give plants 1 to 1 1/2 in. of water weekly, if not supplied by rain. Try not to splash water on leaves.

About a month after planting—once the soil has really warmed up—apply a3- to 4-in. layer of organic mulch, such as weed-free straw. If you mulch too soon, the soil will stay cool, delaying the harvest.

If plants are staked, regularly pinch off the small suckers that sprout between the leafy branches and main stems. Don’t cut—a knife can spread disease.

Give all plants a boost during the growing season by applying a 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 fertilizer according to package directions. The best times to fertilize are when fruits are about golf ball?size and again when the first tomatoes are ripe.

And speaking of ripe, pick tomatoes when they are firm and fully colored. Taste one while it’s still warm from the sun and you’ll know why tomatoes rank No. 1 with home gardeners.

• • •Q: Stuck with leggy plants?

A: Short, stocky plants are best for transplanting, but if you have no choice but to plant seedlings that are tall and leggy, try this trench-planting method: Remove the lower leaves of the plant, leaving the top leaf cluster of four to five leaves. Then lay the plant on its side in a trench and cover the roots and bare stem with about 3 in. of soil. Gently firm the soil and water. Roots will grow along the buried stem.

Healthy homegrown seedlings with deep roots, bushy tops and no flowers or fruit are ready to plant. Plant tomato seedlings deep with soil up to the first set of leaves, as indicated here by the cultivator.

Neil Soderstrom

Numbers to Know

Getting started: Start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the average last frost date. Or purchase stocky, nonfruiting nursery seedlings just before planting.

Soil type: Optimum pH range is 6.0 to 6.8. Plant in well-drained soil rich in organic matter.

Ideal temperature: 70° to 80°F, daytime; 60° to 70°F, nighttime.

Light: Eight hours of full sun daily (some afternoon shade in very

hot climates).

Planting: Space transplants 1 1/2 to 3 ft. apart.

Fertilizing: Apply a 2-in. layer of well-rotted cow manure to soil before you plant. At planting time apply a complete fertilizer (5-10-10 or 5-10-5); repeat when fruits are about 1 in. dia. and again when first fruits are ripe.

Watering: Maintain consistent soil moisture; 1 to 1 1/2 in. each week.

Mulching: Apply 3 to 4 in. of organic mulch about four weeks after

transplanting.

Harvesting: Pick tomatoes when they are firm and fully colored.

BLOSSOM-END ROT results from wide fluctuations in soil moisture and calcium deficiency in the plant.

Rob Cardillo

Maintenance

Listed below are some of the most common tomato maladies and what you can do about them. Consult your local extension service for help diagnosing these and other problems. Also check out Insect and Disease Problems of Tomatoes, an online guide from Texas A&M University.

Blossom-end rot first appears as a light-tan spot turning to a dark-brown sunken area at the bottom (blossom end) of the tomato. It affects both green and ripe tomatoes, and is most often caused by a fluctuating moisture supply that results in a lack of calcium in the plant.

Solution: Water regularly. Don’t overfertilize with nitrogen. Plants supported by cages tend to be less susceptible to blossom-end rot than staked plants.

Sunscald first appears as light, shiny blistered areas that eventually rot. It develops when tomatoes are suddenly or continually exposed to direct sunlight. The problem is most common on plants that lose a lot of foliage either by excessive pruning or from disease.

Solution: In very hot, sunny locations plant determinate varieties with dense foliage or grow indeterminate tomatoes in cages without pruning them. Prevent diseases as

described under “Blights and Leaf Spots”.

Cracking around the stem end and along the sides of ripening tomatoes often results from rapid fruit growth, often caused by a quick change in soil moisture,

especially when wet weather follows a dry spell. Too much nitrogen in the soil also contributes to the problem.

Fusarium and verticillium wilts are diseases caused by soil-borne fungi. The lower leaves on diseased plants turn yellow, wilt and die. Plants die prematurely.

Solution: Plant resistant varieties (indicated by the letters F and V after the variety name). Remove and destroy infected plants. Rotate plants annually. Or, grow plants in a commercial pasteurized potting mix in sterile containers.

Minimize growth cracks by planting resistant varieties, and keep soil moisture uniform as fruits develop.

Rob Cardillo

Tomato hornworms

are well-camouflaged 4-in.-long green caterpillars. They devour tomatoes, leaves and stems.

Solution: Hand-pick and destroy them. Or, spray the nontoxic bacterial control Bacillus thuringiensis (sold as BT and Dipel, among others) when hornworms are small. If you find a hornworm with clusters of small white cocoons on its back, leave it alone. The cocoons belong to a small parasitic wasp that kills the worm.

Blights and leaf spots are fungal diseases that first impact the lower leaves; they get brown spots, turn yellow and eventually die. These diseases slowly spread through plants and kill them.

Solution: Mulch plants to prevent water from splashing the disease spores from the ground onto the leaves. Clean up and destroy all diseased plants. Rotate crops annually. In regions where disease problems are severe, spray the plants with a preventive fungicide, as directed by your extension service or informed nursery staff.

Even with all the potential tomato problems, if you choose varieties carefully and take some basic precautions, you will have plenty of tomatoes to enjoy and extras to share with neighbors this summer.• • •Q: Does touch therapy work on tomato plants?

A: Cornell University researchers have found that gently stroking tomato seedlings occasionally produces short, stocky plants that are more desirable for transplanting. Start stroking when plants are 2 1/2 in. tall and continue until transplanting.

A doomed tomato hornworm carries white cocoons of braconid wasps that will parasitize and ultimately kill it.

Walter Chandoha

Where to Find It

Become a Tomato Tester:

If you like the idea of test-growing tomatoes and sharing what you learn with gardeners everywhere, check out the Internet Tomato Gang. Members of this Atlanta-based noncommercial club receive seeds for trials and have access to gardening experts and up-to-date gardening information.

All-America Selections

1311 Butterfield Rd.

Suite 310

Downers Grove, IL 60515-5605

Gardener’s Supply Company

128 Intervale Rd.

Burlington, VT 05401

Tomato spirals.

Tomato Growers Supply Company

Box 2237

Fort Myers, FL 33902

Totally Tomatoes

Box 1626

Augusta, GA 30903-1626

Whether you are growing tomatoes for salads, or to preserve into canned tomato sauce and salsa, these tips will help you improve your tomato harvest.

Tomatoes are one of the most popular crops to grow in a home vegetable garden. They are often eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, and salsas. Tomatoes also can be simmered into sauces, soups, stews, and chilies.

There are hundreds tomato varieties to choose from to grow in your garden. Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes, including cherry and grape, slicing, and oblong paste varieties. Their diverse flavors range from sweet to acidic and bold and earthy. Colors can range from the traditional red to pink, yellow, purple, green, and striped.

Indeterminate tomato varieties grow and produce fruit all season until killed by frost or disease. The vines can grow up to 8 feet. While determinate varieties are bred to grow compact plants, about 2-4 feet tall and ripen all their fruit around the same time.

In addition, tomatoes also have different days to maturity, as well as resistance to diseases. It is a good idea to choose several varieties to grow so you can explore distinct flavors and growth patterns.

10 Tips to Improve Your Tomato Harvest

Tomatoes are pretty easy to grow and will likely produce a crop even when the growing conditions are not ideal. A few tips will improve the vigor of your plants and the amount of tomatoes it will produce:

Begin with Healthy Tomato Plants

Grow your own: Growing tomato plants from seeds under lights is a great way to explore varieties that are not available in the garden centers. Plus nurturing and raising your own tomato seedlings is fun.

Growing transplants is also a frugal way to get an abundance of tomato plants for your garden. A package of seeds will grow numerous tomato plants over several years and costs about the same as a 6-pack of tomato transplants at your local garden center.

Start tomato seeds about 6-8 weeks before your last frost date (look yours up: PlantMaps.com).

• 10 Steps to Starting Seedlings Indoors

Purchase quality seedlings: If you do purchase seedlings, make sure they come from a quality source. Your local nursery greenhouse will have a supply of the most popular tomato varieties that grow well in your area.

Look for small, sturdy tomato plants that are healthy. Smaller plants adapt to transplanting more easily than larger plants. Aim for about 4-8-inch tall plants with sturdy stems and healthy foliage.

Check leaves for insects and disease. Healthy foliage will be evenly green. Avoid plants with leaves that are yellow, spotted, wilted, or curled. These plants are stressed and may not adapt well when transplanted.

Choose the Ideal Growing Location for your Tomatoes

Select an area that receives full sun: Choose a bright and sunny spot in your vegetable garden to grow tomato plants. Tomatoes thrive with at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight.

Rotate planting beds: Choose a garden bed that did not grow tomatoes or their family members last season. Plants that belong to the same family are often susceptible to similar pests and diseases. Tomato plants are vulnerable to a number of soil-borne pathogens.

Rotating your tomato crop to different areas that have not grown tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes helps to reduce the build-up of pathogens. It also helps prevent pests from finding your plants early in the season.

• How to Map Your Garden Beds

Consider how you will support your plants: When you consider the area where you will be growing tomatoes, plan on space for the plants plus tomato supports. You can find out how much space your tomato plants need and how tall the plants will grow by referencing the seed package, or looking up your tomato variety online.

Harden Off Your Tomato Seedlings Before Planting

Tomatoes are a warm season crop and should not be transplanted into the garden until nights are warm and all danger of frost is past. Look up your last expected frost date at PlantMaps.com. Keep in mind that this date is only an estimate.

To avoid shocking your plants, allow your seedlings to adjust to outside conditions gradually before transplanting to the garden.

hardening off tomtoes

Once the daytime temperatures warm to about 60˚F, begin hardening off your tomato plants outside in a sheltered location, and progressively increase exposure a little at a time. Eventually, allow your tomato transplants to stay outside overnight as long as the nighttime temperatures are at least 50˚F.

Wait to transplant your hardened off tomato seedling until after your last frost date and when the air temperature is above 50 degrees at night.

If an unexpected overnight frost is predicted, cover your plants with old blankets, sheets, row covers, buckets, or nursery pots to protect them. Remove the covering in the morning.

• How to Harden Off Seedlings

Plant Your Tomato Seedlings Deep

Tomato plants have the ability to form roots along parts of the stem if it is buried under the soil. This helps your plants develop a stronger root system. A healthy root system helps your plant absorb nutrients, minerals, and moisture. Sturdy roots will also help anchor your plants so they can withstand winds and heavy rain.

Prepare your garden beds ahead of time by removing weeds and adding a generous amount of finished compost. Compost will add organic matter, nutrients, and help the soil retain moisture.

If the weather has been dry, water the bed thoroughly the day before you plant. Choose a calm, cloudy day to transplant your tomato seedlings.

Dig the planting holes deep enough to bury your tomato seedlings up to the second set of leaves from the bottom of the plant. Mix in some organic plant fertilizer that is formulated for tomatoes (such as Tomato Tone) into the hole. Follow the directions on the package. Water the planting hole well and let it drain.

Transplant your tomato seedlings and water again after planting.

Support the Growing Tomato Vines

Add support at planting time while the tomato seedling is young. Your tomato plants will grow healthier if they are offered support to keep the vines upright.

The type of support you will need for your tomato plants depends on the variety you are growing. Some plants are shorter and can be easily supported with stakes or tomato cages. Others can grow up to 8-10 feet and need stronger and taller structure to support the vines and fruit.

• 9 Creative DIY Tomato Trellis Ideas

Water Tomatoes Consistently

Tomatoes need consistent moisture to grow foliage, and produce and ripen fruit. The plant can become stressed if it doesn’t receive enough water. This can leave the plant vulnerable to diseases and unable to absorb and use nutrients sufficiently.

Uneven watering also affects the fruit. Tomatoes may crack if the plant doesn’t have enough moisture. If it rains after a dry period, the fruit may split from the extra shot of moisture. Alternatively, overwatering your tomato plants will lead to saturated soil that suffocates your plants.

The goal is to try to keep the soil evenly moist. Water your tomatoes when the soil feels dry an inch or two below the surface. Water deeply, at the base of the plant, so the moisture soaks into the soil and reaches the roots.

• DIY Self Watering Containers

Mulch the Soil Surface Around the Tomato Plants

A generous layer of organic mulch helps protect the soil from erosion, blocks weeds from sprouting, and moderates soil temperature. In addition, mulching is particularly helpful for tomato plants because it:

Helps Retain Moisture: Mulch helps keep the soil evenly damp by preventing moisture from evaporating from the soil surface.

Prevents Soil Splash: A layer of mulch stops soil from splashing onto the leaves when the tomato plants are watered. This helps prevent soil borne diseases. Instead, the water trickles down and is absorbed into the soil.

After the soil has warmed and your tomato seedlings have been planted, add a generous layer of mulch on the soil surface. Keep the mulch about 3-4-inches away from the stems of your plants to prevent smothering.

• 5 Ways Organic Mulch Helps Your Vegetable Garden
• 20 Garden Mulching Tips from Seasoned Growers

Prune Your Tomato Plants

Removing the bottom branches and any foliage that touches the ground is beneficial for all types of tomato plants. The branches at the bottom of the plant are the oldest and usually the first to show signs of disease if the plant becomes stressed.

Also, because this foliage is close to the ground, it is susceptible to being splashed with soil when it rains or when the plant is watered leaving the plant vulnerable to soil borne and fungal diseases.

Removing the bottom branches helps improve airflow, reduces soil splash, and reduces areas where pests can hide.

Should you Prune Tomato Suckers?

Tomato suckers are additional branches that sprout at the crotch between the main stem and branches of the tomato plant. The suckers turn into branches, and go on to produce tomatoes.

There are two schools of thought in dealing with tomato suckers: One is to let them be. The new branches will generate more tomatoes and give you more fruit to harvest. The other is to prune out extra branches so the plant can concentrate its energy and grow bigger tomatoes.

The way you prune your tomato suckers will depend on the type of tomatoes you are growing:

Determinate tomato varieties, also called “bush” tomatoes, are bred to grow compact plants that are about 2-4 feet tall. Suckers are not really an issue with determinant varieties. However, it is beneficial to remove bottom shoots to improve airflow.

For determinant types, prune the suckers and branches from the bottom of the plant, up to the first flower cluster.

Indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow and produce fruit all season until killed by frost or disease. The vines can reach 8-10 feet tall.

Indeterminate tomato plants can benefit from pruning some of the suckers. Eliminating some of the branches will allow the plant to focus its energy on ripening and growing tomatoes, instead of focusing on producing more foliage.

If you want a lot of tomatoes, leave the majority of the suckers and let them grow and produce more fruit. Just be sure to provide the plant with good support, moisture, and nutrients.

If you are aiming for sizable tomatoes, go ahead and prune out the majority of the tomato suckers so your plant can concentrate its energy on growing and ripening large fruit instead of more foliage.

Prune the suckers starting at the bottom of the plant, up to at least the second flower cluster. You may need to prune suckers several times during the growing season.

• Try Rooting Tomato Suckers and Grow New Plants

Scout Your Tomato Plants for Pests and Disease

At least once a week, walk through your garden and examine your tomato plants. Check the foliage, especially the lower leaves for leaf spots and holes. Look over the fruit for damage, soft spots, or cracks.

One of the most common pests you may encounter is the tomato hornworm. Hornworms are large green caterpillars that feed on tomato foliage and fruit. Their droppings are easier to spot than the worm. When you see the droppings, check the branches above, and you will likely spot the hornworm. Hand pick the worms, and drop them into a jar of soapy water.

Tomato plants are susceptible to many bacteria, fungus, and viral diseases. Some are in the soil, waiting to appear when the conditions are right. Some diseases blow in from the wind or are transferred to the plant by insects.

Diseases on the foliage appear as spots, mottling, or yellowing leaves. Others diseases can cause lesions to form on the fruit or stems. Diseases can spread from one plant to the next by wind, water, insects, and on gardening tools.

Some plants can survive while infected with a plant disease. Some diseases will kill your plants.

• Tomato Disorders: University of Minnesota Extension
• Insect Pests of Tomato: University of Maryland Extension
• What to Do When Late Blight Strikes Your Tomatoes

Scout your plants often, and remove yellow or brown foliage and any rotten or damaged fruit.

Harvest Your Tomatoes Frequently

Harvest tomatoes frequently so the plant can redirect energy to growing and ripening more fruit. Once your tomatoes begin ripening, check the plants each day and pick those that are almost ready, and let them ripen fully indoors.

We dream of vine-ripened tomatoes, but the reality is, the longer the fruit remains on the vine, the more susceptible it is to pest damage and spoiling. Luckily, tomatoes continue to mature off the vine and will have the same flavor as one that ripens on the plant.

It’s better to pick the fruit before peak ripeness to reduce the chances of loosing the fruit altogether. Some reasons for harvesting tomatoes when partially ripe include:

Avoid Pest Damage: A ripe tomato is attractive to many pests. The sweet fragrance and bright colors of ripe tomatoes is appealing to insects, birds, chipmunks, and other animals.

Prevent Splitting: The skin of a ripe tomato may split if the plant receives too much rain in a short amount of time. Once the skin has split, the fruit is defenseless against rot, mold, and insects. If you are expecting a rainy period, harvest your ripe tomatoes.

Stop Rotting in Hot Weather: Tomatoes stop ripening when temperatures are above 85ºF (29°C). Tomatoes that are nearly ripe may start rotting during a period of hot temperatures. If you are expecting several hot days in a row, harvest all your almost ripe tomatoes and bring them indoors to finish ripening.

As a tomato ripens, it changes from green to a yellow green, and then to its final color. The color deepens further as the fruit matures. A completely ripe tomato will feel firm, but slightly soft. Harvest your tomatoes when they look almost ripe.

Take care not to damage the tomato plant when harvesting. Almost ripe tomatoes will come off the vine with a simple twist, or you can use clippers or a sharp knife.

Bring the tomatoes inside and store at room temperature on a kitchen counter or any location away from direct sunlight. Your tomatoes should fully ripen in 2-4 days. Once ripe, use the tomatoes within a few days.

• Fresh Summer Tomato Sauce Recipe
• Grilled Tomato Salsa Recipe
• Canning Crushed or Diced Tomatoes
• Tomato Salsa Recipe for Canning
• Seasoned Tomato Sauce Recipe for Canning

Growing tomatoes can be a challenge, but the reward is worth the effort.

Good planning is key to a successful vegetable garden.

Whether you are new to growing your own food or have been growing a vegetable garden for years, you will benefit from some planning each year. You will find everything you need to organize and plan your vegetable garden in my PDF eBook, Grow a Good Life Guide to Planning Your Vegetable Garden.

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” – Lewis Grizzard

Everyone knows that home garden tomatoes taste an order of magnitude better than ones that come from the grocery stores’ shelves. They are fresher, juicier, sweeter and just plain delicious. Tomatoes grown for supermarkets are bred for their firmness, ability to withstand travel, long shelf life, uniformity and even color. That also makes them bland, mealy and not very tasty.

So, consider growing tomatoes on your own; there are plenty of varieties –whether garden favorites or unique heirlooms — to choose from and you can grow them until they are perfectly ripe and delicious.

#1 TOMATO BOX

With the right tomato gardening supplies growing organically is easy! Planet Natural has everything you need — fertilizers, planting kits, trellises and protection — ​for early season growth and healthy, flavorful harvests.

Garden Essentials

Sunshine

More than anything, tomatoes need sun. Full sun, for that matter and no less than 8-hours per day. If your garden plot receives less than ideal amounts of sunshine (and the warmth it provides) you can still grow beautiful tomatoes, but will have to improve conditions for them to thrive.

Spread black plastic around your plants. This will help the soil soak up heat and control weeds and many insects, too. Mulching will also conserve soil moisture, which can prevent tomato problems (blossom end rot, cracking) associated with uneven watering.

Tip: Some growers prefer to use red tomato mulch, which may have the added benefit of reducing the number of days to maturity and improving tomato yields.

A fence or barrier behind your plants will reflect sunlight back onto them. For best results, use something shiny or bright — a white sheet hung between two posts or an old door painted white will get the job done. If it is heat, more than sunlight that you are trying to increase, paint your fence or barrier a dark color.

Row covers, draped over tomato plants can trap heat and some moisture — creating a mini-greenhouse effect. There are many different kinds of row covers, but choose a gauzy material that will protect plants from cold and let rain through. Make sure to check often to be sure your plants are not overheating.

Do you live in an area with high temperatures? If so, you may need to cool your plants. Tomatoes drop their flowers, fail to color-up and pretty much stop growing when temperatures consistently climb above 90°F. To protect plants from too much heat consider shading the plants. Be careful not to just drape something over them, as this will create more heat. Shade the side of the plants being hit with the sun and make sure there is plenty of air circulation.

Soil

Tomatoes are not super fussy about what type of soil they are grown in. As with most garden vegetables, they do well in well-drained, fertile loam with a pH of 5.8 to 7.0. Mix several inches of organic compost or aged animal manure into the upper 4-8 inches of soil before planting. If a soil testing kit shows the pH is above 6.0, apply elemental sulfur — if it is below 6.0, add dolomite lime.

A TOP SELLER!

Growing in containers? Roots Organics® Potting Soil is a ready to use potting mix made from quality natural and organic ingredients. Can also be used as an additive or amendment to improve the structure of most gardens. The unique recipe enables better drainage and encourages a vigorous root structure.

Space

How much space you’ll need per plant depends on the tomato variety you are growing and whether or not your plants are staked or caged. Proper spacing will assure that your plants receive plenty of sunlight and good air circulation, which will prevent many plant diseases from developing.

When it’s time to plant, refer to the seed packet or seedling directions for specific spacing requirements. Some general guidelines are:

  • Space staked tomatoes and indeterminates 1.5 to 3-feet apart
  • Determinates grow more compact and can be spaced 2-feet apart
  • Plant unstaked/uncaged plants 6-feet apart
  • Tomatoes with a 2-foot diameter cage can be planted 4-feet apart
  • Allow at least 3-feet between rows of tomatoes

Where to Plant

Traditionally, it has been recommended that plants in the same family (in this case the Solanaceae Family) should not be planted near each other or in the same ground as the previous year. (For tomatoes, this would include eggplants, peppers and potatoes, in addition to other varieties of tomatoes.) While members of the same plant family often share common pest problems, it is nearly impossible to keep them apart if you have a small to medium sized garden.

In her book Great Garden Companions: A Companion-Planting System for a Beautiful, Chemical-Free Vegetable Garden, Sally Jean Cunningham suggests planting tomatoes, eggplants, and pepper together and mulching them with black plastic. Feed all of them with a high-phosphorus bat guano which will promote flowering and fruiting. (Potatoes have different nutritional needs, so plant them separately.)

Garden plants that seem to grow well near tomatoes — and visa versa — include carrots, garlic, beans, peas, other legumes and basil.

What to Grow

There are so many types of tomatoes to choose from that it can be difficult to decide which ones to grow. Experts suggest starting with three varieties and taking careful notes so you’ll know which ones you want to plant the following year.

FREE SHIPPING!

Tomato Seeds

When’s the last time you had a fresh, great tasting tomato from the supermarket?

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So much sweeter, juicier and extra flavorful than a commercially-raised tomato, homegrown heirloom tomato seeds restore one of summer’s greatest pleasures. Start a number of varieties indoors up to two months before last frost.

When choosing plants, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What shape, size and use do I prefer?
  • Is this plant resistant to local diseases?
  • Which plant grows best in my climate?
  • How many plants do I want to grow?

Getting Started

Visit your local nursery (avoid the big box stores at this point — you want to find someone who really knows what they are talking about) or jump online and visit a garden forum for answers to your questions. Find out which tomatoes grow best in your area and get answers to any other questions you might have. Then buy a few.

Here is a little vocabulary lesson, so you won’t feel lost when the nursery salesperson starts talking about:

Determinate Tomatoes: These plants set all their fruit at once and then they are done. Blossoms grow at the end of their shoots. Usually, they do not require much pruning or staking (unless they are “vigorous” and have such big fruit that they need a little extra support). Determinate types like hot and relatively dry conditions, and will grow well in the Southwest.

Indeterminate Tomatoes: These plants grow and fruit throughout the summer. Their flowers bloom along the vines — not at the ends. Support and pruning are usually requirements of indeterminate varieties, which do well in warmer, more humid parts of the country.

Heirloom Tomatoes: These “old fashioned,” non-hybrid varieties were developed over generations by continually breeding plants with the most desirable characteristics with other plants that also had these characteristics. Plants of each generation that did not meet the grower’s requirements were pulled out and not bred again. An important point with heirloom tomato seeds is that they are usually (but not always) indeterminate and are developed in an open pollinated environment.

#1 FERTILIZER

Designed for use on all varieties of tomatoes, Happy Frog® Tomato & Vegetable Fertilizer (7-4-5) contains balanced ratios between nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Allows the plant to feed vigorously while producing abundant high quality fruit set. Use 1/4 to 1 cup per established plant or topdress 1 to 5 cups per 10 sq. ft. of planting area.

An heirloom plants’ defining qualities are in its dominant genes, so even if cross-pollinated with varieties are nearby, heirloom seeds will stay true, at least for awhile. Eventually, you will see changes in the seeds, but by keeping them relatively separated, they will breed true (see our article Heirloom & Organic Seed: A Growing Movement).

Hybrid Tomatoes: These plants are produced anew every year and are the result of two different tomatoes being force-pollinated or “crossed” with no attempt to create a self-propagating seed. Hybrid seed will produce a plant with the characteristics that it was bred for only once.

Selecting Seedlings

If you live in an area with a short growing season, purchasing seedlings may be the best way to go, since they take less time to reach maturity and develop, well tomatoes! When it comes time to select your young seedlings look for leafy, vigorous plants. Leggy or spindly plants will likely fall over and not fair well in the garden. Stocky seedlings, about 6-8 inches tall with one main stem are best. Also, watch for plants with discolored leaves or insects on them and do NOT choose plants that are in flower — overall yield will likely be poor.

Growing from Seed

Many tomato varieties and most heirlooms are only available as seed. Therefore, if you want to grow an assortment of tomato plants, chances are you’ll have to start from seed. Fortunately, starting tomatoes from seed is pretty darn easy.

When to Plant

Seed packets tell you to start planting 6-8 weeks before the last frost — indoors. However, if you live in a warm climate and don’t have a frost, sow the seeds 6-8 weeks before daytime temperatures reach the high 70s and nighttime temperatures don’t get below 55°F.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Growing Media. A good organic potting soil will be lightweight and drain well. It will also be weed and pest free — typical garden soil is not! Choose an organic potting soil and your seedlings will thank you.

STARTER KIT

Jump start your garden with the Hydrofarm® Hot House. Offers increased growing success by providing gentle heat to the root zone and by controlling humidity under the dome. Easy to use — just add your own starter mix!

Containers. Just about anything works as a container to start seeds in. Egg cartons, the bottom half of milk or juice cartons, yogurt containers, etc. Just be sure to poke drainage hole in the bottom. Of course, plastic flats purchased at the garden store work great, too. Whatever you choose, be sure to put a tray under your containers to catch the water that drains out.

Tip: Planet Natural offers a wide selection of Seed Starting Supplies to help you get your tomato plants off to a great start!

Seeds. You can’t grow seedlings without seeds, no matter how great your potting mix and ingenious your containers are. Head to your local garden store or shop online for tomato seeds.

Sowing and Sprouting. Sow seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep (check the seed packet for specifics) and keep the potting mix evenly moist — if seeds get wet, then dry out, they will die. Seeds should sprout in 10-14 days.

Tip: To keep seeds evenly moist, cover your containers with plastic wrap, or keep them in a plastic bag. DO NOT let it get so wet that mold develops and remove or raise the wrap once seedlings emerge.

Keeping them Healthy. After your seeds have germinated, make sure they get plenty of direct light — 12 to 16 hours a day. If your house doesn’t get enough natural sunlight, you might need to invest in an indoor grow light system (see below). If your seedlings are on a windowsill, turn them daily to ensure even growth.

Once a seedling has developed 4 leaves, it is time to transfer it to a new pot. Here’s how:

  1. Put a layer of a light potting mix in the new container.
  2. Gently remove the seedling from its old pot, being careful not to damage or bruise the roots or stem.
  3. Set the new seedling in the pot.
  4. Carefully fill with soil. Cover most of the stem, leaving only the leaves above the soil.
  5. Repeat this process when plants are 8-10 inches tall, unless it is time to move them outside.

Moving Plants Outside

When soil temperatures reach 55-60°F and the days are in the 60s, it’s time to transplant your tomatoes. However, don’t just stick them in the ground. They’ll need to get used to cooler outdoor temperatures and a harsher environment. For best results, start your young plants out in the shade for an hour or two before bringing them back in the house. Increase their time outdoors until they can handle living outside full time. This process will take about 7-10 days (see Setting Out, Hardening Off).

#1 KELP EXTRACT

Derived from fresh Norwegian kelp, Maxicrop® Liquid Seaweed contains over 70 minerals, micronutrients, amino acids and vitamins. Used for years by organic farmers for its many plant health benefits. Also, encourages tolerance to plant stresses such as frost, pests, transplanting and drought.

Transplanting

  1. Choose a cloudy day, if possible, so seedlings don’t dry out.
  2. Water plants with compost tea or diluted fish emulsion an hour or two before transplanting.
  3. Pinch off the lower leaves.
  4. Mix 1c kelp meal, 1c bone meal and a handful of organic compost into each planting hole.
  5. Very gently, remove the seedling from its pot and place in the planting hole.
  6. Fill the hole with soil.
  7. Water well.

Watering

The key to beautiful tomatoes is consistent watering. Water deeply and often, making sure to soak the soil 6 to 8 inches deep at least twice per week. Do NOT let the soil dry out between waterings, especially once tomatoes begin to develop. Uneven watering will produce misshapen fruit and a host of other problems, some of which are mentioned above. Tomatoes love water!

Tip: Keep water off the leaves of tomato plants to prevent many plant diseases from developing.

Mulching

Mulch will help retain moisture and keep your garden soil warm. Apply up to 8-inches of straw, grass, leaves or other organic mulch soon after the soil has warmed. If you will be using tomato stakes or cages, make sure to install them prior to adding mulch. Learn more about mulches for the home vegetable garden here.

Fertilizing

Tomatoes are “heavy feeders” meaning they need a lot of nutrients. Phosphorus will promote blossoming (and thus fruiting), whereas nitrogen will increase vegetative growth. The following applies to organic fertilizer only.

Liquid Fertilizer. Liquid fertilizers are immediately available to the plant, but they do leach out of the soil quickly, requiring frequent applications. Fertilizers such as fish emulsion or compost tea can be applied to the foliage or to the soil around the base of the plant.

Who knew that vegetables loved fish? Neptune’s Harvest® is a top-selling Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer that uses North Atlantic ocean harvests and gets great results from gardeners. They’re reporting bigger crops, increased sugars and better blooms.

Slow-Release Granules. These organic nutrients can be scattered around established plants on the surface of the soil. They release slowly, will not burn plants, contain all kinds of micronutrients in addition to nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and even improve the texture of the soil as they break down.

Top and Side-Dressings. Top-dressing is adding fertilizer or soil amendments on top of the soil. Compost is an obvious choice for top-dressing. Water will leach the nutrients into the soil and earthworms will carry the compost downward.

With side-dressing, you’ll need to dig the tomato fertilizer into the soil around your plants, being careful not to disturb the root system. Side dress with a calcium source (such as gypsum) during the blossom stage to prevent blossom-end rot.

Pruning

Only indeterminate varieties of tomatoes require (or benefit from) pruning. Pruning tomatoes is the act of removing volunteer sprouts, or suckers. The suckers grow at the junction of the main plant stem and the leaf stem.

If you don’t prune your suckers, they will grow roots, leaves and flowers just like the rest of the plant, which will actually increase the overall number of tomatoes you can harvest. However, it will decrease the size of each individual tomato since resources have to be spread throughout a bigger plant.

Tomatoes grown on a trellis or staked will need pruning, simply because the structures can’t support huge plants. Caged tomatoes are usually pruned to 4-5 producing branches. There is all sorts of advice online about pruning tomatoes.

Training and Support

Stakes, trellises, cages, fences and anything else you can think of, can be used to train and support tomato plants. Since tomatoes are vines, they naturally grow along the ground until they find something to “grab hold of” and climb up on.

VINE SUPPORT

Perfect for tomatoes! Reusable Tomato Vine Clips make it easy to tie plants to stakes, trellises or support wire. Works with stems up to 3/4″ in diameter and features open sides to improve air circulation and reduce disease problems.

Some compact tomato varieties can be grown unsupported and will yield beautiful fruits, but they tend to take up a lot of space. Additionally, they are more apt to be attacked by soil borne insects and diseases. If growing tomatoes without support — make sure to use plenty of mulch.

Begin training plants when they are about 1-foot tall and growing quickly. Tie determinant varieties to metal or wooden poles about 5 to 6 feet tall. As plants grow, remove small sucker shoots and tie the main stem, using cloth strips or twine to the stake. Guide the plant up the stake as it grows.

Another staking option, known as the Florida weave, works well when growing many tomato plants in a row. Begin by placing several stakes between plants and weave garden twine or cord between them. Steel posts (instead of stakes) at the end of each row will provide additional support.

Cages require much less work than either staking or trellising tomatoes and are ideal for sprawling indeterminate plants. As plants grow, simply pull their branches through the cage to get the necessary support.

Problems

Tomatoes have all kinds of insect and disease problems associated with them (far too many to mention here). However, if your tomato plants seem unhealthy, the first thing to do is figure out what is causing the problem. Texas A&M’s Tomato Disorders page has plenty of pictures that can help you spot the problem quickly and offers a list of remedies.

Harvest

Tomatoes change color and ripen best when daytime temperatures stay around 75°F. For best taste, leave them on the vine as long as possible. However, if temperatures drop, you’ll want to bring all mature fruits (green or not) indoors. Green tomatoes can be ripened indoors by storing them in a cool dark space, or even a brown paper bag. Within a week or two they should begin to turn red.

Another method of ripening green tomatoes is to pull the entire plant from the garden and hang it upside down in a dark area, like your basement. Believe it or not, this will work and as the fruit ripens it can be picked straight from the vine.

Tip: Never store unripened tomatoes in the refrigerator, as cold temperatures will cause them to lose flavor and turn mushy.

Extending the Season

If you live in an area with a short growing season, and you want vine-ripened tomatoes, you’ll have to do a little pre and post season work.

FROST PROTECTION

“The most efficient way to keep plants protected from freezing weather.” Wall O Waters enable organic gardeners to start tomatoes, peppers, squash or other plants 6-8 weeks earlier, without fear of freezing. Plants will be healthier and produce up to twice the fruit 30-40 days earlier.

Spring. Get your seeds started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost — or earlier if you plan to use a greenhouse, cold frame or row covers. When planting time arrives, you’ll have healthy, vigorous plants that are ready to go.

Fall. When the weather turns cooler it’s time to prune away many of the leaves on your tomato plants to allow warming sunshine to reach the fruit — it’s the warmth, not the light, that will hasten the fruit’s ripening. Also, prune off all flowers that haven’t set fruit. This will divert the plants energy to ripening the fruits that already exist.

When a frost is expected, cover your plants with several old blankets or other material to keep them from freezing for a couple more weeks. Remove blankets during the day to recharge the heat stored in the soil. For increased warmth, run an extension cord out to your garden and keep a light bulb (or better yet, Christmas lights) on under the cover.

Tip: To stimulate fruiting in the fall, reduce watering and/or cut the plants roots on three sides with a shovel.

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