A Guide to Growing Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a staple for many home gardeners, but growing tomatoes can be very difficult. As someone who has grown a full garden of tomato plants for the past three summers, I understand this struggle and want to help others get started right. I wanted to make this guide so other gardeners have the tools and knowledge they need to grow the perfect tomato plants. Let’s get started by considering the following:
There are literally hundreds of tomato varieties, so it can be hard to decide which you should grow based on your location and desired characteristics. Bonnie Plants has a wonderful tool to help decide which variety is the best for you, and they also have a webpage for learning common terms associated with growing tomatoes. I usually grow between two and four varieties to make sure that I have a range of flavors, colors, and resistances to heat, disease, etc.
Tomatoes work well in warm temps, so I’ve found that starting the seeds inside about 8-10 weeks before planting outside is best. This allows the plants to gain some strength before facing the harsh outdoors, especially if you want to grow earlier in the season and not have to deal with freezing. Another option is to purchase young plants when you’re getting ready to plant outside. This is much easier than growing from seeds and it’s a nice way to grow tomatoes if you don’t have enough time or resources to maintain the seedlings.
Tomatoes thrive on sunlight and heat, so make sure to place your tomatoes in an area with plenty of sun (at least 6-8 hours per day). Soil containing the right nutrients is also very important when growing tomatoes, so using a mixture of high-quality garden soil, compost, and slow-release fertilizer can enhance your tomato yields.
Many varieties of tomatoes grow on very large plants, so having enough space for the number of plants in your garden is crucial so they don’t crowd each other out. The base spacing for tomato plants is 2-3 feet. In addition, larger plants usually need a cage, trellis, or spikes to ensure that they don’t break under the weight of the fruit. Add your supports immediately after planting to ensure that the plants grow in and around the support.
Tomato plants require a ton of water, so aim for at least one inch per week in the summertime. I have a watering system set up in my garden with automated watering in the morning for around 20 minutes, and then I check again later in the day to see if they need more water. A good way to measure if the plants need water is to stick your finger in the dirt until the second knuckle; if the soil is dry on the tip of your finger, then you should probably do some more watering. Trimming the plants to keep them from taking over your garden may also be necessary if you take care of them and they grow to be huge!
These basics should be enough to get you started on growing your very own tomato plants! I have included more links with troubleshooting guides, growing tips, and more detailed plant selection if you are interested in learning more about how to grow tomatoes. Happy growing!
Written by Emily Hull