Where should I grow my tomato plants?
Since there are so many tomato types to choose from, utilize our Tomato Chooser to help you choose the best for your garden. Learn Tomato Terminology covers some simple (but significant) tomato concepts including hybrid, indeterminate vs. determinate, and VFN (disease resistance). Growing a variety of kinds, including at least one or two disease-resistant cultivars, is a good idea since tomatoes are the most sensitive to illness of all vegetables.
How to Plant and Care for Tomatoes
- Tomatoes thrive in warm weather, so grow them in late spring and early summer unless you live in zone 10, when they are an autumn and winter crop.
- Use starter plants instead of seeds to get a jump start on developing. Choose young tomato plants from Bonnie Plants®, a company that has spent over 100 years helping home gardeners grow their best gardens.
- Grow tomatoes in a great, sunny location. Tomatoes need at least 6 to 8 hours of sun to bring out their best flavors.
- Most tomato plants will need to be staked, trellised, or caged to keep them off the ground. Decide on a support plan before you set out your plants, then add that support directly after planting.
- Give each plant enough room to grow. Plant vigorous, long-vined, indeterminate variety 3 feet apart. Plant stockier determinate plants 2 feet apart. Mix in a few inches of high quality garden soil, such as aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose In-Ground Soil, with the top layer of existing soil to improve the planting area. You’ll need at least a 24-inch pot for an indeterminate variety and an 18-inch pot for a determinate type if grown in containers. For the optimum growth, fill containers with quality potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose Container Mix.
- Tomatoes absorb nutrients best when the soil pH is between 6.2 and 6.8, and they need a steady supply of main and minor plant nutrients. To provide needed nutrients, mix a continuous-release fertilizer with calcium, like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition Granules, into the soil as you prepare the planting holes. Feed as directed by the label during the growth season. This will help protect fruit from blossom end rot, a problem that can occur when the plant isn’t getting enough calcium.
- Simultaneously, add 3 to 4 inches of compost, which will offer minimal nutrients and help store moisture and fertilizer in the soil until the plants want it.
- To grow a really strong tomato plant, For planting, we suggest burying two-thirds of the stem. This crucial step will allow the plant to sprout roots along the buried stem, so your plant will be stronger and better able to find water in a drought. Please keep in mind that this procedure only works with tomatoes (and tomatillos), not other vegetables.
- Water seedlings immediately after planting to help them settle in.
- To cultivate an early harvest, combine fast-maturing types with unique season-stretching procedures, but wait until the last frost has past before planting main-season tomatoes.
- Cover the ground with 2 to 4 inches of mulch to minimize weeds and help keep the soil evenly moist. Straw and crushed leaves make excellent tomato mulches.
- Water regularly, aiming for at least an inch of moisture per week (through rain or watering), more in the summertime. If the top inch of soil is dry, it’s time to water.
How to Troubleshoot Tomato Problems
- Some tomatoes struggle to bear fruit as the summer warms up. As the evenings start to chill down, you’ll start seeing small green tomatoes again. Meanwhile, pick ripe tomatoes as soon as possible to relieve stressed plants of their heavy weight. If you live in an area in which summertime temperatures are typically in the 90s, be sure to choose some heat-tolerant tomato varieties, bred for their ability to set fruit under high temperatures.
- If summer droughts are common in your area, or you tend to forget to water, use soaker hoses, drip irrigation, or other drought-busting techniques to help maintain even soil moisture. This will not only help avoid cracked fruits, but it will also help keep blossom end rot at bay. (Moisture changes may lower the amount of calcium the plant can absorb, leading to blossom end rot.)
- Humidity promotes the growth of fungal diseases such as early blight, which causes black patches to appear on lower leaves initially. During the season, remove any leaves that seem to be ill or infected. Late blight is a more devastating disease that kills plants quickly; the only way to control it is to protect against it by spraying the leaves with an approved fungicide such as chlorothalonil or copper, and to keep the garden clean of plant debris.
- You should also keep an eye out for pests. In mid-summer, for example, big green caterpillars called tomato hornworms eat tomato foliage and sometimes damage fruits. A single or two hornworms may quickly rob a plant of its leaves! Take care of bugs as soon as you see them.
- Plants that begin producing early in the season will exhibit indications of weariness by late summer. By trimming away withered leaves and branches, you may prolong the life of those sad tomato plants with minimal effort. Afterwards, if necessary, apply liquid plant food and remedies for leaf diseases or insects.
- Further troubleshooting information may be found in our post on Tomato Quirks.
How to Harvest and Store Tomatoes
- Tomatoes change color as they mature, from a vivid medium-green to a lighter hue with slight pink or yellow flushing. These ripe green tomatoes, known as “breakers,” may be cut into salsas, pickled, or pan-fried into a crispy snack. Yet tomato flavours become much more complex as the fruits ripen, so you have good reason to wait. The exact signs of ripeness vary with variety, but in general, perfectly ripe tomatoes show deep colour yet still feel firm when gently squeezed.
- Picked tomatoes should be stored at room temperature inside or in a shaded spot outdoors. Never refrigerate tomatoes, because temperatures below 55° cause the precious flavour compounds to break down.
- Bumper harvests may be frozen, canned, or dried and stored for later use.
Your plant tags say to plant tomatoes deep: two-thirds of the plant underground. Is that really a good practice?
Indeed, we encourage it since the more plants you place in the soil, the healthier the root system will be. A tomato plant’s submerged stem will develop roots. This is not true for other veggies, but just for tomatoes and tomatillos.
The tag says full sun, but in Arizona with temperatures reaching over the 100 degree mark, is that going to be an issue with this plant?
We recommend that you give your tomatoes some afternoon shade in summer. They need some alleviation.
What is meant by “maturity is reached in __ days”?
The maturation period is the amount of days between planting the seedling and picking the fruit. This varies a little with weather and region, but the “days to maturity” is a good way to see what will be ready early, mid, and late season.
What size cage should I use for my tomato plants?
Most tomatoes work best with a 5- to 6-foot trellis, stake, or cage. Get the biggest cage available or build your own out of concrete reinforcing wire. The vines of indeterminate tomatoes can get longer than 6 feet, but just let them climb to the top and droop over and down if that doesn’t bother you. Otherwise, you’ll have to harvest using a ladder!
When the plant says full sun, what exactly does that mean?
Full sun implies no shade all day, which is sometimes too much in the summer. In hot climates, herbs and some vegetables appreciate a little shade in the mid to late afternoon.
Is it a good idea to always stake or cage my tomatoes?
Yes. Staking tomatoes helps to increase yield and prevent rotting and diseases.
Can I plant one tomato plant in a five-gallon bucket on my patio? How large should the container be for a tomato?
Absolutely, a tomato plant needs at least a 5-gallon container. A container should be at least 18 inches wide at the top for a tomato, preferably 24 inches for an indeterminate tomato plant. Make sure your container includes drainage holes as well.
What do the letters VFFN stand for in the names of your tomatoes?
These letters represent problems that a variety resists, which means that it should not succumb to the problem. V is for Verticillium wilt, F and FF for Fusarium wilt races 1 and 2, and A stands for Alternaria leaf spot. The N is for nematode resistance; nematodes are not a disease, they are tiny eel-like pests that ruin roots. Such identifiers are also provided in the tomato variety descriptions in our online plant catalog.
Is there such a thing as nematode-resistant tomato plants?
Certainly, many kinds are nematode resistant. Look for the “N” after the name, which stands for nematode resistance. Check out the catalog area of our website to locate these kinds. Our tomato descriptions list plants’ resistance to nematodes and other problems.
Should I be pruning off the lower branches of my tomato plants? How far off of the ground should the lower branches be?
Pruning is not required, but some people do it to minimize disease-carrying dirt from splashing up on the leaves; 12 to 18 inches from the ground should enough.
Is it true that pinching off the flowers on the tomato plant helps it to produce more fruit?
It will not enhance output, but it may raise the size of tomatoes remaining on the vine somewhat.
I just planted my tomatoes and found out that it is too early. Should I put something over them to protect them at night?
If you cover your tomatoes to protect them from frost and cold, strong winds, they should be OK. Don’t let the foliage touch the cover unless it is a material that doesn’t transfer the cold easily, such as bonded polyester row cover, a cardboard box, or a blanket. Metal cans and plastic should be avoided until they come into contact with the plants.
What causes tomatoes to turn black on the bottom?
It is known as blossom end rot. It is hypothesized to be caused by a calcium deficiency and drought stress. Liming the soil is one method of adding calcium. This will be beneficial to future harvests. To help the current crop, purchase a calcium solution, such as Stop-rot, that you spray on the plants.
Do I have to replant tomatoes every year, or do the plants come back when the time is right?
Tomatoes are frost-sensitive annuals. They need to be replanted each year.