Growing tomatoes is often where new gardeners begin the all-consuming gardening hobby. Nothing, and I mean nothing, compares with the taste and texture of a home-grown tomato. The tomatoes you find in the grocery store are but pale shadows of the real thing, and whether you grow tomatoes in containers or end up with enormous raised beds filled with tomatoes as I have, you’ll never go back to buying tomatoes once you learn how to grow tomatoes at home.
Your Guide to Growing Tomatoes
Grow delicious, huge tomatoes in your backyard garden
Almost every gardener starts by growing tomatoes. That’s because once you’ve tasted a ripe, fresh tomatoes plucked from the vine and consumed within minutes of harvest, you’ll never purchase a tasteless supermarket tomato again.
However, if growing tomatoes has eluded you, or your tomatoes didn’t make it through the summer, this guide is for you. It’s the beginner’s guide to growing tomatoes the easy way. From types of tomatoes to staking tomatoes, this is your guide to growing tomatoes.
Types of Tomatoes
There are two types of tomato plants: indeterminate and determinate.
Indeterminate tomatoes continue growing until the frost. They continue to produce tomatoes until killed by frost, too. And, they can grow quite tall – sometimes as tall as five, six feet or more.
Determinate tomatoes maintain a compact size and produce abundant fruit within a short growing period. Many so-called patio tomato plants, tomatoes grown in containers, and those sold already planted in containers at the garden center are determinate tomatoes. These are great for gardeners with limited space or who want to grow a tomato plant in a pot or container.
Varieties of Tomatoes
Within each type of tomato plant (indeterminate and determinate) there are many varieties of tomatoes. Growing tomatoes starts by choosing your favorite tomatoes to eat. If you love small, bite-sized cherry tomatoes on your salad, grow them! If you prefer to make the ultimate BLT, grow your own T and plant beefsteak tomatoes.
Here are a few popular varieties.
These indeterminate plants produce abundant small, marble-sized tomatoes. Familiar varieties include Sweet 100, Sweet Million, and similar names.
Early Girl tomatoes
I love growing Early Girl because they live up to their name and produce abundant fruit early in the season. Although these slicing tomatoes are smaller than the gigantic beefsteak type, they are still fantastic in a sandwich.
Better Boy tomatoes
Both Better Boy and Early Girl are indeterminate tomatoes. Better Boy produces slightly larger tomatoes.
Black Krim is another wonderful tomato variety. It’s a large indeterminate tomato with dark red-purple flesh.
Roman tomatoes or Roma tomatoes
The quintessential tomato for making tomato sauce or puree, Romas can be tricky to grow but are indeed the best if you plan on making and canning your own sauce. The tomatoes have less juice and thus need less time cooking down into sauce.
Growing Tomatoes: 8 Essentials to Grow Healthy Tomato Plants
To grow healthy tomatoes, you need a few essentials.
- Start with healthy plants: First, start with the best plants you can find. If you start tomatoes from seeds, choose quality seeds and use a new package of seeds.
- Plant in full sun: Tomatoes need abundant sunshine. That means bright, full and direct sunlight all day long.
- Wait until the weather is warm: Tomatoes need heat to thrive. They produce the most fruit when daytime temperatures are 80-90 F and nighttime temperatures are int he 60s. Always plant tomatoes outdoors after the last expected frost date for your area.
- Water: Use a sprinkler, hose, or watering can and water tomato plants daily. Try to give tomatoes about the same amount of water each day to prevent cracking.
- Fertilizer: Sprinkle Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) in the planting hole when planting tomatoes and apply vegetable or tomato fertilizer, 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 at planting. I use both abundant compost and add fertilizer to my tomatoes when planting.
- Planting: Plant tomatoes as deeply as possible. Tomatoes produce roots from the stems, so the deeper you can plant tomatoes, the stronger and more extensive the root system.
- Staking: Tomatoes, especially indeterminate tomatoes, benefit from supports such as stakes or tomato cages. If you use supports, tie the branches using soft cloth. Cut strips of cloth from rags, old bedsheets or towels. Tomato cages can be fashioned from woven wire rolled into tubes and set firmly into the ground.
- Pruning: Trim or prune the suckers between branches to allow tomatoes to produce more fruit. Always pluck off the lower set of leaves before planting tomatoes.
Tomato Plant Diseases and Treatments
I’ve written extensively about tomato plant diseases and treatments and have even made a few videos on the topic.
3 Common Tomato Problems
I made this video about the top three problems many people encounter when growing tomatoes.
Cracked Tomatoes – Why Are My Tomatoes Cracking?
Cracks that form in tomatoes are usually caused by uneven watering. Watering your tomato plants daily can prevent cracks.
I hope this introduction to growing tomatoes has helped you on your way. There’s nothing that says summer like a fresh, homegrown tomato.
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Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.