Tomatoes are one of the best crops to grow in your garden.
Not only do tomatoes come in many shapes, colors, and sizes, but the difference between store bought and farm raised tomatoes is dramatic. The tomatoes you can grow in your backyard garden are absolutely delicious.
The best news is that growing tomatoes doesn’t have to be hard. While they involve a bit more care than some of the other crops, they will reward you will delicious tomatoes all summer long.
We’ve been growing tomatoes on our backyard farm for many years and have grown many varieties, sizes, and types (including canning tomotoes and fresh eating tomatoes). In this post, we will share the basic information you need to know to grow tomatoes including when to plant, how to prepare your soil and what to do during the growing season.
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Growing Tomatoes Quick Facts
|Best Time to Plant||Spring: After the last frost has passed. For specific dates in your area, check with your local extension office.|
|Soil pH||6.0 to 6.8: Tomatoes thrive in slightly acidic to neutral soil. Test and adjust your soil’s pH if necessary.|
|Soil Type||Well-Drained Loam: Provide good drainage to prevent waterlogged roots. Adding organic matter can improve soil texture.|
|Sunlight||Full Sun: Tomatoes need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily for optimal growth and fruit production.|
|Watering||Consistent Moisture: Keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy. Water at the base of the plant to prevent fungal issues.|
|Fertilizing||Balanced Fertilizer: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or compost to provide essential nutrients throughout the season.|
|Plant Spacing||18-24 inches apart: Give your tomato plants enough space to allow for good air circulation and prevent disease.|
|Common Pests||Aphids, Hornworms, Blight: Monitor for common pests and diseases, and take prompt action to control them.|
|Companion Plants||Basil, Marigolds, Nasturtiums: Plant these companion plants near tomatoes to deter pests and improve flavor.|
|Harvest Time||60-85 days: The time to harvest varies depending on the tomato variety. Harvest when the fruit is ripe and fully colored.|
Selecting the Best Tomatoes Variety
There are so many places you can purchase tomatoes. We love to get seedlings locally and ofte buy our seeds through Johnnys Seeds.
- Cherry Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme): Cherry tomatoes are a popular choice for snacking and salads. They come in various colors, including red, yellow, and orange, and they produce abundant sweet and tangy fruits. Their small size makes them perfect for kids and for garnishing dishes.
- Grape Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Grape tomatoes are similar to cherry tomatoes but tend to be more elongated. They have a deliciously sweet flavor and are great for fresh eating or roasting. Their firm texture also makes them a good choice for skewers and appetizers.
- Currant Tomatoes (Solanum pimpinellifolium): Currant tomatoes are the tiniest of the bunch, about the size of a pea. They pack an intense, sweet-tart flavor and are perfect for snacking, adding to salads, or as a garnish for various dishes.
- Pear Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum var. pyriforme): Pear tomatoes are shaped like miniature pears and come in various colors. They have a mild, sweet flavor and are often used for making tomato preserves or for adding a unique twist to salads.
- Sun Gold Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Sun Gold tomatoes are a favorite among gardeners for their exceptional sweetness and tropical flavor. These orange cherry tomatoes are perfect for snacking, and their vibrant color adds visual appeal to any dish.
- Beefsteak Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Beefsteak tomatoes are known for their large size and meaty texture. They are ideal for making thick slices for sandwiches and burgers. They come in various colors, including red and pink, and have a rich, classic tomato flavor.
- Brandywine Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum var. lycopersicum): Brandywine tomatoes are an heirloom variety celebrated for their exceptional taste. They have large, pink, or red fruits with a sweet, slightly tangy flavor. They are perfect for enjoying fresh in salads or on sandwiches.
- Roma Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum var. plum): Roma tomatoes, also known as plum tomatoes, are favored for their low moisture content and dense flesh. They are excellent for making sauces, pastes, and canning, thanks to their rich flavor and minimal seeds.
- Celebrity Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Celebrity tomatoes are popular for their disease resistance and reliability in producing medium-sized, round, and flavorful slicing tomatoes. They are a great choice for both fresh eating and slicing for salads.
- Big Boy Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Big Boy tomatoes live up to their name with their large, smooth, and meaty fruits. They have a classic tomato flavor and are perfect for slicing onto sandwiches and hamburgers.
- San Marzano Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme): San Marzano tomatoes are the gold standard for making Italian-style tomato sauces. They have a sweet, intense flavor and are easy to peel, making them a top choice for canning whole or in sauce form.
- Roma Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum var. plum): As mentioned earlier, Roma tomatoes are excellent for canning due to their low moisture content and dense flesh. They hold up well when cooked down into sauces, pastes, and salsas.
- Amish Paste Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Amish Paste tomatoes are another great option for canning, with their meaty texture and sweet flavor. They make delicious tomato paste and sauces when preserved.
- Marglobe Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Marglobe tomatoes are known for their disease resistance and produce medium-sized, round fruits that are perfect for canning. They have a balanced flavor that works well in sauces.
- Rutgers Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Rutgers tomatoes have been a favorite for canning for generations. They have a classic tomato flavor and are versatile for various preserving methods, including canning, drying, and making sauces.
How to Grow Tomatoes
Click on the link below for a free printable PDF.
When to Plant Tomatoes
The ideal time to plant tomatoes is in the spring, after the last frost date for your specific region. It’s crucial to wait until all danger of frost has passed, as tomatoes are highly sensitive to cold temperatures. Planting them when the soil has warmed up and nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 50°F (10°C) ensures that your tomato plants will have the best start for healthy growth and a bountiful harvest.
It is best to start tomatoes seeds inside and transplant them into the garden.
How to Plant Tomatoes
Planting tomatoes properly is essential for a successful harvest. Begin by selecting a sunny spot in your garden with well-drained loamy soil. Dig a hole about 2 feet deep and wide, adding organic compost or aged manure to enrich the soil. Remove the lower leaves from your tomato seedling and plant it deep in the hole, burying the stem up to its first set of leaves; this encourages strong root development.
Space multiple plants about 18-24 inches apart to allow for good air circulation. Finally, water thoroughly, and provide support, such as stakes or cages, to keep the plants upright as they grow. With these steps, you’ll be on your way to successfully growing delicious tomatoes.
Tomato Care and Maintenance
Tomato care and maintenance are important for nurturing healthy plants and ensuring a bountiful harvest. Once your tomato plants are established, maintain consistent moisture levels by watering deeply at the base of the plants, avoiding overhead watering that can lead to fungal issues.
Mulching around the base of the plants helps retain soil moisture and prevents weeds. Regularly inspect your tomato plants for common pests like aphids, hornworms, or signs of disease like early blight or late blight. Prune any yellowing or diseased leaves to encourage better air circulation.
As the plants grow, provide support with stakes or cages to keep them upright and prevent fruit from touching the ground. Additionally, fertilize with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or compost to provide essential nutrients throughout the growing season. By tending to these aspects of care and maintenance, you’ll promote robust tomato plants and enjoy a plentiful harvest of tasty, homegrown tomatoes.
Harvesting and Storing Tomatoes
Harvesting and storing tomatoes is the rewarding culmination of your gardening efforts. Tomatoes should be picked when they reach their peak ripeness, typically when they have vibrant color and yield to gentle pressure when squeezed. Gently twist or cut the fruit from the vine to avoid damaging the plant.
Remember that tomatoes continue to ripen after being picked, so you can harvest slightly underripe ones to prevent overripening on the plant. For short-term storage, keep fresh tomatoes at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, and use them within a few days to enjoy their full flavor. If you have an abundant harvest, consider canning, making sauces, or freezing tomatoes to enjoy their goodness throughout the year. Properly harvested and stored tomatoes will provide you with a taste of summer long after the growing season has ended.
Best Tips for Growing Tomatoes
- Choose the right tomato varieties for your climate and gardening goals.
- Plant tomatoes in a sunny spot with well-drained loamy soil.
- Wait until after the last frost date in your area to plant.
- Amend the soil with compost or aged manure to improve fertility.
- Plant tomatoes deep, burying the stem up to the first set of leaves.
- Space tomato plants 18-24 inches apart for good air circulation.
- Water consistently, keeping the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged.
- Mulch around the base of plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
- Monitor for common pests like aphids and hornworms, and take action if needed.
- Prune lower leaves to prevent contact with the ground and reduce disease risk.
- Provide support with stakes, cages, or trellises to keep plants upright.
- Fertilize compost for essential nutrients.
- Be vigilant about signs of disease like early or late blight and address promptly.
- Harvest tomatoes when they are ripe and full in color for the best flavor.
- Consider preserving excess tomatoes through canning, freezing, or making sauces.
Common tomatoes Problems and Solutions
Blossom End Rot: This is a condition where the bottom of the tomato fruit becomes dark and sunken. It’s caused by calcium deficiency or irregular watering. To combat it, maintain consistent soil moisture by watering evenly and providing calcium through soil amendments or calcium-rich fertilizers.
Early Blight: Early blight appears as brown spots with concentric rings on lower leaves. To prevent it, use proper spacing for air circulation, mulch to reduce soil splash, and apply fungicides containing copper or sulfur at the first sign of infection.
Late Blight: Late blight causes dark, irregular-shaped lesions on leaves and fruits. Remove affected plant parts immediately to prevent its spread, and use copper-based fungicides preventatively. Avoid overhead watering, as it can spread the spores.
Aphids: Aphids are tiny, sap-sucking insects that can weaken plants. Combat aphids by spraying plants with a strong stream of water to dislodge them, introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs, or using neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Hornworms: These large, green caterpillars can devour tomato leaves and stems. Handpick hornworms and relocate them away from your garden, or use biological control methods by introducing parasitic wasps that target them.
Fruit Cracking: Cracking occurs when rapid changes in moisture levels cause the skin of the fruit to split. Ensure consistent watering to prevent this issue, and consider using mulch to maintain soil moisture.
Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus: This viral disease leads to yellowing, curling leaves and stunted growth. There’s no cure for the virus, so prevention is key. Use disease-resistant tomato varieties, control whiteflies (vectors of the virus), and remove infected plants promptly to prevent spreading.
Tomato Hornworms: These caterpillars can defoliate tomato plants quickly. Handpick them from the plants and consider planting companion plants like marigolds, which deter hornworms.
Fusarium and Verticillium Wilts: These soilborne fungal diseases cause wilting and yellowing of leaves. Plant disease-resistant tomato varieties, rotate crops, and avoid planting tomatoes in soil known to be contaminated with these pathogens.
Tomato Cracking: Cracking occurs when there’s rapid growth due to heavy rainfall or overwatering. To prevent it, maintain even soil moisture, especially during fruit development, and harvest tomatoes promptly when they ripen.