How to Successfully Grow Tomatoes

Origin

Popular Tomato Cultivars

Indeterminate vs. Determinate Growing Patterns

How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed

When to Start Seeds

Seed Starting Steps

Using a Container vs. Ground Planting

How to Transplant Tomato Seedlings

Transplanting Steps

Soil, Nutrients, pH

Temperature and Sunlight

Watering

Pruning

Harvesting

Pests

Diseases



Origin


The tomato plant, Solanum lycopersicum, is one of the most popular plants for the home garden because they are easy to grow, there are many different cultivars and the fruit has a wide array of culinary uses. It is common to think of Italian cuisine when thinking about tomatoes, but tomatoes are actually native to Central and South America where they are an important part of Latin culture and cooking.



Popular Tomato Cultivars


Tomato cultivars include heirloom and hybridized varieties.


Heirloom Variety







Heirloom tomatoes are grown from seeds that have been passed down for generation

and have the same selected characteristics for generations. These characteristics include great flavor, irregular shapes and a rainbow of colors. Although heirloom tomatoes are known for their great flavor, they are prone to cracking and have less disease and pest resistance than hybrid varieties.


Popular Heirloom Varieties:

  • Amish Paste

  • Black Krim

  • Brandywine

  • Cherokee Purple

  • Constoluto genovese

  • Green Zebra

  • San Marzano


Hybrid Variety








Hybrid varieties have been bred by growers to produce desirable characteristics such as hardiness, earlier maturity, color, flavor, disease resistance, size and shape. Growers often have better success with hybrid tomato varieties because they are bred to be improved cultivars.


Popular Hybrid Varieties:

  • Better Boy

  • Bush Early Girl

  • Celebrity

  • Lemon Boy

  • Sun Gold

  • Juliet



Indeterminate vs. Determinate Growing Patterns

There are two types of tomato plant growing patterns.


Indeterminate tomato plants are vining plants that have no determined growth size or fruiting date. They will continue vining and fruiting until they die off when the weather gets too cold for them to survive. Due to their large, vining growth, they must be trellised or staked early to keep them from laying on the ground. If allowed to lay on the ground, the moisture and soil bacteria can lead to rot of the foliage and fruit.


Some indeterminate tomato plant varieties include:

  • Amish Paste

  • Better Boy

  • Black Krim

  • Beefsteak

  • Brandywine

  • Cherokee Purple

  • Costoluto genovese

  • Green Zebra

  • San Marzano

  • Lemon Boy

  • Sun Gold

  • Juliet


Determinate tomato plants have a determined growth size and fruiting time frame. These plants typically grow to 2-3’ tall and set fruit all at once, earlier in the summer months than indeterminate types. They don’t typically need support structures due to their smaller bush size, but support is recommended as these plants can become top heavy, especially when fruiting. Supporting these plants will also protect them from strong winds.


Some determinate tomato plant varieties are:

  • Bush Early Girl

  • Celebrity

  • Roma



How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed


When to start

Starting tomatoes from seeds is best done indoors in late winter or early spring when the temperatures outside are too cold for proper germination. If growing from seed, check the package for the ‘days to maturity’ to find the variety that is best suited for your region. Days to maturity is the amount of days it takes a tomato to ripen from the date of transplanting. If you live in a colder climate with a shorter growing season, it is best to choose a variety with a shorter ‘days to maturity’.


Heirloom

  • Amish Paste: 80 days

  • Black Krim: 70 days

  • Brandywine: 80-100 days

  • Cherokee Purple: 80-90 days

  • Constoluto genovese: 75 days

  • Green Zebra: 75-80 days

  • San Marzano: 85 days


Hybrid

  • Better Boy: 70-75 days

  • Bush Early Girl: 54 days

  • Celebrity: 90-100 days

  • Lemon Boy: 72-80 days

  • Sun Gold: 65 days

  • Juliet: 60-70 days


Find your planting date by zip code here!



Creating the ideal growing environment

Seed germination requires two things: moisture and warmth. The soil used to sow the seeds must stay moist at all times until germination. Letting the soil dry out, even for a short time, can stop the germination process. Keep the seeds in a location that gets the most warmth. Ideally, the soil medium temperature must be at least 60° F. Warming mats can be used to increase germination tray warmth. With proper moisture and warmth, germination can take about 5-10 days.


If sowing seeds directly in the ground, wait until spring when night time temperatures have increased to at least 55° F and the soil is at least 60° F. Bury seeds ½” deep and at least 2’ apart. Multiple seeds can be placed in each hole to increase the likelihood of germination. If multiple plants germinate in one hole, all but one should be pinched off, keeping the strongest seedling. The strongest seedling should have the thickest stem and leaf set.



Take into account germination rates

It is best to sow more seeds than you plan on growing because germination rates are not always 100% successful. Germination rates can decrease if the seeds were not stored properly by the seller or if trying to germinate them in less than ideal conditions.



Source seeds from reputable seed companies

Purchase seeds from reputable seed companies. Seeds can be purchased online from seed companies or from your local gardening stores.


Reputable online seed companies:



Tools Needed to Start Seeds:


Seed Starting Steps


Step 1: Fill seed tray with soil medium and place on a warming mat. (if using peat moss pucks, just place the tray on the warming mat.)

  • Planting in individual celled trays puts less stress on the seedling’s roots when needing to pull them apart in open trays.


Step 2: Poke ¾” holes in each cell. (meat moss pucks are designed to already have holes poked.)


Step 3: Moisten the soil medium you are using. (Peat moss pucks should be soaked until they expand.)


Step 4: Place one seed per tray cell or puck. (Seedlings will compete for space and nutrients if multiple seeds are planted in a single cell.)


Step 5: Lightly cover the seeds with the soil medium and press firmly. (soil medium that is covered too loosely can uncover the seed when watered)


Step 6: Fully water the soil medium until it holds onto moisture.


Step 7: If using a dome, place it on top of the tray. Plastic wrap can be used in place of a dome. This allows the soil to hold onto moisture and warmth.


Step 8: Turn on the grow light. Grow lights will provide warmth and will help the seedlings grow strong.

Step 9: Keep watering the soil medium, ensuring it does not dry out. This can be done with a watering can or mister.


Step 10: Leave the grow light and warming mat on until the plants are ready to be transplanted outside. Plants are ready to be transplanted when they have at least two sets of true leaves.



When the seedlings germinate, they will have two leaf-like structures called cotyledons. These provide the seedlings nutrients and help the plant photosynthesize until it is strong enough to produce true leaves. It is unnecessary to fertilize your seedlings until they are ready to be transplanted. Fertilizing too soon can cause the plants to become leggy and weak.



Using a Container vs. Ground Planting


If you don’t have the space or availability to grow tomatoes in the ground, they do great when grown in large pots. This is especially beneficial if you are renting your home or want a low maintenance option. If growing your tomato plants in pots, ensure they are at least 5 gal pots to house the plant’s large root system.



Benefits of container planting:

  • Space savers

  • can be moved

  • more control over soil framework

  • less maintenance


Drawback of container planting:

  • Soil dries out quickly

  • nutrients leach out quickly

  • can tip over




Benefits of ground planting:

  • More space to grow

  • soil holds onto moisture and nutrients better


Drawback of ground planting:

  • High maintenance

  • more susceptible to diseases and pests






If you decide to plant your tomatoes directly into the native soil in your yard, it is important to know the soil health. Soil texture, pH and nutrient levels are the most important factors to consider. Soil tests can be purchased online or you can take a sample of your soil to a local lab to get tested.


Online soil testers: