Geefrank’s Top Ten Tips
More home gardeners are growing tomatoes than any other crop. Why? Because there is simply no comparison between the taste of a homegrown vine-ripened tomato and its mediocre supermarket cousin.
This king of the vegetable garden is easy to grow and even an average gardener can produce buckets of them, regardless of climate or location. You can even
grow tomatoes indoors
in the dead of winter.
I started growing tomatoes when I was 4 years old (175 years ago), so let me share my 10 best tomato growing tips with you.
- Grow your own
tomato plants from seed
. Supermarket tomatoes are grown for their ability to pack and ship well. They are rock hard and have little flavor.
The plants at the garden center are a little better, but to get the best tasting varieties that will grow and produce well in your area, buy seed and grow your own.
Seed catalogs, both printed and online, offer great descriptions that will lead you to the varieties that you will love.
Heirloom tomato varieties
are the ones your grandma grew, some dating back a hundred years or more. These are the varieties that survived, not because they ship well, ripen all at once, have the highest yield per acre or can be picked by a machine. They have survived because they offer the best tomato flavor on the planet.
Some of my favorites include Brandywine, Black Krim, Lemon Boy and Marmande. What are yours? Please tell us at the bottom of our
Tomato Varieties page.
- Don’t put all your tomatoes in one basket. One year always differs from another in weather and other conditions that affect your harvest. Plant an assortment of your favorite varieties, some early and some late, some big and some small. Avoid the dreaded “green tomato summer”. By choosing a good
variety of tomatoes
, you’ll be sure to have a bumper crop, no matter what kind of year it is.
when to plant your tomatoes
. Sure, we all know you should wait until after the last frost, but tomatoes need more. They need warm soil for the plants to thrive.
You may have to delay planting a few weeks after last frost until the soil is 55-60 Deg F. Otherwise, the plants will just stall in cold soil, never to completely recover. Get a soil thermometer and check your soil temperature before you plant.
Most varieties also need 55 degree nighttime air temperatures as well to set fruit. So, don’t plant too early.
You can warm the soil several degrees by putting down a layer of dark plastic mulch a couple of weeks before the anticipated last frost date. Black mulch is fine, but tests have shown that tomatoes grown on red plastic mulch out produce those grown on other mulch colors.
- Give your plants room to grow. Tomato plants should be about 3 feet apart. The exception is indeterminates
to a single stem and trellised. They can be 8-12” apart in a row, with rows still 3 feet apart. They need to breath and a large area from which to draw up water and nutrients.
Tomatoes do well when
grown in pots
– you can even grow them
- but again they need room. Containers should hold at least 5 or 6 gallons of soil per plant. They need that much soil for a good root development and as a water reservoir.
- When growing tomatoes, your plants need 14-16 hours of direct light each day. Don’t plant them up against the house, unless on the South-side (or North-side if you are an Aussie or a Kiwi). Don’t plant them in even partial shade – they need full sun.
That said, don’t strip leaves off mature plants. It is the leaf that needs full sun, not the fruit. Photosynthesis occurs when the sun hits the leaves. The fruit will scald if you remove the leaves.
- These plants grow until frost and are voracious eaters, so feed them regularly. It is important, but not enough, to feed the soil at planting time. They need frequent side dressings or foliar feeding of a balanced
. Not even a garden gnome would thrive if fed only once or twice each season.
Feed your tomatoes every 3-4 weeks throughout the season. Many gardeners think their tomatoes run out of gas mid season – they are simply hungry.
- Watering practices are one of the greatest causes of tomato failure. Never let your tomato plants dry out completely. If they get to the wilt stage they can be revived, but will never completely recover from the damage. On the other hand, more plants are damaged by over watering, which can lead to disease or suffocation.
When you first transplant your tomatoes the root ball is small and hasn’t spread into the surrounding soil. Water daily for a few days at the base of the plant. As it grows, reduce the frequency of watering, but water deeply to encourage your plants to send out deeper roots in search of both water and nutrients.
Wait until the surface soil is dry between waterings. How often depends on your climate and your soil type. But, all soils will have better water retention if you incorporate
into the soil and apply
around your plants after soils warm up.
- Pruning your plants will give you less leaf and more fruit, and they will set fruit earlier, and it will ripen sooner. Sure, tomatoes will grow without pruning. But to get the most from your plants, read this article on
. It will take only a few minutes each week and just two fingers. A pinch in time will at least double or triple your harvest.
- The last tip doesn’t happen in the garden, but in the kitchen. Truth: The refrigerator is not a tomato’s friend. You are growing tomatoes for that wonderful homegrown flavor – a combination of the sweetness of natural sugar and the tanginess of that perfect amount of acidity. That wonderful balance is a delicate one. Never refrigerate your tomatoes.
Tomatoes should always be stored at room temperature. High temperature will rot the fruit. And, temperatures below 55 Deg F will upset that fragile equilibrium between sugar and acid and destroy the flavor. Put them in the fridge and they’ll taste just like their poor relations at the supermarket within a day.
There you have it, my top ten tips for growing tomatoes. Here is a whole list of links to more of my best tomato growing tips: