How to Grow Tomatoes
Growing tomatoes is one of the great joys of gardening. Tomatoes picked fresh from the garden are so much more flavorful than store-bought tomatoes. Happily, they are also quite easy to grow. Before you decide on a tomato to grow, you’ll need to think about the space you have available, the climate where you live, and how you will be using the tomatoes. Do you want tomatoes for salads, tomatoes for making a sauce, tomatoes with a short growing season, and/or tomatoes that can be grown in a container on your porch?
Slicing Tomatoes: These are the classic tomato. They are large, round, usually red in color, have lots of juice and seeds, and are great for eating plain or in sandwiches.
Plum Tomatoes: Smaller than slicing tomatoes and oblong in shape, these tomatoes have a meaty texture with few seeds or juice. This type is best used for canning and in sauces.
Cherry/Grape Tomatoes: Smaller than the other varieties, these are extra juicy and can be eaten whole. These are best in salads and eaten raw.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Once you decide which basic type of tomato you want to grow, then you need to explore which one works best with the space you have available.
A tomato is classified as determinate or indeterminate depending on its growth rate. A determinate tomato will grow to a specific height and then stop. They are smaller than indeterminate varieties and are best for smaller spaces and container planting. They can be staked or caged easily. This type also matures quicker than indeterminate types.
Tomatoes classified as indeterminate do not grow to a specific height, in fact, they spread out vertically and horizontally and can take over the garden if not carefully maintained. Most heirloom varieties are indeterminate. These varieties are slower to mature. They need to be pruned on a regular basis so they will produce well. These are not good tomatoes for small spaces or container gardening.
Growing Tomatoes, Step by Step
Once you’ve decided on the type and variety of tomato you want to grow, it is time to get started growing tomatoes!
Step One – Plant Seeds
Six to eight weeks before the last expected Spring frost, plant your seeds in starter trays or pots indoors. The goal is to get them big enough so they can be planted in the garden 2 weeks after the last frost and be strong enough to survive.
Fill your starter trays or pots with a good potting or seed starting soil. Wet the soil well before planting so the seeds don’t get lost in the mix. Plant the tomato seeds individually, 1/4” deep and 1” apart. Make sure to label each variety! As they grow, they will all look the same.
Place the containers in a warm, sunny, place, ideally around 24-26 C. You may need a seed heating mat to keep the soil warm enough or use grow lights if you don’t have a bright enough location.
Step Two – Care For the Seedlings
Spritz the soil with water every day to keep it moist without drowning the seeds. Continue this after the seedlings sprout, as well. Make sure they are getting enough heat and light. The seedlings should sprout in 7-10 days.
Step Three – Transplant to Larger Pots
After the seedlings have grown 3-4 leaves, usually after about 30 days, they are ready to be moved to larger containers so they can spread out and grow properly.
Prepare larger containers for the little seedlings, using the same potting soil and making sure it is thoroughly moistened before transplanting.
Very carefully, tease out each seedling from the tray. A fork works well for this or another small utensil. Lift up the root and soil and insert the whole thing into a shallow hole in the new pot. Place them back in a warm, light-filled, location. Water the seedlings daily, as before.
Step Four – Hardening Off
When the temperature outside is regularly above 13 C, it is time to acclimate the seedlings to the outdoors. This is done by setting the pots outside for a couple hours each day, increasing the amount of time until by the end of a week, they are outside all day.
At this point, if you are keeping your tomatoes in containers, you can leave them outdoors as they are, making sure to place them in a warm, sunny, location.
Step Five – Planting Outside
Plant the seedlings 2 feet apart in rows that are 2-3 feet apart. If you are growing indeterminate types of tomatoes, you might want to give them even more room.
Step Six – Caring For Your Tomato Plants
Tomatoes need regular watering, approximately 2-3 inches of water per week. If you can set an irrigation system, this is preferable. Water the roots only; do not water the tops of the plants, this can cause the leaves to burn and encourages diseases.
In general, tomatoes benefit from the addition of fertilizer. What and how much they will need depends entirely on the soil you are planting them in. To know what to give them, it is recommended that you test your soil before planting.
All tomatoes will need to be staked, caged, or trellised to support the vines once the fruit starts to grow. Indeterminate types especially need this.
As the plants grow, remove lateral stems and suckers that grow from the bottom. These only suck energy away from fruit production.
Step Seven – Harvesting
Pick the tomatoes as they ripen. During the height of the season, you should be checking every day. Birds and small animals will happily help themselves to any tomatoes you miss.
Try our Tomato Varieties
You can find all of our varieties of tomato seeds here: tomato seeds.