- 1 How to Grow Tomatoes
- 1.1 Determinate vs. Indeterminate
- 1.2 Growing Tomatoes, Step by Step
- 1.2.1 Step One – Plant Seeds
- 1.2.2 Step Two – Care For the Seedlings
- 1.2.3 Step Three – Transplant to Larger Pots
- 1.2.4 Step Four – Hardening Off
- 1.2.5 Step Five – Planting Outside
- 1.2.6 Step Six – Caring For Your Tomato Plants
- 1.2.7 Step Seven – Harvesting
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, 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, have lots of juice and seeds and are great for eating plain or 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 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
A tomato is classified as determinate or indeterminate, depending on its growth rate. Once you decide which of these types of tomato plants you want to grow, you need to explore which one works best for you. For example, determinates are shorter bushier plants, making them easier to grow in containers or places with limited space. In contrast, indeterminate plants will continue to grow and produce fruit until the first frost.
Determinate tomatoes are also referred to as bush tomatoes. Once they grow to their specific height, they stop all further growth; this is unlike indeterminants, which will continue to grow until the first frost. Also, this type only produces one crop of tomatoes, which will all ripen simultaneously—the ripening stage is when the plant stops growing or producing more fruit.
The growth period is shorter than indeterminates, and the tomatoes ripen early—in approximately 1-2 weeks. Also, the tomatoes they produce are smaller than indeterminate varieties. These plants are best for smaller spaces and container planting. They can be staked or caged easily and generally don’t require much support due to their bushy growth. 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, and they need to be pruned regularly to keep them producing 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 tomatoes you want to grow, it is time to get started growing tomatoes! Tomatoes seeds are relatively easy to germinate; some factors to keep in mind are that the soil temperature should be around 24-26 C. Also, sow the seeds in a sunny location, whether starting them indoors or outdoors.
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 to be planted in the garden two weeks after the last frost and be strong enough to survive.
Fill your starter trays or pots with excellent potting or seed starting soil. Wet the soil thoroughly 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 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. You can do this by setting the pots outside for a couple of hours each day, increasing the amount of time until they are outside all day by the end of a week.
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
Prepare the Garden Bed
Before sowing seeds outdoors or transplanting your tomato plants, you should first prepare the garden bed. It’s best to do this at least one week in advance so that the soil can settle. To begin, till the soil to at least 10″ deep, break up the clumps and remove any debris. Then, mix in your choice of compost, such as black earth, composted manure, or vermicompost (worm castings). The ideal soil pH for tomatoes is 6 to 6.8.
After the garden bed has been prepared, plant the seedlings 2 feet apart, in rows 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 and avoid watering the plants’ tops, as this can cause the leaves to burn and encourage diseases.
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; this is important, as the suckers will only drain energy away from fruit production.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders and will benefit from the addition of fertilizer. Before sowing or transplanting, the garden bed should always be enriched with lots of compost. You won’t need to apply any fertilizer until your plants start producing fruit. At this point, you can apply a little fertilizer once every two weeks. Before applying the fertilizer, you should thoroughly water your plants; this will help prevent fertilizer burn. How much the plants will need depends entirely on the soil type you are planting them in. To know what is required, I recommended that you test your soil before planting.
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.