With more than 10,000 varieties, there’s a tomato for every taste, from big, juicy slicers to sweet little cherry-sized beauties. And, no matter the type, learning how to grow tomatoes really isn’t so challenging.
Before you plot out space in your yard, read the plant tag or description so you know what kind of growth habit a specific variety has. Indeterminate types grow and produce until a frost, attaining a height of 9 or 10 feet! Determinate types have fruit that ripens in a short period of time and reach 3 or 4 feet tall. Dwarf or “patio” types stay compact so they’re great for containers or apartment gardening. With that background info, you’re ready to get growing.
How to Grow Your Own Tomatoes 101:
1. Plant in a sunny spot.
Tomatoes need loads of sun, and there’s absolutely no cheating on this! They do best in 6 or more hours per day. Containers can be moved around for maximum sun exposure, but make sure they’re big enough to accommodate your plants! Ideally, give indeterminate types at least a two-foot-wide and deep container.
2. Wait until after the last frost to plant.
As heat lovers, tomatoes shouldn’t be planted in the ground or pots until after the risk of frost has passed. Check with your local university coop extension service (find yours here) to learn the last estimated frost date, but take your clues from Mother Nature. If it’s still chilly, there’s no harm in waiting another week to be on the safe side.
3. Purchase healthy plants.
It’s fun to grow tomatoes from seed, but they require about two months indoors from the time you plant before they can go in the ground. Plus, they need light for 12 to 14 hours today, which means you’ll need a grow light and dedicated area in your house to raise your babies. To simplify, buy healthy seedlings. Choose those with deep green leaves, no yellow or brown spots, and a compact shape (not pale green or tall and spindly).
4. Plant them nice and deep.
It’s a secret technique savvy gardeners love: Bury about 2/3 of your tomato’s stem underground when planting. It seems weird, but the plant develops roots all along the buried stem, which produces a sturdier plant. Give them about 3 feet of space all around, too. They don’t like to be all jammed together, which also makes them more susceptible to disease. In about a week, add some all-purpose fertilizer, following package directions. Install a trellis or tomato cage now, too, to provide support as they grow.
5. Water well.
Tomatoes should be watered at the base of the plants, not on the leaves, which promotes disease development. Adding a layer of mulch, such as black landscape fabric or bark, will help maintain moisture and keep soil-borne pathogens from splashing up onto your plants. Don’t forget to water container plants every day because pots dry out faster. Now, harvest and enjoy!
What You Need to Grow Tomatoes:
1. Gardening Gloves
Nitrile-coated gloves are flexible and keep your hands clean and dry. Plus, they come in a variety of sizes and bright colors, which make them easy to find in the garden if you slip one off.
2. Garden Trowel
This sturdy stainless trowel will allow you to plant your tomatoes with ease.
3. Tomato Cage
These reusable, easy-to-assemble tomato cages provide support that you can adjust throughout the growing season as your plants get taller.
4. Soaker Hose
A soaker hose delivers water directly to the roots of your tomatoes, which is more efficient.
5. Tomato Fertilizer
This organic fertilizer contains everything your tomato needs to stay healthy including nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous—as well as calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot, a common disease that disfigures the fruit with an ugly black spot.
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