Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
Nothing is more mouthwatering than walking into a greenhouse full of tomatoes during mid-summer.
Everyone dreams about huge bunches of vine tomatoes just ripe for the picking.
Many folks struggle to get huge tomato harvests, so in this article, I will give you a practical guide to take you through all the do’s and don’ts so you can get mind-blowing results too.
How to grow tomatoes from seed to fruit.
Sowing tomato seed
When sowing your tomato seeds, you must consider your last frost date. Aim to sow your seed around 6 to 8 weeks before this last frost. This will give your seed time to germinate and grow vigorous, sturdy seedlings.
If you are growing in a greenhouse or polytunnel, you can sow even earlier as you can protect the seedlings from frosts. To plant your tomato seed, fill a small pot or tray with good potting soil or multi-purpose compost and water this and allow it to sit for a minute to drain.
Place your seed onto the surface of this soil and then cover it with a fine layer of compost or vermiculite. Press this down with a flat board or another pot to ensure the seed has interacted with the soil, and mist it with water.
Place it into a south-facing window or greenhouse shelf, or even better, provide bottom heat with a propagator such as the Vitopod I use.
Lighting for tomatoes
It is essential at this stage to ensure adequate lighting. You may notice your seedlings will get very tall and spindly, known as leggy seedlings, and it is not very good for your plants as they grow too quickly, searching for enough light and getting thin and tall.
Ideally, we could provide adequate lighting through artificial light T5 fluorescents or even the more economical LED lighting units available today, such as this one from the spider farmer I recently reviewed.
As I have already stated, the last thing we want is leggy seedlings, but with tomatoes, we can get a bit of grace when potting on.
Potting on tomatoes
As we have sown before the first frost, giving your new seed starts more room to grow. This is where we need to pot on our seedlings; it is the perfect time to fix the leggy seed.
Tomatoes have the brilliant capability of producing roots right up the entire length of the stem. You will see each hair could become a new root by planting the leggy seedlings right up to their cotyledon leaves, also known as seed leaves.
The tomato seedlings will produce a stronger root system, allowing you to grow a sturdier plant. However, it would help if you got the lighting right after this time.
Whether outdoors or indoors, you must prepare the soil for your new plants.
Tomatoes require loose free-draining soil. If you have heavy clay or very sandy soils, amend these with plenty of organic matter, such as aged compost.
Tomatoes prefer the PH to be slightly acidic, Just below neutral on the PH scale. Aim for a PH between 6 and 7
Support structures for tomatoes
Indeterminate tomatoes can become huge plants with very heavy crops. The support structures we build must be capable of supporting the plants and their fruit.
There are many different ways to support tomatoes, such as
- Bamboo Canes
I am sure you will find many more if you look around on the internet. But all you need to consider is that this support needs to be installed at the time of planting so that the plant can’t utilize it as required.
Best Temperatures for tomatoes
Tomatoes need full sun to grow and do their best growing when temperatures are between 65 and 85˚F or 18 to 30˚C Tomatoes will stop growing if the temperatures exceed 95˚F or 35˚C.
Sowing seeds requires a temperature of 70 to 80˚F or 21 to 27˚C to germinate. Try to prevent this from dropping below 50˚F or 10˚C, or this could significantly affect the plants.
Tomatoes use huge amounts of water; we must do everything to ensure the root zone does not dry out. I firmly believe in mulching tomatoes to keep the root zone moist.
This will also help in combating blight but more on that later. There are many things you can use as mulch for tomatoes. Such as
I like using Rape straw; this is sold as bedding for horses.
It’s excellent as it is broken into small strands, so it helps to stop moisture loss.
Another added benefit is that the mulch stops weeds from forming. Making your life as a gardener much easier, and tomatoes do not have to compete for resources.
Determinate tomatoes don’t require pruning; they are grown like a bush and allowed to grow freely. The only time you need to consider pruning them is to keep their shape or prevent them from sprawling into a walkway.
Indeterminate tomatoes, however, will require pruning. Removing the suckers will allow you to grow the plant as a cordon.
The suckers are new stems that grow between the leaf axle and the main stem, and this uses energy the plant could be putting into a crop.
If allowed to grow, these would eventually produce their tomatoes, but the likelihood in most areas for a long enough season to ripen the fruit is low.
Once your tomato plants reach the desired height, you can prune the top off.
This is usually done after the 6th or 7th fruit truss has been set. It allows the plant to put the rest of its energy into swelling and ripening the fruit.
Flowers and fruiting tomatoes
As discussed earlier, temperatures play a massive role in tomatoes. If the temps are too hot, the tomatoes will not bloom the flowers required for fruiting, or they will even drop the flowers that did bloom before they are pollinated.
Pollination is usually done by insects such as bees or hoverflies, but the gardener can help this if there are insufficient insects due to poor weather.
Pollination by hand is not only easy to do, but it is very effective. There are multiple ways to do this. The easiest method is to use a vibrating toothbrush; place this behind the flower, which will cause the flower to release its pollen.
Another method is to use a cue tip, cotton bud, or kids’ paintbrush and collect the pollen by swabbing the flowers. Then place this over the stigma of the flowers. Find out which method works best for you, and stick with that.
Pollen will be available between early morning and afternoon, with mid-day being the best time to pollinate your tomato flowers.
Hand pollination is usually practiced every two to three days to ensure pollination occurs. Upon successful pollination, the flowers will wilt and begin fruiting.
Tomatoes require vast amounts of water to sustain and grow huge trusses of fruit. We have covered mulch to ensure we don’t waste the available water.
Incorporating large amounts of organic matter such as compost or farmyard manure will act like a sponge holding water around the root zone when preparing the soil.
Water in the morning will allow the plants to dry off and protect them from the disease. Ensure that enough is given to keep the soil moist all day. Typically, tomatoes require between 1 and 1.5 inches of water per week.
I find using the top two inches of soil easier as a guide. Stick your finger in and see if this is moist. If not, water again. If it is, then watering is not required.
Drip irrigation could be used for watering; you can run this under the much, which is an easier way to ensure adequate water is supplied to your plants.
Tomatoes are big plants and require good nutrition for them to do well. There are many propriety brands of tomato food on the markets.
I like to use liquid seaweed, which I make. Or Comfrey Tea would also make a great feed for tomatoes.
Suppose you want to know how to make this excellent fertilizer for your tomato plants. Check out this video.
When feeding, avoid high nitrogen; this will give you foliage of fruit production ad is the number one reason for new growers not getting plentiful harvests. Chicken manure pellets are great for growing the plants’ foliage stage.
However, as soon as the first flowers show, this should be switched to high phosphorus and potassium feed. An NPK of 6-24-24 would be perfect for tomato plants at their fruiting stage.
Feed weekly during the production stage of the plants right up until the frost kills the plants off.
Blood, fish, and Bone meal can be added to the soil when preparing the growing areas as a balanced fertilizer. This is slow-release and organic.
Once you have topped the plants after the 6th or 7th truss, remove all the leaves from the plant right up to the bottom of the fruit. This allows air movement and light to get around the fruit to help the vine’s fruit ripen.
It can also help prevent pathogens from splashing from the soil onto the plants as the leaves are much higher up the stem.
When harvesting determinate tomatoes, you remove them at once as they all mature and ripen simultaneously. With indeterminate tomatoes, you should harvest as each tomato ripens.
You can tell when a tomato is ready for picking when the skin has turned to its full color, whether red, orange, black, purple, or yellow. Depending on many factors, the skin may be thin or tough.
They should be slightly firm to the touch. If they are too hard, they will require more time to ripen.
Collecting tomato seed
If you wish to save your seed, then leave the selected fruit on the plant as long as possible until it turns soft; this will ensure it is fully ripe; take this and scrape the seed into a glass jar of water and allow it to sit there for a few days.
This will break down the pulp; you can wash and dry the seed by placing it on paper. I have a detailed video showing this process in the show notes.
12 tips for growing tomatoes
- Allow tomato seedling roots room to grow.
- Ensure you have adequate light when sowing tomato seed
- Provide tomato seedlings with good ventilation.
- Rehydrate and enrich tomato growing beds.
- Install support structures before transplanting tomatoes. Cover the growing bed with black plastic to warm the soil before planting.
- When transplanting, plant tomatoes deeply to get a better root system
- Setup irrigation systems after transplanting tomatoes
- Mulch the ground around the tomato plants to conserve water
- Prune tomatoes for higher yields
- When watering, water deeply, and never allow the bed to dry out.
- Stop watering about a month before the end of the growing season to ripen fruit.
The 12 tips above are just subjects from the video below. For more details, check out the in-depth video where I cover them.
Deciding on what tomatoes to grow
The first thing we need to do is choose the variety of tomatoes we wish to grow. To do this, we need to understand the tomato’s habit. There are many types of tomatoes, such as
Different Types of Tomatoes
- Hybrid F1
Each of these types then falls into one of two categories. Determinate or indeterminate.
Let’s cover both terms so there is no confusion regarding your tomato plants.
Determinate tomatoes are tomatoes that are compact or known as bush varieties. They are typically getting to around 3 or 4 feet in height. They stop growing as soon as the fruit on the top bud is set.
They require very little support and, because of this, are ideal for container gardening.
The fruit on determinate tomatoes ripens simultaneously, usually within a week or so.
My favorite determinate tomato list
|Name||Uses / Characteristics|
|Ace 55||High Yield, low acidity|
|Backa||Great for sauce, sandwiches, and canning|
|Campbell 33||Deep red, Sandwiches and salads|
|Early Wonder||Perfect for growing in containers|
|Florida 47||Dark red. Fruit can weigh up to 10 ounces|
|Golden girl||Gold cherry, Very disease resistant|
|Gremlin||Red shaped like pears|
|Health Kick||High in antioxidants. Red will fruit until the first frost|
|Italian Roma||High in sugar, Elongated awesome for a sauce|
|Lady Finger||High in sugar, great for a sauce|
|Mariana||Large Roma-style tomato. Disease resistant|
|Picus||Plum-shaped, red, 4-ounce fruits|
|Rosella Crimson||Pink with a balanced flavor. Great for containers|
|Sprite||Awesome for salads will produce until the first frost|
|Zebra Cherry||Red with green stripes, great for salads.|
Many more determinate varieties are available on the market, and I will make a post with a full list of determinate tomatoes and link to it later.
Do determinate tomatoes need pruning?
Determinate tomatoes do not require pruning as their growth habit is short and compact. It may be necessary to prune them to keep out of pathways or to stop encroachment on other plants’ light levels.
Being a bush variety, determinate tomatoes do not need substantial support structures as indeterminate tomatoes require. Smaller foliage supports typically used for perennial flower beds can be used to good effect for determinate tomatoes.
The video below shows you everything else you need to know, along with practical solutions to most problems you may face around keeping determinate tomatoes.
Indeterminate tomatoes grow very tall. Typically 8 feet high, some varieties can reach a greater height, as much as 12 feet or more.
Indeterminates will continue to grow and produce fruit for the whole season until the first frosts kill off the plants.
Indeterminate tomatoes will continuously bloom, set new fruit and ripen this fruit simultaneously. Due to these plants’ sheer size and weight, they require sturdy support structures such as tomato cages or stakes.
Do Indeterminate tomatoes need pruning?
Indeterminate tomatoes crop much better when they are pruned. They are typically grown upright as a cordon (A single-stemmed plant).
From this single stem, the indeterminate tomato plant will grow as high as 12 feet, and every 8 to 10 inches will push out a flowering branch known as a truss.
This truss will produce clusters of flowers, and as the plant grows, it has these trusses up the stem until they are stopped by topping the plant.
This is a process in which you cut out the growing tip to prevent the plant from growing any taller and allow it to ripen the fruit it already carries.
In warmer climates, you might be able to get 8 or 10 trusses of fruit from an indeterminate tomato plant. But where I live, I top them after the 6th truss to ensure I have enough time to ripen all the fruit.
How to prune an indeterminate tomato plant?
When indeterminate tomato plants grow, they push out small side shoots between the stem and the leaf axle. This side shoot will, if left, expand into another branch.
It will do this at an astonishing rate during the main growing season. So the gardener must constantly prune their tomatoes to prevent this from happening.
Simply take hold of this new growth and bend it sideways; this will snap cleanly. If you take these while they are young, it leaves no area for the disease to enter.
Continue removing these side shoots until the day you harvest your last tomato.
As the season progresses, it may be necessary to prune off the bottom leaves to allow light into the fruit to help them ripen. Only remove the leaves up to the bottom truss of the fruit.
If the leaves on the plant above the bottom truss are bushy, you can trim these back to 1/3rd of their original length.
My favorite indeterminate tomatoes list
|Name||Uses / Characteristics|
|Alicante||Fantastic cropper, with 70 days to harvest|
|Amish Paste||Very fleshy and great for sauces and eating|
|Austin Red Pear||They are very prolific and shaped like pears|
|Big pink||Light pink in color, 10 oz fruits|
|Black Cherry||Delightful dark fruits|
|Big Brandy||Pink color and tangy taste|
|Beefsteak||Huge tomatoes up to 4lbs in weight|
|Cherry Baby||Small cherry tomatoes excellent on salads|
|Dester||1lb fruit pink in color|
|Gardener’s delight||Medium-sized tomato with good flavor|
|Golden Gem||Orange cherry tomato, sweet in salads|
|Golden sunshine||Plum-shaped orange in color|
|Razzle Dazzle||Large slicing tomato raspberry colors|
|Red pear||The blemish-free red pear-shaped fruit|
|Sungold||My favorite tomato. sweet orange cherry|
Indeterminate tomatoes are huge plants and require some serious support. Considering there could be over 30 lbs of fruit on a single plant.
Again we have various ways in which to support indeterminate tomatoes.
- Wire / String
As we discussed, we grow as a cordon, so a trellis greatly supports cordon-style tomatoes. You can tie in this single stem anywhere along the trellis.
When using stakes for indeterminate tomatoes, it is important to have a strong thick stake that can support a lot of weight.
When planting, this stake should be buried deeply in the ground so that the tomato root system helps support the stake.
Cages can be used greatly for indeterminates; the only downside is the height. A good heavy, tall cage is required to support indeterminate tomatoes.
Plastic-coated welded steel works very well for this application.
Wire / String
This is probably one of the most used supports for indeterminate tomatoes. A string is tied above the growing location and dropped into the planting hole as the plant is transplanted.
The string is left loose, and as the tomato plant grows, the string is twisted around the plant. A good quality string is required for this as the weight of a laden plant of fruit will snap the cheap string.
Tomato pests and diseases
Before I cover the diseases and pests, I would like to mention I have a very detailed blog post with a lot more information than I have covered in this video. If this interests me, I will link the blog post in the show notes.
Here I am just going to mention some of the things to watch for when growing your tomatoes.
- Flea Beetle
- Horn Worms
The above is just a few of the pests that can affect tomatoes. The video below will show you how to deal with the diseases.
One of the biggest issues for gardeners when growing tomatoes is early and late blight. This can ruin your whole year’s work, but there are many things you can do to help prevent it.
After all, prevention is better than cure.
Airflow is important, so when planting your tomatoes, keep them at least 2.5ft apart, and when pruning, remove unwanted leaves or trim the length by half.
The mulch you use will stop water from splashing up onto the plants. Water in the morning to allow plants time to dry.
Consider when watering that you do not get the leaves wet. You could use a weekly spray of bicarbonate of soda as a preventative against blight. Please do this in time to dry before the sun goes down completely.
Can you change the taste of tomatoes?
It is possible to change the taste of your tomatoes by treating them with baking soda. This reduces the acidity of the tomatoes, making them much sweeter.
After harvesting your tomatoes, I asked if you could compost the plants. You may have heard that tomatoes are dirty crops.
This is because they usually get blight, and they are worried that by composting these, you will place the blight spores into the soil, which will be worse the following year.
Some practices are myths, and this is one of them. Blight will not survive most composting processes provided the compost is completely broken down.
The reason is that blight spores require living tissue to survive. Therefore they don’t live through a full compost process.
I have composted all my tomato plants for the past 12 years and have never had blight because of this. But talking about bight, let’s cover some pests and diseases that can affect your tomatoes.
FAQs on How To Grow Tomatoes – A Mind-Blowing Guide
How long do tomato plants take to grow?
Tomatoes come in forms when it comes to harvesting. Early and late. Early varieties will take 50 to 60 days, whereas late types will take 60 to 80 days from transplanting to harvesting.
Is it better to grow tomatoes in a polytunnel?
Growing tomatoes in a polytunnel is a good idea if you have poor weather during the summer months. It can help with the prevention of many diseases, such as blight. Pest attacks and provides warmth in colder climates.
How to grow tomatoes upside down?
Upside down, tomatoes are usually wanted for people to grow them in hanging baskets. They may be short on space or rather have them closer to the house.
For this, you require a variety of tomatoes called tumbling tomatoes.
How to grow tomatoes in pots?
As discussed early in the article, determinate varieties are ideal for growing in pots, so selecting one of those you desire and planting it in the pot is just a case.
Ensure that good drainage holes have been drilled in the pot. Tomatoes like a lot of water but don’t like waterlogged.
So as you can see, although most gardeners will grow tomatoes, there is much to consider when taking on this task. Now you have read this blog post; I am confident you can go and get those mind-blowing results I promised at the beginning of this article.
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