My first year producing tomatoes, I made a lot of beginner mistakes, which I’m sharing in my entire seed to harvest guide. Follow along as I share my first-ever tomato-growing experience!
This article is a little different than the ones I’m used to sharing — there’s no recipe or nutrition information to learn from — but I’ve learned so much in my first year of tomato growing that I can’t keep it to myself.
I’ve always desired a large garden but had to settle for useless container gardens and indoor plants until now. When you just have to water a few plants once a week, it’s easy to romanticise the concept of a large garden.
This was the first year in my yard that I had enough space to plant a garden, so I went all out. Tomatoes were my major emphasis because they appear to be a “simple” way to get started (since then I have learned that they are somehow as easy to grow as they are complex). Broccoli, red onions, and bell and jalapeño pepper seeds were also among the items I selected. I’ll save my observations on how to cultivate them for another time.
I began planning the seedlings I would sow in February in January. By the middle of February, I’d grown a tiny rainforest on top of my washing machine (the only place in the home where the cats couldn’t reach the plants). By March, transplants are on their way to the garden, and by August, they are flourishing and producing. Because, sure, I selected indeterminate tomatoes without fully comprehending what that phrase meant.
This season, I learnt a lot and made a lot of mistakes, yet my tomatoes still flourished. They’ll flourish if you give them some water, good soil, and the heat of the summer sun. They’re the same way.
I’ll talk about some of my beginner blunders and how I aim to avoid them next year. Let’s start with seed selection.
Tomatoes Come in a Variety of Shapes and Sizes
Determinate tomatoes, sometimes known as “bush” variety, reach a height of 2 to 3 feet. These cultivars produce a large number of ripe tomatoes at once, have little leaf growth following fruit set, and fruit for a (relatively) short length of time. They are typically more prolific sooner in the growing season than vining cultivars, and not later. Staking or caging are not required for determinate tomatoes. Containers and compact areas are ideal for these plants. The majority of paste tomatoes are determined (which works well for making sauce and canning).
All summer and until the first frost, indeterminate tomatoes, often known as “vining” variety, yield the biggest sorts of mid- to late-season slicing tomatoes. Because indeterminates have higher leaf growth, their harvest is more equally distributed throughout the season. Staking is required for indeterminate tomatoes. They’re perfect for large gardeners. Indeterminate beefsteak and cherry tomatoes are common.
Tomatoes come in a variety of tastes, colours, and sizes, ranging from small grape tomatoes to enormous beefsteaks. The option you choose is also determined by how you want to use this versatile fruit in the kitchen. Roma tomatoes, for example, are not often eaten fresh out of hand, but they are ideal for sauces and ketchups. Tomatoes require constant attention since they are sensitive to pests and illnesses. When feasible, use disease-resistant cultivars to avoid issues.
Tomatoes: How to Grow and Care for Them
Tomatoes thrive in warm weather, so grow them in late spring or early summer, unless you live in zone 10, in which case they are an autumn and winter crop.
Plant starter plants instead of seeds to get a jump start on growth. Choose young tomato plants from Bonnie Plants®, a firm that has helped home gardeners produce their greatest gardens for over 100 years.
Plant tomatoes in a bright, sunny location. Tomatoes require at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight to develop their full taste potential.
Most tomato plants will need to be staked, trellised, or caged to keep them off the ground. Decide on a support strategy before you lay out your plants, and then implement it immediately thereafter.
Allow adequate space for each plant to develop. Indeterminate types with lengthy vines should be spaced approximately 3 feet apart. Plants with a stockier determinate can be spaced 2 feet apart. Mix a few inches of high-quality garden soil, such as aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics All Purpose In-Ground Soil, with the top layer of existing soil to improve the planting area. You’ll need at least a 24-inch pot for an indeterminate variety and an 18-inch pot for a determinate type if you’re growing in containers. Fill pots with high-quality potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics Container Mix, for the greatest results.
Tomatoes thrive when the soil pH is between 6.2 and 6.8, and they require a steady supply of main and minor plant nutrients. Mix a continuous-release calcium fertiliser, such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition Granules, into the soil as you prepare the planting holes to give required nutrients. Feeding should be continued throughout the growth season as directed on the package. This can help preserve fruit from blossom end rot, which can happen if the plant doesn’t have enough calcium.
Mix in 3 to 4 inches of compost at the same time, which will give modest nutrients and help keep moisture and fertiliser in the soil until the plants want it.
We recommend burying two-thirds of the stem before planting to ensure a robust tomato plant. This critical phase allows the plant to grow roots along the buried stem, making it stronger and more capable of finding water in a drought. Please keep in mind that this approach only works with tomatoes (and tomatillos) and not with other vegetables.
Water seedlings right after planting to help them settle in.
To develop an early harvest, combine fast-maturing types with unique season-stretching techniques, but wait until after the last frost to sow main-season tomatoes.
Mulch the ground with 2 to 4 inches of mulch to keep weeds at bay and the soil wet. Straw and crushed leaves make excellent tomato mulches.
Water on a weekly basis, aiming for at least an inch of moisture (through rain or watering), with more in the summer. It’s time to water if the top inch of soil is dry.
The type of sun your yard receives has a big impact on where you plant your tomatoes. This was my first year in my house, and I misjudged the size of the pecan tree in my next-door neighbor’s yard. It’s rather large. For much of the day, the shadows hide a large portion of the yard where I keep my pots. Oops.
Tomatoes require a lot of sunshine, but I’ve discovered that they can produce and thrive with less than 8 hours of direct sunlight. Because of the changing light, my tomato plants were rather lanky, yet they still produced nicely.
What I learned: Check out the plot where you intend to plant your tomatoes at different times of the day to determine how much sun it gets. Keep in mind that the foliage on adjacent trees is much less in March than it is in July.
With seed shortages at big shops owing to an increase in home gardening, choosing seeds to cultivate was a little different this year. I’m glad I bought my seeds at Lowe’s in January— I’m eager!
There wasn’t a lot of diversity. “Culinary tomato mix” and “grape tomatoes” were my choices. I could tell they were mass-produced seeds that promised to be something, but I had no idea what that something was.
I went ahead and purchased seeds from Baker Creek for my autumn garden since they have a big range of unusual and just plain interesting seeds. There are also evaluations that demonstrate how well they grow for various gardeners. This is a great change from the two or three choices available at the big home improvement retailers.
What I learned: For more diversity, look for online seed catalogues, but don’t be too concerned about buying seeds from large box stores. They’re seeds, therefore they’ll probably grow.
Planting seeds in the house
In a Jiffy seed starting greenhouse, I cultivated my seeds (see left image above). The tomatoes took approximately 10 days to germinate. When they did germinate, they shot off like a rocket.
Because I don’t have a south-facing window in my home, I bought a cheap grow light (this is the one that I used). My seedlings grew to be rather lanky, so I now know that two lamps would have sufficed.
The more I think about it, the less I believe I needed to start my tomato seeds indoors in the first place. The growing season in Georgia is rather long. It was a fascinating experiment, but the tomatoes grow so fast outside that I believe they would have germinated just as well in late March as they did indoors in February.
Having an indoor seed station is also a commitment. Especially because it was on top of the dryer, which was regularly used.
What I discovered: Growing seedlings indoors requires dedication. I’m going to start half of my seedlings outside and half indoors next year to see how they do.
When I first started cultivating seeds, I didn’t know what this phrase meant, but it’s a crucial stage. Before planting seedlings in the garden, they must be hardened off, which involves gradually acclimating them to outside conditions.
I put my ten tomato plants on a cookie sheet so I could easily transport them to my porch. Because I was being cautious, I hardened them over a two-week period.
I began by taking them outside for 30 minutes, then an hour, maybe another hour the next day, and finally a couple of hours. When the plants didn’t like what I was doing to them, it was simple to see since they rapidly wilted! That was my cue to reduce my time spent outside.
What I learned: Don’t forget to harden off your grafts outside. Set a timer and don’t let it snooze. Because the seedlings aren’t used to such bright light, avoid direct afternoon sunshine at first.
How Long Does a Tomato Take to Grow?
This is one of the most often asked questions. The actual number of “days to harvest” varies by cultivar and can range from 60 to more than 100 days.
Furthermore, because tomatoes are a delicate warm-season crop that cannot withstand cold, they should not be planted too early in the ground. Except in zone 10, where tomatoes are a fall and winter crop, the soil is not warm enough to grow tomatoes outside until late spring or early summer.
Plant tiny “starter plants” or transplants instead of seeds due to their comparatively extended growth season needs (and late planting date). Choose tomato plants that are still young from a reliable nursery. Short, stocky plants with dark green colour and straight, strong stems the size of a pencil or thicker are good starting plants. They shouldn’t have yellowing leaves, spots, or stress damage, and they shouldn’t have blooms or fruits on the way.
Tomato Planting from Seed
As previously noted, many gardeners acquire starting tomato plants from a nursery due to the extended growth season for a warm-weather harvest.
Tomatoes, on the other hand, can be planted directly in the garden if the soil temperature is at least 55°F. It’s worth noting that 70°F soil is ideal for maximum germination in 5 days. Make sure your growing season is lengthy enough for the plants to reach maturity.
You may also get a head start by starting tomatoes from seed inside. 6 to 8 weeks before the average last spring frost date, sow seeds 12 inch deep in tiny trays. For additional information, visit our Planting Calendar for seed-starting dates relevant to your location, as well as our article ” Tomatoes From Seed the Easy Way “.
Before putting your seedlings in the ground, harden them off for a week. On the first day, leave them in the shade for a few hours. Increase the amount of time you spend outside each day to incorporate some direct sunshine.
Transplants are being planted.
After all risk of frost has gone and the soil temperature has reached 60°F, transplant your seedlings or nursery-grown plants. For suggested transplanting dates, see our Planting Calendar.
At the time of planting, place tomato stakes or cages in the soil. Staking and caging assist the plant stay upright by keeping growing fruit off the ground (to minimise disease and pests).
Add a handful of organic tomato fertiliser or bone meal (a excellent source of phosphorus) to the planting hole before transplanting tomatoes.
Applying heavy nitrogen fertilisers, such as those suggested for lawns, can result in lush foliage but may cause blooming and fruiting to be delayed.
Pinch off a couple of the bottom leaves before planting seedlings. Here are two methods for planting seedlings.
Tomatoes: How to Pick and Store Them
The colour of tomatoes varies as they mature, from a bright medium-green to a lighter hue with subtle pink or yellow flushing. These ripe green tomatoes, sometimes known as “breakers,” may be sliced into salsas, pickled, or pan-fried into a crisp snack. However, when the fruits develop, the flavours grow much more complex, so you have excellent reason to wait. Although the exact indicators of ripeness differ by variety, fully ripe tomatoes have a rich colour and yet feel solid when gently pressed.
Picked tomatoes should be stored at room temperature indoors or in a shaded location outside. Tomatoes should never be refrigerated, as temperatures below 55° cause the flavour components to break down.
For future use, bumper harvests can be frozen, canned, or dried.
With our free app, HOMEGROWN with Bonnie Plants, you can get gardening information on the move.
Learn more or get it now for iPhone and Android. If they make it to the table, these excellent tiny yellow cherry tomatoes, which are actually orange at optimum taste, will provide colour to salads and fresh pasta dishes. They’re so sweet that they’ll probably all be consumed before long. Seriously.
Problems with Tomatoes and How to Solve Them
Some tomatoes are having difficulties establishing fruit as the summer progresses. When the evenings start to chill down, you’ll start seeing small green tomatoes again. Meanwhile, harvest ripe tomatoes as soon as possible to relieve stressed plants of their weight. Choose heat-tolerant tomato types developed for their capacity to set fruit in high temperatures if you live in a region where midsummer temperatures are regularly in the 90s.
Use soaker hoses, drip irrigation, or other drought-busting strategies to help maintain consistent soil moisture if summer droughts are prevalent in your region, or if you tend to forget to water. This will not only assist to avoid broken fruits, but it will also aid to prevent blossom end rot. (Moisture variations might limit the amount of calcium that the plant can absorb, causing blossom end rot.)
Humidity promotes the spread of fungal diseases such as early blight, which causes black patches to appear on lower leaves initially. Throughout the season, make careful to remove any leaves that appear to be ill or infected. Late blight is a more serious disease that kills plants fast; the only method to prevent it is to spray the leaves with an authorised fungicide like chlorothalonil or copper and maintain the garden free of plant debris.
You should also keep an eye out for pests. Tomato hornworms, for example, are large green caterpillars that devour tomato leaves and occasionally harm tomatoes in the middle of the summer. A single or two hornworms may quickly rob a plant of its leaves! As soon as you see a nuisance, take action.
Plants that begin producing early in the season will exhibit indications of fatigue by late summer. By trimming away withered leaves and branches, you may extend the life of those sad tomato plants with very little work. Then, if necessary, add liquid plant food and insect or leaf disease remedies.
More troubleshooting information may be found in our post on Tomato Quirks. Tomato plants have lengthy roots, which is why it’s critical to water them well.
A soaker hose effectively and efficiently waters a tomato plant. Once it’s in place, cover it with mulch.
If possible, pick a location that is wind-protected. This is especially useful if you’re growing indeterminate types, which will shoot lengthy branches in every direction (like the one on the far right).
Tomato blooms may be a fickle bunch. If the temperature is too cold (below 55°F) or too hot (above 90°F), most kinds’ blooms will not set fruit until the temperature is back to their preferred level.
This tomato cluster has gone through many phases of ripening. Tomatoes mature in a range of hues, depending on the type.
Let me begin by noting that I was really fortunate when it came to bugs. Raised beds certainly help, but even my in-ground tomatoes had few insect problems.
In early June, I experienced an aphid infestation. I discovered aphids on two of my tomato plants and immediately began searching for “How can I get rid of aphids on tomato plants naturally???” since I didn’t come all this way to apply a pesticide.
The good news is that a simple spray bottle with 1 teaspoon dish soap and 2 cups water, sprayed liberally and everyday in the morning shade, wiped those infants away. It took some effort, but it spared me a lot of disappointment by applying to every single leaf on every single tomato plant.
A ladybug on a tomato plant is seen in the image above. Aphids are eaten by ladybugs. This one appeared at the same time as my aphid infestation was cured.
What I learnt is that you should inspect your plants on a daily basis. Early detection of a pest can be the difference between a plant’s survival and death. Aphids may be treated with dish soap and water, which is surprisingly effective.
When I originally transplanted my tomatoes to the raised beds, I didn’t consider this. “How about two 24″ tall cages on a couple of the plants, and the rest I can attach to a couple of logs I found in the yard?” No. That didn’t work either. The plants began to lean from the weight of the tomatoes as they grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, What a shambles! I had no idea what was going on!
My neighbour came to the rescue with three Tractor Supply six-foot tall tomato cages that were ancient and rusty but still functional. Before (left) and after (right) staking may be seen in the shot above. I planted them in my garden in early June, and the plants transformed from horizontal monsters to more controlled vertical monsters almost immediately. On my neighbor’s suggestion, I also cut around 20% of the tomato limbs that were absolutely out of control.
I will admit that one of my tomato plants was not staked and instead allowed to vine over the side of its container. It appears to be a little out of control, but it is producing nonetheless.
What I learned: Tomato cages are required, especially for indeterminate types. Purchase large tomato cages; the tomatoes will most likely grow into them, and even if they don’t, the plants will have plenty of support.
Varieties to Consider
Tomatoes come in a variety of sizes, ranging from small “currant” to huge “beefsteak.” Thousands of tomato cultivars exist to suit various climates and preferences. Looking for disease-resistant cultivars is a good idea.
Varieties from the Beginning (fewer than 70 days to harvest) Early-maturing cultivars, such as Early Girl, are slightly less delicious than mid- or late-season varieties, but they yield fruit 2 to 3 weeks quicker.
‘Early Cascade’ is a disease-resistant indeterminate trailing plant with clusters of fruit.
‘Early Girl’ is an indeterminate plant with meaty fruit that bears throughout the summer.
Varieties for the Middle of the Season (70 to 80 days to harvest)
‘Floramerica’ is a disease-resistant, determinate plant with solid, deep red flesh and a robust plant.
‘Fantastic’: indeterminate, disease- and crack-resistant, meaty rich taste, large yields
Late-season Varieties are those that are harvested at the end of the growing season (80 days or more to harvest)
‘Amish Paste’ is an indeterminate heritage tomato with huge plum tomatoes and acorn-shaped fruit that is juicy and great for sauce.
‘Brandywine’ is an indeterminate, heritage beefsteak with a great acid-sweet balance, available in a variety of varieties.
‘Tomato, Roma VF’ is a determinate, compact roma tomato that is wilt resistant. Meaty interiors with few seeds; high yielding; excellent for paste and canning.
‘Sun Gold’: 57 days to maturity; indeterminate; Fusarium wilt and tobacco mosaic virus resistant; brilliant tangerine-orange hue on grapelike trusses; extremely sweet flavour
‘Yellow Mini (F1)’: 57 days to maturity; indeterminate; delicious juicy flavour; resists splitting caused by too much rain or inconsistent watering; strong resistance to tobacco mosaic virus.
Large fruit is a feature of Beefsteak, Beefmaster, Ponderosa, and Oxheart. These bigger fruited varieties, on the other hand, are more prone to illnesses and skin cracking.
FAQS About Growing Tomatoes
For my tomato plants, what size cage should I use?
A 5- to 6-foot trellis, pole, or cage is ideal for most tomatoes. Purchase the largest cage you can find or build your own out of concrete reinforcing wire. Indeterminate tomato vines can grow to be more than 6 feet long, but if that bothers you, just let them climb to the top and droop over and down. You’ll be harvesting with a ladder if you don’t!
What precisely does it imply when the plant says “full sun”?
Full sun implies no shade for the whole day, which is often too much in the summer. Herbs and certain vegetables benefit from a little shade in the mid- to late-afternoon in hot regions.
Is it necessary to stake or cage my tomatoes at all times?
Yes. Staking tomatoes increases production while also preventing rot and illness.
Is it okay if I put one tomato plant in a five-gallon bucket and plant it on my patio? For a tomato, how big should the container be?
Yes, a tomato plant must be planted in a 5-gallon pot. A tomato plant should be planted in a container that is at least 18 inches wide at the top, ideally 24 inches for an indeterminate tomato plant. Also, check for drainage holes in your container.
What do the letters VFFN in your tomato names stand for?
These letters signify issues that a variety will not succumb to, implying that it will not succumb to the difficulty. V stands for Verticillium wilt, F and FF stand for Fusarium wilt races 1 and 2, while A stands for Alternaria leaf spot. The N stands for nematode resistance; nematodes are small eel-like bugs that wreak havoc on roots. Other classifications can be found in the descriptions of tomato varieties in our online plant catalogue.
Is it possible to grow tomato plants that are resistant to nematodes?
Yes, many cultivars are nematode resistant. Look for the letter “N,” which stands for “nematode resistance,” following the name. Check out the catalogue area of our website to locate these variations. Plant resistance to worms and other issues is listed in our tomato descriptions.
Is it necessary to prune the lower branches of my tomato plants? How far should the lowest branches be from the ground?
Pruning isn’t required, but some people do it to avoid disease-carrying dirt from splashing up on the leaves; 12 to 18 inches above the ground should enough.
Is it true that pinching the tomato plant’s blooms encourages it to produce more fruit?
It won’t assist with output, but it could help with the size of the tomatoes left on the plant.
I recently planted my tomatoes and discovered that they were put too early. Should I cover them with anything to keep them safe at night?
If you cover your tomatoes to protect them from frost and cold, strong wind, they should be fine. Allow the foliage to come into contact with the cover only if it is made of a material that does not easily transfer the cold, such as bonded polyester row cover, a cardboard box, or a blanket. Metal cans and plastic should be avoided unless they do not come into contact with the plants.
What causes the bottoms of tomatoes to become black?
That’s what they call blossom end rot. It’s assumed that a shortage of calcium and drought stress are to blame. Liming the soil is one technique to provide calcium. This will be beneficial to future harvests. Purchase a calcium solution, such as Stop-rot, and sprinkle it on the plants to assist the current crop.
Do I have to transplant tomatoes every year, or do they return when the season is right?
Frost kills tomatoes, which are annuals. Every year, they must be replanted.
Containers vs. in-ground vs. raised beds
I decided to use the tomato plants that didn’t make it into the raised bed as an experiment. I used the same soil for both and placed them in separate big pots. One near the elevated bed and one in front, so the container was the only variable.
In the ground: I also dug out a dirt area in my front yard and planted one tomato plant there. I’ll point out that the plants I cultivated in the ground (with a few bags of organic soil and cow dung) outperformed my raised bed garden. I believe this is due to the “excellent” soil and the fact that the garden dries up more slowly, which explains my sometimes haphazard watering tactics.
Containers: Let’s talk about watering. Those container tomatoes failed miserably. This is consistent with my prior tomato-in-a-container experiments. They require significantly more water than raised bed and in-ground tomatoes. In fact, when it was 95 degrees outside, they required to be watered almost twice as often. That does not imply that I did it, and they did not prosper as a result. Oops.
My main difficulty with raised beds is that they need additional soil around midway through the season. Because of the friendly neighbourhood squirrels and birds, random holes emerge. Dramatic rainstorms and an aggressive watering hose swept away the soil. Having said that, I would use these raised beds for tomatoes again in a heartbeat.
What I learned: In-ground tomato plants may be the most successful if you have good soil. Yes, weeds are more abundant, and insect infestations are more frequent. However, it is less expensive, because gardens are not inexpensive! There’s also edible landscaping.
The quality of the plant and the time it is transplanted in the garden impact the timing of fruit production and the quantity of fruit produced.
Tomato plants with a stocky stem and well-developed root system should be six to eight inches tall and dark green. Normally, it takes six to eight weeks to grow this sort of plant from seed.
Plant three to five plants per person if your family wants to eat solely fresh fruit. Five to ten plants per person should be planted if fruit is desired for home processing.
Buy plants from your local plant grower at the correct planting period to obtain the greatest results with only a few plants and to avoid problems. By name, request better varieties. Before they are prepared to risk cultivating a new variety, plant producers require proof that new kinds will sell.
Seeds in a pasteurised seedling mix, such as vermiculite, can be used to start plants. Transplant the seedlings at least two inches apart once they have sprouted and established their first set of true leaves, and provide plenty of light for stocky stem development. Pasteurized potting mix should be used to transfer the seedlings. Commercial potting mixtures are available and perform well in most cases.
If starting seedlings in the house, place them in a south window and rotate the pots on a frequent basis to provide even lighting. To provide the quality and amount of light required for robust transplants, more light in the form of fluorescent light fixtures may be required. The temperature should be kept below 80 degrees Fahrenheit but above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.