Looking to learn my top tomato growing secrets and the best tricks for growing great tomatoes in your home garden?
Growing tomatoes is really more than just planting a seed or plant. Tomato plants are very delicate and seem to require just the right everything in order to produce beautiful, perfect tomatoes.
In order to grow GREAT tomatoes, I’m sharing the tips I have used for years to help you grow champion tomatoes for yourself.
In this post, I will give you:
- My best tricks for growing great tomatoes.
- All the things you need to know about growing tomatoes from planting specs to harvest.
- I hope you’ll be able to answer the question: “Are tomatoes easy to grow?” for you.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I may get a commission if you click the link and make a purchase. Thanks for your support in this way!
A Few Facts About Tomatoes
Tomatoes are one of my top sellers and most popular veggie at my Farmer’s Market booth each summer. Not only tomatoes themselves, but it seems like many people in my area want to grow their own tomatoes, so tomato transplant sales have increased over the past years.
I suppose that’s why you’re reading this – You want to learn the best tricks for growing great tomatoes for yourself. Awesome!
Here’s another fun fact: Tomatoes used to be thought of as poisonous. Aren’t you glad they figured out that it isn’t? It’s actually very nutritious and, as we all know, delicious.
One more fun fact: Tomatoes are a native South American crop but were taken to Europe by early explorers before being introduced to American home gardens in the 1800’s. Tomatoes have been here in the United States for a LONG TIME.
That is super interesting considering the popularity of the tomato here in my country. Let’s jump into the best tricks. Starting at the beginning.
Planting and Growing Location is key
Success with tomatoes means finding the right spot in the garden. Tomatoes require At Least six hours of bright sunlight each day. This can be a limiting factor for some would-be gardeners when mature trees dot the landscape. Low-light levels do not allow for the plant to thrive, flower and produce loads of red ripe fruit.
Optimum growing temperature for tomatoes is 70 to 75°F, with night temperatures of 60 to 65°F. Give plants as much natural light as possible or grow them under artificial light. Plants grown without enough light are spindly.
The good news is that container gardening allows gardeners to grow tomatoes anywhere. You don’t need a “garden spot” to for growing tomatoes. Tomato container size just needs to be big enough to support the root system of the tomato variety you choose.
Another popular way to grow tomatoes is in a straw bale. For further reading on this method of growing tomatoes, go here.
Tomatoes are also extremely sensitive to frost and will not thrive in cold garden soils. Therefore, they shouldn’t ever be planted before the last frost in your growing area.
Tomatoes do need good fertile soil to grow properly. In short, I apply organic manure from livestock in the late Fall after the growing season is over. Let’s talk next about soil health and also some planting specs for tomatoes.
The Best Tomato Secret: Soil & Planting the Right Way
Here are some tomato growing secrets soil preparation. Tomatoes will grow in many different soil types, but they prefer a deep, loamy soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. If you don’t know your soil pH or the nutrients of your soil, I highly suggest a soil test as well as fertilizer recommendations.
You’ll know a lot more about your garden soil and how to amend it for tomatoes if you get your soil tested. If you choose not to, though, there is an option (I HEART OPTIONS!):
- Add 1 to 2 pounds of a complete garden fertilizer per 100 square feet.
- Know that excessive nitrogen fertilizer will lead to spindly plants and few fruits. So, avoid fertilizers with too much N.
- Good fertilizers include 5-10-10 or 5-10-5.
Rule of thumb: You want about half to the same as much nitrogen as phosphorous. Phosphorous is very key to growing great tomatoes.
After you know this, you can work the ground. Either add in organic matter or till the soil with a spade or tiller.
Now for some planting specs for transplants:
- Plants are spaced about 3 inches apart.
- Set them deeper into the ground or soil than they grew in their original container, covering to the first leaf. This will help prevent breaking.
That’s really it! I’ll talk about support and other care tips in later sections. But first I want to mention a little more about growing tomato transplants to grow. Or choosing the best plants to plant.
Let’s talk about growing or choosing the right plants.
Growing Tomato Transplants
Since the beginning of my time gardening, all I can remember planting in my outdoor gardens were transplants purchased or grown myself. What I know is that I can get a great head start on the season by starting actual plants that I either buy or have grown myself.
When choosing plants at the greenhouse or nursery, choose plants that are dark green, short and compact with sturdy stems. If you do have longer stemmed tomato plants, plant them sideways:
- Dig a trench deep enough for the root system.
- Place the root system and stem into the trench up to the first leaves.
- Cover completely with soil.
And now, you have a short plant again! Easy Peasy! Let’s talk about how easy it is to start your own tomato plants from seed.
Seeding or Growing Transplants
All types of tomatoes can be started indoors if you want to experiment rather than buying transplants. Use clay, plastic, or peat pots, milk cartons, paper or plastic coffee cups, or similar containers, but make sure they have drain holes in the bottom.
It is best to use potting soil from a greenhouse or garden center, which is free of weed seeds and harmful disease organisms. Plant several seeds into soil that has been well-firmed in the pots. Thin later, leaving one seedling per container. A week or so before tomatoes are ready to be set in the garden, decrease watering and toughen or “harden” the plants by gradually increasing exposure to outside conditions. This makes transplanting shock less severe.
After planting, you can protect plants for a few days by shielding them with boards, shingles, or light-penetrating coverings such as plastic milk jugs, glass, or hotcaps.
Proper Support for Tomato Plants
Young tomato plants need some support. They are delicate and can be whipped in the wind or during storms. The other reason to support tomato plants is to help them grow upwards and conserve space in your smaller garden.
In my own market garden, I need to grow lots of plants. So, I stake tomato plants to conserve room. Because of this, I can grow 75 tomato plants in 150 feet of garden row. I have a couple of ways and tips for you to do this, both cheaply and not.
- Electric fence posts with Baling Twine. This works great for young plants if you just need a free or really cheap quick staking system. Plants will eventually grow too big for this process.
- You can also use wood stakes between 6-7 feet tall. Drive them into the ground 2 feet into the ground, 3 to 4 inches from the plant. Then, tie the plant with baling twine, cloth or soft plastic strips. About every 12 inches up the stake.
Another way is to use cages. You can make smaller circle cages for individual plants for cheap using heavy concrete wire. Shop heavy concrete wire here.
If you have a lot of plants, like I do, you can use heavy posts and panels to line the row. Use panels with large squares so it’s easy to reach in to grap tomatoes or do what you need to do.
It’s really like a long tomato cage. I set panels up as close to the tomato plants as I think it’s going to be supportive. I really want tomato plants to grow upwards, so the closer, the better. However, don’t place it right next to the plants, allow some growing space for the plant.
Rule of thumb for tomato cages is about 18-20 inches in diameter. The panel fencing cage could be about the same width as well. Another great reason to cage tomatoes in these two ways is that you don’t have to prune them at all. Just let them grow and reap the benefits in healthy, fresh tomatoes!
Weed Control for Tomato Plants
Another way to keep tomato plants super healthy is to keep weed control down. This can be very time consuming and frustrating. Believe me – I know! I have nearly 100 plants to keep healthy!
So, here are some fairly low-maintenance weed control tips I use to keep on top of it:
Black Plastic – We lay this down before planting. It is amazing stuff and can be reused if cared for properly.
Mulching with Straw – Black plastic can blow and can fail by itself. Therefore, we cover the plastic about 3-4 inches with old hay or heavy straw. You can also use compost, leaves and grass clippings on top as well. Mulching helps retain soil moisture and reduce the compaction or sticking of the soil. So, it helps keep soil nice and loose and fluffy for roots to expand to.
Manual Pulling of Weeds – Finally, you’re going to have a weed or two pop through. That is just inevitable. So, be prepared to pull them up or hoe. Just know that you are going to have to control these in order to keep your plants healthy.
Proper Watering for Tomato Plants is also Key
Tomato plants require watering when the rains stop. But it’s important to know how to water in a way that is not going to cause diseases to the fruit and plant.
The amount of water needed per week is about 1 inch. My best tip for watering after gardening for 33 years is watering at the ground level. So, soaker hoses, drip irrigation or furrow irrigation if essential watering techniques to prevent foliage and fruit fungal problems.
You can’t prevent that from rainy hot weather, so be prepared to see some fungal problems. But watering at the ground level consistently will help. I’ll mention a tip for controlling those fungal diseases later on.
Another way to help plants stay healthy (especially if you’re seeing light green or yellow leaves) is to fertilize properly. I mentioned the type of soil that tomato plants love as well as their love for Phosphorus. After planting, water well with a starter fertilizer solution.
The n-p-k composition for Miracle Grow for Tomatoes is 18-18-21. Note that it has the same amount of Nitrogen as Phosphorous but it also has many trace minerals that are going to help the plants as well. This can also be purchased from Amazon, your local garden center, or you can mix 3 to 4 tablespoons of ordinary garden fertilizer in a gallon of water. Pour about 1 cup of starter solution around each plant.
Your plants will also benefit from additional sidedressings of nitrogen fertilizer at the following times:
- when the tomato fruits reach full size but are still green
- two weeks after the first fruit is harvested
- three to four weeks after the second sidedressing.
Fertilizing more often than this can encourage leaf growth at the expense of the fruit and is not recommended. However, if you have sandy soil, you’re plants would benefit from monthly fertilizer application due to the contents in the soil.
Color and variety depends on when it’s ready to pick. If you have yellow tomatoes, pick them yellow. If you have purple, make sure they are all purple.
And, of course, red tomatoes should be all red.
Heat and temperature also is dependent upon ripening. Heat above 90 degrees makes tomato turning very difficult. Same with cold temperatures.
You can pick tomatoes in the pink or orange stage and allow them to ripen indoors if needed. Make sure the indoor temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Light is not required for ripening.
After they are ripened, you can store them in the fridge for several weeks.
At the end of the season, remember that tomatoes can’t handle frost. But you can remove green tomatoes from the vines and wipe with a soft cloth. Then, wrap each tomato in newspaper or wax paper. Store in a cool, dark place at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit but check frequently to remove decaying or damaged fruit.
Finally, remove fruits as they turn and continue ripening at the 70 degrees as before. By doing this, you could have ripe tomatoes until Thanksgiving or Christmas!
Now, let’s talk about some problems you might face when trying to learn how to grow perfect tomatoes.
Common Tomato Growing Problems
There are several problems you still might face because there are things you can’t control. We can’t control weather or insects. But luckily, there are certain problems that can be fixed.
This curling or rolling of the leaves occurs in hot weather or after cultivation or severe pruning and does not affect yield or quality. Keep plants well watered, and do not hoe deeply around plants.
Blossom end rot
Appearing as a dry leathery patch at the bottom of tomato fruit, this disorder is caused by fluctuations in the soil’s moisture supply or by a quick transition from cool to hot weather. Provide uniform watering, use a mulch, and do not over fertilize with nitrogen.
At temperatures below 60°F or above 90°F, blooms may fall off plants. Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization, which encourages blossom drop.
Sudden summer rains or watering after drought may cause fruit cracking. Varieties differ in their tendency to crack, so choose one recommended for Kansas such as Jet Star. Pick fruits in the pink stage and allow them to ripen indoors as I mentioned above.
Weed spray damage
Phenoxy herbicides such as 2,4-D in small quantities may cause twisting and distortion of tomato stems and leaves. Avoid using these sprays close to your garden and on days the wind can direct vapors or spray onto your plants. Plants usually return to normal in a few weeks.
Sudden wilting and death can occur as a result of this serious tomato disease. Choose tomato varieties that are resistant to wilt.
Blight and other foliage diseases
Several fungus diseases cause spots or lesions on tomato leaves and fruit. Lower leaves may yellow, die, and fall off the plant. These diseases worsen in warm, humid weather. Planting tomatoes in a different area each year can help. Apply a fungicide spray containing chlorothalonil, mancozeb, or fixed copper applied at weekly intervals to control this problem. Your local garden center can suggest products containing these fungicides.
Mulching also helps.
These small green, yellow, or dark-colored insects are often present on tomato plants. Spray plants thoroughly with malathion, cyfluthrin or permethrin. Large numbers of lady bugs, lacewings, and other predator insects may control aphids.
Worms cut young tomato plants off at ground level. A paper or aluminum foil collar around each plant should prevent damage.
The first indication of these tiny, difficult-to-see insects is a pale stipple or small white spots on leaves.
Later, leaves shrivel and turn brown, and a fine webbing often appears on the undersides of leaves. Early treatment is crucial. Use a strong jet of water from a hose twice a week to dislodge mites. Be sure to hit the undersides of the leaves.
These green or brown worms with light-colored heads bore into tomato fruits. Use cyfluthrin, spinosad (organic), or permethrin.
These are large green worms with a horn or tail that eat large amounts of tomato foliage. Remove by hand picking. Use Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), cyfluthrin, spinosad (organic), or permethrin for control.
You can also pull them off and squish them. But they will keep coming back. Plus, it’s kind of gross.
These green or brown shield-shaped insects suck juices from fruits, leaving white “cloudy spots” beneath the skin. The fruit is safe to eat fresh or to can. If control is desired, cyfluthrin can be applied to the fruit.
So, just a few problems! LOL! But it’s all worth it in the end with delicious and nutritious fruit, right?
Nutrition Facts of Tomatoes
Tomatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C. Did you know that one and a half small tomatoes contain more Vitamin C than half a grapefruit?
And tomato juice rivals orange juice in vitamin C content. One small tomato provides nearly 20 percent of the daily minimum requirement for vitamin A, and newer varieties with more vitamin A are being developed. Tomatoes also contain high amounts of magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, copper, iron, and cobalt.
No wonder everyone loves tomatoes. Delicious, nutritious and super easy to grow.
And now you know all my best tricks for growing great tomatoes wherever you are.
~ Much Love ~
Related Posts for Best Tricks for Growing Great Tomatoes:
Make Gardening Simple Now!
Simple gardening equals smart gardening. In this short, easy to read book, you'll get access to all the best practices and tips for gardening smarter and more successfully. If you want more information, I'll send it right to your email inbox!