If vines heavy with ripe tomatoes are your goal, you're in luck! Today I'm sharing my Guide for Growing Tomatoes. If you've ever wondered what it takes to grow state-fair quality tomatoes, this guide is here to spill the beans (or should I say, tomatoes?).
Get ready to unlock the secrets of growing big tomatoes and discover how it can boost your tomato harvest while creating a harmonious and thriving garden. Ready? Let's dive in!
To make this guide easier to use, this article is split up into the following sections: Basic Tomato Growing Tips, How to Plant Tomatoes, Caring for Tomatoes, Best Garden Companions for Tomatoes, Common Diseases and Pest Control, and finally Harvesting & Preserving Tomatoes. Feel free to skip ahead to the section you need most! Look for the bolded headings or use the jump-to button below.
- At a glance: Basic Tomato Growing Tips
- How to Plant Tomatoes
- Caring for Tomatoes
- Best Garden Companions for Tomatoes
- What nutrients do tomato plants need?
- Harvesting and Preserving Tomatoes
- What ways can I preserve my garden tomato harvest?
- Common Diseases and Pest Control
- More gardening posts you'll love
At a glance: Basic Tomato Growing Tips
To set the stage for a bountiful tomato harvest, it's essential to provide your tomato plants with the right conditions to thrive. First and foremost, tomatoes crave sunlight, so choose a sunny spot in your garden with at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
They also need well-draining soil that's rich in organic matter. Prepare the soil by incorporating compost or aged manure to boost fertility and moisture retention. To find the best time of year to plant tomatoes in your garden, find your garden zone to determine your last frost date. Use this date to count backwards and see when you should be planting based on the seed packet or transplants.
Adequate watering is crucial, aiming for consistent moisture without waterlogging the roots. Proper spacing between plants allows for good airflow and reduces the risk of disease. As heavy feeders, tomatoes appreciate regular fertilization, particularly with a balanced tomato-specific fertilizer that's high in phosphorus for strong root development and fruit production.
Pruning and providing support for the sprawling vines can help prevent diseases and maximize fruit exposure to sunlight. With the right combination of sunlight, nutrient-rich soil, proper watering, support, and care, your tomato plants will flourish and reward you with a fantastic crop of juicy, ripe tomatoes.
How to Plant Tomatoes
To plant a tomato seedling, start by choosing a sunny spot in your garden with well-drained soil. Dig a hole that is much deeper than the root ball of the seedling. Gently prune the bottom row or two of leaves and remove the seedling from its container, being careful not to damage the delicate roots. Place the seedling in the hole, allowing the top of the root ball to be several inches below the soil surface. When it comes to tomatoes, plant them deep!
Add any needed amendments, like blood meal or worm castings. If you are unsure about the health of your soil, you can always order a soil test online. Backfill the hole with soil, gently firming it around the base of the plant.
Water the newly planted seedling thoroughly to settle the soil and provide moisture to the roots. Consider adding a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture and prevent weed growth. Finally, provide support for the tomato plant, such as a stake or cage, to help it grow upright and maintain stability as it matures.
Caring for Tomatoes
Throughout the growing season, pay attention to your tomato plants' watering needs, aiming for consistent moisture without waterlogging the roots. Regularly monitor for common tomato pests and diseases, and take preventive measures to keep them at bay. Consider using companion plants to enhance pest control and promote a healthy garden ecosystem.
Proper support and pruning techniques can help your tomato plants thrive, ensuring good airflow, reducing disease risks, and maximizing fruit production. Remember to fertilize your tomatoes appropriately, providing a balanced blend of nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Lastly, keep an eye on your tomatoes as they ripen, and harvest them when they reach peak flavor and color. There's nothing quite like the taste of a sun-ripened tomato picked straight from the vine!
Best Garden Companions for Tomatoes
What is companion planting?
Companion planting is like arranging a tomato garden playdate! Imagine plants hanging out together and helping each other out, like best buddies. Companion planting is all about strategically pairing different plants that bring out the best in each other. You see, certain plants have unique qualities that can benefit their neighboring companions.
They can help repel pests, improve pollination, enhance nutrient uptake, and even provide shade or support. It's like a teamwork approach to gardening, where plants support and complement each other to create a happy, healthy garden. It's pretty amazing how these plant friendships can make a real difference in your tomato plants' growth and productivity!
my favorite companion plants for tomatoes
Companion planting can be a game-changer when it comes to growing tomatoes. Here are a few fantastic benefits that make it worth trying.
- Cilantro | Plant cilantro around tomatoes to discourage pests and attract pollinators. As the cilantro blooms, it is a favorite food for wasps that are natural predators for tomato horn worms.
- Basil | Basil not only adds flavor to your culinary creations but also acts as a natural pest repellent for tomatoes. It can help repel flies, mosquitoes, aphids, and spider mites. Plus, the aromatic oils in basil may enhance the flavor of tomatoes when planted nearby.
- Marigolds | Marigolds are renowned for their ability to repel various insects, including nematodes, aphids, whiteflies, and certain types of beetles. Their strong scent and natural compounds act as a deterrent.
- Borage | Borage is a companion plant that not only attracts beneficial insects like bees but also repels certain tomato pests like tomato hornworms and cabbage worms. Its bright blue flowers and fuzzy leaves add charm to the garden while providing pest control benefits.
- Sweet Alyssum | This dainty white flower attracts beneficial pollinators and pest-eating insects. It also spreads like a ground cover and keeps the soil moist.
- Nasturtiums | Bold and vining nasturtiums have dual benefit in the garden. Their vibrant flowers add beauty, and their strong scent deters pests like aphids, whiteflies, and squash bugs. They also attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, which can help control aphid populations.
- Chives | Chives are part of the onion family and have a strong scent that repels pests like aphids and Japanese beetles.
- Calendula | These sunny flowers attract beneficial insects and repel unwanted pests including tomato worms and nematodes.
- Garlic | Known for its pungent aroma, garlic repels a range of pests. Aphids, mites, and whiteflies will all stay far away from tomatoes when garlic is near!
What nutrients do tomato plants need?
To ensure your tomatoes receive the necessary nutrients, you can use a balanced fertilizer specifically formulated for tomatoes or incorporate organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before planting. Regular soil testing can help you determine any nutrient deficiencies and adjust your fertilization accordingly.
Tomatoes have specific nutrient requirements to grow and produce healthy, flavorful fruits. Here are the essential nutrients that tomatoes need:
- Nitrogen is crucial for vegetative growth, leaf development, and overall plant vigor. It helps produce lush green foliage. However, excessive nitrogen can lead to excessive leaf growth and reduced fruiting. It's best to provide a balanced nitrogen source throughout the growing season.
- Phosphorus promotes root development, flower formation, and fruit set. It plays a vital role in the early stages of growth and helps establish a strong root system. Phosphorus-rich fertilizers are especially beneficial during transplanting and when flowers are forming.
- Potassium contributes to overall plant health, disease resistance, and fruit quality. It aids in water regulation, nutrient uptake, and carbohydrate metabolism. Potassium is essential for developing flavorful and well-colored tomatoes.
- Calcium is essential for preventing blossom end rot, a common disorder that causes dark, sunken spots on the bottom of tomatoes. It helps strengthen cell walls and supports proper fruit development.
- Magnesium is a key component of chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for photosynthesis. It is necessary for the production of energy-rich compounds and contributes to overall plant health.
- Tomatoes also require small amounts of micronutrients like iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), and boron (B). These trace elements are necessary for various enzymatic processes and play crucial roles in overall plant growth and development.
Harvesting and Preserving Tomatoes
Knowing when a tomato is ready to be harvested is important to ensure optimal flavor and texture. Here are some signs to look for to determine if your tomatoes are ripe and ready to be picked!
First, I'm going to tell you what "the books say," then I'm going to share with you what I have found to work best on our homestead.
Most tomato varieties change color as they ripen. Look for vibrant, rich hues, such as red, orange, or yellow, depending on the variety. The tomato should have a consistent color across its entire surface. Gently squeeze the tomato. Ripe tomatoes should be firm but still have a slight give when pressed. Most people will stay to pick the tomato when it feels slightly soft and has an even color all the way through.
BUT. Hear me out. Tomatoes release ethylene gas that causes ripening once the first blush of color tinges their surface. If I wait to pick my tomatoes until they are just perfect, I'm just asking for trouble. Do you know what else loves ripe, red tomatoes? Every pest in the garden. Raccoons, rabbits, hornworms, ants.
We have had great luck by picking our tomatoes when they first blush and letting them ripen indoors, away from the critters that also want a juicy tomato. Even green tomatoes will eventually ripen indoors if they are a mature size!
Familiarize yourself with the average size of the tomato variety you are growing. When the tomatoes reach their expected size, it's a good indicator that they are close to being ripe.
A ripe tomato should have a smooth and slightly shiny skin. Tomatoes with wrinkled or blemished skin may indicate overripeness or damage and are still quite usable, just maybe in a sauce instead of a slice.
Ripe tomatoes often emit a sweet and distinct aroma. Give them a gentle sniff near the stem end. If you detect a pleasant, tomato-like fragrance, it's a positive sign that they are ready to be harvested.
Remember that tomatoes can continue to ripen after being picked. If you have a few that are close to being ripe, but not quite there yet, you can leave them on the vine a bit longer before harvesting. However, it's important to avoid leaving tomatoes on the plant for too long, as they may become overripe, mushy, or prone to rotting.
What ways can I preserve my garden tomato harvest?
Tomatoes can be preserved by dehydrating, canning, fermenting, and freeze drying. I love drying thinly sliced tomatoes in my food dehydrator and then reconstituting them in soups when I need a fresh tomato but they are out of season!
One of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes is roasted in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit with a few cloves of peeled garlic, freshly ground pepper and sea salt. Line a pan with parchment paper and then drizzle the veggies with olive oil. Let it cook for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes burst open and the juices begin to release. Pour this into a shallow bowl and use it as a dip for sourdough bread or sourdough baguettes! It's so elegant, and so easy!
Common Diseases and Pest Control
Tomato plants can be susceptible to various diseases that can impact their growth and yield. Two common tomato diseases are Early Blight and Late Blight. Early Blight is characterized by dark, concentric spots on leaves and stems, while Late Blight causes dark, water-soaked lesions on leaves and fruit.
I've started practicing good hygiene to prevent blight in my tomatoes. This is as simple as removing and disposing of any infected plant debris. I provide adequate air circulation by spacing plants properly and avoiding overhead watering. Another thing I've found to be helpful is adding a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plants can also help prevent soil-borne diseases.
That being said, blight is still a problem, even for experienced gardeners. We had a few weeks of cooler temperatures this summer paired with moderate rainfall. Wouldn't you know it, my tomatoes developed blight. I pruned the disease leaves as well as any excess foliage to increase air flow and so far it hasn't progressed!
If signs of disease appear, treat the plants with appropriate organic or chemical fungicides, following the instructions on the product. Additionally, some diseases, like Fusarium and Verticillium wilts, are soil-borne and challenging to treat. To minimize the risk, choose disease-resistant tomato varieties and rotate your crops annually to prevent the buildup of pathogens in the soil. Regularly inspecting your plants and taking prompt action at the first sign of disease can help maintain the health and productivity of your tomato plants.