Growing tomatoes at home
Budding gardeners looking to grow their own vegetables often opt for tomatoes as their first experience growing produce. Because they grow quickly, you can grow tomatoes from seed to harvest in less than three months. What’s more, homegrown tomatoes are usually tastier than the watery tomatoes found in your average grocery store.
Whether you’re new to gardening or a seasoned gardener, you might be wondering how to grow tomatoes. We’ll go over all the basics below, and you’ll soon be harvesting ripe, fragrant tomatoes straight from the vine.
Decide on seeds or young tomato plants
The first decision you’ll need to make regarding growing your own tomatoes is whether to start your tomatoes from seed or buy young tomato plants, such as Bonnie Plants Better Boy Tomato Plants. When you start tomatoes from seed, you have a vast range of seed varieties to choose from, plus it’s cheaper than buying seedlings, assuming you already have the equipment you need to grow your own.
If you’re looking to buy young tomato plants, your options will be limited, but it saves you from going through the tricky phase of growing from seed. If you’ve decided to grow tomatoes too late in the season, young tomato plants are your only option to get a good harvest before fall frosts arrive.
How to grow tomatoes from seeds
Know when to sow
When growing tomatoes from seed, you’ll need to start them indoors before transplanting them outside once the weather’s warm enough. Sow them roughly six to eight weeks before the last frost date where you live. This can vary widely depending on the climate in your area, but a quick internet search will give you the information you need.
Plant your seeds in a standard potting soil mix in a seed starter tray. We prefer using trays with individual cells, such as the Gardzen Seed Tray Kit, since you can plant one seed to a cell, and you don’t need to worry about pricking out extra plants to avoid overcrowding.
Cover the tray and water regularly until the seeds start to germinate before moving them somewhere they’ll get enough light. Although you may get away with growing your seedlings on a sunny windowsill, we’d recommend using a grow lamp for more robust seedlings.
Once your seedlings are big enough to handle safely, pot them into individual 3- to 4-inch pots. Keep them in a sunny spot, ideally supplemented with grow lights and water them regularly until they’re ready to plant outside.
How to grow a tomato plant
Once the chance of frost has passed and the temperature outside is consistently at least 50 degrees during day and night, it’s time to plant your young tomato plants outside.
First, they should undergo the process of hardening off. This involves leaving the young plants outdoors in pots for increasing periods for about a week to get them used to the cooler outdoor temperatures. After hardening your plants off, you can choose to plant them outside either directly in a bed or individually in 10-gallon containers.
Indeterminate vs. determinate
Find out whether your tomatoes are indeterminate (also known as cordon) or determinate (also known as bush) types. It’s essential to know the difference and type your tomato plant is, as each requires slightly different care. Determinate or bush tomatoes grow to a fixed height, and all the fruits ripen at roughly the same time, usually within a couple of weeks.
You don’t need to stake determinate tomato plants, but a tomato cage can help keep them from drooping with their load. Indeterminate tomato plants keep on growing and setting fruit throughout the season until frost kills them off.
You need to stake indeterminate varieties, tying them loosely at intervals to bamboo garden canes as they grow. Otherwise, they’ll simply trail along the ground. You also need to remove the suckers that grow between the main vine and the side branches, as these deplete energy that could go into growing and ripening fruit. Once about five fruit trusses have set, pinch off the top growing tip so the plant’s energy will go into ripening them.
Tomato plant care
Tomatoes need regular watering, especially in hot weather. Give each plant a drink every morning.
Use a liquid fertilizer on your tomato plants weekly to promote growth and help ripen fruit. Try using kelp fertilizer, such as Bloom City Organic Liquid Seaweed and Kelp Fertilizer.
Flowers and fruits
As your tomato plant grows, you’ll start to notice yellow flowers forming. Flying insects visiting your garden will pollinate these flowers, allowing them to develop into fruits. Since these little flowers will turn into tomatoes, it’s important not to damage them while caring for your plants.
For the tastiest tomatoes, leave the fruits on your plant to fully ripen before harvesting. If some tomatoes aren’t ripe when fall or winter frosts start, remove them from the plant and ripen them indoors.
What you need to buy for growing tomatoes
If you want to grow tomatoes in containers and don’t already have appropriate pots, these grow bags are affordable alternatives to standard plastic or ceramic containers. The 10-gallon size is ideal for a single tomato plant.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
NatureZ Edge Heirloom Tomato Seeds
Serious about growing a range of tomatoes? This package contains 10 varieties of heirloom seeds.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Bloem 2 Gallon Lightweight Traditional Watering Can
While you can use a garden hose to water tomatoes if you have one, it’s always good to have a watering can on hand in case of a hosepipe ban.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.