How to Grow Tomato Plants: An Essential Guide to Growing Tomatoes
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Is it possible to grow your own tomatoes at home? The answer is a YES! Growing tomatoes can be fun and rewarding. They are easy to grow and you can learn how to grow tomato plants very quickly.
In this post, I will give you some tips and tricks on growing a healthy tomato plant that yields a great harvest full of tasty, juicy tomatoes.
So let’s get started…
Scientific name: Lycopersicon sp
Types of Tomatoes:
There are mainly two types of tomatoes that you can grow in your garden.
- Determinate tomatoes, and
- Indeterminate tomatoes
Determinate tomatoes are also called bush tomatoes. They don’t grow very tall and reach an average height of 4 feet. These are ideal for growing in containers.
Determinate tomatoes don’t need any support system to grow and they also produce fruits earlier than indeterminate tomatoes.
Indeterminate tomatoes are generally called vining tomatoes and can reach up to a height of 10 feet. They require substantial support in the form of a stake or cage.
Indeterminate tomatoes also grow more leaves, and the yield is also spread out throughout the season. Most of the heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate types.
How Long Does It Take to Grow a Tomato?
It usually takes 60-100 days for tomato plants to bear fruit depending on the tomato variety. Although that is a long growing period you can shorten this time by opting for early tomato varieties or choosing transplants instead of seeds to grow plants.
Keep your tomato plants at a place where the plants will get plenty of sunlight. The fruit formation of a tomato plant requires at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight.
Tomatoes usually don’t need any shade all day, but in hot climates, that can be too much to bear and herbs and vegetables appreciate a little shade in the mid to late afternoon.
If you live in a place where the temperature can go really high, give your tomatoes some afternoon shade in summer. This will give the plants some relief.
You can read more about the effect of sunlight on different plants in this article.
One of the key elements of growing tomatoes is preparing an ideal soil for the plant. The ideal soil pH for tomatoes is between 5.5 to 6.8 at this level the nutrient intake of the plant is the highest.
So before planting your tomatoes in the soil, use a soil tester like this to make sure that the soil pH is in the right range.
Tomatoes also need a constant supply of nutrients. So start your soil preparation by first tilling the soil and then mixing 3 to 4 inches of homemade compost and manure with the soil. Compost and manures are usually filled with micronutrients as well as NPK.
You can also add used coffee grounds and crushed eggshells to the soil, to give the soil a boost of nitrogen and calcium.
To get a quality yield, it is crucial that you keep the tomato soil fertile. Add a good quality organic fertilizer two weeks prior and two weeks after picking the fruits.
Starting Tomatoes From Seeds:
If you are starting from seeds, we recommend you first plant those seeds indoors, grow seedlings, and then transplant them in the ground. The easiest way to grow tomato seedlings is to use trays like these.
Fill these trays with potting soil and sow the seeds 1/2 inch deep in the soil 6 to 8 weeks prior to the average last spring frost date.
Keep the trays indoor until the seeds germinate. Once they have grown up to 15- 20 cm you can transplant them outdoors. But before you plant the seedlings it is crucial that you harden the seedlings so they can withstand the harsh weather outside.
To harden off the seedlings set them outdoors in the shade for a few hours on the first day. Then gradually increase the time each day and add some direct sunlight.
And finally, you can now plant these tomato seedlings in the ground outside.
You can also directly sow tomato seeds in the garden if the soil is at least 55°F. Ideally, you want the soil temperature to be around 70°F as this maximizes the seed germination rate for your tomatoes.
Buy Tomato Transplant:
Now, another way to grow tomatoes is to start from the transplant. This process is relatively easier and the survival rate is also higher than that of the seeds.
The key here is to choose a healthy and good transplant. Here are the 8 tips on how to choose a good tomato transplant.
Planting the Transplants
Now, once the danger of frost is over and the soil temperature is around 60°F you can transplant your homegrown seedlings or the ones that you bought from the store.
Add a handful of organic tomato fertilizer to the hole before planting the tomato seedlings.
Place the transplants in such a way that the bottom leaves are just above the soil surface. Give a gap of at least 2 ft between two plants. If it becomes too crowded you won’t get the proper yield.
Water the transplant properly.
Growing Tomatoes in Containers:
If you are planning to grow tomatoes in containers choose a large enough pot. Make sure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom.
Use good quality potting soil to fill up the pot. One plant one tomato plant in each pot.
Best varieties for growing in containers cherry tomatoes and most bush varieties. Although you can choose to grow taller varieties, it will be hard to maintain.
Place the container in a sunny spot so the plant can get at least 6-8 hours of sunlight.
Tomatoes require plenty of water, especially during the summers. Regularly water the plants, an inch of moisture per week is generally enough, you might need more in the summertime.
Feel the soil; if the top inch is dry, you should water your plants.
But while watering a tomato plant do not wet the leaves or the stem of the plant. Always put water directly into the soil near the roots (see the watering guide for details).
Tomatoes are nutrient-hungry plants. So, it is important you always keep the soil fertile.
Although you have added compost and manure at the time of preparing the soil, you will need to add organic fertilizers during the growing season.
Avoid nitrogen reach fertilizers, it will only increase the growth of the foliage and inhibit fruit formation. Instead use an organic fertilizer that is rich in phosphorus and potassium like this one.
A tomato plant needs support for its growth. You can build a cage or stakes at the time of planting. Staking keeps fruits off the ground whereas a tomato cage helps the plant to hold its upright position.
The easiest way to prune a tomato plant is to simply cut off any leaves that are touching the ground or any branches that have grown onto other branches. Take out any shoot that grows between the stem and main branches, these shoots always hinder the fruit growth.
Also, cut off the tip of the plant, it will help the plant to become bushier with much more fruits. You can read more about tomato pruning in this post.
Pest and Diseases:
Tomatoes are particularly susceptible to many pests and diseases. Horn-worms, Aphids, whiteflies are a few of the tomato pests which can reduce the production of the plant.
Late blight (especially during monsoon), curling leaves, root rots are some of the most common diseases to the plant.
It is always wise to plant basil along with your tomato plant. Basil is a fantastic companion plant for tomatoes. It will help in distracting little pests from your tomato plant. This type of planting is called companion planting.
The tastes of tomatoes are very sensitive to the surroundings. So rather than focusing on only one variety, try 3 to 4 varieties and see which suits you and your environment the best.
Followings are the various tomato varieties you can choose from.
The best thing about the early variety tomatoes is they can mature within 60-70 days. Some of the early variety of tomatoes are
- Bush Beefsteak,
- Gardener’s Delight,
- Early Cascade,
- Early Girl, etc
These varieties of tomatoes will take 70 to 80 days to mature. Some of the popular midseason tomatoes are:
- Abraham Lincoln,
- Big Rainbow,
- Floramerica, etc.
These varieties will take 80 days or more to harvest. These are ideal for you if you have a long growing season. Some most popular ones are:
- Cherokee Purple,
- Amish Paste,
- Hillbilly, etc
These are a type of small round tomatoes that comes in many colors like red, yellow, green, purple, and black. Some popular cherry tomato varieties are:
- Black Cherry,
- Green Doctors,
- Orange Hat,
- Rosella, etc
Tomatoes can be of several types. Here is a list of all the cultivars from Wikipedia.
How to Harvest Tomatoes:
Never pick tomatoes in the green condition they will rot before get ripe. Leave them on the vine for as long as possible.
Never try to refrigerate ripe tomatoes. It will spoil the texture and taste of the perfectly ripe homegrown tomato. Tomatoes are eaten best sun-warm from the kitchen garden.
Growing your own tomatoes is a great way to save money and have access to the freshest produce possible. But growing tomatoes takes a bit of work and patience for the best results. Here are some tomato-growing tips for beginners so you’ll get off to a great start with your next tomato plant!
Give Enough Space Among Tomato Seedlings:
When you first start out, one of the mistakes that people make is planting too many tomatoes in a small area.
Plant only one tomato plant per square foot. If you were to plant more than that, then your young tomato plants will begin to crowd each other and will not be able to grow as large as they should be able to if they do not receive enough light and airflow around them.
Ensure Lots of Light For Your Tomato Plants:
Tomato plants require at least six hours of direct sunlight each day in order to produce fruit. If your garden doesn’t receive enough sun, consider putting up an artificial light source like this one that mimics sunlight.
Add A LIttle Airflow:
Turn a fan on your plants for several minutes every day. This will make sure they get enough airflow and will develop strong stems.
Preheat The Garden Soil:
It’s important that the soil is warm before you plant your tomato plants. If you don’t preheat the soil properly, then it could take a lot longer for your plants to acclimate themselves and start producing fruit.
One of the easiest ways to preheat the soil is to cover the area where you want to plant tomatoes with black or red plastic, 15 days prior to planting. This will heat up the soil and result in early tomatoes.
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Bury the Stems In The Soil:
Bury the stems of tomato plants up to their first leaves when transplanting them into the garden. By doing this you can force your tomato plant to develop roots all along its stems.
This little trick can make for a stronger plant as well as absorption of more nutrients, and faster growth.
Mulch Your Tomatoes:
Place a layer of mulch around each tomato plant. Mulch is simply any organic material used to cover bare soil. In this case, it will help retain moisture in the soil and keep the weeds down.
Straw or newspaper works well, but you can use any other organic material including leaves, grass clippings, or compost.
Trim Off the Bottom Leaves:
Once your tomato plants reach a height of around 3-4 ft remove the bottom leaves of the plant with the help of a pruning shear. These leaves are the first few to grow and are more prone to many diseases.
Always Prune Your Tomatoes:
Tomato plants need pruning for two reasons: to promote growth and to keep them healthy. Pinching or cutting off suckers that appear between the main stem and a branch will stimulate new growth, which will produce more tomatoes.
It’s best to pinch suckers soon after they appear but before they grow larger. But don’t worry if you forget; you can still pinch them later. Just make sure you remove them before they become too large.
Tomatoes need a lot of water, especially during the fruiting stage. Make sure they get at least 1 inch of water per week and more during periods of extreme heat. Once the fruits start to ripen up reduce the watering frequency.
Growing your own is the best way to get the tastiest and most delicious fruits. There is no best way of growing tomatoes you can grow them on the ground, in containers, raised beds, or in grow bags. You can also grow tomatoes hydroponically. You just need to choose the method that suits you the best.
I hope you find this post informative. These simple yet important tomato growing tips will help you in growing tomatoes.
Follow these steps and you can enjoy your homegrown favorite vegetable with the distinctive flavor and taste that are definitely missing when you buy those from the stores.
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