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How to Grow Great Tomatoes

How to Grow Great Tomatoes

Ahh, tomatoes … that summer garden favorite many of us love to grow — and, especially, to eat. Homegrown tomatoes not only taste better than store-bought, but they’re also much healthier. Whether you’re thinking of growing tomatoes for the first time this year, or have been growing them for quite some time, hopefully you’ll find some tips here that you can sink your teeth into.

Starting Seeds

Buying transplants at a garden center is certainly an option, but one great reason to consider growing your own seedlings is that you can try far, far more varieties. I’ve been to garden centers that only offer a couple of tomato varieties—maybe a standard slicing hybrid like “Big Boy” and a cherry tomato option. There’s a huge world of heirloom, plum, cherry, pear and slicing tomatoes out there, and you can grow whatever your tomato-loving heart desires if you order your own seeds and start them at home. For instructions on how to do so, see Seed Starting Made Simple.

Choosing Varieties

On that note, how exactly should you choose which tomatoes to grow? I prefer to grow a variety of varieties, so I have tomatoes for all kinds of different uses. I have juicy, flavorful slicers such as “Brandywine” or “Mortgage Lifter” for sandwiches and fresh eating; Romas for making canned tomato sauce; sweet “Sungold” cherry tomatoes for salads and snacking, etc. It’s fun to experiment with a few varieties every year, keeping notes on what you liked and didn’t care for as much. Another consideration is to choose a kind of tomato that is known to do well in your regional growing conditions. For help with that, see Best Tomatoes to Grow Where You Live.

Transplanting

If you started your tomatoes from seed, before you can plant them outside they need to be “hardened off.” This just means they need to get used to living outside, otherwise the change in conditions could shock them and they could die. If you’ve started seedlings indoors, simply set them outside for a couple of hours a day – definitely not in direct sun or in high winds right at first. Increase the amount of time the seedlings spend outdoors each day, and eventually set them out in full sun for a while. After you transplant your hardened off seedlings, water them immediately.

Sunlight

Tomatoes are definitely a sun-loving crop, so be sure to grow them in an area that gets a very minimum of six full hours of direct sunlight per day. Don’t have such conditions at home? Consider getting involved in a community garden, or settle for growing some crops that do well in shadier conditions. See this veggie chart to learn which crops will tolerate less sunlight.

Container Growing

If you don’t have room for in-ground garden beds but you still want to grow tomatoes, you could try growing them in containers. The two most important tips for doing so are 1) choose large containers so the roots have room to expand considerably; and 2) make sure the plants are getting adequate water. Container-grown tomato plants definitely need to be watered more frequently than those growing in the ground. Self-watering containers (those that have an extra reservoir at the base) can help this situation. Learn more in Container Cultivation.

Supports/Tomato Cages

Tomatoes are a vining crop, and will produce more and be healthier with proper supports. The tomato cages you can typically find at garden centers aren’t usually strong enough to hold up an average tomato plant. And if it gets windy? Those cages don’t stand much of a chance. Growing your tomatoes against what’s called a “cattle panel” is a great option, as the panel is shaped like a large grid. Feed the plant vines in and out of the grid as they grow, and use twine to fasten the plant to the support as necessary. You can make tomato supports yourself out of all kinds of materials—to learn more, see Best Homemade Tomato Cages.

Mulching

All of the plants in your garden will benefit from a thick layer of organic mulch material, including your tomatoes. Mulch retains water, suppresses weeds, and builds soil and feeds plants as it breaks down. You can use hay, straw, leaves, fresh grass clippings — or a combination of these.

These tips aren’t the be-all-end-all of tomato growing success (for instance, I haven’t gone into compost, which your tomatoes will love), but hopefully they’ll help you on your way to a great harvest. If you need a few more tips, including those on dealing with common tomato pests and diseases, see Growing Tomatoes. Good luck!

Check out these related Care2 posts to help you get the most out of your garden this season:

Photo by Alli Langley

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Shelley Stonebrook

Shelley Stonebrook is an Associate Editor at Mother Earth News—North America’s most popular magazine about sustainable, self-reliant living—where she works on exciting projects such as Organic Gardening content and the Vegetable Garden Planner. Shelley is particularly interested in organic gardening, small-scale, local food production, waste reduction, food preservation and cooking. In her spare time, she posts in her personal blog, The Rowdy Radish.

57 comments

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12:17PM PDT on Apr 14, 2013

thanks

12:17PM PDT on Apr 13, 2013

First time I'm trying to plant tomatoes; great advices, thanks!

6:36PM PDT on Apr 12, 2013

Will follow some of the suggestions, want to have a big yield of tomatoes this year

8:20AM PST on Dec 30, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

5:57AM PDT on Sep 28, 2012

Thanks for the info.

8:21AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Always delightful to grow one's tomatoes even if the only outdoor space is a small balcony!

12:51PM PDT on Jun 30, 2012

Grazie delle informazioni.

10:52PM PDT on Apr 20, 2012

I love gardening articles. This is my first year at planting tomatoes. I have had bismal luck with most indoor plants. I hope these do better. I read everything I can about gardening.

5:51AM PDT on Apr 7, 2012

Thanks for the tips!

9:34PM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

I agree tomatoes are easy to grow and yes they do need alot of fertilizer.But well worth it,home grown tomatoes are the best.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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