How to Grow Tomatoes

If you want to know how to grow tomatoes successfully scan through this article and follow the links for more in-depth information on your current tomato growing phase.  If you want a quick "just the facts, ma'am" overview of growing tomato plants you should jump over and read the key tips in Five Important Tomato Growing Tips.

This sections of this article are arranged in the order of the information you need to know as the growing season progresses from starting seeds, to planting tomatoes, to ripening tomatoes at season's end. 

How to grow tomatoes from seed

Measure back seven to eight weeks before the average last frost date and you'll know when it's time to start seeds indoors.  (If you live in a warm climate you can plant seeds directly in the garden.)  I like to use the inexpensive multi-cell seed-starting flats filled with a soil-less mix and then use fluorescent lights to raise the seedlings until it's time to move them outdoors.  

Growing tomatoes from seed allows you to choose from the many hundreds of interesting varieties available in seed catalogs.  It also could save a little money, and besides, it's fun!

When to plant tomatoes

Unless you're a gambler, wait until after the last average frost-free date has passed and the daytime temperature ranges between 55 to 60˚F (10 to 15˚C) before planting tomatoes.  You can find recommended planting dates for many areas in the article "When to plant tomatoes", or by asking an experienced person at your local nursery. 

Of course, if you want to have the earliest tomato harvest in your neighborhood, there are strategies for setting plants out early by using cold frames, heated raised beds, and other tricks which are discussed elsewhere on this site.

Tomato Fertilizer

Soil for tomatoes rich in organic matter from additions of compost may be enough for a rich harvest.  In the long run it's better to use organic fertilizers such as animal manures or composted leaves because overuse of inorganic chemical fertilizers can actually be a detriment to the soil when used over a long period. 

That being said, if it isn't possible to use organics, then use a 5-10-5 (nitrogen-phosphate-potash) fertilizer, also called vegetable fertilizer.  Pre-fertilize the soil before setting out plants then begin a regular feeding program of once or twice a month after the first fruits appear.  

Be careful to use tomato fertilizer though; too much nitrogen can lead to beautiful green foliage but few fruits! (Read the user submission about aggressive plant growth to see what can happen!)

The best soil for tomatoes

The best soil for tomatoes is a crumbly, sandy loam rich in organic matter, with good drainage.  If your soil is poor, you should consider constructing raised bed gardens and fill them with better soil hauled to your site.  Another option when your soil is poor is to grow tomatoes in containers.

Watering Tomatoes

Watering tomatoes is such an important subject in how to grow tomatoes that I've made it one of the "secrets" in my article Five Important Tomato Growing Tips

Two common problems, cracking of the skin, and blossom-end rot, are caused by inconsistent watering.  Ensure your site has good drainage, then:

  • Water the base of the plant, not the leaves.
  • Water deeply, to six inches.
  • Don't let the soil completely dry out; try to maintain consistent moisture.
  • Start with 1-inch of water per week, and adjust.

Growing tomatoes upside down

Are you curious about how to grow tomatoes upside down?  The Topsy Turvy tomato planter, advertised on TV, has really garnered interest in growing tomatoes upside down.  It's a great method and offers the following benefits:

  • Eliminates weeding, caging, and staking
  • Good for deck, balcony, and patio gardens
  • Are decorative in planters hung outside a window

Hydroponic Tomatoes

Hydroponic gardening grows tomato plants in an aqueous solution of nutrients instead of soil.  There are several variations that can be used to grow tomatoes hydroponically:

  • Continuous flow systems:  used by many of the commercial growers, this system constantly flows water containing nutrients across the plant root systems.
  • Aeroponics:  plants are suspended in the air and the roots are misted with water containing nutrients
  • Water culture:  the roots are immersed in water containing just the right proportion of necessary plant nutrients
  • Passive hydroponics:  the plant's roots are grown in a non-absorbent material such as sand or gravel that is filled with nutrient-rich water

Pruning tomatoes

To prune or not to prune tomato plants?  Some sites about "how to grow tomatoes" will say that pruning is totally unnecessary.  Well, pruning tomato plants certainly isn't a requirement for growing tomatoes, but for me it offers some real advantages. 

Because I use raised beds, I can grow more plants in less space by pruning as it allows me to train each plant to grow vertically on one main stem.

Ripening tomatoes

If you're approaching the end of the growing season and frost is in the forecast you'll want to read all about ripening tomatoes.  There are a few techniques presented that allow you to rescue those late tomatoes that need a little more time on the vine to reach maturity.

Sure I grow other vegetables too

I love growing tomatoes, but I also plant other vegetables too, of course! I've had very good success with green beans and lettuce in particular, as they seem to grow very well in the Pacific Northwest where I live.  A site worth visiting that has great ideas on how to grow vegetables easily is and it also has even more tips on growing tomatoes.


Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

Burpee Gardening

Gardener's Supply Company