Successful Tomato Growing

Why have a garden?

Tomatoes are the number one most popular response. Once you’ve tasted home-grown, there’s no going back. Be warned.  

What Do You Want to Know About Tomatoes?

Choose the Right Tomato Variety for Your Needs

Tomatoes come in two types –  bush (determinate) and vining (indeterminate).

Bush don’t need pruning, staking or trellis. They may grow to 30 inches tall. Plants produce a set number of fruit within a month to 6 weeks. 

Most varieties are vining. They will need support and vines may grow 5 feet long or more. These plants will continue to grow until cold weather. 

Fruit sizes from smallest to largest are – grape, cherry, salad, plum (and paste), slicing, and beefsteak. 

Hybrid (F1) tomatoes are bred for disease resistance, size, early crop, easy growing, heavy production and other factors. 

Tomato varieties that have remained unchanged for decades are heirloom. Heirloom are often cat-faced, odd shapes, odd colored and often said to be tastier.

AAS Winners – varieties trialed by “Universities, public gardens, breeding companies, growers, brokers, extension agents and retailers” and awarded superior performance status. 


Where should I plant my tomatoes?

  • 8 hours of direct sunlight to full sun is best
  • some heirlooms require 13 hours of daylight
  • in soil with some organic material
  • where you haven’t grown tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant or tomatillos in the past three years
  • avoid areas with too much nitrogen
  • allow plenty of space between plants

How Do I Prepare Raised Beds for Tomatoes?

In many gardens, a raised bed for tomatoes is a great idea because the bed is drier and warmer in the spring than the ground.

Ideally, the bed should have loose soil 24 inches deep. A minimum of 12 inches is required for tomatoes.  The deeper the roots can go, the more drought tolerant the plant is. 

Tomatoes like a richer soil that is loose. A combination of compost, peat moss and soil is great. Soil alone can be too heavy in raised beds and tends to compact. 



Can I Grow Tomatoes in Pots?


For patio, grape and cherry varieties choose a gallon or larger container for each plant. 

For standard tomatoes a three gallon or larger for each plant.

Use potting soil.

The potted tomatoes will require more water and fertilizer than the in ground or bedded plants. But be careful not to water too much or add large amounts of nitrogen.  

How About Growing in the Ground?

It’s best to start preparation of the ground in the fall, so you can plant as the soil warms

Year One – test the soil to find out what nutrients need to be added.

Add compost, peat moss and consider a cover crop.

Year Two – In the spring,

Add fertilizer as advised in your soil test.

A good starter amount recommended by the Extension service is:
“In addition to starter fertilizer, tomatoes need 2 to 3 pounds of a complete fertilizer, such as 6-24-24, 6-12-18, and 8-16-16 per 100 square feet of garden area, or apply fertilizer based on soil test recommendations.”

How Do I Plant Tomatoes?

  • Plant when the soil is warm.
  • Dig a hole deeper than most plants. Remove lower leaves and plant deeply.
  • These tomatoes are planted next to a fence.  
  • Fertilize once with a all purpose fertilizer.
  • Place the fertilizer in a hole three inches away from the plant
  • Water the plant in.

Getting the most fruit

Provide one inch of water per  week. 

Water seedlings before transplanting.

Add a bit of liquid starter fertilizer when transplanting.

Never apply granular or manure fertilizer directly to the plants root zone.

Water deeply, not frequently. The soil should be moist at least three inched deep.

Avoid overhead watering, if possible.

Basket Weave - Bush or Vine


  • wood stakes – every two or three plants
  • tomato twine
  • 1/2 inch PVC pipe

Advantages – Keeps fruit off the ground,easier to pick and reduces disease.

Staking - Single Stem

  • Remove suckers to make a single stem
  • tie plant to stake with a soft rag or nylons
  • loop around stem and then tie to stake

Good for beefsteak and other large indeterminate tomatoes. 

More labor intensive than basket weave. 


Trellis - Single or Double Stem


  • rods or poles
  • wire
  • string

Good for indeterminate varieties.

Remove suckers and wrap vine around string. 

Why are my Blossoms Falling off?

If the days are warm, but nighttime temperatures drop below 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) – blossoms drop.

And if days are over 90 F (32 C)  and night time is over 75 F (24C) blossoms drop too. 

Blossom End Rot - Tragic Nightmare or Something that will fix Itself?

Blossom End Rot is a rotten spot opposite the stem. Lots of mythology circulates about the single cause. The list of causes is long and most times the plant just gets over it without the gardener helping. 

Egg shell chunks take longer to “dissolve” than the tomatoes will be alive. English Archaeologist found whole eggs from Roman settlers. Powdered egg shells are suggested to be available faster, but no one knows what faster is. 

The confusion is that a problem in calcium uptake isn’t a lack of calcium in the soil. Uptake means the plant can’t use what’s in the soil efficiently. 

Usually the tomato grows out of the problem or the environment changes slightly and you get quality fruit. 

When Do I Harvest Tomatoes?

Usually 65 to 80 days after planting

Some varieties fall off the vine when ready. Others need a tug.

Fruit may need to be harvested before it is ready to eat if you have critters, or a frost warning.

Best if used or processed immediately if fully ripe. Don’t home can over-ripe fruit.

How Ripe is - Ripe Enough?

Tomatoes picked too soon will never ripen. Rock hard, dull green without any color variation fruit, will stay green.

Those at breaker stage (#2 in graphic below) or riper will turn to their mature color.

Ripening is temperature dependent. Sunlight, storing in boxes or with apples isn’t needed. 

68–77 degrees F (20 – 25 C) is optimal for quickest ripening. Under or over that range delays ripening. 

If you take care of your plants, you can look forward to tons of tomatoes.

A 100’ row of tomatoes will yield around 250 pounds of fruit.