10 Proven Tips for Growing Tomatoes
Updated: Sep 21
Tomatoes can be finicky to grow and there is much to be learned to become an expert at growing them. I am not but I will share with you what I know and what has worked for me.
1. Start Early
Seed your tomatoes in late January or early February. If you seed them late in the season they will be just beginning to reach their full potential when the frost hits. I aim to have them blooming by the end of May to allow time for fruit to grow and ripen during our short growing season.
2. Transplant Deep
Tomatoes can be transplanted to a soil level deeper than they previously were. When they are seedlings, plant that long stem up to the beginning leaves. If you plant a bunch of seeds together in one pot, transplant into their own pots by the time they are 1.5 inches high or else the roots become entwined and break when you try to separate them. As they grow and you transplant them into larger pots, you can snip off the bottom branches and plant them at a deeper level to encourage a bushier and stronger plant.
3. Keep Warm
Tomatoes love to be warm! Along with basil, your tomato plants should be the last ones you move outside. Once all risk of frost has passed and you harden them off by having them outdoors for part of each day for 4 or 5 days in a row, chose a warm location to plant them in. They love to be inside greenhouses, next to a sunny south facing wall or in raised beds or container. The reason they prefer to be up off the ground is that the soil in a raised bed or container will become warmer than your ground soil during the day.
4. Water with Warm Water
If possible, avoid watering your tomato plants with freezing cold water from your tap as this will be an unwelcome shock to your plants. A good option when they are outdoors is to fill your watering can the day before and allow it to warm up prior to using it to water your tomato plants. Also, tomatoes require a lot of water, especially at the point of growing fruit!
5. Keep the Leaves Dry
When watering, also keep in mind that it is best to water it at the base of the plant to keep the leaves from getting wet. Wet leaves creates a disease thriving environment and also weakens the leaves to sunburn. Along with keeping leaves dry, ensure that there is good ventilation around the plants by pruning and not overcrowding them.
Tomatoes require high levels of nutrients. Fertilizing will go a long way in causing growth and healthy plants. To read more about what fertilizer to choose for your tomatoes see my post on fertilizer and fertilizer tea. Putting compost around the base of the plant is a great way to feed the plant organically.
Pruning tomatoes is a highly debated topic. I have toured a sucessful farm that sells hundreds of pounds of tomatoes and they don't prune theirs at all! Many tomato growers do chose to prune their tomatoes and feel it encourages more fruit growth. The idea is that pruning unnecessary branches allows the plant to put more energy toward tomato production.
Indeterminate tomatoes grow much taller than determinate varieties and can be pruned as follows: Beginning at the base of the main stem, follow it upwards. When you come to a place where two branches are growing out from the main stem in the same place, trim the middle branch off, right where it meets the stem. This branch is called a sucker branch. It will produce blossoms if left on the plant. It may cause the plant to become too heavy and to break if left on. Suckers can be propagated by trimming the lower leaves and placing it in water for two weeks, then planting into soil. Growing a new tomato plant this way takes much less time then growing it from seed.
Determinate tomatoes grow in a shorter more compact formation and do not require as involved pruning. To prune determinate tomatoes, select 1 to 3 of the large branches at the base of the plant and prune these ones off. The fruit production will happen higher up on the plant and the branches at the base are the ones that have the greatest chance of getting wet and developing disease.
Growing marigolds or nasturtiums near your tomatoes are good options to help attract bees. Even with doing that it can be helpful to pollinate the blossoms yourself, especially if your plants are inside a greenhouse. Do this by taking a Q-tip or even just your finger tips and brushing them gently over each blossom. Doing it yourself ensures none of those precious blossoms get missed.
9. Determinate and Indeterminate
Like potatoes, tomatoes also come in two main varieties of plant types - determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomato plants are shorter and bushier and may not need support. Indeterminate plants grow tall and will need a tomato cage or some type of support to prevent it from breaking. Indeterminate plants are not good for windy areas.
10. When to Pick your Tomatoes
You do not have to wait until your tomato is fully ripe to pick it. Contrary to common belief, the flavour is said not to change when it finishes ripening indoors. (I have tested this and not noticed any difference in flavour if I leave it to ripen fully on the vine versus bringing it indoors to ripen.) Picking your tomatoes when they are partially ripe allows the plant to put that energy to growing more tomatoes. You may think a sunny window seems nice to finish the ripening process but this will not help. Placing them in a paper bag or in a box covered with a towel is the best way to do ripen your tomatoes.
This brings us to final harvest when undoubtedly you end up picking many green tomatoes because winter is fast approaching. When ripening fully green tomatoes, place them in a paper bag or in a box covered and cover them with a towel. Try to keep them only one layer deep to protect from rotting. Store them in a dark, cool place. Add in a ripe fruit such as an apple. The reason for this is that ripe fruit produces ethylene gas which causes fruit around it to ripen, thus why your whole bag of apples goes rotten at the same time.
If you found this article helpful or if you have any more gardening questions, please leave a comment below.