Tomatoes are one of the easiest foods to grow yourself. Ultimately, it’s a straightforward process that doesn’t usually require a lot of maintenance. But a little planning and care go a long way to make sure your plants prosper and produce the best crop.
When to start growing
Temperature will dictate your steps in starting or transplanting tomato plants.
As seeds, they germinate best in warm temperatures. For the best growing conditions, the daily temperature should be consistently around 75 degrees, with overnight temperatures not falling below 55 degrees.
Tomatoes can be started indoors in starter trays of fertilized soil with plenty of sunlight. Seeds should be planted a month and a half to 2 months before the last frost in your area. In warmer regions, plants can be started later in the year.
Choosing tomato plants
In an indoor garden or small space, cherry, plum and little Napoli Romas are the easiest tomato varieties to grow. These plants are usually compact, and the fruit they bear is small.
Otherwise, decide between a determinate or indeterminate tomato variety. This will be indicated on the seed packet.
Determinate tomato plants, when mature, bear fruit for only a month or two before they stop growing and producing.
Indeterminate varieties can grow and produce nearly indefinitely in good growing conditions.
Clear out an area where the growing tomato plants will get 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Make sure the temperature of the soil is at least 55 degrees.
Next, dig ¼-inch-deep holes with 2-3 feet of space around each one. This will give the plants enough room to fully mature without crowding each other. If growing different types of tomato plants, separate them more, unless you don’t mind possible cross-pollination.
Place a seed into each hole and add some fertilized soil or compost to the dirt as you cover it — don’t completely pack the dirt down. Use a watering can to dampen the soil. Too much water can drown the seed, and avoid using a hose because the pressure from the spray could wash away some of the dirt or the seed.
If growing vine plants, you can install the stakes or trellises near the newly planted seeds. Otherwise, wait until they’ve sprouted to do this step.
Water the seeded areas weekly or when the soil is dry to the touch. If pests are a problem, use organic insecticide to keep them away.
Ultimately, different types of plants require specific things, so always check the plant’s seed packet for details when planning out your garden.
From starter plants
Wait to transplant starter tomato plants until they’ve grown their second set of leaves. After that, plant them at least 2 feet apart in your garden.
For each starter plant, dig a hole that’s deep enough to bury the roots and the lower third of the stem. If desired, add some fertilizer or compost as you fill the dirt back in.
Water the soil around the plant once a week or any time the soil feels dry. As the plant grows, trim off any small shoots at the base of the leaves.
Try to keep vines off the ground by wrapping them around the trellis or tying them to a stake, to avoid potential rotting and pests.
Harvest the fruit as soon as it’s ripe. If you pick a tomato too early, place it on a windowsill in direct sunlight to further ripen it.
Tomato growing tips
Always check the back of the tomato plant’s seed packet for the best information on ideal growing conditions, including how much sunlight and water the plant needs.
Use a thin layer of mulch to keep weeds down around the garden.
Deter pests with organic insecticide, granular repellent or plant netting.
Before an unseasonable cold snap, transplant tomatoes indoors until the weather warms up. Some plants will continue to grow and produce fruit indoors this way.