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Tomatoes - (Lycopersicon esculentum)



Zones 3 and warmer

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Full sun, or full morning sun and less than three hours of afternoon shade

Tolerates moderately fertile clay or sandy soil, well-drained; pH 5.5 to 6.8

Regular water, keep soil consistently moist

Staked tomatoes: 1.5 to 2 feet (.46 to .6 m) apart

Unstaked, uncaged tomatoes: 3 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 m) apart

Caged tomatoes: Center 2 feet (.6 m) diameter cages 4 feet (1.2 m) apart.


Pick fruit when it is evenly colored, but still firm

PLEASE NOTE: The information on this page has been purposely kept simple. It is meant to be used in conjunction with our in-depth guide on how to grow tomatoes that covers everything talked about here in much more detail: Growing Tomatoes & Tomato Growing Tips - A Complete Guide.

Comments: When selecting plants you will find two types of growth habits: determinate and indeterminate, and three major fruit types: slicing, cherry, and paste tomatoes. In addition to the three fruit types of tomatoes you may see some special use ones like "stuffers" which are hollow inside. As a general rule, large-fruited plants like beefsteaks don't produce as many fruits as varieties that produce small to medium-sized fruits. It's up to you to determine how much your family can eat and still enjoy tomatoes. Deep red tomatoes often have the more intense flavors, yellow are quite mild, and pink ones tend to be firm, mild, and sweet. Lastly, when choosing the tomatoes you want to grow, look for disease resistance. When purchasing, many cultivars have capital letters after the name which indicate the resistance they have to common diseases including Verticillium wilt (V), Fusarium wilt (F), root knot nematoes (N), and tobacco mosaic virus (T). Disease resistance does not affect the flavor in any way, they simply help keep the plant healthier and thriving while nonresistant plants are dead or dying.

Planting Site: Tomatoes do best with fertile, deeply worked, well-drained soil in full sun. They also like the soil to have both major and minor nutrients worked in, potassium being more important than nitrogen. Tomatoes are sensitive to shortages of calcium and magnesium. To make sure you have everything you need, add plenty of good compost or well-rotted manure into each planting hole. Tomatoes like warm soil and don't tolerate frost, so wait for warm spring days and soil temperatures that are above 60° F (16° C) to plant. In cool climates you can use black plastic for a week or two before planting to help warm the soil. Remove the plastic upon planting. Where the weather is very warm, mulch your tomatoes thickly after the soil has warmed thoroughly. Fluctuations in soil moisture can be minimized with good mulching practices which will help avoid problems such as fruit cracking, and blossom-end rot.

Planting & Growing Guidelines: If you've had problems in the past, choose disease resistant varieties when you can. When buying seedlings, look for young, vigorous plants with thick, stiff stems. Don't buy tomatoes that look tall, spindly, or have leaves that look spotted, purplish, or yellow. Look very closely for insects like aphids or whitefly both above and below the leaves.

Begin setting out seedlings two weeks after the last expected spring frost, or earlier if you intend to cover them with row covers or cloches to help maintain heat. You can continue to set plants out until 12 to 14 days before the first fall frost. In short-season areas, if you choose to use seeds, sow indoors six to eight weeks before you set them out. In long-seasoned climates, you can direct-sow the seed.

Spacing depends upon whether you plan to stake, cage, or allow the plants to sprawl. Just allow enough space between the plants to allow good, even sun availability and air circulation. When tying the vines to any form of trellis, use soft cloth strips, not wire or string to avoid damaging the plant. When planting seedlings plant them on their sides, or very deep, and water well.

Tomatoes are very easy to grow in containers. Just make sure the container is in a warm, sunny location. You can stake, cage, trellis, or simply allow the plants to sprawl by planting in large hanging baskets.

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    Fertilizing: Make sure the soil has already had lot of good compost and organic matter worked in. Lightly broadcast some 10-10-10 over the area, till in, and then plant transplants or sow seeds. When the plants begin to flower, side-dress with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) per plant of 5-10-10, or one large handful of good compost which generally equals the same. Sprinkle around the base of the plant, but not up against the stem, and water in. Keep in mind, too much nitrogen will result in more foliage growth, but few fruits, so go easy.

    Pest and Disease Prevention: If you've had problems in the past, use cutworm collars at planting time to prevent cutworm damage. Never plant tomatoes after, or next to potatoes; early blight is a common leaf spot disease and can easily spread from one crop to another. Also, to avoid soilborne diseases, don't plant after eggplants or peppers, which are in the same family. For more disease and pest prevention, read our complete guide as mentioned above.

  • Helpful Articles: Tomato Hornworm


    Common Problems: Blossom-end rot, and all other tomato related problems are talked about in detail in our complete tomato guide.

  • Helpful Article: Growing Tomatoes & Tomato Growing Tips

    Days to Maturity: 90 to 140 days from seed. 60 to 90 days from seedlings depending upon the cultivar.

    Harvest and Storage: Tomatoes are ripe when they are fully colored, but firm. Never store tomatoes in the refrigerator because cool temperatures cause them to lose flavor and texture.

    Special Tips: Many tomatoes will not produce fruit when temperatures are below 50° F (10° C), or above 90° F (32° C). If you live in this kind of climate, try growing special cold or heat tolerant varieties. You can also try growing smaller fruited, indeterminate cultivars like cherry tomatoes because they flower continuously and therefore offer more chances of successfully setting fruit. In cool climates, choose early varieties which mature quickly and tolerate cooler conditions.

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