These tips for growing tomatoes will have your vines popping with big, juicy, delicious fruits all season long!
Tomatoes are one of the most common garden fruits in the United States. They have a reputation for outproducing the needs of the gardener and his or her family year after year. But who can resist a delicious tomato sandwich or six, right?
I have no doubt that if you’re reading this right now, you’ve grown your fair share of tomatoes, but there may have been a little something lacking. Fruits not big enough? Not enough production? Whatever the issue, we’ll get to the root of it! (I’ll see myself out.)
If you want to be the gardening envy of your neighborhood, be sure to follow these simple tips for growing tomatoes!
The Best Tips for Growing Tomatoes
Grow your tomatoes in a bright, open area.
Tomatoes love warmth! Be sure to choose an area in your garden that is open and gets plenty of sunlight. Tomatoes need at least eight hours of full sunlight a day. Anything less, and your tomatoes will grow thin stalks and produce small, bland fruit.
As long as they’re watered well, tomato plants can stand extreme summer heat. Don’t be shy about putting them out in a wide-open space with little to no shade.
Tomatoes also need their elbow room, so don’t crowd them together. They need to be far enough apart to allow for proper air circulation around the plant. This will reduce the potential for early blight by allowing a wet plant to dry much faster.
Rotate your crops each year.
It is highly recommended that you rotate your crops from year to year. This will help the plants avoid soil-borne diseases. If your tomatoes are planted in the same spot year after year, pathogens in the soil that destroy tomato plants won’t have to go far to find their food.
If you move your plants around each year, the pathogens won’t have a chance to catch up with them. Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, so make sure you’re not planting tomatoes where other nightshade crops (like peppers and eggplants) have been planted. Try to maintain a 3+ year rotation schedule for maximum efficiency.
Lesa from Better Hens and Gardens has a great post about Garden Crop Rotation!
Don’t use overgrown transplants.
If you’re buying tomato seedlings instead of growing from seed, stay away from lush green starts with poor root systems. They will suffer for weeks before beginning to grow properly.
If you’re growing your own seedlings, be sure not to over-water them. Keeping the soil moist all the time will cause the roots to become “lazy” since they won’t have to go far to find water. If you water only when needed, the roots will be forced to grow longer and longer searching for water. This builds a strong root system that will help build a strong plant.
Bury the stems deep.
When you’re ready to put those seedlings in the ground, snip off the lower leaves and branches. Then, lay the plant down in a shallow trench and cover with soil up to an inch below the remaining leaves and stems.
Don’t worry if the remaining foliage is pointing to the side, it will eventually right itself and begin to grow straight in a few days. The plant will now have extra nodes from which to grow even more roots. These new roots near the surface of the soil will not only help pump vital nutrients and water to the plant, but will also absorb more heat, potentially producing earlier tomatoes.
Water deeply, regularly, and infrequently.
All plants need regular watering to avoid wilting and eventual death, but over-watering can be just as bad. As I said with your seedlings, if the soil is constantly moist, the roots don’t have to go far to find water and nutrients. This means they will stay near the top of the soil, not grow long, and won’t be a good base for a strong plant.
Let the soil dry a bit between waterings to encourage the roots to dig-in deep looking for water. When you do water the plants, soak the soil good so the soil doesn’t dry out too fast. Water the soil, not the leaves, so you don’t encourage airborne spores sticking to the plants.
Obviously if it rains you can’t do anything about it, but that’s why you leave plenty of room between the plants for air circulation. Try not to unnecessarily get the plants wet. Drip tape irrigation is great for tomatoes!
Pinch the suckers?
Suckers are the leafy shoots that grow from the “V” between the main stem and the branches. There are two schools of thought on dealing with them. You can pinch them off (literally grabbing them where they start at the “V” and pinching until they come off) or leave them.
If they’re left on the plant, suckers will continue to grow and usually produce fruit, however the fruit produced on that plant will tend to be smaller. Pruning the suckers out will keep the plant from getting top-heavy or producing more fruit than the plant can mature in time for fall. If you prune them, you tend to get fewer but larger fruit.
Not sure what’s best? Try pruning one plant and leaving another unpruned to see how each one turns out. That way you’ll know for sure which technique works best for you.
Use a trellis for vertical growth.
If you’re growing an indeterminate variety of tomatoes like the Brandywine, you’re going to have to go vertical. Use tall stakes or trellises to support your plants. You can even make your own trellis with T-posts and cattle panels if you’re growing a lot of tomato plants.
If you’re using stakes or trellises, be sure to put them in when transplanting to avoid damaging the roots later on. Tie the stems to the trellis loosely with recycled twist ties, old clothing cut-up into ribbons, twine, or tomato clips. Anything will do, just don’t tie it too tightly – remember it’s still growing!
Compost and feed.
When the plant is full of green tomatoes, and some are beginning to turn red, this is the time to add some new compost. Scratch the soil loose around the stem and work some compost in. Don’t dig too deeply, or you could damage the upper roots.
Using a couple of Jobe’s Tomato Spikes at the base of each plant will give them plenty of food to grow healthy tomatoes. You can also use some bone meal or even just an all-purpose balanced fertilizer to help the plants along through the summer.
Trim and prune your tomato plants.
Using a clean and sterile pair of garden shears, trim off some of the smaller upper leaves to promote new growth and set new fruit. If you’re using a cattle panel trellis system (or any kind of trellis, really), you can keep the tops of the plants trimmed and wound around the top of the trellis.
Be sure to trim the lower stems and leaves that may be yellowing, wilting, or dying off altogether. Don’t worry too much, this is pretty normal for a mature plant. We like to keep ours trimmed to the bottom of our cattle panel trellis for better air circulation at the ground level.
Plant some more!
About three weeks after you’ve got your first plants in the ground, plant another set. You’ll get a good harvest off your first set of plants, and when their production begins to slow down, the new plants will be in full harvest. This is called “succession planting” and will keep you in tomatoes all season long.
You’ll have tomatoes coming out of your ears! Just be sure you know how to can your tomatoes so you don’t waste any of your harvest!
Don’t pick overripe tomatoes.
Tomatoes (especially heirloom varieties) that are too ripe can be soft and mealy (grainy). You’ll want to harvest them when they’re full size, firm and fully colored. These will be sweet and juicy.
Picking tomatoes when they’re perfectly ripe (or just before) will encourage the plant to produce more. Leaving them on the vine to get overripe will end up causing the plant to put unnecessary energy into that fruit. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with picking a nice, large green tomato to slice and fry up with your dinner!
What are your best tips for growing tomatoes?
These 10 tips will yield you the biggest and best harvest of the most delicious tomatoes you can possibly grow. Your neighbors will be jealous to the point of asking you to teach them your tricks.
Share the info so they can have delicious tomatoes, too – otherwise, they may be asking you for yours every year! Be sure to share these other tips with them, too!
Additional Reading: Topping Pepper Plants – Should You Do It? – The Homesteading Rd
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Patrick & Jessie homestead in Middle Georgia with two of their four children and their three dogs. They love gardening, food preservation, and keeping their family prepared for any disaster that may come.