Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable/fruit grown in the US. For healthy productive tomatoes, think about the order in which the plant grows: seed, seedling, root, stem, leaves, flowers and fruit. Pay attention to the needs of each part of the plant as it develops.
Seeds and Seedlings
- Research the best varieties to grow in your zone and environment. Choose by type (cherry, paste, plumb, beef, etc.) taste, and production.
- Choose determinate (bush type) plants for areas with less room and indeterminate (vine type) plants for greatest yield.
- Wrap seeds in a damp paper cloth and seal in a ziplock bag. Put in a warm place (75F-85F) and check germination before planting.
- Plant seeds indoors from late January to early April, depending on your zone and needs.
- Plant individual seeds or germinated sprouts into small pots or containers with compost based starting mix and keep moist at around 75F.
- Transplant often when roots just fill the pot—not when pot-bound. Remove the lower leaves and plant as deeply as you can each time.
- Sophisticated growers graft heirloom shoots onto disease resistant rootstock when stems are half the thickness of a pencil. See: Grafting Tomatoes
- New plants can be started from suckers. Carefully cut a sucker that is 2 1/2″ long and plant into starting mix with 1″ of the stem buried.
- For early planting out, protect with wall-of-water (or similar) plus row covers.
- Feed plants with compost tea plus a nitrogen (N) supplement as soon as true leaves form.
- Do not plant out where nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or eggplants) were grown last year.
- Plant into rich warm (70F) soil with plenty of soil life, humus, minerals and nutrients.
- Remove leaves from the lower 3″-4″ of the stems. Plant diagonally in a shallow trench, covering the stems and gently bending up the tops of the plants.
- The root ball should be 3″-4″ below the surface. The hairs on the stem become additional roots.
- Mulch well with compost and cover with plastic (red or black), if preferred. When days get hot, add shading mulch so roots do not overheat.
- Water regularly and deeply to keep roots moist.
- When planting out, treat the soil with compost with a nitrogen (N) supplement plus mycorrhizae.
- When choosing plants, look for ones with short stocky strong stems.
- Do not plant too close together — 2 feet or more between plants.
- Support determinate plants (bush type) with tomato cages. Indeterminate (vine type) plants need larger cages, strong stakes, supporting twine or a combination of these. Choose a method that suits your types of plant and situation.
- Do not let the stem twist and compress as the plant grows heavy with fruit.
Leaves and Suckers (Mainly Indeterminate Plants)
- As plants grow, remove leaves and suckers from the lowest 6″ of the stem to increase air flow.
- Make sure leaves get plenty of light — 12 plus hours a day.
- If you intend to prune, remove suckers regularly before they are 2″ long.
- If suckers grow too long, pinch off the leaves at the tip and any additional suckers.
- Prune so that there are no more than 3 main branches. Each branch can fork to produce 2 smaller branches. Pinch off new suckers as they appear.
- If fruit are not setting well into the season, prune all lower leaves to shock the plant into fruiting.
- If leaves turn yellow with green veins, sprinkle a tablespoon of Epsoms Salts (Magnesium Sulphate) around the stem and water well.
- Foliar feed with compost tea and nitrogen (N) during the leafy growth phase of development.
- Watch flowers carefully to make sure they are being pollinated and setting fruit.
- Vibrate or agitate the plants when flowers are in bloom to distribute pollen.
- Dropping flowers are mainly caused by too high or low temperatures and/or lack of water. Water deeply and shade overheated plants.
- Reduce fertilization with nitrogen (N) rich products as flowers form on the mature plant.
- Treat soil and leaves with products high in phosphate (P) and potassium (K) to set abundant flowers and fruit as soon as buds form
- Support fruit trusses as they form to prevent lost tomatoes.
- Avoid blossom end rot by watering regularly in warm weather and making sure the soil has plenty of calcium.
- Pinch off leaf tips on branches beyond the truss to help set fruit.
- Leave tomatoes on the vine until fully ripe for the best flavor and nutrition. Harvest regularly.
Enjoy a bounteous harvest of lush, ripe, juicy tomatoes!