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Growing Tomatoes

Category Growing Food
Tomatoes are a very rewarding addition to any garden. They are relatively easy to grow and you won't have any trouble finding ways to use them at the dinner table. This is a guide about growing tomatoes.
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2 found this helpful
April 9, 2009

Botanical Name:

Lycopersicon esculentum

Description:

Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family. Originally from South and Central America, today the tomato is grown worldwide for its brightly colored, edible fruits. Red tomatoes contain the pigment lycopene, a well-known antioxidant thought to help prevent some cancers.
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Planting Time:

Sow seeds outdoors when air and soil temperatures reach 60F. Set transplants out when nighttime temperatures stay above 50F. Sow seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting.

Exposure:

full sun

Soil:

loose, well-drained, nutrient-rich soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8.

Planting:

Plant seedlings in large holes supplemented with kelp and bone meal to provide plants with the extra potassium and phosphorus they need. Allow at least 2 to 3 feet between staked plants in rows spaced 3 feet apart. Sow seeds directly 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart. To plant tomatoes in trenches, strip all but the top sets of leaves from plants and place them on their sides in a 2 to 3 inch trench. Firm the soil around the plants and as they grow, the plants will turn upward while the buried stems produce roots. Use this method if transplants are tall and leggy at planting time.
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Containers:

Tomatoes are also well suited to growing in containers. Look for cultivars that are specifically bred to be patio' plants.

Watering:

Keep soil evenly moist (not wet). Water from the ground and early in the day to help prevent disease. Keep plants watered well during dry periods.

Maintenance:

Support plants with stakes or cages if necessary. Snap off any suckers (off-shoots) that appear between the main stem and the stems of the leaves to focus the plant's energy on producing fruit. If your soil is poor in nutrients, feed plants a solution containing fish emulsion once per week until the plants flower. If plants are growing vigorously with dark green leaves, they do not need nitrogen. Too much will increase leaf production and decrease fruit production. On the other hand, yellowing leaves may indicate a need to add nitrogen. Areas with extremely warm summer temperatures may need to protect fruit from sun scald and prevent blossom drop.

Harvesting & Storage:

Tomatoes are ready to harvest when they have developed their full, mature color. Harvest them ripe or while still slightly green and let them ripen at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Cold causes flavor loss so do not refrigerate them. Harvest all remaining tomatoes before the first hard frost. Freeze extras, or if still green, store them in a box filled with newspaper in a dark room (at 55 to 60F) and they will continue to ripen over several weeks.
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Diseases and Pests:

Unfortunately, tomatoes are susceptible to damage from a wide variety of insects and diseases. Purchase seeds or plants that are resistant to common tomato diseases and don't plant in areas that have had tomato troubles in the past. Keep soil moisture consistent to help prevent fruit from cracking and water plants early in the day (from the ground) so leaves have time to dry before nightfall. Check for worms and caterpillars that can be picked off by hand and for signs of aphid infestations that can be sprayed off with a hose.

Tips to Success:

Tomatoes cultivars are either determinate (grow to a specific height, flower and produce in short time) or indeterminate (grow, flower and fruit over a long period of time). Determinant tomatoes are good for large crops used for canning. Indeterminate varieties are best if you want to pick tomatoes to eat fresh.

Many of today's tomatoes are hybrids and won't breed true if seeds are saved and planted the following season. If growing plants with the intention of saving seed, choose heirloom varieties for offspring that reproduce true to their mother plant. Mixing some lime into the soil adds calcium that will help balance soil minerals, helping prevent some types of fruit deformities as well as blossom end rot.

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Comment Was this helpful? 2
April 9, 20090 found this helpful

An interesting fact I discovered about tomatoes is that they are actually a perennial, but we treat them as an annual.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes

2 found this helpful
September 1, 2011

Tomatoes are America's most popular garden crop, but they are not necessarily the easiest crop to grow. Even the most experienced gardeners occasionally find themselves at a loss as to why their tomato plants fail. Here are a few helpful guidelines for understanding tomatoes. The more you know about their needs and growth habits, the easier it will be to cope with their sometimes puzzling behavior.

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Developing a Fertilizing Schedule

Tomato plants have a heavy workload, so their soil needs to provide them with a good supply of nutrients. To produce a crop of fruit successfully, they require moderate levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and moderate to high levels of potassium and calcium. Before planting seedlings, mix 1 cup of kelp meal and 1 cup of bone meal into the bottom of the planting hole. This will provide your plants with the necessary potassium and phosphorus. As long as you are starting with good soil, no additional feeding should be necessary until fruit is set.

Once fruit is set, feed plants monthly with an organic fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and medium to high in potassium. If your plants are starting out in poor soil, water your plants weekly with 1 cup of a fish emulsion solution (1 Tbsp. fish emulsion per gallon of water). Continue this from planting until the first blossoms form.

Uniform Watering is Key

In the early stages of growth, before fruit has set, it is a good idea to put the plant under slight stress by stretching out the length of time between watering. After fruit has set, however, it's important to maintain uniform soil moisture. Fluctuating wet and dry spells can bring on stunting of plants, blossom-end rot and a host of other problems.

  • Fruit crack: If soil moisture varies too much- if the soil gets too dry and then it rains, for example - the fruit can experience a growth spurt, which may cause the skin to split and crack. If droughts are common to your area, plant crack-resistant varieties.

Failure to Set Fruit

  • Prolonged moisture: Rain or prolonged humid conditions hamper fruit set. Gardeners growing tomatoes in cool, humid climates have found that fruit set can be increased by shaking the plant (or tapping the stakes of trained plants) to release pollen. Do this in the middle of the afternoon when the temperature is highest and the humidity is low.
  • Temperature: Tomato plants are quite fussy when it comes to air temperature (especially at night). They won't set fruit when temperatures fall below 55 degrees or rise above 100 degrees F. In many cases the plants will flower, but the blossoms simply drop off before they are fertilized. One way to avoid this problem is to start the season with early maturing varieties, which have been bred to set fruit at lower temperatures.

    Once the weather warms up, plant your main season varieties. Row covers can also provide a bit of protection from weather that is too cold. Use them in the spring until the weather warms up.

  • Too much nitrogen: Tomato plants sometimes fail to move from the growing stage to the fruiting stage of growth if they are given too much nitrogen early on in their development. Excess nitrogen and lots of water encourages young plants to keep on producing foliage at the expense of fruit. You can help the plant switch over to the fruiting stage by pinching out some of the terminal shoots, or by withholding water to check growth.

Sun Scald

When temperatures rise above 86 degrees F and the sun is at its most intense, fruit that is exposed to direct sunlight can fail to develop good, even red color. In climates where high summer temperatures are the norm, try to select varieties known for having a good dense foliage cover that will help protect developing fruit.

Leaf Curl

  • Hot weather: During midday summer heat or after a prolonged period of wet weather, a certain amount of leaf curl and wilt is normal- some varieties showing more sensitivity than others. For tomatoes growing in containers, wilted, droopy top-growth is their way of signaling the need for more water. Heavy pruning also seems to encourage leaf curl in some varieties.
  • Tobacco mosaic virus: This is a disease spread on seeds and by contact - not contact by insects, but by way of contaminated tools or even a gardeners own hands (smokers can spread it because it is often present in cigarette tobacco). Affected plants will have leaves that are curled and/or mottled, with discolored pale green or yellow fruits.

Misshapen Fruits, Dropped Leaves, & Other Evils

Tomato problems are usually caused by nutrient deficiencies, viruses, fungi, or insects. Some tomato varieties are more resistant to problems than others, and as always, good cultural practices can go a long way in reducing or eliminating many problems.

  • Blossom-end rot: Blossom-end rot appears as a large, leathery scar (rot) on the blossom end of the fruits. It can occur at any stage of development, and is usually caused by a lack of calcium. The calcium may be present in the soil, but it's not being transported to the fruits where it's needed, usually as a result of uneven watering. Blossom-end rot can also affect the inside of the fruit. When this happens, the outside of the tomato appears normal, while the inside is rotten and fuzzy.
  • Catfacing: The fruits are misshapen with bulges, crevices, scars or holes at the blossom ends. Catfacing is caused by anything that damages the fruit as it begins to develop within the flower. This includes heat, dry soil, excessive nitrogen, and especially, cold temperatures.
  • Fungal diseases: Early blight and tomato late blight are fungal diseases that are active during periods of warm, moist weather. The spores are usually spread by wind, splashing water, or contaminated tools. Early blight appears as irregularly shaped spots on lower leaves with a subtle bull's-eye pattern, and then gradually infects higher sets of leaves. Eventually, the infected leaves turn yellow and drop off, and the fruits develop dark, sunken blemishes.

    Late blight appears as dark green or brown patches on leaves and stems. Gray fuzz may appear on the undersides of leaves, while the stem ends of the fruit develop slimy brown patches.

  • Wilts: The other two major tomato diseases are fusarium or verticillium wilt. Plants may become affected early in the season, while the symptoms show up later - often just as the fruit starts to ripen. One day your tomato plants look fine, and the next day they are suddenly yellow and wilted.

The best ways to avoid tomato problems is to follow good cultural practices and start with disease-resistant plants. In catalogs and on plant tags, initials given after the variety name indicates kinds of resistance. Double initials indicate resistance to more than one strain of that type of disease.

V = verticillium wilt; F = fusarium wilt; T = tobacco mosaic virus; A = alternaria (early blight).

Comment Was this helpful? 2

September 20, 2007

Photo of three tomatoes.

Tomato growing secrets submitted from the ThriftyFun community. The number 1 secret for growing great tomatoes is water control. A tomato is 90% water. It needs a constant supply of water measured out on a consistent basis.

Read More...

September 15, 2015

small sucker inside plastic bottle

Cut tomato suckers, bury them in garden soil with added vermiculite (which absorbs 10x its weight in water), cover with a clear juice jug with bottom cut out and no lid. Keep it watered and it will root. New plant! Now THAT'S thrifty.

Read More...

7 found this helpful
July 11, 2011

Locals in my area recommend planting tomatoes on their sides rather than vertically for better developed roots systems and healthier, stronger plants. I dug individual trenches for each plant, added fertilizer, compost and a few tablespoons of sugar.

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5 found this helpful
March 27, 2008

If you live in an apartment with only a small balcony, have super-rocky soil, or are just down-right lazy like me, you can grow tomatoes, flowers and other plants in the same bag the potting soil comes in!

Read More...

July 21, 2016

tomato suckers

Tomato suckers are side shoots that grow out of the place where a branch meets the stem. If left to grow, they will compete with the main plant for nutrients. You may get more fruit, but they will be smaller. It's recommended to prune them. They are really easy to remove; all you need are your fingers!

Read More...

2 found this helpful
March 17, 2010

Red tablecloths over soil.

Instead of spending $12 on a roll of red plastic to put around our tomato plants (to speed up growth) we purchased 2 red plastic tablecloths from a Dollar Store. They worked great!

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March 10, 2014

Powdered milk can also be a fertilizer for your tomato plants. When you're ready to put your tomato plants in the ground, put a handful of powdered milk in the bottom of each hole first.

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December 13, 20160 found this helpful

Start Tomato Plants from Stems

This is a guide about starting tomato plants from cuttings. Tomatoes are easy to grow from cuttings if you start early enough in the spring.

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March 22, 2011

If you like big ripe tomatoes, stick your tomato or tie it to a garden fence to keep it off the ground. Then when it gets growing good, take all the small branches off, leaving the 4 biggest branches. When more suckers start to grow, pinch them off of the plant.

Read More...

1 found this helpful
July 12, 2014

tomato plant on its side 2

I stirred in a slow release organic veggie fertilizer, crushed egg shells (and/or oyster shells), along with peat moss, vermiculite, compost, and a bit of potting soil. The shells will slowly release calcium which prevents blossom end rot.

Read More...

3 found this helpful
June 7, 2012

Use Pool Noodles to Protect Tomatoes

When I plant tomatoes, I put the wire rings around them. They invariably grow over the top of the metal rings and since they get heavy and there is no cushion, it cuts the stem almost in half.

Read More...

August 10, 20160 found this helpful

Tomato plant with late blight and dying leaves

This is a guide about troubleshooting tomato problems. If your tomato harvest is disappointing due to disease, pests, or growing conditions there some easy solutions to your gardening issues.

Read More...

2 found this helpful
May 14, 2013

Place about 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt around your tomato plants! Your plants will be full of tomatoes.

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May 4, 20160 found this helpful

Growing Tomatoes From Slices

This is a guide about growing tomatoes from slices. Try this quick and easy way to plant tomato seeds from your store bought produce.

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April 19, 20160 found this helpful

Hanging planter baskets holding tomato plants with numerous yellow blossoms and green cherry tomatoes against a rustic background.

This is a guide about growing tomatoes in hanging planters. We have seen the upside down planters for growing tomatoes, but you can also grow them in normal hanging planters.

Read More...

0 found this helpful
March 20, 2007

It will soon be time to plant tomato plants. After the soil has been prepared to planting, and you have your tomato plant or plants ready to put into the soil, do this.

Read More...

1 found this helpful
July 29, 2009

If your tomatoes grow up and over the tomato cage, sometimes the stem can get so heavy that it cuts the vine where it hits the top of the cage. A good solution to that is to cut lengths of pipe insulation to go around it.

Read More...

April 28, 20050 found this helpful

Tomatoes... our picky plants! Never water from the top. You know those big recyclable 4 gallon milk containers? As you plant each tomato plant, dig a deep hole beside it. Punch small holes in the milk container after it is filled with water.

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April 7, 20050 found this helpful

Cover your tomato plants with newspaper in the fall and they will survive the frosty nights. You will be able to pick tomatoes until December!

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0 found this helpful
February 23, 2006

When planting tomatoes add some dry milk into the planting hole to add calcium and prevent blossom end rot.

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June 8, 20130 found this helpful

Supporting Tomato Plants

This is a guide about supporting tomato plants. Tomato plants generally need to be trellised or supported in some way.

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April 28, 20130 found this helpful

Cherry Tomatoes

This guide is about growing cherry tomatoes. An abundance of these bite sized treats can be grown on the patio or in the garden.

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0 found this helpful
March 5, 2008

Tomatoes are touchy about getting too much rain or water overhead. First of all, plant the tomatoes as deeply as you can but not with the leaves touching the ground.

Read More...

October 20, 20110 found this helpful

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

This is a guide about growing tomatoes in containers. Container gardening is a great way to grow vegetables if you have limited space. Tomatoes are a good choice for this style of gardening. There are a few easy steps you can take to have a successful gardening experience.

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April 26, 20050 found this helpful

Before transplanting your tomato plant seedlings outside, make your planting hole a bit deeper than usual, and drop 2 teaspoons of epsom salts in each planting hole. Sprinkle some dirt in the hole, and then add your seedling.

Read More...

Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

0 found this helpful
January 2, 2017

I am just wondering who had good luck with certain kinds of tomato plants? I tried a few new varieties last year, but was not impressed. I did best with Early Girl and Celebrity. I also like the Husky Cherry reds.

Answer Was this helpful? Yes
January 3, 20170 found this helpful

Big Boy and Better Boy tomato plants do well in WI.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
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1 found this helpful
June 25, 2010

I have purchased three tomato plants. They have grown in the past 3 weeks and gotten several yellow blooms on them, but then they fall off. I have grown tomatoes before and this has not happened. What is the problem?

Hardiness Zone: 9a

By Gary from Orlando, FL

Answer Was this helpful? 1
June 25, 20100 found this helpful

I had the same thing happen about two summers ago. My hairdresser said her father adds calcium to the plant's base once every couple of weeks & he uses milk! I tried it and it did work! Epsom salts sounds good, too. Good luck!

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0 found this helpful
June 11, 2015

When an animal eats the stem of the tomato plant will it ever grow back? Does the saliva seal it? If I clip the ends will it grow back? What can I do?

Thanks.

Answer Was this helpful? Yes
June 13, 20150 found this helpful

If there are no leaves left, the plant has no way to gather energy from the sun and it will die. In that case it's best to dig it up and replant.

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0 found this helpful
September 18, 2015

A tomato plant, with many nice sized tomatoes sprang up spontaneouslly from a crack in the pavement on our property. While I know that tomato seeds spread and this is not uncommon, my question is about how safe are the tomotoes to eat? The reason I ask, is that it grew out of concrete, not soil, and more concerning, it is located about 50 cm-1 meter above the underground sewage pipe. Considering that this all happend in a period, when there was no rain, do we assume that it fed on (ugh) sewage? Or do these plants not need much water and it is not strange that it came out of concrete? The tomatoes are more robust than any plant I ever cultivated, they are almost the size of tangerines!

Answer Was this helpful? Yes
September 19, 20150 found this helpful

It is perfectly safe.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes

0 found this helpful
August 4, 2015

On the tomato tag in the pot when you buy the plant, it has the tomato type and a maturity time. When does the maturity time start? When the seed is planted? When you put the plant in the ground? When? Thanks.

Answer Was this helpful? Yes
August 4, 20150 found this helpful

The days to maturity listed on the seed packet, or in the plant description in seed catalogs, refers to the number of days from planting your tomato seedlings in the garden to the date of the first mature fruit. For tomatoes, the days to maturity ranges from less than 50 days to more than 90 days, depending on the cultivar and type of tomato.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes

July 2, 20120 found this helpful

My tomato plants are loaded with fruit and blooms, but the tomatoes are not getting large enough before turning red. They are about tennis ball sized.

Answer Was this helpful? Yes
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