Expert Advice

How to Grow Tomatoes

Posted on May 11, 2016


Tomatoes are easy to grow and provide an abundance of tasty, juicy, healthy fruit. Nothing beats a homegrown tomato – especially one you’ve grown yourself!

Here are tips to keep in mind when planting your planting your tomatoes outdoors:

Choosing a Location: To be productive, tomatoes need full sun for at least 6 to 8 hours a day in an open area away from shade producing trees, buildings or structures. A southern exposure is best. The soil should be loose and easy to work where water drains away within a few hours after a heavy rain.

When to Plant Tomatoes Outdoors: Plant your tomatoes outdoors when all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to above 55°F; here on Long Island that is typically around May 15th. Seedlings can be stunted by cold and killed by frost. It’s best to acclimate young seedlings by placing them outdoors a few days before planting in the ground to get them used to the outdoor conditions.

planting tomatoesHow to Plant Tomatoes in the Garden: Plant the seedlings with the top of the roots just under the surface of the soil; they can be planted deeper, but no deeper than the first set of leaves. If your seedlings are in peat pots, remove the upper edges of the peat pots so that the pot will not act as a wick, pulling water away from the roots. Once planted, water the seedlings thoroughly.

tomato in a planterGrowing Tomatoes in Containers: Any tomato that is grown in a garden can be grown in a container. Mid to large size tomato varieties such as Beefsteak, Celebrity, Whopper, etc., and most Heirloom varieties require a large tub or container 20 inches or more in diameter. Bush or dwarf-type varieties such as Husky can be grown in smaller containers 12” or more in diameter. Only place one plant in each container. Use an organic potting mix like Espoma Organic Potting Mix.

Water: Keep soil evenly moist. Check daily and water only if needed. Avoid excessive watering, which will wash out nutrients and lead to poor productivity and problems such as blossom end rot. For more information about how to water, read Watering the Right Way.

Fertilizer: We suggest Dr. Earth’s Tomato, Vegetable and Herb food.

Staking: Most varieties of tomatoes will need to be staked. Tomato cages, sturdy wood, bamboo or metal stakes work well. Use natural fiber (cotton or jute) twine, plastic stretch ribbon or plastic coated wire (twist-tie). Loosely tie up branches as needed.

Tomato pickingHarvesting: Pick fruit as soon as it ripens (turns from green to red, yellow, orange, etc.). Green (unripe) fruit can be picked for pickling or frying any time. Remove and discard any spotted, rotting or blemished fruit to encourage new fruit to form.





Terms to Know

Determinate: These varieties stop growing once fruit is set, so staking or caging is usually not necessary. Harvest time is short as all the fruit develops and ripens at about the same time. These varieties are often used for making sauce, canning and juicing.

Indeterminate: These varieties keep producing new shoots and blossoms after fruit sets, continually producing until frost kills them. All stages of development may be on the plant at once. Pick fruit as often as it ripens. The more you pick, the more you’ll get.

Heirloom: This means the variety has been in cultivation for at least 50 years. They are usually open-pollinated varieties.

Open-pollinated (OP) – This is a variety that is naturally pollinated by exposure to bird and insects (bees) and produces seeds that grow into plants with tomatoes that look and taste like the parent so you can save the seeds from year to year.

Hybrid: Controlled, cross-pollinated varieties, usually with the goal of producing plants resistant to a particular disease or pest. Seeds of hybrids will often produce a wide variation of undesirable characteristics in their offspring.

Disease Tolerance Initials: For varieties that exhibit tolerance to certain diseases, look for the variety name followed by the initials V, F, N, T and/or A, which indicates that this plant variety, under normal growth conditions and health, has demonstrated a higher resistance to these common tomato problems: Verticillium wilt (V), Fusarium wilt (F), Nematodes (N), Tobacco mosaic virus (T) and Alternaria (A).

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