For me, tomato is an ultimate plant. I like that juicy, aromatic and sweet but sharp flavor. I am pretty sure that I could live by eating only tomato salad with some olives and fine cheese. Unfortunately, you may face a few issues which make growing this veggie hard and complicated. For example, it is not easy to find seeds or seedlings of top-notch varieties, start planting on time or prevent some issues with pests and diseases.
Also, if you decide to sow your own seeds, the crucial thing is the moment of transplant tomato seedlings into pots. Do it as soon as you spot the first set of ‘true’ leaves. Plus, a container shouldn’t be smaller than 4 inches (10 cm). Let’s see a few tips which will make this job much more manageable.
Basic Data about Tomatoes
Even though the tomato is classified as a fruit in the botanical sense, and we technically eat its fruit, we treat it as a vegetable. If you ask me, tomatoes should be the first plant you start growing when deciding to establish your own garden.
Commercially produced, this plant looks beautiful, but it is entirely tasteless. Results of many studies show that organic tomatoes you grow in your yard have more complex chemistry than those produced commercially. That affects both their flavor and the levels of their pigment Lycopene, which makes these veggies healthier for you and your family.
Tomatoes grow up as a single long stem, but some varieties produce side shoots and develop lateral branches over time. You should remove them to avoid lower yield of ripe plants. You can find two different ways of their growth, depending on the type of plants:
- Cordon (indeterminate)
Tomatoes that grow that way will become tall and reach up to 6 feet (1.8 m). You need to provide adequate support for them.
- Bush (determinate)
Those bushy types of tomatoes grow short, and you don’t need to stake them.
If you plan to grow tomatoes in a container, you should pick out some excellent dwarf varieties which won’t grow more than 8 inches (20 cm) high. Anyway, I prefer cherry tomatoes as delicious veggies, which is easy to grow without too much maintenance.
The best varieties of tomatoes
|Early varieties (up to 60 days to harvest)||Mid-season varieties (70 – 80 days to harvest)||Late-season varieties (more than 80 days to harvest)||Cherry tomatoes|
|Early Cascade||Fantastic||Amish Paste||Sun gold|
|Early Girl||Floramerica||Brandywine||Matt’s wild cherry|
Where to Grow Tomatoes
Since tomato is a sub-tropical plant, you need to provide enough sunlight for it. Place your veggies against a fence or wall, but avoid hedges since they will probably dry the soil. Consequently, your plants will stay without the required amount of water.
When and How to Grow Tomatoes
If you plan to sow tomato seed indoors, you should do it in the period between late February and mid-March.
Don’t forget to moisten the mix of seed-starting before putting it to the container. Fill your pot, but leave about 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) of space under the top edge. Place two to three seeds into a container and cover them with 0.25 inches (0.6 cm) of soil. Gently firm the ground over the seeds and water it carefully.
Take care that the temperature of the used mix mustn’t be lower than 71.5 F (22 C) if you want your plant seeds to germinate properly. At that moment, your seeds won’t need light, and you can cover the container with plastic kitchen wrap to keep the mix moist.
Don’t forget to check your pot daily to remove the covering and put the container in a sunny window as soon as spotting sprouts. Keep your plants indoors for approximately 6 to 8 weeks to protect them of the last spring frost. Then transplant seedlings.
When your tomato seedlings are approximately 6 inches (15 cm) high, you should transplant them into your garden. Don’t do it too late to avoid the restriction of roots by the container.
It would be excellent to hard off your seedlings by getting them outside gradually. They can spend days there, but you need to back them inside during the nights.
When the time to plant your tomato seedling comes, dig a hole for each plant. Single plants require being at least 18 inches (45.7 cm) apart. Don’t forget to provide the necessary support for cordon varieties.
|Botanical name||Solanum lycopersicum|
|Soil requirement||Your tomatoes can start growing only if the soil is warm enough.|
|Position||It requires sunny space.|
|Frost tolerance||It won’t tolerate low temperatures and frost.|
|Watering||Every plant needs at least 3 gallons (12 l) of water a week until the moment the fruit starts ripening.|
|Feeding||Apply a water-soluble fertilizer or seaweed tonic at least once or twice a week.|
|Thinning||You should transplant just one seedling in a container. Therefore, you need to remove extra seedlings.|
|Sow and plant||Sow plants from late February to mid-March.|
|Transplanting||When your tomato seedlings are 6 inches (15 cm) high, you should transplant them into the garden.|
|Spacing||Single plants require at least 18 inches (45.7 cm) of space around.|
|Harvesting||You can harvest your tomatoes as soon as their fruits are ripe.|
How to care Tomatoes plants
For healthy growth, your tomato seedlings will require plenty of direct light. It is not possible during winter, so in that period you can grow them in a greenhouse or provide some artificial lighting for 14 to 18 hours daily.
When you transplant your veggies in the garden, you should pick out the sunniest spot there to plant them. Without enough light, your tomatoes will become spindly.
The room temperatures of 70 to 75 F (21 – 24 C) are the best for germination of tomato seeds. You can speed the process a little bit if you provide bottom heat. On the other side, new seedlings will thrive better on temperatures of about 65 F (18 C).
Also, your tomatoes won’t start growing until the soil is not warm enough. The trick is to cover the planting area with some plastic a few weeks before seeding.
After warming the soil and seeding, you should put some mulch on the top of the ground to warm it up. However, don’t do it too early since mulching conserves water and it may cause cooling the soil.
This plant needs deep and regular watering during its development. Irregular watering can cause a calcium deficiency, rot of roots, and stem splitting.
Take care that every plant get at least 3 gallons (12 l) of water a week. However, if days are too hot and dry, you need to water them more often, especially if you notice that plants look wilted.
You can try the old trick with a perforated plastic bottle. Cut the bottom of an 84.5 ounces (2.5 l) bottle, make tiny holes on its sides, and bury it upside down in the ground between plants. Fill the bottle with water, and it will seep through the perforated walls and water the soil deeply.
From the moment the fruit starts ripening, you should lessen the water, and your plants will begin concentrating sugars, which will provide better flavor.
At the very beginning, you will notice the first two so-called ‘seed’ leaves. You should begin with fertilizing your tomatoes after the appearance of the second set of ‘true’ leaves.
Start applying a water-soluble fertilizer or seaweed tonic (you need to find the one specially formulated for tomatoes) at least once or twice a week.
Since tomatoes have shallow roots for absorbing nutrients and deep ones, which transport water from the ground to the plant, the best option is to drench the soil around their stems with fertilizer.
You should plant just one healthy and robust seedling in a container. I know that you probably don’t want to remove extra seedlings (this process is called thinning), but you have to do that.
That is the only way to select the most vigorous plants. Cut off the smaller seedlings with scissors at the soil line. Don’t dig them to avoid disturbing the roots of the plant which you want to keep.
Removing the bottom leaves
When your tomatoes become about 3 feet (91.5 cm) tall, you should start removing the leaves from the bottom 1 foot (30.5 cm) of their stems. Since those old leaves don’t get enough sunlight and airflow, they are prone to fungus development.
Pinching and pruning
If you want to get more tomatoes, you should pinch and remove suckers developing between two branches. They can’t bear fruit, but waste plant’s energy in vain.
You should also prune a few leaves to allow the sun to reach the fruits. Just avoid cutting too many foliages. Otherwise, you will get tomatoes, which are sweet less.
Good and Bad Companions for Tomatoes
a). Good Companion Plants for Your Tomatoes
There are numerous plants, which will improve the vigor and health of your tomatoes, and may affect their flavor as well.
I recommend you to try planting carrots, garlic, asparagus, cucumber, basil, bean, peas, chive, celery, lettuce, onion, mint, parsley, or squashes along with your tomatoes. Those plants are highly beneficial for this vegetable.
b). Bad Companions Plants for Your Tomatoes
On the other hand, some plants are bad companions for your tomatoes. The worst choices are fennel, walnuts, cabbage, potatoes, corn, eggplant, and peppers.
Best Companions for Tomatoes
|Amaranth||It is an excellent repellent which protects tomatoes from harmful insects|
|Carrots||They break up the ground around tomatoes and help them getting more water, nutrients, and air|
|Garlic||It acts as a repellent against red spider mites, and control the appearance of late blight|
|Lettuce||It acts as a living mulch and reduces spreading tomato diseases from water|
|Chives||It repels aphids|
|Dill||While it is young, dill increases the healthy growth of tomatoes. However, mature dill may inhibit their growth|
|Basil||It works as a repellent against mosquitoes and flies and improves the growth of tomatoes|
|Mint||It prevents the appearance of aphids, ants, fleas, and rodents|
|Parsley||It attracts hoverflies which use tomato pests as food|
You can start harvesting your tomatoes as soon as their fruits are ripe. Every time you spot red plant, pick it up. Keep doing that until the first frost in October or beginning of November. Then you should harvest all remained tomatoes and let them ripen on a windowsill.
Before storing your tomatoes, you need to wash and dry them. Keep them on a windowsill or some bowl for a week. Don’t put them in a fridge since temperatures below 55 F (12.8 C) reduce recognizable tomato flavor. To keep them for a while, you can freeze your tomatoes or save them in a can after the thermal treatment.
Pests and Diseases
During wet or cold weather, your tomato may have troubles with some pests or diseases.
- Unusual coloration of tomato leaves – If you spot reddish or purple-veined leaves, you will know that your tomatoes need nutrients. The reason is the impossibility of the roots to absorb them since the temperatures are too low.
- Fruit splitting – Uneven watering can cause splitting of tomato fruit.
- Calcium deficiency – If your tomatoes don’t have enough calcium, you will notice blossom end rot. It is an appearance of a dark, rotting area around the tomato’s base caused by under-watering.
- Magnesium deficiency – You can be sure that your tomatoes need magnesium if their leaves start becoming yellow.
- Tomato blight – This disease causes rotting of tomato fruit and foliage when the weather is too wet.
- Tomato leaf mold – You can spot this disease on tomatoes grown in the greenhouse-grown without appropriate ventilation. These yellow blotches and greyish-brown mold rarely develop on outdoor crops.
- Big green caterpillars – These tomato hornworms eat the foliage and may damage even fruits.
- Whitefly – Their adults lay eggs which feed on the leaves. Moreover, they leave a sticky secretion, which leads to new diseases.
- Mosaic virus – This type of virus causes the occurrence of yellow, distorted leaves. Be careful since you can transmit it from your tomatoes to other plants.
My name is Peter Weeks, Writer of The Daily Gardener. Gardening has always been my passion, nothing gives me quite the satisfaction that feeling the soil sift through my fingers does. Give me a spade, a shovel, and a rake, and I can happily while away the day transforming a patch of land into a beautiful oasis. To me, gardening is life. It’s not a career. It’s not a job. It’s something that I truly love doing. It’s a way of life, a passion that I’ve no intention of ever giving up.