A Guide to Growing Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a popular plant in vegetable gardens, producing summer crops in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Depending on the type, they can be trained as cordons, left as bushes or allowed to cascade from hanging baskets. Discover more about tomatoes and how to care for the plant with the following guide.
How to Grow
In cool areas tomatoes crop better in a greenhouse, but there are varieties to grow outside. Sow seeds in modules or small pots indoors at a temperature of 64–70 degrees F in the early spring. Pot into individual pots, 3 inches in diameter when large enough to handle, and harden off outdoor varieties once all threat of frost has passed. Plant outside into pots or growing bags or into fertile, well-drained soil 30 inches apart. If planting into greenhouse borders, space plants 2 feet apart. Provide support, water regularly and feed weekly once the first flowers appear in the summer. Remove yellowing leaves as they appear, and pinch off cordon varieties as needed.
Types of Tomatoes Available
There are a four basic categories of tomatoes:
- Beefsteak Tomatoes: These tomatoes produce the largest fruit but can be slow to ripen and give fewer fruit per plant than other types. Best grown under cover.
- Cherry Tomatoes: These crops are very free-fruiting, producing long chains of berry-sized fruit. Some varieties are suitable for patio containers.
- Plum Tomatoes: Somewhere in the middle of beefsteak and cherry tomatoes, are the plum variety. These tomatoes have larger, fleshier fruit than cherry types and a rich flavor. There are varieties suitable to grow inside or outdoors.
- Heirloom Varieties: Known to produce a tasty fruit in a variety of shapes and colors –– including striped –– heirloom tomatoes are best kept under cover.
Within each of those categories, there are a wide variety of tomatoes from which gardeners can choose to plant, including (keep in mind tomatoes have either a bush (B), cordon (C), or are tumbling):
- Cherry Tomatoes: ‘Balconi Red’ (tumbling), ‘Chocolate Cherry’ (C), ‘Gardener’s Delight’ (B or C), ‘Gold Nugget’ (C), ‘Sungold’ (C) and ‘Tumbling Tom’ (tumbling)
- Plum Tomatoes: ‘Black Plum’ (C), ‘Moneymaker’ (B) ‘Roma’ (B) and ‘Summer Sweet’ (C)
- Beefsteak Tomatoes: ‘Big Red F1’ (C), ‘Beefeater’ (C), ‘Marmande’ (C) and ‘Pink Wonder’ (C)
- Heirloom Tomatoes: ‘Green Sausage’ (B), ‘Purple Russian’ (C), ‘Antique Roman’ (C) and ‘Tigerella’ (C)
Training and Support
Bush tomatoes, which are usually grown outdoors, are the simplest to support and train; insert canes around the plants, and tie in the branches to help take the weight of the developing fruit. The bigger the crop, the more canes needed.
Cordon tomatoes are trained as single stems and are usually grown under cover. To provide support, insert tall canes next to each plant, avoiding the roots, and tie in the stems at intervals as they grow. If using growing bags, attach the canes to the greenhouse frame to give extra support. Check and tie in plants every week, and pinch off the main growing tips when they reach the top of the supports. Stop outdoor cordons once they have produced four to five fruit trusses.
To encourage cordons to fruit and to limit their size, pinch off the sideshoots that develop in the joints between the leaves or flower trusses and the main stems. If these grow, they waste plant energy on unwanted growth and also shade the fruit, preventing it from ripening. Bush and tumbling varieties do not need to be pinched off. As the plants grow, remove the leaves below the lowest truss of ripening fruit to promote airflow and reduce disease.
Growing in Containers
Tomatoes grow best in containers filled with new compost or in growing bags, since this reduces the risk of soil-borne disease. It also allows you to place plants in a warm and sheltered location.
If growing in pots, then place rocks in the base of a 15-inch diameter pot, fill it with good-quality peat-based compost, and plant one plant in each. If planting into a standard growing bag, make drainage holes in the bottom first, then plant two to three tomatoes in each. To grow tumbling tomatoes in hanging baskets, line the basket with pierced plastic to help retain moisture, and fill with compost. Position the plants near the edge so the stems can tumble over the sides. Hang the basket in a sheltered spot out of the wind, and water every day.
Feeding and Watering
Feeding and watering are the most important things to get right. Water regularly and evenly; allowing the plants to dry out then occasionally soaking them causes fruit to split, as well as blossom end rot. Tomatoes are hungry plants and need weekly feeding with a high-potash liquid fertilizer as soon as the plants flower, and twice weekly once the first fruits appear. Follow the instructions on the packet. Liquid organic feeds are also available.
Tomato Blight and Diseases
Tomato blight causes the leaves to discolor, dead tissue to develop on the stems and the fruit to rot. Apply fungicide as a precaution, remove infected leaves and rotate crops.
On the other hand, blossom end rot causes the base of the fruit to turn yellow and brown, then rot and drop off. It is commonly caused by erratic watering; destroy infected fruit, and water regularly.