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10 Steps to Your Best Tomatoes Ever

Love tomatoes? Get ready for your best harvest yet, thanks to these easy-grows-it tips.

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Photo: Julie Martens Forney

Big, Beautiful Tomatoes

Homegrown tomatoes deliver flavor and then some. Raising your own crop of sun-ripened 'maters is one of summer’s official best rewards. All it takes to grow outstanding tomatoes is attention to detail. Cover the basics, and you’ll be savoring a delicious harvest. By the way, if the thought of growing larger-than-life tomatoes packed with flavor and history appeals to you, check out heirloom varieties like 'Mortgage Lifter’ (above), 'Bear Claw’ or 'Marianna’s Peace.’

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Photo: Ball Horticultural Company

Choose the Right Varieties

Take time to select tomatoes that suit your growing conditions. Typically if a tomato is for sale in your area, you’ll get good results. If local garden clubs, master gardeners or public gardens have plant sales, that’s a terrific spot to find tomatoes adapted to your region. Also, select tomatoes that work for how you intend to use them. You can find 'maters for slicing, sauce making or salads. This orange roma tomato (above) is 'Sunrise Sauce.’ It’s the only non-heirloom orange paste tomato on the market and whips up a bright sauce that’s as delicious as it is colorful. Lastly, choose varieties that deliver the flavor you crave. For instance, tomatoes exist that offer low acid, higher lycopene content, smoky overtones or intense sweetness.

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Photo: Julie Martens Forney

Plant Deep

The best tomatoes come from plants with a strong root system. Give your plants a head-start on healthy roots by planting seedlings deep in the soil. Start by removing the lowest leaves on your seedling and burying the lower stem. Tomato stems produce roots easily. Any portion of the stem you bury will sprout roots that help nourish and support the fruit-laden plant. This tomato seedling is definitely overdue for planting. Notice the roots starting to appear along the lower stem. The stem on this seedling should be buried right up to the gloved fingers. In this case, a short trench may offer the best option for accommodating that curved stem.

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Photo: Gardener’s Supply Company/

Start the Season Early

An unspoken badge of honor always goes to the gardener with the earliest tomato. Technology makes getting that first tomato even easier, thanks to products like this pop-up tomato accelerator. It uses greenhouse covering material to create a growing environment that surrounds seedlings with warm air, which keeps plants cozy on cool spring nights. This means you can tuck tomatoes into the soil as soon as it warms up, even though air temps might still be on the chilly side. Using individual mini greenhouses accelerates plant growth, allowing you to pick fresh tomatoes up to a few weeks sooner than from plants grown without the hothouse effect.

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