Tomato Growing Tips

There’s just no matching the juicy succulence of a homegrown tomato.

An heirloom tomato is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down through several generations of a family because of its valued characteristics. They come in a variety of shapes and colors.

Photo by: Vadym Zaitsev /

Vadym Zaitsev /

An heirloom tomato is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down through several generations of a family because of its valued characteristics. They come in a variety of shapes and colors.

Some like them multi-lobed, others like them round and globe-like. However you take your tomato, with 6,000 varieties of cultivated tomatoes, this amazing fruit comes in a dazzling array of shapes and colors, including green, purple, yellow, orange and classic red.

Tomatoes are the most coveted summertime produce item at our local farmers’ markets here in the South. Everyone has their favorite summer dish. We love that first tomato sandwich; oven-roasted tomatoes tossed with fresh pasta, garlic and basil; or tomatoes straight up, just sliced and drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Our tomatoes started showing up around the end of June and will continue to produce through mid-August, though some farmers will keep picking all summer long.

Expect them a little later up North. The tomato has traveled the world, beginning its life in the wilds of South America. Spanish colonists introduced the fruit to Europe and Asia, where it was bred to be the large-fruited gem we know today. While beloved by most farms and many home gardeners, tomatoes are actually one of the more challenging crops to grow. You’d never believe how many labor hours we put into our tomato crop each year, but hopefully some of our tips will help you troubleshoot your crop. —Joe and Judith

Heirlooms To Try

Black Krim, German Johnson, Cuor di Bue, Jaune Flamme

Hybrids To Try

Park Seed’s Whopper, Park Seed’s Beefy Boy, Sunkist

Seed Source

Determinate vs. Indeterminate

Determinates produce one flush of flowers. Indeterminates produce several rounds of blooms

Tasting Notes

There’s just no matching the juicy succulence of a homegrown tomato with its perfect balance of sweet and acidic flavors and characteristic grassy notes.

How to Grow

  • Start with young plants, or grow from seeds in cells in a warm, well-lit environment. We trick tomato seeds by putting the trays on heat mats.
  • Tomatoes love compost, calcium and lots of micronutrients, so amend accordingly.
  • Grow a mix of heirloom and hybrid varieties for a bountiful, diverse harvest.
  • Plant your tomatoes in a well-drained location only after the last frost date has passed for your area.
  • If disease is a regular problem — as it is on the farm — plant tomatoes 2-3 feet apart. Make sure to not overdo the nitrogen amendment.
  • Trellis weekly as plant begins to grow vertically by giving it one string tie.
  • Mulch plants heavily with wheat straw, hay or leaves.
  • When harvesting, pull off stem tops to prevent puncturing fruit when stacking.
  • Don’t forget to save seeds when you find a variety that works for your space!

Now it’s time to get cooking! If you’re getting your love apples from the farmers’ market, the editors at FN Dish recommend that before you start cooking, be sure to choose firm, noticeably fragrant and richly colored tomatoes that are free of blemishes. Store them at room temperature and use them within a few days. Go to FN Dish for a medley of tomato recipes, including a classic Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad from Ina Garten. And be sure to check out this spectacular Heirloom Tomato Pie recipe from Food Network Magazine, the perfect vehicle for your Black Krims!

In this Garden to Table feature, farmer-bloggers Judith Winfrey and Joe Reynolds offer their tips for sowing, growing and harvesting. And then we kick it over to FN Dish for some delicious recipes using this seasonal produce.

Next Up

Tips for Growing Container Tomatoes

Use this 12-step program for growing success.

Growing Tomatoes From Seed

Tips for producing vigorous tomato seedlings for transplanting outdoors.

Pumpkin Growing Tips

Follow our easy-grows-it tips to take the guesswork out of growing everyone’s fall favorite: pumpkins.

How to Grow Tomatoes in a Raised Bed

Are your tomato plants not getting enough drainage? Follow these steps on growing tomatoes in a raised bed.

Tomato Cages 411

Learn how to select and use the proper cage for your tomatoes and keep your plants producing all summer.

Best Tomato Varieties for the South

Tried and true hybrids and heirlooms are your best bet when growing tomatoes in Southern gardens.

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

It’s possible to grow any kind of tomato in a container, but it’s important to match the size of the pot to the size of the plant.

Which Tomatoes to Grow on My Patio?

Any tomato variety regardless of size can be grown in a container.

Late Bloomer: Why Won’t My Tomatoes Get With the Production?

HGTV blogger Gayla Trail digs down into the reasons why your tomatoes may not be producing fruit or flowers.

Tomato Cheat Sheet: Grow Tomatoes Now!

Don’t let the challenges stop you from growing the most popular edible.

Go Shopping

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