By: Danielle McLeod
Summer just isn’t summer without at least one tomato plant growing somewhere. At least that’s my opinion, and it doesn’t take many to have a healthy crop to feed your family and friends if you are so inclined.
But occasionally tomatoes can be finicky and provide some moments of grief and anxiety while you coax them to maturity and fruition. Tomatoes are a pretty easy summer plant to grow however, so there is no need to worry that you aren’t up to the tomato growing task. If you are looking for tips for growing tomato plants, look no further; simply follow the helpful hints below to ensure a healthy, and happy growing season!
Picking Your Plants
Whether you are going to grow your tomatoes from seeds, or pick out well-started seedlings from a catalog or garden center, you’ll want to consider your choices in advance. Lucky for you, there are a lot to choose from, 25,000 varieties worldwide to be exact, but don’t worry – only about 700 are in true cultivation!
Don’t freak out! Fewer than this will be available to you, but you will need to narrow your choices down between three broad categories that hold a few dozen varieties each.
Sometimes It’s nice to have a variety of plants to use for different purposes in cooking and culinary bliss! You’ll find that no matter where you shop for seeds or seedlings, each store will have their favorite hardy picks for you to choose from.
Cherry tomatoes are known for their sweet-tart flavor and are popular upon snacking and salads.
Sauce tomatoes are known for their lower water content which makes them good contenders for sauces, pastes, and sun-dried, or dehydrated, tomatoes to put into salads, or use as toppings in recipes.
Beefsteak varieties you may remember from your childhood picking from the vine and eating like an apple. These have the biggest fruits and are very flavorful. These are popular for in sandwiches, and caprese.
Starting seeds is an easy enough task for anyone to do if you follow a few simple rules to get started. The first rule to remember, is that in order of for tomato seeds to germinate, the soils needs to be at or above 60 degrees fahrenheit (preferably warmer), and that your best results will come from starting seed indoors six to eight weeks before the last expected frost date
- Ideally you will want to place your hardy seedlings in the garden about two weeks after the last frost, especially if you live in a growing zone that experiences a short season.
- Using a sterile seed starting mix, or soilless seed starting compound, moisten your soils and create ¼ inch deep holes or rows )depending on what sort of container you are using).
- Plant seeds at least a half inch apart and pinch soils back over them to cover loosely. Be sure to label your varieties.
- By day 7 you should have some sprouts making their appearance, and by day 30 they will begin to grow their true leaves above their ‘baby’ leaves. At this point, or shortly prior to it, you should thin out any seedlings that are closer than a half inch to one another, or down to only one seedling if you are using individual seed starting pots.
When to Plant Your Tomatoes
It’s safe to assume that two weeks after frost is a safe enough buffer to ensure there is no threat of another freeze that would ruin all your hard work with seedlings, or destroy your newly bought plants. If by chance a late frost threatens once you have them in the ground, cover your plants with a sheet, or garden cloth of some type.
Tomatoes are particularly susceptible to frosts, which can occur at anywhere under 40 degrees fahrenheit, as well as rough spring winds- so be sure to carefully watch the weather. You may even want to consider a portable cold frame to place over your plants if you have any doubt about their survivability.
Tomatoes also do better when planted on a cloudy day, or in the late afternoon and evenings as it allows them the chance to settle in and not be exposed to direct sunlight and dry conditions. They will bounce back from transplant shock much quicker this way.
Where to Plant Your Tomatoes
Tomatoes LOVE the sun, and if possible, plant yours in full sun, providing two to three feet of space between each plant, and three to five feet from each row to provide good air circulation. I like to grow my tomatoes in cages for support and use my cages as good space indicators immediately after transplanting my seedling. However, cages aren’t always the best choice depending on your tomato variety, as I will explain below.
Also try to rotate your planting spot from one year to the next, or every three years at the maximum. This helps to reduce the spread of disease and also allows soils to replenish nutrients. If you augment your soils each year, this isn’t as important as you will be mixing in and turning over new material before planting anyway.
It’s important to note that tomatoes also make great patio plants and can easily be grown in pots or backyard containers if you lack the space for a true garden plot. Just be sure to cycle out your soils from one year to the next!
How to Plant Your Tomatoes
Holes should be twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball. This is especially important for tomatoes since they root from the stem (fun fact: a broken branch stuck back in the ground will often re-root itself into a new plant). You will want to place your seedling 1/3 of the way up the stem to ensure healthy root growth. Root growth equals big, healthy plants and lots of tomatoes!
If you have used or purchased a plant in a biodegradable pot then all you need to do is remove the bottom and plant the pot with the seedling still inside. But if you need to remove it for transplantation, gently tip the container and squeeze the sides to loosen the soils. Your seedlings should slip out fairly easily for you to cradle the soils bound roots and place into the hole you’ve created. Cover with soils and gently push it into place.
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