Growing Sweet Tomatoes – Tips, Tricks and Myths

Vegetable gardening is so satisfying and home grown tomatoes are at the top of my favorites list. The taste of home grown tomatoes is nothing at all like those that you buy in the stores. Even the vine ripened ones can’t compare in taste to the sweetness of those you grow yourself. Have you ever wondered what you need to do to grow sweet tomatoes?

Growing sweet tomatoes depends a lot on the type of tomato and your growing conditions. See my tips and myths about how to get sweeter tomatoes

Contrary to popular thinking, not all tomato varieties give off the same kind of sweetness. Just because a tomato is home grown does not mean that it is automatically sweeter.  The actual flavor of a tomato comes from a combination of the plant chemistry and also variables that are present in your gardening spot such as the air temperature, your soil type and the amount of sun and rain that you get during the growing season.Sweet tomatoes

The flavor of the tomato comes from the balance of acidity and sugar in the crop. Tomatoes that taste the most acidic have a lower level of sugar in them.  Sweeter tomatoes, on the other hand have a low level of acid and a higher level of sugar in them. If your plant is low in both acid and sugar it will be bland. The ideal tomato, for many people, is one that is high in both acid and sugar.

Tips for Growing Sweet Tomatoes

Choose the right type!Check your seed package to see if the tomatoes are grown for sweetness or tartness.

The single most important thing that you can do to ensure that your tomatoes will be sweet is to grow the right cultivars. For the sweetest varieties, choose cherry tomatoes known for their sweetness, such as sweet million and sun sugar varieties.  Heirloom varieties are known for their intense flavors, but be sure to check the description on the package of seeds to see whether the tomato is know for its sweetness of tartness.

The size of the fruit makes a difference.If sweetness is your aim in growing tomatoes, go for the smaller varieties such as cherry tomatoes

Larger varieties, such as beefsteak tomatoes can often be less sweet.  Some sweet varieties of tomatoes are shown here. Both cherry and grape tomatoes reach a higher sugar concentration in the fruit than full size tomatoes do, so they will generally taste sweeter. If sweet tomatoes is your goal, go for a smaller tomato!

Make sure the plant is suited to your areaTomato blossoms

Sure, you can order tomato plants known for their sweetness from mail order catalogs, but the plants you choose should be suitable for your climate and soil conditions. Many varieties that perform well and produce sweet tomatoes in some areas may do poorly in others. A plant that does well in one planting zone may suffer when the rainfall or humidity in another is different. This will have an impact of the quality and sweetness of the fruit.

Start your Tomato plants earlyTomato seedling

Tomato plants like a long growing season in the heat. If you start them too late, they will have a shorter time to ripen. Starting seedlings indoors before the last frost can extend your growing season and give tomatoes a longer chance to ripen naturally

If possible, let them ripen on the vine.tomatoes that ripen on the vine are sweet

To encourage your plant to grow sweet tomatoes, allow the fruit to ripen on the vine. But sometimes, garden critters make this a challenge. I  have had squirrel problems in my yard and often have to pick my tomatoes green and let them ripen indoors. If I don’t do this, the squirrels will take a bite out of each one and destroy my crop.I have found that tomatoes that ripen on the vine are much sweeter than those that I have to bring indoors to escape the squirrels.  

Add organic matter to the soilcompost

In order for any tomato plant to do well and end up with a sweet crop, it needs nutrients to meet its growing needs.  You can use tomato fertilizer or add lots of organic matter to the soil to add these nutrients back as they are used up in the growing process.  Having a compost pile that creates humus and using it around the plants will help to encourage good growth and natural sweetness.

The weather matters

Tomatoes in the rain

Photo credit Wikimedia commons

Healthy tomato plants require hot weather with abundant rainfall of at least 1 inch a week.  If your weather is cool and the soil stays wet for a prolonged period of time the whole tomato plant as well as the sweetness of the tomatoes will suffer. Too hot a heat and less water than the plants need will mean that the tomatoes cannot access the moisture and nutrients they need to develop their sweet flavor.

Common Home Remedies for Sweet Tomatoes – Do they Work?

Adding Baking Soda to the Soil

There is a theory that adding baking soda to the soil will lower the acidity and make the tomatoes sweeter, but is this true?  The short answer is not really. Tomatoes don’t draw acidity up from the soil. They produce acids and sugars based on their genetics. Some gardeners swear that the baking soda works, so I suppose it is worth a try to discover this for yourself.

 

Growing sweet tomatoes depends on many things. Does adding baking soda help?

There is one good use of baking soda with tomatoes, though.  Mix it with vegetable oil to make an organic tomato spray to fight tomato fungal disease. To make the spray, combine a gallon of water with a tbsp of baking soda and 2 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a spray bottle. Stir and add 1/2 tsp of castile soap.  Spray this solution on the foliage of tomato plants until the fungal disease disappears.

Will Epsom salt help to sweeten tomatoes?Epsom salt

Another common thought is that adding epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) around tomato plants will sweeten the tomatoes.  Once again, the sweetness of tomatoes is generally genetic, so this won’t help but epsom salts can be an effective all purpose fertilizer.  You can also mix 1 or 2 tbsp of epsom salts in a gallon of water to use as a spray to discourage blossom end rot.

Have you discovered some other tips in your quest for growing sweet tomatoes? Please share them below. I’d be particularly interested in your results with epsom salts, baking soda and other home remedies that are reported to sweeten tomatoes.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

  37 comments for “Growing Sweet Tomatoes – Tips, Tricks and Myths

  1. Tonya
    05/09/2013 at 8:07 pm

    How often do you sprinkle with baking soda and when do you start/stop? All the way through growing???

    • admin
      05/14/2013 at 9:02 pm

      I’d just do it when I planted them.

      • DJANGO
        03/23/2017 at 10:29 pm

        THANKS FOR THE TIP SIR.

  2. 05/15/2013 at 6:22 pm

    Can you do this to pepper plants?

    • Audrey
      07/10/2014 at 3:05 pm

      I sprinkle a ring of Epsom Salts around my pepper plants to boost them. Also at time of planting I add a small amount of wood ashes in the bottom of the hole, cover with a little soil and them put in the pepper plant. I get big healthy plants and lots of fruit.

      • admin
        07/10/2014 at 3:22 pm

        Great tips Audrey. Thanks for sharing. Carol

      • Dirty Bob
        12/03/2014 at 1:33 pm

        Epsom salts will give a plant Manganese which is a Micro Nutrient that plants only need a little bit of, but my secret is a 1/4 cup around my roses at the base and watch those puppies bloom. a little Epsom salt on any plant will not hurt it, but go easy it is still a salt.

        Your tip about the wood ash, the wood ash is heavy in phosphorus which is great for your roots, but you need to remember to only use the white powdery wood ash and not the black chunky parts. Wood ash is great when ever starting new plants, also OLD saw dust works great, do not use fresh stuff some strange results happen. A friend of mine used a very large amount of fresh saw dust on some strawberries, and they all came out yellow and deformed, like something from a different planet

        • admin
          12/03/2014 at 1:49 pm

          Thanks for all the tips Bob! Carol

        • Franc
          04/05/2016 at 10:39 am

          Epsom salts provide Magnesium – NOT manganese. Epsom Salts is also known as Magnesium sulfate. Therefore, you also dose Sulphur (from the sulfate portion of molecule)

        • D.M. Watson
          04/18/2016 at 6:45 am

          Epsom Salts will supply Magnesium and Sulfur. Not Manganese. an entirely different element. Chances are most soils don’t need them. Sandy soil may need some Sulfur. Baking soda will supply Sodium…and Chlorine. Neither of which are particularly in short supply in any soil. If you are using wood ashes in your soil…you are raising your pH already. There are a lot more trace minerals in wood ashes than you will find in baking soda (which is made from Carbon Dioxide). If you want to do something out of the ordinary for your tomato plants…find some Gypsum. Or just grind up a small piece of wallboard. It will supply sulfur and calcium….and calcium goes a long way toward preventing blossom end rot in your tomatoes.

  3. 05/15/2013 at 6:23 pm

    Can we do this to pepper plants?

    • admin
      05/17/2013 at 3:13 pm

      not sure. Tomato plants are acidic which is why it works.

    • Fahlina_g
      04/25/2014 at 9:24 pm

      Pepper plants prefer a slighty acidic soil.

  4. Jeanne Fries
    04/18/2014 at 2:41 am

    Thank you for this info. My mom always added and so do I add a tablespoon of Epsom salts to all pepper plants, sweet and hot. Start when they are about 6 inches tall then every 2 or 3 weeks. They get bigger, sturdier, twice as many peppers, and meatier and many more of them. I still have jalepeno and habenero’s frozen in freezer, just raw? We ate all the bell peppers .

    • admin
      04/18/2014 at 8:47 am

      Thanks for the tips Jeanne! Carol

  5. Ruth
    10/05/2014 at 1:07 am

    Love tomatoes homegrown

  6. 11/12/2014 at 4:58 am

    Thanks for that tip We have a garden in the Mission to Seafarers inside Falmouth docks uk and this year I converted an old English telephone box into a small greenhouse and grew tomatoes we had a good crop but noticed the flavour a bit on the tart side I will give your idea a go for my next crop A tip for making your late green tomatoes ripe is to remove all leaves from plant therefore all energy will go into ripening the tomatoes Drastic I know but works

    • eddie nelson
      07/04/2015 at 3:45 pm

      Another idea I use for speeding up the ripening process for tomatoes is root pruning. Slice straight down into the soil a one foot line a few inches away from the main stem using a knife, this severs some of the root system and shocks the plant into ripening some of its fruit (tomatoes). I have done this for years when I have an abundance of green tomatoes. Of course they can just be placed in the window to ripen and then there’s always fried green tomatoes!

      • admin
        07/07/2015 at 10:08 pm

        Thanks for sharing the tip Eddie. Carol

  7. Pat
    07/03/2015 at 1:55 pm

    I like the tips. However, I wonder about making the tomatoes sweeter if canning them. I understand we need to add vinegar or acid when canning tomatoes as they no longer have as much acid as they did years ago. Perhaps for those plants not being used for canning, adding baking soda would be helpful for “sweet” tomatoes.

    • admin
      07/03/2015 at 1:59 pm

      Hi Pat. Thanks for the tips. I have never been much of a canner, so it is helpful to get the perspective from someone who is. Carol

  8. Jim Markwood
    07/04/2015 at 11:05 am

    Acidity in tomatoes is not a result of the ph of the soil. All tomatoes have approximately the same level of acidity. Perceived sweetness depends on the sugar levels(brix) of the fruit. Some varieties are naturally sweeter. Grocery store tomatoes that were picked green did not have a chance for the sugars to develop.

  9. Diane
    07/12/2015 at 8:19 am

    Great tip for the plants. I’ve been adding baking soda to my spaghetti sauce for 30 years. Never liked the sugary taste when sugar is added. I want to taste the tomato , not the sugar.

    • admin
      07/12/2015 at 9:25 am

      Hi Diane. There is nothing quite like the taste of a sweet tomato. Carol

  10. sherri
    08/16/2015 at 7:38 pm

    But doesn’t this lower the acidity of the soil? I always thought tomatoes liked a more acidic soil…..

  11. Nancy
    10/19/2016 at 1:39 am

    It it ok to spray. Epsom salt and baking soda on tomato flowers
    Tks

    • Carol
      10/20/2016 at 11:33 am

      I would not spray directly on the flowers but at the base of the plant, instead. Carol

  12. 02/02/2017 at 6:02 pm

    I’ve used baking soda on diseased plants, but never to sweeten tomatoes. Thanks for the tip! I’ll definitely try that this summer.

  13. Debbie
    05/06/2017 at 5:48 pm

    I have been using for several years now about 2 tablespoons of epsom salt to one gallon of water. When dissolved I add to my hand sprayer and spray all my peppers and tomatoes. In a couple of weeks you will find more flowers on yours peppers and roses. I do this about every 5 weeks.

    • Carol
      05/07/2017 at 10:45 am

      Thanks for the tips Debbie. Carol

  14. jonathan smith
    06/30/2017 at 7:05 pm

    I dont think the baking soda method has any merits at all as plants dont work in this way, with your advice if you were to lower the ph of the soil then the tomatoes would be almost inedible (this is not the case), as well as raising the ph equally does not effect the sugar content in tomatoes.
    Photosynthesis and the plants pre-programmed genetics is what makes the plant sweet or sour, all you can do is grow the plant in the perfect soil conditions, ie high organic content, lots of humus and no shortage of nutrients, with plenty of direct sunshine and water and leave it to the plants genetics. tomatoes do not draw up acidity from the soil but produce acids and sugars from photosynthesizing in sunlight.
    Its all pretty basic biology really 🙂

  15. 09/17/2017 at 1:26 am

    My tomatoes have not got long to go but nice to know these tips for the next lot. Thanks for shariing.

    • Carol
      09/18/2017 at 10:55 am

      My pleasure Sarah. Glad you found them useful. Carol

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