Growing great tomatoes doesn’t happen just by putting a few plants into the ground and turning on the hose. But anyone can master growing great tomatoes by following a few simple dos and don’ts.
In the world of vegetable gardening, there is nothing quite like the taste of fresh home grown tomatoes. The flavor of the ones you grow leaves the store bought variety far behind.
Home grown tomatoes are so plump and sweet, just full of flavor and freshness. They make an amazing homemade pasta sauce when you roast them to bring out their natural sweetness.
So get ready to choose your favorite variety, start them off in the right way and control common tomato problems before they start.
Follow these tips and you will guarantee top bragging rights this year!
Follow these Simple Dos and Don’ts for Growing Great Tomatoes.
Do provide plenty of sunlight for tomatoes
Growing great tomatoes starts with good sun light. Tomato plants need sunlight and lots of it. They need about 10 hours of direct sunlight a day during the summer (and 10-14 hours of bright diffused light a day as seedlings.)
However, when the weather gets really hot the production of carotene and lycopene (needed for ripening) slows down. Find out what steps you can take at this time to spur the ripening of tomatoes on the vine.
Too much sunlight for too long a period of time can also cause tomato plant leaf curling. Giving some relief from the sunlight in the form of light tarps will help in this case.
Do start with healthy soil
A well amended soil is a must. I like to add a scoop of compost to every hole that I dig for any plant, and tomatoes are no exception. Soil that is full of rich compost is the secret weapon to any tomato grower and organic material is the best.
There is just on chemical substitute for well good, old fashioned compost.
Do Support the tomato stems
A common vegetable garden mistake is forgetting to give support to vegetables that need it.
Tomato branches can get very heavy. Support the stems on stakes with some free tomato ties. Cut nylon stockings into strips and use a figure 8 tie to support the stems as they grow.
They are flexible and won’t damage the stem and are readily available.
It is important to stake tomatoes early in order to prevent disturbing the roots, which can lead to blossom end rot.
Do plant the right type for your area
Not all tomatoes will grow well in every gardening zone. Do some research before you plant to make sure that the type you choose is suited to your area.
Doing this will give you the highest yields and the sweetest tomatoes.
The deeper, the better!
Do plant seedlings deeply
Tomato plants do best with a healthy root system. I like to choose a tall plant and pull of some of the lower leaves and plant it deeply into the hole.
Roots will form along the planted stem and this will make for a very healthy plant.
Do know your soil type
Tomatoes like soil that will hold water but not make them too soggy. The wrong soil type an cause all sorts of problems from flower drop, blossom end rot and split fruit.
Do remove lower leaves
Growing great tomatoes means that you must prune the leaves a bit. These are the first leaves to grow on your plant and they are the easiest ones to develop fungus and other problems.
As they plant grows, they also get the least amount of light ans circulation so they are more vulnerable to disease. Removing them also keeps them out of reach of the water.
Do Water Deeply from the roots
Tomato plants love water and they like a deep watering. A soaker hose works best for tomato plants. Also see my tutorial for a soda bottle drip feeder here.
Both over-watering and under-watering can produce yellow leaves on your tomato plant. Water deeply a few times a week, rather than a little each day.
Staking is a must
Do stake your plants
Indeterminate tomato plants can grow to 10 feet or more and definitely need some staking. Even determinate plants will get to 3 feet.
If you don’t stake, the weight of fruit may break your stems.
While we are on the topic of watering, be sure to add mulch. Bring it to a few inches from the stem, right over a soaker hose. This conserves the water and helps to prevent soil born pathogens from getting on to the leaves.
Pinching Encourages a bushy tomato
Do pinch tomato suckers
Small suckers will grow at each leaf axil. This can weaken the plant and won’t bear fruit. Pinch these out to encourage great plant growth.
Do rotate your tomato plants
If you plant your tomatoes in the same spot each year, you encourage soil borne pests and diseases to take hold. Move the area where you plant to another spot in your garden every three years or so.
Do check the roots
When you are buying tomato plants, be sure to check the roots. Beware of seedlings that look great on top but have week root systems. They plants will just languish in the garden for weeks before they start to grow.
Do know your tomato type. Indeterminate vs determinate? Indeterminate will grow and produce all season long, determinate will produce all at once.
Know which one you are planting to avoid discouragement. This article gives a bit of information on both types of plants.
Do choose a spot with good air circulation
Making sure there is plenty of air around the plants keeps the risk of many diseases at bay.
Do watch out for caterpillars
Horn worm caterpillars can devastate a tomato crop. Be on the look out and remove if you find them.
Do plant every few weeks
If you live in a sunny growing zone, be sure to practice succession planting. Add another crop a few weeks after you plant the first one to ensure luscious tomatoes all summer long.
And Now for the Dont’s!
Don’t water from above
Doing so encourages water born pathogens and spreads disease. Deep watering around the roots is the way to go.
Don’t water too often
More is not always better, especially with tomato plants. Instead of watering daily, water deeply but infrequently. Soak the plant well about once a week.
This will develop stronger root systems.
Don’t forget that tomatoes are heavy
The branches will break if they are not supported. Tomatoes can be very heavy on branches without support.
Tomato seedlings need plenty of room to grow and will be stunted if they are over crowded. The same is true for mature plants.
The size of a mature tomato plant is about 3 feet in diameter, so don’t plant young plants a foot apart.
Don’t forget tomato cages
While a tall stake will work okay, tomato plants can get very large and will benefit from having a tomato cage around them to keep sprawling stems off the ground.
Don’t wait too long to stake
I place my stakes in at the time that I plant the seedlings. I won’t damage the roots if I do this and the stems will be ready to tie up as the plant grows.
Don’t forget that critters like tomatoes too
If you have followed my blog, you will know of my exploits with the squirrels and chipmunks. Nothing is worse than seeing a dozen half ripe tomatoes on the ground with a bite out of each one.
See my tips for dealing with squirrels. Hint…they don’t like cayenne pepper! Also see these natural squirrel repellent ideas.
Doing so will often result in bushy tomato plants with few flowers and flowers are what makes tomatoes later.
Don’t go for seedlings with flowers
You may think this will give you a head start on the growing season but the opposite is the case. Go for strong root systems and healthy looking stems. The flowers will come soon enough.
(The same goes for flowering plants – why buy those already in flower? Enjoy them in your garden, not at the garden center!)
Don’t plant too early
Tomatoes are best if the soil temperature is consistently above 50º F outside. And make sure to measure the temp down a ways into the soil. 6 inches doesn’t sound like a lot, but think of where the roots are!
Don’t be impatient
The sweetest tomatoes are those that grow on the vine as long as possible. Don’t be in a hurry to take them off too early.
If any fall off the vine, see my tips for ripening green tomatoes.
Don’t panic at the end of the season
If you have plants left and a frost is threatening at season end, pull up the whole plant, tomatoes and all and hang upside down in a garage or basement. The fruit will continue to ripen.
Don’t store tomatoes in the fridge
Doing so will spoil the taste and take away much of the sweetness that you are looking for. See this tip for sweet tomatoes.
Sun-ripened tomatoes deliver the taste of summer in every bite all summer long. Plant just a few healthy plants and you will ensure the production of buckets of this delicious fruit.
Using Fresh Tomatoes in recipes
The process doesn’t stop with just growing great tomatoes. Now it’s time to use them in recipes!!
Want to learn more about using fresh tomatoes? See these articles:
Home Made Marinara sauce with freshly roasted tomatoes.
Chunky Vegetable Marinara with Fresh Tomatoes
Caprese Basil Mozzarella Salad
Snow peas, baby tomatoes and potatoes
Do you have some tomato dos and don’ts to share for growing great tomatoes? Please leave your comments below!
Saturday 5th of March 2022
Hi, Can you pull the lower leaves off determinate seedlings before transplanting to a bigger pot to develop more roots? Or is this only for indeterminate? Thanks!
Sunday 6th of March 2022
This technique works for all tomato plants and makes them stronger.
Sunday 16th of June 2019
If you have yellow leaves, what do you do?
Sunday 16th of June 2019
Hi Jan, There are lots of reasons why a tomato plant has leaves that turn yellow. Some common causes are both under watering - (the leaves will be dry and yellow), over watering, (the leaves will be yellow or brown and mushy looking). The answer to these problems is more or less watering. Some soil also have nitrogen deficiencies. Soil testing will tell you this and the answer is more fertilizer with a strong nitrogen component.
Too much sunlight can cause yellow leaves in the southern part of the USA. My tomatoes do well until it gets very hot and dry here. Finally, soil borne diseases can cause yellowing leaves. This usually affects just one part. Removing the bad part of the plant helps i this case.
Sunday 26th of August 2018
Wow. It's a amazing article. It has more useful tips for growing great tomatoes. I learned a lot from it. I look ahead to more similar postings like this one. Thanks for sharing.
Monday 26th of June 2017
Thank you so much for your tips and suggestions. I want to start growing my own tomatoes, so your post is really helpful to me. Thank you again!
Monday 26th of June 2017
Glad you found it helpful Diego. Carol
Monday 26th of June 2017
Do the same rules of watering apply to those in pots? Thank you!
Monday 30th of March 2020
I have planted basil near my tomatoes each year. By doing so, I never have horn worms. And, it tastes great with tomatoes.
Monday 26th of June 2017
Hi Bobble. I am growing tomatoes in pots this year. I find that they still need deep watering, but more often than those in the ground, since they dry out more quickly. Carol