How to Grow Better Tomatoes

Image shows orange tomatoes growing on a green vine, with text that reads, How to Grow Better Tomatoes.

Learn tips on how to grow better tomatoes in a home garden.

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Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables to grow in a garden. They can also be one of the most difficult vegetables to grow.

Things like sunlight, soil, and weather can effect how well your tomatoes grow and also how they taste. Making a few small adjustments may help you to grow better tomatoes in your garden.

This post is about tips for growing better tomatoes in your garden.

1—Choose the right tomato variety for your garden.

Tomatoes are such a popular garden vegetable that they have been bred to display a variety of characteristics, ranging from growth habit to preferred environmental conditions. Check your local garden center or county extension office for recommended tomato varieties to grow in your area.

If you are new to gardening, or have a hard time growing tomatoes, then you may find that shorter season, disease-resistant cherry tomatoes may be an easy way to start growing tomatoes. Look for varieties like Sun Gold, Sun Sugar, or Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes.

2—Improve your soil.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and do best in soil that is rich in nutrients that support their growth, especially the macronutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A soil test can help to determine if your soil lacks material needed to help plants grow.

Amending soil prior to putting plants in the ground can help to give your tomatoes what they need to thrive over a long growing season. For example, aged compost is a popular soil amendment for improving soil to grow tomatoes and other garden plants.

Contact your local university extension service for more information about soil tests and how you may be able to improve your soil when it comes to growing tomatoes.

3—Give your tomatoes space to grow.

Tomatoes need more space to grow than many other types of vegetables. This can be a problem when growing tomatoes in small spaces. If you are growing tomatoes in a container or small space garden, look for compact varieties or tomato varieties that are described as having a dwarf growing habit. Patio hybrid tomatoes are a good choice for small spaces.

If you have more space and a place to grow tomatoes in the ground, allowing at least 3-feet between each plant, and 4- to 5-feet between each row, can provide larger, vining plants with more room to grow.

Provide tomatoes with sturdy trellises, cages, or other support that helps to keep tomatoes upright. This provides the plant with more sunlight, improved airflow, and it also helps to keep the leaves from touching the ground, which may help to lower soil-borne disease risk to the plant.

4—Look for disease resistant tomato varieties.

Tomatoes, especially heirloom tomato varieties, can be subject to a number of diseases that can harm the plant and impact it’s growth and productivity. Tomatoes may be prone to different diseases in different areas.

Get to know the common tomato diseases in your area and look for tomato varieties that are resistant to or tolerant of those diseases. Your local county extension service, garden center, or master gardeners can be a good source of information about tomato diseases that are common in your area and good tomato varieties to grow.

In addition to growing disease resistant varieties, rotate crops to help prevent build up of diseases in the soil. Popular disease resistant tomato varieties include Champion II tomatoes and Celebrity tomatoes.

5—Plant tomatoes at the right time.

Tomatoes are a warm weather crop and frost or cold temperatures can harm a plant or even kill it. Plant tomatoes after the last frost date for your area has passed. Soil temperatures should be at least 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit before plants are planted into the ground. Cold temperatures can stunt tomato plant growth.

6—Grow tomatoes in a sunny location.

In addition to being heavy feeders, tomatoes require a lot of sun. Tomatoes require full sun for optimal growth. Grow tomatoes in a location that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day.

If you live in an area with harsh morning or afternoon sun, then tomato plants may benefit from being shielded with a shade cloth that allows the plants to receive the UV light that they need to grow without burning the plants.

7—Trim tomato plants to improve sunlight and airflow.

Keep tomatoes pruned and pinch “suckers” (new growth shoots that appear between the leaf and stem) to help the tomato plant focus its energy into producing blossoms and fruit. Some tomato plant side shoots may be allowed to increase the size of the plant, especially for tomato plants that have a compact or determinate growth habit.

Pruning tomato plants can help increase the amount of sunlight that reaches the leaves, in addition to improving airflow around the plant. Check plants every 7 to 10 days for new growth that may need to be trimmed away. This is also a good time to remove old or diseased leaves and stems.

Clean pruning tools in between each plant to help prevent the spread of disease.

8—Feed your tomatoes.

Fertilize tomatoes to help increase production. Seaweed and kelp meal, full of trace minerals, can make great fertilizer for homegrown tomatoes. Fish fertilizer, rich in nitrogen, calcium, and potassium, is another popular fertilizer for growing tomatoes. Bone meal is a good source of phosphorus that can help tomato plants to build a better root system.

Tomato gardening folklore suggests that adding a small amount of baking soda to the soil around a tomato plant throughout the growing season may help to grow sweeter tomatoes, while Epsom salts can help to alleviate magnesium deficiency in the soil. This may or may not be true, but these are examples of some of the folklore that exists around growing tomatoes.

These tips may help you to grow better tomatoes in a home vegetable garden. It is best to do your own research, including speaking to scientists at your local university extension service and talking to other knowledgeable experts, like master gardeners, who are experienced and familiar with growing tomato plants in your gardening area.

This post provided some tips that may help you to grow better tomatoes in a home vegetable garden.

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  • Photo by Zoe Schaeffer / Unsplash
  • Photos are for illustrative purposes only.

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