There is nothing quite like living off the land; putting in months of hard work and tasting the literal fruits of your labor. Homegrown tomatoes are well known for their exquisite taste and succulence, making them an accessible crop for the would-be domestic farmer.
However, growing tomatoes is not as simple as throwing seeds in the soil and watching your future salad rise from the ground, instead of requiring a careful understanding of timing and a bunch of other factors. Well, lucky for you, we have all the information you need to get growing.
Types of Tomato Plant
Tomato plants come in two main types; bush (determinate) and cordon (intermediate). The difference can be important when planning out how tomatoes will fit in with your garden, with bush tomatoes being more suited to small spaces and cordon tomatoes requiring vertical space due to the amount they climb and a need for physical stability support.
What is The Best Time to Plant Tomatoes?
Are you wondering when to plant tomatoes? It is a simple crop to grow if you plant it at the proper time and season. Tomatoes are sun-loving plants. Therefore, if you intend to cultivate this crop outside, pick a warmer month with a temperature between 21 and 24 °C.
Also, the soil temperature should be around 16°C. The optimal time to sow seeds under cover is in March and April, with harvesting from July through September.
Nevertheless, the sowing month will change based on the tomato type you intend to produce. Therefore, it is best to conduct some study before or read the seed box instructions. Besides the type of tomato, the local climate and the growing zone will also dictate the month most ideal for you to plant your tomato plants.
But what if you are planning to grow your tomatoes inside a greenhouse? Refer to the section above to get your answer.
How to Plant Your Tomato Seeds?
It’s essential to keep in mind that growing tomato plants can require that a multitude of precautions are met.
First of all, ensure that you are planting your seeds in small pots or a propagator indoors, with a temperature of 18°c, keeping them lightly watered in the process. You can also cover them with cling film or clear, plastic shopping bags if you don’t have a propagator.
Once you see it start to germinate, producing two, true leaves, it is time to move them to their own pots. Removing them from the pot can be a delicate process, so grab them lightly by the leaves and slowly tease the roots out of the ground. Be careful not to grab from the stem or roots whilst they are in this delicate form.
When To Plant Tomatoes In The Greenhouse?
Tomatoes may be grown in a greenhouse, especially if you want to cultivate them all year round. However, knowing when to plant your tomato plants in a greenhouse is crucial. In this context, you need to decide whether you are growing tomatoes in a heated greenhouse or an un-heated one.
It is best to sow tomatoes between January and early February in a heated greenhouse or a propagator.
Here, a few points deserve attention. First, you must ensure there is no risk of a frost occurring if you intend to cultivate tomatoes in an unheated greenhouse directly. Additionally, remember that tomatoes are a crop that loves the sun.
So your tomato seeds have a better chance of growing healthy and robust the higher the temperature is when you plant them. For this crop, germination temperatures should range from 21 to 27 °C.
Finally, to speed up the sowing process, you can heat the greenhouse to the proper temperature before planting the tomatoes.
Growing Your Tomato Plants
As your tomato plants start to flower and the truss is starting to open, it is time to move your plants to a larger plant pot or growing bag, spacing the plants around 20-24 inches apart.
Make sure you prepare these first by hardening your tomatoes if you are planning to grow them outside. This is best done around the end of May when the temperature rises and they are less prone to frost exposure.
Those choosing to grow cordon tomatoes will need to support their plants, this can be done with a stick or a bamboo cane, using string to secure the main stem. With bush tomatoes, you are fine to leave them to grow in their basket or planting apparatus, although it is recommended that any obtrusive leaves are cut to ensure the plant is receiving appropriate sun exposure.
Keep compost moist and plants consistently watered, as well as feeding them with a liquid fertilizer every 10-14 days. Potash should be used instead of fertilizer once the fruits start to grow. Make sure to click here to see our list of fertilizers that you should be using on your tomatoes.
When to Harvest Tomatoes?
Tomato plants don’t take long to grow and produce fruit, usually somewhere between 40 – 60 days depending on conditions. You can harvest your tomatoes as soon as they look ripe and at full color. If you see any tomatoes that aren’t ripe by the end of the season, then you can simply ripen them somewhere dark and warm, or under cloches if applicable.
Suitable Pairings for Tomatoes
It’s unlikely that you will only grow tomatoes in your garden, and some plants pair excellently with tomatoes making them easier to grow and not obstructing them in any way. Tomatoes pair excellently with asparagus, parsley, basil, carrots, and mint to name a few, but you can check out our full guide here. Not only will a good pairing make your garden look fantastic, but it will also aid in keeping your tomato resistant to disease.
How to Troubleshoot Tomato Problems?
Fresh tomatoes from your own garden are the best! But to produce fresh, juicy, and plumpy tomatoes, you should know how to troubleshoot tomato problems.
Aphids and Whitefly
Sap-sucking insects like aphids and whiteflies can ruin tomatoes by consuming their juice. Use a water jet on the plant to eliminate a minor infestation. Spraying soapy water can be beneficial as well.
Another choice is to grow tomato plants next to plants that deter insects, such as marigolds. These plants will draw predators of aphids and whiteflies, like ladybugs and hoverflies. Finally, you can purchase commercial fungicides or neem oils for serious infestations.
Blossom End Rot
Have you ever noticed that tomato blossom ends have black hollow patches? These patches are called blossom end rot. The lack of calcium in the plants as a result of dry soil conditions is the cause of this disease.
Therefore, you must never let your tomato plants dry if you want to handle this problem. Instead, maintain steady soil moisture by mulching on hot summer days. Apply a calcium spray if your plants need more calcium. Additionally, feeding your tomato plant with a liquid tomato fertilizer can be beneficial.
These tiny mites are found on the underparts of plant leaves. Spider mites may quickly damage any plant by weakening them. You may control its infestation by constantly moistening your plant, especially in hot, dry climates. Spray a light mist of water over the plant if spider mites attack. You can also prune the impacted stems and leaves to break the infestation cycle.
Cracks in Fruit
Cracks in concentric circles can form on ripe tomatoes. Cracks occur when tomatoes remain thirsty for a long time and soak in too much water when it rains to quench the thirst. Insects use these fissures to assault the fruits.
Regular adequate watering can be used during the growing season to manage these cracks. This will stop the plants from becoming thirsty for excessive time and using too much rainwater during a downpour.
One of the worst problems your tomato plants may face is the issue of tomato hornworms. Tomato Hornworm is a caterpillar that chews holes in tomato fruits. If you notice any hornworm, you must immediately remove it manually.
If your tomato plants bear flowers but not fruit, you may be suffering from blossom or flower drop issues. This issue arises when tomato plants do not receive the ideal temperature to flourish.
Although you may not always control the temperature, you can feed it with fertilizer to ensure that the plant’s overall health remains ideal. You can also lure in pollinators to ensure timely pollination of seeds.
As hot and muggy months approach, tomato plants are susceptible to developing fungal illnesses like early blight. This disease results in dark patches on the plant’s lower leaves that grow larger and develop into overlapping circles resembling a bull’s eye.
You should pinch off the affected leaves all season long to eliminate the problem. Additionally, copper and sulfur sprays can stop the disease from spreading.
The tomato plant can also be infected by late blight, which is more severe and can swiftly kill the plant. As soon as you identify plants with late blight, uproot and eliminate them. Spraying the leaves with an authorized fungicide, such as chlorothalonil or copper, is the most effective technique to control the disease. Additionally, keep all trash out of your garden.
Wilted, Yellow Leaves
Tomato leaves can become wilted in either too damp or too dry soil. So please pay attention to the plant’s watering cycle. Avoid drowning or overwatering tomato plants. During hot summer days, water several times a week. Furthermore, water deeply, and if your plants are growing in planters, ensure they have sufficient drainage holes.
What if you see half-eaten tomatoes? Well, that means you have critters around your plants. For example, we often notice squirrels or chipmunks feeding on ripe tomatoes. Wrapping your tomatoes with bird netting made of plastic is the best defense against pests.
The answer to the above query will depend on the first frost date in your region and the number of days your chosen tomato variety needs to reach maturity. Most regions’ latest time to grow tomatoes is between late June and August. Here, remember that there should be fewer days before the tomatoes reach maturity than until the first frost date.
It is pretty easy for beginners to grow tomatoes. Follow the steps below for ensured success in tomato plantation.
• Start planting your tomato early in late spring and early summer.
• Start with starter plants instead of seeds if you are a beginner.
• You’ll have fewer worries if you choose kinds that are resistant to illness.
• Tomatoes should be planted in a sunny area with 4 to 6 hours of sunlight daily.
• Select a soil that has a pH between 6.2 and 6.8.
• Give the tomato plants a cage or trellis to support their growth. These will serve as their physical pillars.
• Give the plants enough room to grow. Tomato plants with long vines and indeterminate kinds should be spaced at least 3 feet apart. The gap should be kept at 2 feet for the larger determinate plants.
• Compost your plants.
• Mulching needs to be done in 2-3 inches.
• Hydrate frequently.
If you want to encourage the leafy growth of your plant, you should pinch off tomato flowers before they bloom. Doing so would adjust the plant’s hormones to continue growing foliage.
Strive to water your plant at least an inch every week during the summer. Additionally, remember that tomato plants grown in containers require more watering than those grown in the garden or outdoors on the soil. In light of the foregoing, check the soil by feeling it; if the top inch seems dry, it might be time to water your plant.
Yes, tomatoes are sun-loving veggies. It will help if you plant your tomato plants in a spot that receives at least 4-6 hours of direct sunlight. However, if you live in southern zones, it is better to protect tomato plants from the scorching sunlight of the afternoons. To do so, you can cover your plants with a shade cloth to help give them some relief.
Do you want to accelerate the growth of your tomato plants? Follow the tips below.
• Select a fast-maturing variety
• Protect the plant from wind and chill
• Warm up the soil temperature
• Apply mulch to up to 2 inches
• Feed your plant with organic compost
• Provide physical support for the growth of your plant
Yes, you may add coffee grounds to your soil to improve it. This would promote the development of beneficial bacteria in the soil, enhancing the soil’s structure. Some gardeners think that coffee grounds can gradually increase the nutrient levels in the soil by acting as a slow-releasing fertilizer for tomato plants.
You get sweeter tomatoes if you apply baking soda into the soil. This component gets absorbed in the soil and reduces its acidity levels. However, this is not a scientifically backed theory. Some other benefits of applying baking soda to the soil include the following:
• Prevent the fungal disease called blight
• Kills pests like aphids, snails, slugs, etc.
• Prevents powdery mildew
The level of soil nutrients in your garden will determine which fertilizer is ideal for your tomato plants. So, before you plant tomato seeds or seedlings, have your soil analyzed. However, for most tomato plants, a fertilizer with a slightly lower nitrogen content and a greater phosphorus content (5-10-5 or a 5-10-10) should be optimum. However, if your soil is nitrogen deficient, use a formula like 8-8-8 or 10-10-10.
Yes, putting egg shells in the compost can boost the soil’s nutrient level.
Overall, tomatoes aren’t a difficult plant to grow but do take planning and routine care to ensure you get the best yield. They’re a plant that can be well suited to a fledgling gardener or hobbyist that is looking to expand their horticultural repertoire. If you’re generally looking for tips on building a new garden, why not check out this guide for the best time to plant a whole host of other plants.