From planting your first seedlings to ripening fruit
Marie Iannotti is a life-long gardener and a veteran Master Gardener with nearly three decades of experience. She's also an author of three gardening books, a plant photographer, public speaker, and a former Cornell Cooperative Extension Horticulture Educator. Marie's garden writing has been featured in newspapers and magazines nationwide and she has been interviewed for Martha Stewart Radio, National Public Radio, and numerous articles.
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Updated on 08/23/22
Reviewed byJulie Thompson-Adolf
Julie Thompson-Adolf is a Master Gardener and author. She has 30+ years of experience with year-round organic gardening; seed starting and saving; growing heirloom plants, perennials, and annuals; and sustainable and urban farming.
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Fact checked bySarah Scott
Sarah Scott is a fact-checker and researcher who has worked in the custom home building industry in sales, marketing, and design.
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Growing tomatoes is often the impetus for starting a vegetable garden, and every tomato lover dreams of growing the ultimate tomato: firm but juicy, sweet but tangy, aromatic, and blemish-free.
Unfortunately, there are few vegetables that are prone to more problems than tomatoes. The trick to growing great-tasting tomatoes is to choose the best varieties, start the plants off right, and control problems before they happen. Start here with some time-tested tomato growing tips to ensure your tomato bragging rights this year.
8 Things You Can Do To Get More Tomatoes This Year
01 of 10
Don't Crowd Tomato Seedlings
If you are starting tomatoes from seed, give the seedlings plenty of room to branch out. Yes, that means thinning the seedlings to one strong plant per cell or small pot. Snip the weaker, smaller seedlings in favor of the best grower. Crowded conditions inhibit their growth, which stresses them and leads to disease later on.
Transplant tomato seedlings into their own 4-inch pots shortly after they get their first set of true leaves.
02 of 10
Provide Lots of Light
Tomato seedlings need strong, direct light. Days are short during winter, so even placing them near a sunny window may not provide them with sufficient natural light. Unless you are growing them in a greenhouse, your best option is to use some type of artificial plant lighting for 14 to 18 hours every day.
To ensure the tomato plants grow stocky, not spindly, keep the young plants only a couple of inches from fluorescent grow lights. You will need to raise the lights (or lower the plants) as the seedlings grow. When you're ready to plant them outside, choose the sunniest part of your vegetable garden as their location.
03 of 10
Turn a Fan On
Tomato plants need to move and sway in the breeze to develop strong stems. That happens naturally outdoors, but if you start your seedlings inside, you need to provide some type of air circulation. Create a breeze by turning a fan on them for five to 10 minutes, twice a day. That small amount of time will make a big difference.
Another option is to ruffle the tomato plants by gently rubbing your hand back and forth across their tops for a few minutes, several times a day. It's a bit more effort, but their wonderful tomato scent will rub off on you as a bonus.
04 of 10
Preheat the Garden Soil
Tomatoes love heat. They won't really start to grow until both the soil and air temperatures remain warm. You can speed things up in the soil by covering the planting area with black or red plastic a couple of weeks before you intend to plant. Those extra degrees of soil warmth will translate into earlier tomatoes.
You can lift the plastic before you plant, but some research contends that red plastic mulch has the added benefit of increasing your tomato yield.
Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Bury the Stems
Plant your tomato plants deeper than they come in the pot, all the way up to the top few leaves. When planted this way, tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems. And more roots make for a stronger plant.
You can either dig a deep hole or simply dig a shallow trench and lay the plant sideways. It will quickly straighten itself up and grow toward the sun. Just be careful not to drive your tomato stake or cage into the buried stem.
06 of 10
Mulch Tomatoes After the Soil Has Warmed
If you are not going to leave plastic on the soil, hold off on putting down mulch until after the ground has had a chance to warm up. Although mulching conserves water and prevents the soil and soilborne diseases from splashing up on the plants, if you put it down too early, it will also shade and cool the soil. Because tomatoes love heat, allow the sun to warm the soil in the spring. After temperatures remain warm, both during the day and at night, you can add a layer of mulch to retain moisture.
07 of 10
Remove the Bottom Leaves
After your tomato plants reach about 2 to 3 feet tall, remove the leaves from the bottom foot of the stem. These are the oldest leaves, and they are usually the first leaves to develop fungus problems. As the plants fill out, the bottom leaves get the least amount of sun and airflow. Because these leaves sit close to the ground, soilborne pathogens can easily splash up onto them. Removing them helps prevent fungal diseases from taking hold. Spraying weekly with compost tea also seems to be effective at warding off fungal diseases.
08 of 10
Pinch and Prune for More Tomatoes
Pinch and remove suckers that develop in the crotch joint of two branches. They won’t bear fruit and will take energy away from the rest of the plant.
However, go easy on pruning the rest of the plant. You can thin out a few leaves to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruit, but it's the leaves that are photosynthesizing and creating the sugars that give flavor to your tomatoes. Fewer leaves will mean fewer sweet tomatoes.
Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Water deeply and regularly while the fruits are developing. Irregular watering—missing a week and trying to make up for it—leads to blossom end rot (a calcium deficiency) and cracking and splitting. The rule of thumb is to ensure your plants get at least 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, but during hot, dry spells, they may need more. If your plants start to look wilted for most of the day, give them a drink.
After the fruit begins to ripen, you can ease up on the watering. Lessening the water will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars, for better flavor. Use your judgment. Don’t withhold water so much that the plants continually wilt and become stressed or they will drop their blossoms and possibly their fruit.
10 of 10
Getting Your Tomato Plants to Set Tomatoes
Tomatoes' ripening is pretty much at the mercy of the weather, but sometimes we can help things along. Pinching off the tips of the main stems in early summer will encourage indeterminate tomatoes (those with fruit available continuously) to start putting their energy into flowering.(Video) GROW Tomatoes Using EGGS as Fertiliser What Happens?
Indeterminate tomatoes like to grow tall before they start setting fruits, so don't be alarmed if your tomato plants aren't flowering for their first month or two. Pinching is also a handy trick toward the end of the summerwhen you want the last tomatoes to hurry up and ripen.
It shouldn't be a problem getting determinate tomatoes (those that ripen all at once) to set fruit unless weather conditions are unfavorable and cause a condition aptly named "blossom drop."
What is the proper spacing for tomato plants?
Proper spacing for tomato plants depends on whether the variety is determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes (those that set all their fruit within a short prescribed period) are usually small, compact plants that should be spaced at least 2 feet apart. Indeterminate tomatoes (which continue to produce fruit for many weeks) are large, sprawling plants that should be spaced at least 2.5 to 3 feet apart, and usually should be supported by wire cages.
When should tomatoes be planted?
Tomatoes like warm soil, so they should not be planted outdoors until soil temps reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Another rule of thumb is to wait until nighttime temperatures stay reliably above 50 degrees. Many people start their tomato seeds indoors at least four to six weeks before the last frost date to give them a head start on the two to three months it takes for them to produce fruit.
What size pot should I use for growing tomatoes?
Smaller, determinate varieties of tomatoes require a pot at least 18 inches in diameter. Larger, indeterminate tomatoes should be planted in pots at least 24 inches in diameter.
Everything You Need to Know About Growing Tomatoes
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum). University of California, Davis, Vegetable Research and Information Center.
Rajablariani, Hamid Reza. Effect of Colored Plastic Mulches on Yield of Tomato and Weed Biomass. International Journal of Environmental Science and Development, vol. 3, no. 6, 2012. doi:10.7763/IJESD.2012.V3.291
Conserving Water Through the Use of Mulch in Our Landscapes. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Steps to Prevent and Manage Tomato Leaf Spot Disease. Home and Garden Information Center, University of Maryland Extension.
Blossom End Rot. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Horticulture.
Blossom Drop in Tomato. Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Extension.
Straw, shredded leaves and grass clippings are all excellent choices for mulching your tomato plants. A thick four to 6 inch layer of these organic materials can certainly do the trick.Which fertilizer is best for tomato growth? ›
Some growers prefer to use a high-phosphorus fertilizer, indicated by a larger middle number. You can also keep things simple with a fertilizer especially formulated for tomatoes – usually with a ratio like 3-4-6 or 4-7-10. Most importantly, don't over-fertilize. Too little fertilizer is always better than too much.Do you use Epsom salt on tomatoes? ›
Unnecessary additives that are not taken up by plants — including Epsom salt — can contaminate ground water. Adding Epsom salt to the soil tomatoes are growing in can actually promote blossom-end rot, a truly disappointing garden woe. The tomatoes start to bear fruit and then rot on the bottom.Do you put Epsom salt in hole when planting tomatoes? ›
Tomatoes suffer from magnesium deficiency. That is why it's a good idea to add 1 or 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt while transplanting the seedling to the bottom of the planting hole (both in containers or a garden bed).Should I put Miracle Grow on my tomato plants? ›
This water soluble fertilizer grows bigger, more bountiful vegetables (compared to unfed plants). It feeds instantly, and is great to use on all types of vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, and carrots. Use watering can or Miracle-Gro Garden Feeder to apply.Is it good to put miracle grow on tomato plants? ›
Overview & Benefits. Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Tomato Plant Food instantly feeds to grow bigger, more bountiful tomatoes and vegetables compared to unfed plants. Use our plant food with the Miracle-Gro® Garden Feeder or any watering can, and feed every 1-2 weeks. Safe for all plants when used as directed.Do coffee grounds help tomato plants? ›
Coffee grounds contain around 2% nitrogen as well as varying amounts of phosphorus and potassium which are all very important for the growth of tomato plants. By mixing some coffee grounds into the soil below your tomato plants you're introducing these nutrients that the plants need to thrive.What plants should not be near tomatoes? ›
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi can stunt the growth of your tomato plant because they out-compete them for the same nutrients. These vegetables are in the brassica family.What happens if you plant tomatoes too close together? ›
If tomatoes are planted so closely together that sunlight and air can't dry out the leaves, the plants will be more likely to develop harmful diseases. Stunted Growth – Plants in your garden compete for resources like water, nutrients in the soil and sunlight.Does baking soda help tomato plants? ›
What is this? Its alkaline properties are the key. By spritzing a baking soda solution on your tomato plants, the surface becomes more alkaline, creating an unsuitable environment for blight to take hold. You'll prevent any blight from growing or stop any spread dead in its tracks.
Compost is the Base
Compost is truly the best thing for tomato plants. Ideally, you'll have access to homemade compost that you put together from veggie scraps and other materials around your home, but if not, look for organic compost at the store.
Tomatoes need potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus to grow. Other essential nutrients include zinc, copper, iron and sulfur, but your plant won't grow without the "big three."Can I pour milk on my tomato plants? ›
The same properties that make milk good for a human, such as the calcium and B vitamins, are what benefits plants. The calcium helps the plants grow, as well as prevent blossom end rot, which can be caused by a calcium deficiency. This condition is common in tomato, peppers, and squash plants.How often should you put Epsom salt on tomato plants? ›
Make up a solution of about a teaspoon of Epsom salts per litre (quarter gallon) of water in a spray bottle. Simply wet the foliage on your tomato plants every two weeks using a fine spray setting. It will quickly be absorbed by the leaves. Avoid spraying on hot, sunny days or when rain is imminent.When should I stop watering my tomato plants? ›
Tomatoes taste great with reduced irrigation. The secret is to keep plants well watered as they establish then reduce watering once the fruits start to ripen.What should I add to my soil before planting tomatoes? ›
Compost and composted manure are great additions to the soil for tomatoes and lots of other plants. Compost adds basic nutrients and improves soil structure. Composted manure provides nutrients all season long. Composted manure: This provides a slow release of nutrients over the growing season.How does aspirin help tomato plants? ›
The Daily Mail reports that spraying tomato plants or soaking seeds in an aspirin solution can ward off blight, a powerful fungal disease known to wipe out crops in a matter of days.Why put an egg in the hole when planting tomatoes? ›
As tomato gardeners will know, tomatoes love their calcium. Adding eggshells to your planting hole will provide a boost of calcium to the plants over time as the eggshells decompose.Why are my tomato plants blooming but not producing tomatoes? ›
It's not getting nearly enough light.
Tomato plants require FULL sun for a minimum of 6-8 hours. Without the proper energy, you'll be left with a lot of blooms and little fruit.
Tomato seedlings can be watered with Miracle-Gro as soon as they have their first set of true leaves, but go lightly. Scott's recommends a dilution rate of 1 teaspoon per gallon of water for inside plants. Apply the solution every 7 to 14 days.
Answer: Per the manufacturer, Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food can be applied at anytime. If plants are experiencing drought or really dry soil, then it is suggested to water the plant before applying the product.When should I fertilize tomatoes? ›
When To Fertilize. Tomatoes only need to be fertilized at two stages of growth – soon after planting and just before fruiting. Some gardeners like to apply the first round of fertilizer while transplanting. They either mix it with the soil or leave it at the bottom of the planting hole.What should you not use Miracle Grow on? ›
Anything with the Miracle-Gro label should be avoided entirely: Bagged potting soil and garden soil, 'Shake n Feed,' that blue stuff, and yes, even so-called “Organic” Miracle-Gro products should be entirely avoided.Can you sprinkle miracle grow on soil? ›
Continuous release plant foods, such as Miracle-Gro® Shake 'N Feed® All Purpose Plant Food, usually comes in granular form, and the nutrients are released slowly over time. Mix this type of fertilizer directly into the soil surrounding the plant.Are banana peels good for tomato plants? ›
This means potassium-rich banana peels are excellent for plants like tomatoes, peppers or flowers. Banana peels also contain calcium, which prevents blossom end rot in tomatoes.Is eggshells good for tomato plants? ›
Crushed egg shells are chock-full of nutrients. Nutrients that can both energize your tomato plants, and protect them from blossom end rot.Which plants do not like used coffee grounds? ›
In most cases, the grounds are too acidic to be used directly on soil, even for acid-loving plants like blueberries, azaleas and hollies. Coffee grounds inhibit the growth of some plants, including geranium, asparagus fern, Chinese mustard and Italian ryegrass.What are the worst companion plants for tomatoes? ›
What are bad companion plants for tomatoes? Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and other brassicas. Brassicas, including broccoli, cabbage, rutabaga, and cauliflower, will compete for nutrients with tomatoes, as both brassicas and tomatoes are heavy feeders.Is it OK to put grass clippings around tomato plants? ›
Grass Clippings: If you apply organic lawn fertilizer, dry grass clippings are a great option. They mat together to protect plants and retain heat. Straw: Straw makes great mulch for tomatoes. But stay away from hay, as it's full of seeds.What do you Underplant tomatoes with? ›
- Basil. Basil and tomatoes are soulmates on and off the plate. ...
- Parsley. ...
- Garlic. ...
- Borage and squash. ...
- French marigolds and nasturtiums. ...
- Asparagus. ...
The reality is that because the two have similar growth requirements, they can in fact be grown quite successfully together. Diseases common to both tomato and pepper include Verticillium wilt and bacterial spot.How many marigolds do you get from a tomato plant? ›
As they sprout we thin to 4 to 5 plants around each tomato. For container plants, we use either seeds or small marigold transplants in the containers right beside the tomato plants. With containers, we usually plant or leave one or two growing alongside, depending on the container size.Do tomatoes grow better in pots or in the ground? ›
Tomato plants perform best in soil that is loose, rich, and drains well, which means they translate easily to container gardens—especially more compact determinate tomatoes, or bush varieties. Indeterminate tomato varieties that grow larger have more extensive root systems and do better planted directly in the ground.Can you plant tomatoes 1 ft apart? ›
“Tomatoes require plenty of room to grow well,” write the UC ANR advisors. They recommend spacing tomato plants two feet or more apart.Can you plant tomatoes too deep? ›
We know, we know. This goes against everything you've ever heard about "don't plant too deep or you'll kill the plant." Tomatoes break that rule because they actually have the ability to sprout additional roots along the buried stem.Can you plant tomatoes 12 inches apart? ›
The ideal spacing between successive plants ranges from 12-24 inches. For large varieties, 18-24 inches of space between plants is recommended.
Soda Pop as Fertilizer
Club soda or carbonated water contain the macronutrients carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorous, potassium sulfur, and sodium that are essential for healthy plant growth. The absorption of these nutrients encourages more rapid growth in the plant.
Aim For 7–8 Hours of Direct Sun. Tomato plants love the sun, so you'll get the best results by growing them somewhere with as much direct sunlight as possible. While tomato plants can survive on 6 hours of direct sun per day, they'll be happiest with 7–8 hours.What is the best fertilizer mix for tomatoes? ›
Some growers prefer to use a high-phosphorus fertilizer, indicated by a larger middle number. You can also keep things simple with a fertilizer especially formulated for tomatoes – usually with a ratio like 3-4-6 or 4-7-10. Most importantly, don't over-fertilize. Too little fertilizer is always better than too much.How can I make my tomatoes grow stronger? ›
- Choose a Fast-Maturing Variety. ...
- Warm Up the Soil. ...
- Harden Off Plants. ...
- Protect Young Tomato Plants from Wind and Chill. ...
- Wait to Apply Mulch. ...
- Support Plants.
This water soluble fertilizer grows bigger, more bountiful vegetables (compared to unfed plants). It feeds instantly, and is great to use on all types of vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, and carrots. Use watering can or Miracle-Gro Garden Feeder to apply.What do you feed tomatoes when fruiting? ›
Once your plants start to set fruit, you can begin to fertilize tomatoes again. At that point, it's easiest to use a diluted liquid fertilizer or “fertilizer tea” and fertilize around your tomato plants every couple of weeks until the end of the harvest period.Are coffee grounds good for tomato plants? ›
Coffee grounds contain around 2% nitrogen as well as varying amounts of phosphorus and potassium which are all very important for the growth of tomato plants. By mixing some coffee grounds into the soil below your tomato plants you're introducing these nutrients that the plants need to thrive.How often do you water tomatoes? ›
Water newly planted tomatoes well to make sure soil is moist and ideal for growing. Early in the growing season, watering plants daily in the morning. As temperatures increase, you might need to water tomato plants twice a day. Garden tomatoes typically require 1-2 inches of water a week.What is a good homemade fertilizer for tomatoes? ›
Coffee Grounds or Tea Leaves
Great for helping tomatoes grow. Both coffee grounds and tea leaves contain low levels of nitrogen. Tomato plants need nitrogen at all levels of growth, but less is needed during the last phase.
Its alkaline properties are the key. By spritzing a baking soda solution on your tomato plants, the surface becomes more alkaline, creating an unsuitable environment for blight to take hold. You'll prevent any blight from growing or stop any spread dead in its tracks.How much Epsom salt do I put around tomato plants? ›
Make up a solution of about a teaspoon of Epsom salts per litre (quarter gallon) of water in a spray bottle. Simply wet the foliage on your tomato plants every two weeks using a fine spray setting. It will quickly be absorbed by the leaves. Avoid spraying on hot, sunny days or when rain is imminent.Are eggshells good for growing tomatoes? ›
Crushed egg shells are chock-full of nutrients. Nutrients that can both energize your tomato plants, and protect them from blossom end rot.Should you water tomatoes every day in hot weather? ›
In areas with sandy, fast-draining soil, like parts of the Southwest, South Florida, and Coastal South, you may need to water plants daily or even twice a day during the hottest days of summer. No matter where you live, drip irrigation is probably the best, most economical watering option.What are the signs of overwatering tomato plants? ›
Overwatered plants may have wilted or yellowed stems and leaves, or the leaves might develop bumps and blisters or fall off entirely if plants continue to get too much water. Another way to tell overwatered plants from underwatered ones, once the case is severe enough, is to check the roots.
Reduce watering, but don't stop it altogether. Tomatoes are 90+% water - they continue to need water as they ripen. But it's true that reducing the amount of moisture they get will help speed ripening along. Be sure to keep track of rainfall.How often should I put Miracle Grow on my tomato plants? ›
- Fill your garden with big, bountiful vegetables when you use Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Tomato Plant Food.
- Water soluble fertilizer starts to work instantly to promote beautiful results.
- Apply every 7 to 14 days so your plants can flourish throughout the season.
To boost fruiting, especially with plants in containers, feed every 10–14 days with a high potassium liquid fertiliser once the first fruits start to swell.Do you feed tomato plants everyday? ›
In a similar way, start feeding the tomatoes when the flowers appear, perhaps every two weeks, moving to every week as the plant grows in vigour and twice weekly when the fruits are plentiful.