Tomatoes grown in your own garden have a flavor that is absolutely transcendent. Growing tomatoes at home, even just one in a pot, is one of life’s true delights and is not to be missed.
If you love garden-fresh tomatoes, you may be willing to try almost anything for earlier ripening, more flavor, or longer lasting crops. Read on to discover everything you need to know about how to successfully grow your own tomatoes.
Our Favorite Tomato Varieties to Grow
- Cherry Tomatoes: Sungold, Sunsugar, Chocolate Cherry, Isis Candy, Snow White, Golden Sweet
- Beefsteak or Large Slicer Tomatoes: Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Pineapple, Amana Orange
- Medium Slicer or Salad Tomatoes: Black Krim, Goliath
- Paste Tomatoes: San Marzano, Roma
- Cold-Tolerant Early Tomatoes: Bloody Butcher, Moskovich, Stupice
Sun Exposure & Temperature Requirements for Tomatoes
- Full sun is best—at least 6-8 hours. Full sun conditions allow tomatoes to produce more sugars and flavor compounds and to ripen fruit earlier.
- If your garden area gets less than 6 hours of sun, try smaller cherry tomato varieties for your best chance at success.
- Tomatoes should not be planted out too early. Soil temperature should reach 60°F for several days and nighttime temperatures should be above 50°F for tomatoes to grow successfully. These conditions usually arrive mid-May—best planting time is often around Mother’s Day.
Planting & Soil Needs for Tomatoes
Growing Tomatoes in the Ground or Raised Beds
- Always amend soil for raised garden beds and in-ground plantings. It is best to add 30–50% compost and other amendments to native soil; use G&B Harvest Supreme Soil Amendment, Malibu Compost, or G&B Soil Building Conditioner. You can also create your own homemade planting mix (see “recipe” below).
- Amendments also become nutrients for microorganisms to feed on after decomposing.
DIY Tomato Planting Mix Recipe
(also great for Peppers, Squash, and Eggplant)
- ½ cup bone meal
- ½ cup dolomite lime
- ¼ cup organic veggie fertilizer
- 1–2 handfuls worm castings
- 1 shovelful G&B Harvest Supreme
Add DIY Tomato Planting Mix to bottom of planting hole and mix with soil and compost. Remove the lowest few leaves from the stem, and plant tomato several inches deeper, burying the main stem to encourage a larger root system.
Growing Tomatoes in Containers
- Premium organic potting soil contains everything you need to grow tomatoes in containers.
- We recommend G&B Organic Potting Soil or Malibu Compost Baby Bu’s Potting Soil. Add worm castings and organic fertilizer; mix together to complete the potting mix.
- Container size: Use a 15-gallon nursery container (holds 2 cu. ft. potting soil) or larger for “indeterminate varieties”. “Determinate varieties” (shorter plants) can be grown in a 5-gallon nursery container (holds almost 1 cu. ft. potting soil) or larger.
How to Fertilize Tomatoes
- Granular or pelletized organic fertilizers are slow-release and provide a complete source of nutrition that keeps the plant productive and soil healthy.
- G&B Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer contains 10% calcium, which aids in fruit development.
- Most fertilizers are applied every 4–6 weeks; make sure to read the application rates on each label. As the season progresses and plants grow, supplemental liquid feeding may be beneficial.
Supporting Tomato Plants
- A trellis, cage, or stakes may be necessary to keep vines and tomatoes off the ground. Indeterminate plants can grow 6–20+ feet long; buy the largest wire cage available for these. A medium cage is sufficient for determinate plants, which grow much smaller.
- Stake the same day you plant! If you return a week or so later, you may damage new roots growing away from the main root mass.
- Pruning is optional and can be done based on your support system or as time allows; be careful not to remove too much foliage—delicate tomato fruits can sunburn!
Watering Tomato Plants
- Deep watering at regular intervals is the best way to establish a healthy root system.
- The best time to water is when the foliage is drooping in the cool morning air. Don’t be fooled by drooping foliage during mid-day as an indication of needing water; this is natural in mid-morning or afternoon heat.
- Deep watering is key; a slow drip from the hose for at least 20 minutes is advised. Apply water again only when the foliage is drooping in the cool early morning. Count the intervals between watering to determine your ideal interval.
- Watering frequency and duration will vary based on growing conditions: size/type of container, in-ground, sun exposure, soil type, etc.
Tomato Pests & Diseases
- Choose disease-resistant varieties for a sustained harvest or if you’ve had previous issues with disease. Unfortunately, most heirloom tomato varieties generally have poor disease resistance. However, disease is not usually a problem until mid-season.
- Blossom-end rot (a hard, dark patch at the blossom end of the fruit) is prevented by ensuring an adequate level of soil calcium and steady, consistent moisture. Temperature is usually a major factor in the cause of blossom-end rot, but this is typically solved naturally when soil temperatures rise and calcium in the soil is released.
- For the most part, tomatoes are pretty resilient to pests. Even so, aphids, white flies, flea beetles, spider mites, and little green worms (loopers) are common invaders.
- To treat pests, spray with a fast jet of water or apply organic products for control.
- Using organic fertilizers with probiotics helps plants stay healthy and reduces stress from environmental conditions; it also makes them less likely to become infested with pests.
Harvesting Tomatoes & Flavor
- Complete plant nutrition has a great effect on tomato taste. Plant stress like insects, disease, or adverse weather can lead to “off flavors”.
- Tomatoes are best stored at temperatures above 50°F. Avoid placing freshly harvested tomatoes in the refrigerator; this can destroy the delicate flavor by turning the sugars to starch.
- Overwatering is a common mistake that leads to watery-tasting fruit; liquids dilute the sugars in the plant’s vascular system. It is best to harvest your fruit 24–48 hours after watering to allow a more concentrated stream of sugars to be stored in the fruit and trapped when harvested.