We can never get enough garden tomatoes—or tips—on growing the ultimate backyard crop! While tomatoes aren’t necessarily hard to grow, some knowledge is required in order to avoid common pitfalls. Toward that end, here are our top 10 tricks for growing tons of trouble-free tomatoes, including a few secrets for boosting your tomato nutrition for a bigger harvest.
1. Did you choose the right variety?
It may seem obvious, but the varieties you grow need to be suited to your climate. Choose cool-climate varieties for regions with shorter growing seasons and hot-climate varieties for very warm regions in order to ensure they can still produce fruit in summer.
Some tomatoes are more susceptible to disease than others, so look out for variety descriptions that promise good resistance to diseases such as blight. You may also want to seek out varieties known to give an early harvest, heavy yields, and, of course, superior flavor—or all of the above!
Climate: If you live in a northern, cooler climate, your tomatoes may have a limited time to turn red. Look for varieties that are for cool climates and short seasons such as ‘Early Girl’ (matures only 50 days after planting); most other short-season varieties will be cherry tomatoes. There are also tomato varieties that are heat-tolerant and best for hot Southern gardens such as ‘Heatmaster’ and ‘Arkansas Traveler’. See Bonnie Plants’ Tomato Chooser to find the variety with the traits that fit what you’re looking for.
Type of tomato: Do you want tomatoes for pasta and sauce? Or, a great slicer? Or bite-sized? Romas, plum, or “paste” tomatoes are excellent for cooking because they contain plenty of flesh for sauces. Beefsteaks are chunky and juicy, so are great in salads and on burgers. Cherry tomatoes have the sweetest taste and are wonderful as snacks and for children. See our post on growing cherry tomatoes!
Growing habit: Tomatoes are either determinate or indeterminate. Learn the difference and remember that indeterminates must be staked early to avoid disease!
2. Did you provide heat and sunshine?
Tomatoes are heat-lovers. Be careful not to plant tomatoes in the ground too soon. Your soil temperature must be consistently over 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 18°C). Warm the soil with black plastic a couple of weeks before you intend to plant. If it’s still iffy, protect seedlings from the cold with sheets or row covers.
Tomates LOVE sunshine! A position in full sun (that means an average of at least six hours a day) gives the best results in most areas, though if you’re in a hot climate you can get away with dappled shade.
If you are planting from seeds. If you are seeding yourself, it is critical to provide strong, direct light. (Note: If it’s after your frost date, it’s too late to sow tomatoes from seed. Buy transplants instead.) For seeding and young seedlings, northern gardeners should use grow lights 14 to 18 hours a day to provide an early boost and promote upright growth. Without enough light, your plants will be spindley and not have a good start to life. Learn how to start tomatoes from seed.
3. Did you provide the right growing conditions?
Add plenty of organic matter in advance of planting. Quality garden compost or well-rotted manure, applied lavishly, can supply enough nutrients to last the entire season, and will help with retaining moisture—a lifesaver during the heat of summer! Two weeks before planting your tomato plants outdoors, beef up that soil! Dig into soil about 1 foot deep and mix in aged manure or compost.
Tomato plants also need space – not only to reach their full potential, but to encourage a good flow of air between plants, which should help to reduce the threat of disease. In most cases, this means leaving at least two feet (60cm) between plants.
Finally: Don’t plant tomatoes in a garden bed that’s grown the same plant family (for instance, potatoes, eggplants, or peppers) within the past two years.
Keep these tips in mind to grow tons of tomatoes.