Are you a beginner gardener interested in growing your own tomatoes? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Growing tomatoes is a popular activity among beginner gardeners. You can start by either planting seeds indoors or buying young plants and growing them in pots, on the ground, or in a greenhouse. To grow healthy tomato plants, you need to pay attention to their needs, including protection from frost, regular watering, and feeding. However, the reward of enjoying your own freshly picked, sun-ripened, and delicious tomatoes all summer makes it worth the effort. In this care guide, we will take you through everything you need to know to grow your own tomatoes, including choosing the right variety, sowing seeds, potting on, planting, and harvesting.
How to grow tomatoes:
- Choose the right variety of tomatoes for your climate.
- Plant tomatoes in full sun.
- Amend the soil with compost or manure.
- Water tomatoes regularly, especially during hot weather.
- Fertilise tomatoes every few weeks.
- Support tomatoes with stakes or cages.
- Harvest tomatoes when ripe.
Growing your own tomatoes is a popular activity among beginner gardeners. These tender plants require a warm and sunny spot, especially outside. Tomatoes love a long hot summer, and they thrive better in a greenhouse, producing an early and larger crop compared to outdoor plants. Additionally, they are less prone to blight disease in a greenhouse.
To grow healthy tomato plants, you need to pay attention to their needs. They require protection from frost, regular watering, and feeding. However, the reward of enjoying your own freshly picked, sun-ripened, and delicious tomatoes all summer makes an effort worthwhile. Moreover, growing your own tomatoes provides an opportunity to select from a wide variety of shapes, flavours, textures, and colours that you cannot find in supermarkets.
Tomatoes come in various sizes suitable for different growing locations and space availability. Cordon varieties are tall and vigorous, while bush types are more compact. You can also find dwarf varieties that are perfect for small containers and trailing plants for hanging baskets. Small-fruited varieties are easier to grow, fast to fruit, and more prolific. However, it’s essential to experiment with different types and find the ones that suit your preferences.
Choosing the Right Tomato Variety
As a beginner gardener, it’s important to know that there are two main types of tomatoes: cordon and bush.
Cordon, also known as indeterminate, tomatoes grow vertically and can reach up to 1.8m (6ft) tall, requiring tall supports. These are great for greenhouses, but they can also be grown outdoors in large pots against a south-facing wall or in the ground in a sunny location. These plants are great for smaller spaces as they grow tall and narrow, producing a heavy crop. They do require regular maintenance, including watering, feeding, tying to supports, and pinching outside shoots.
Bush, or determinate, tomatoes are shorter and wider, making them perfect for smaller gardens, pots, and growing bags. Some smaller varieties can even be grown in hanging baskets, with their stems trailing over the sides. Bush tomatoes are the easiest type to grow and require little maintenance apart from regular watering and feeding. They typically do not require support, unless their stems become heavily laden with fruit.
When selecting a variety of tomatoes to grow, there are many options available. Different varieties offer fruits of various sizes, colours, flavours, and textures. You can choose from traditional red to dark purple, pink, orange, yellow, or green, and even striped fruits. There are heirloom assortments that have been developed for generations to be blight-resistant choices.
If you want to ensure a good crop, look for varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). This means that they have performed well in RHS growing trials, and there are currently more than 40 AGM tomatoes to choose from.
Sowing Tomato Seeds
Growing your own tomatoes is an ideal project for beginner gardeners, and it all starts with sowing seeds indoors in warm conditions. If you plan on growing your crop in a greenhouse, sow the seeds from late February to mid-March. Sow outdoor crops from the end of March to the beginning of April.
To begin, fill a small pot with seed compost, making sure to water it well. Next, sow three or four seeds on the surface and cover them with vermiculite. To keep the seeds warm, maintain a temperature of around 18°C. A heated propagator is ideal for this, but you can also cover the pot with a clear plastic bag and place it on a warm windowsill.
After about two weeks, you should see seedlings starting to emerge. Sow outdoor crops from the end of March to the beginning of April. This will help prevent the seedlings from growing thin and leggy. With a little patience and care, you’ll soon be on your way to growing delicious tomatoes at home.
Potting On Tomato Plants
After a few weeks, it is time to move the seedlings into individual pots. This is done by filling small pots with multi-purpose compost and watering the compost. Then make a hole in the centre of each of the pots. Lift each seedling, hold it by a leaf rather than the stem, and then lower it into the new hole. Be careful with the rootball. If the seedling is leggy, bury it up to the first pair of leaves, firming in gently.
Keep the plants in a greenhouse or well-lit windowsill, where the temperature is at 16°C. Water regularly and after a month it should be ready to plant into its final position as soon as the first flowers open.
Planting Tomato Plants
Before planting, it’s important to harden off your tomato plants to ensure they are acclimated to outdoor conditions. To do this, place them in a cold frame for seven days. If you don’t have a cold frame, gradually expose them to outdoor conditions by placing them outside during the day and bringing them in at night for a week. In the following week, leave them outside in a sheltered spot both day and night.
Tomatoes can be planted in large containers or growing bags in a greenhouse or outdoors. They can also be planted outdoors or in a greenhouse’s border in the ground. When growing tomatoes outside, it’s crucial to choose a warm, sunny, and sheltered location to ensure their growth and success.
Planting in containers
Tomatoes thrive in large containers and growing bags, both indoors in a greenhouse and outdoors in areas with full sun exposure, making them highly productive in any available space. When choosing soil, opt for loam-based or multi-purpose compost. For optimal growth, plant one tomato per pot of 30-45cm (12-18in) or two per growing bag.
If you have limited space, bush types are an excellent choice, as they grow well in large patio containers, troughs, window boxes, and even hanging baskets.
Use large containers and a tall cane as support for cordon types. Keep in mind that the weight of the pot and plant may cause it to become top-heavy, so place it in a sheltered spot, ideally against a sunny wall or in a greenhouse.
Planting in the ground
To ensure your tomato plants thrive, it’s important to start with nutrient-rich, well-draining soil that retains moisture. Add plenty of garden compost to the soil before planting to provide the necessary nutrients. When choosing a spot for your tomato plants, look for the warmest, sunniest location that is sheltered from the wind.
When planting your tomatoes, be sure to plant them deeply, so that the first set of leaves is just above the soil surface. After planting, water the plants well and firm the soil around them. Depending on the ultimate size of your plants, space them about 45-60cm (18-24in) apart. Check the seed packets for exact spacing information.
For cordon tomatoes, you’ll need to insert a sturdy cane next to the plant and tie the stem loosely to it. This will provide the necessary support as the plant grows. In a greenhouse border, you can use vertical strings instead of canes. When you plant the tomatoes, bury one end of the strings under the rootball and tie them to the roof of the greenhouse so that they hang vertically. Be sure to keep the strings fairly slack so that they can be wound around the top of the main stem as the plant grows.
Caring for Tomato Plants
To ensure healthy growth and optimal fruit production of your tomato plants, it is crucial to provide them with consistent moisture. Uneven moisture levels can result in fruit problems, such as splitting or blossom end rot, which can be addressed through problem-solving techniques (see below).
It’s essential to note that tomato plants grown in containers tend to dry out faster, especially during hot weather. Therefore, it’s advisable to water them daily.
Here’s a top tip for watering your tomato plants: Consider sinking a 15cm (6in) pot into the ground next to each tomato plant and watering directly into it. This technique will ensure that water reaches the roots directly, preventing moisture from sitting around the plant’s neck, which can lead to rotting.
To keep the soil moist and reduce weed growth, it is recommended to add a generous layer of mulch around your tomato plants. You can utilise garden compost or well-rotted manure for this purpose. However, ensure to leave a space around the stem’s base to prevent it from rotting.
For optimal fruiting, particularly with container-grown tomato plants, apply a high-potassium liquid fertiliser every 10-14 days once the first fruits begin to enlarge. This will aid in the development of healthy and plentiful fruit.
If you plan to grow tomatoes in a greenhouse, it’s important to ensure that pollinating insects can access the flowers. This can be achieved by opening the vents regularly. Additionally, you can assist in the transfer of pollen within the flower by gently tapping or shaking them when fully open. Another helpful technique is misting the flowers with water. These practices can help promote healthy growth and ultimately lead to a more bountiful harvest.
Pruning & Training
To properly grow your own tomatoes, it’s important to understand that there are two distinct types of tomato plants, each with its own specific requirements. It’s crucial to consult the seed packet or plant label to identify which type of tomato you are growing.
Cordon tomatoes are single-stemmed plants that grow tall and require sturdy supports to prevent them from toppling over. Additionally, it’s necessary to regularly remove side shoots to encourage upward growth and maximise fruit production.
On the other hand, bush tomatoes are more compact plants that don’t require side-shoot removal. Depending on their size and stem strength, they may or may not need support to hold the weight of their fruit. It’s important to monitor their growth and adjust support accordingly.
Cordon tomatoes – training up supports
To cultivate cordon tomatoes successfully, it’s important to provide them with proper support. A tall, sturdy cane or a vertical string secured to overhead horizontal support, such as a greenhouse roof, can be used for this purpose. Since tomatoes do not naturally cling to supports, they need to be attached by hand as they grow.
For cane support, tie the main stem to it at regular intervals as it grows. For a vertical string, on the other hand, gently wind the string around the main stem’s top once or twice per week as it grows.
Once the plants reach the top of their support or have produced seven fruit trusses indoors or four trusses outdoors, it’s important to remove the growing point of the main stem at two leaves above the top truss.
Cordon tomatoes – removing side-shoots
For optimal growth of cordon tomatoes, it is recommended to cultivate them as single-stemmed plants. However, due to the plant’s vigorous nature, side shoots tend to emerge from the junctions where the leaves sprout from the main stem. To maintain a single-stemmed plant, it is crucial to pinch out these side shoots regularly. If left unchecked, the side shoots can grow quickly, resulting in a chaotic mass of sprawling, leafy stems that occupy too much space, produce minimal fruit, and are difficult to support.
Fortunately, removing these side shoots is a simple process. Each time you water your tomato plant, take a moment to inspect the area above each leaf joint for any new side shoots. If you spot any, gently pinch them out or snap them off. With this simple maintenance routine, you can ensure that your cordon tomato plants grow vertically and remain healthy and productive.
Bush Tomatoes – providing support
Compared to cordon tomatoes, bush tomatoes are more petite and have a less robust growth habit. They may not require any support at all. However, if the plant produces a substantial crop of fruits, the side shoots may start to bend or break under the weight. In this case, you can easily add short vertical canes as necessary and gently tie the shoots to the cane to prevent any damage.
Harvesting Tomato Plants
Tomatoes typically ripen during mid-summer and beyond, though the ripening time varies based on the type of tomato, weather conditions, and fruit size. Smaller cherry tomatoes ripen faster than larger ones, and greenhouse-grown tomatoes usually ripen earlier than those grown outdoors. They can continue to produce fruit well into autumn.
It’s a good idea to inspect your tomato plants every few days and pick the ripe tomatoes individually, making sure to keep the stalks attached. Harvest them as soon as they are fully coloured.
Towards the end of the growing season, if you have outdoor plants with unripe fruit, you can lift the whole plant with the fruit still attached and place them on straw under cloches. Alternatively, you can pick the unripe fruit and place them in a warm, dark location to encourage ripening. Another trick to speed up the ripening process is to put the unripe tomatoes in a drawer with a banana.
Storing Tomato Plants
For the best taste, it’s recommended to eat tomatoes as soon as possible after they are harvested. However, if you have a surplus of fully ripe tomatoes, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to a week to prevent them from going mouldy. Just keep in mind that refrigeration for too long can affect their texture, so it’s best to take them out and let them reach room temperature before consuming them to enjoy their full flavour.
If your tomatoes are not yet fully ripe, it’s best to leave them unrefrigerated until they reach their peak ripeness.
If you have an abundance of ripe tomatoes, you can also consider cooking them and freezing them for future use in dishes such as pasta sauces, soups, and stews. This is a great way to make the most of your tomato harvest and enjoy them throughout the year.
Growing your own tomatoes is a breeze during warm summers as long as they receive regular watering. Nevertheless, suboptimal conditions can lead to certain issues.
Tomato Plant FAQ’s
The tomato variety known as “Gardeners’ Delight” is a large cherry. It can be grown outdoors or under cover and has a delicious, tangy flavour. It is reliable and produces a lot of seeds.
All types of tomatoes yielded an average of about 18 fruits per plant
Tomatoes thrive when planted alongside certain companion plants. For instance, herbs like basil, thyme, and chives make great companions for tomatoes. Vegetables such as asparagus and peppers, as well as flowers like marigolds and sunflowers, are also excellent choices. On the other hand, it’s best to avoid planting members of the cabbage family near tomatoes, including kale and broccoli, as they can impede their growth.
This is because some tomatoes are annuals and some are perennials, meaning some varieties may die back during winter and start to fruit again the following year. Make sure to research your tomato variety if you are unsure.
In conclusion, growing your own tomatoes can be a fulfilling and enjoyable experience for beginner gardeners. With careful attention to their needs, such as protection from frost, regular watering, and feeding, you can enjoy the reward of freshly picked, sun-ripened, and delicious tomatoes all summer. There are many varieties of tomatoes to choose from, including cordon and bush types, and it’s essential to experiment and find the ones that suit your preferences. Sowing the seeds indoors and potting them on before planting in a warm, sunny, and sheltered location can ensure success. With patience and care, you can have a bountiful harvest of tomatoes in a variety of shapes, flavours, textures, and colours that you cannot find in supermarkets.