10 Best Tips before Planting Tomatoes

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Growing your first tomato plants

If you’re a beginner gardener ready to grow your first tomato plants, you’ve come to the right place.

There’s a few basics to know to ensure you will have a delicious harvest of fresh tomatoes and avoid some common problems that can happen along the way.

I’ve kept it simple so you can check the list, know what to expect, and start growing.

For recommended supplies, see my Growing Tomatoes collection.
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1. Start with healthy plants

As a new gardener it can take a while to develop an eye for healthy plants and you may want to ask for help at the plant nursery.

Sometimes it is obvious that a plant is in distress: the leaves will be yellowing or the plant appears wilted and sickly. Other times the plant looks okay but there are actually insects under the leaves or in the soil. 

Have a good look at the plant before you purchase it, and, if you have any doubts, don't buy it.

2. Know what you're buying

There are many varieties of tomatoes to choose from. Ideally you have already tasted some tomatoes that are known to grow well in your area so you know what you want.

Should I get heirloom or hybrid tomatoes?
There's benefits to both:
  • Some of your favorites may be heirlooms with the added benefit that you can save the seeds for planting next year.
  • Hybrids tend to be very reliable growers and disease-resistant but you do need to buy new seeds each year (or buy starter plants).

    Try some of both! I like to grow a few old favorites plus some new varieties each year.

How big will it grow?
  • Bush tomatoes (also known as determinates) tend to max out at about 3 feet tall and wide. These tomatoes ripen all at once at the end of the growing season.
  • Vine tomatoes (also known as indeterminates) continue growing until the cold weather sets in. They can last for years in greenhouses.
    Vine tomato plants need tall supports (6 feet+) and provide an ongoing harvest for several weeks.
  • There are also some tomatoes that are classified as semi-determinates. They are bush varieties that actually produce two harvests before the plant dies. 
How long will it take for the fruit to mature?
  • Check the plant tags: often the time is listed by number of days.
  • Calculate how many days until you can expect your first fall frost.
  •  Are there enough days for the tomatoes to grow and ripen before then?
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3. Hold off planting until the soil is warm

Tomatoes are warmth-loving plants. 
  • If you have purchased tomato plants before the last frost of the season (in your area), hold off planting and keep them watered in a sunny, warm location.
  • The soil is generally warm enough for planting outdoors about two weeks after last frost.

4. Provide a rich foundation

You can plant tomatoes in containers or in the ground.
  • If planting in containers, use container mix suitable for vegetables.
  • If planting in the ground, make sure your soil is rich in organic matter and allow room for growth.
Planting Distance
I like to keep my plants at least 3 feet apart for easy access and good air circulation.

5. Choose a sunny location

  • Ideally, tomatoes should get full sun for 8 hours per day.  
  • They will still grow with less sun, but the shadier the conditions, the longer it takes for the fruit to ripen.
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6. Set up supports

There's a few stalky bush varieties that stand up just find on their own but most other types of tomatoes benefit from trellis support.
  • It's best to have the supports set up from the beginning so that you can train and tie the plants as they grow, using  strips of old, stretchy cloth or pantyhose.
  • There are plenty of support options including round and square cages and various types of trellis.

7. Prune as you grow—if you know what you're doing

Tomato plants grow small, yellow flowers that become the fruit. You want to be very careful not to damage flowering stems so you get as much fruit as possible. 
  • Pruning away non-flowering stems helps the plant to focus its energy on fruit production. 
  • If your plants are looking overgrown, you can use clean pruners to remove any non-flowering stems. But just leave them if you’re unsure. 

8. Water evenly

Tomatoes like consistent moisture levels.
  • If there’s a chance of the sun drying out the soil, add mulch to the surface to help keep moisture in.
  • When watering, use warm water. Cold water can shock the plants.
    Tip: Fill up your watering can after each use and allow the water to warm up overnight.
What happens if watering is uneven?
  • Uneven watering can cause the flowers to drop off, or conditions like blossom end-rot. 
  • Sometimes excessive rain will actually cause the fruit to crack open.

9. Know what Blight is

Yes, blight happens. Blight (early or late) is caused by a fungus that causes the tomato plants to wither and die. Have a look online to see what it looks like.
  • If your plants get blight, it’s best to remove and burn the plants (if possible) right away.
  • Do not put blight-infected plants in your yard waste bin.  
Yes, it sounds severe to get rid of the plants but this is better than having the blight return year after year, which it might do if it’s still resident in the soil.
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10. Save the best seeds

If you do grow some heirloom varieties, don't forget to set aside a few tomatoes for seed saving. I can't tell you how many times I've accidentally eaten everything and then remembered this too late!

Mark your calendar for next year—seed starting should begin indoors a few months before last frost.  

Supplies for Growing Tomatoes

I've gathered some favorite supplies and resources here:
Supplies for Growing Tomatoes
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Good luck with your first tomatoes. I hope they’re delicious and you grow lots more next year.

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