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How To Grow Tomatoes For Beginners in 2023

Last Updated: February 24, 2023

Discover when and how you can grow your very own tomatoes whether you grow them in your backyard garden or in containers.

About Growing Tomatoes

Tomato plants are sensitive, warm-season crops that love sunshine but despise cold. It’s critical not to plant tomatoes in the ground too soon.

What’s The Best Month To Plant Tomatoes

Tomatoes may be grown outdoors in most areas of the United States only from late spring until early summer, with the exception of zone 10, where they are a fall and winter crop.

How Long Do Tomatoes Take To Grow

Tomatoes take between 60 and 100 days to mature, depending on the variety (see further information below). Most gardeners instead grow “starter plants” or transplants rather than seeds after the weather has warmed up in early spring because of their long growing season demands (and late planting date).

You may grow your own transplants from seed indoors if you have a little garden.

A few guidelines on buying transplants:

  • Short and stocky, with a dark green color and straight, robust stems comparable to those of a pencil or thicker, are excellent starting plants.
  • You should not see yellowing leaves, holes, or stress damage on the stems, nor should they have blooms or fruit already developed.

How To Plant Tomatoes

Select a site with plenty of sunshine! The ideal amount of sunshine in northern climates is 8 to 10 hours. In southern areas, light afternoon shade (natural or artificial, e.g., row covers) will aid tomatoes in surviving and growing.

Turn the soil every few weeks to keep it from drying out. Plant at a depth of 1 foot or less and mix in aged manure and/or compost, giving it two weeks to decompose before planting.

Also, select a location that has not seen tomato (or members of its family, especially eggplants, peppers, and potatoes) cultivation for the previous two years.

When to Plant Tomatoes

Tomatoes are long-season, heat-loving plants that will not tolerate frost, so wait until the weather is nice in the spring.

If you’re starting tomatoes from seed, start them indoors six weeks before your last spring frost date. Place seeds in tiny trays at a depth of 1/2 inch.

It is also feasible to direct-seed tomatoes in the soil (1/2 inch deep) if you have a long growing season—but not before the temperature is at least 55°F. Note that 70°F soil is optimal for rapid germination within 5 days.

Transplanting Tomatoes

  • After all danger of frost has passed and the soil is at least 60°F, transplant your seedlings (or nursery-grown plants) into the earth outdoors.
  • Plant tomatoes in cages or tomato supports to keep the fruit off the ground (to prevent disease and pests). Staking and caging assist to keep the plant up straight.
  • When you transplant tomatoes, use a handful of organic tomato fertilizer or bone meal (a good source of phosphorus) in the planting hole.
  • Pinch off a few of the lower leaves while germinating seedlings to enhance drainage and prevent soil sludge.

Here are two methods for putting seedlings in the ground:

  1. Set each root ball deep enough so that the bottom leaves are just above the soil’s surface. Underground, roots will develop all along the plant’s stem. Plant seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart. Plants will not receive enough light if they are too close together, which might cause them to fail to mature or produce fruit.
  2. Alternatively, in trenches 3 to 4 inches deep, lay long, leggy transplants on their sides. The stems should be buried up to the first set of true leaves. Along the buried stem, roots will develop. Consider placing four tomato plants in compass-point locations (north, south, east, west) this way if you do it this way.

How To Grow Tomatoes In Containers

Grow Tomatoes in Containers
  • Fill a large pot or container (at least 20 inches in diameter) with water and add drainage holes in the bottom.
  • Mix together the soil and gravel 1:1. Use a small amount of coarse sand to make sure that the soil is well-drained.
  • A tray should be set beneath the pot to catch any extra water that drains out the bottom.
  • Bush and dwarf types are the most popular. Many cherry tomatoes grow well in containers. Staking may be required for taller kinds.
  • Plant one tomato plant in each pot, and make sure they get at least six hours of sunshine each day.
  • Keep the soil damp. Containers will dry out faster than garden soil, so check them often and supply extra water during heatwaves.

How To Water Tomatoes

  • Water your plants early in the morning when it’s cool so that they may survive a hot day. The first few days after planting, water generously.
  • During the growing season, water your plants once per week with about 2 inches (about 1.2 gallons) per square foot. Deep watering promotes a robust root system.
  • Overhead watering and afternoon watering should be avoided. To prevent water from splashing on the leaves, water a plant’s root/soil level (which encourages disease).
  • Mulch should be applied 5 weeks after planting to retain moisture, prevent soil from splashing the lower leaves, and control weeds. Organic mulch including straw, hay, or bark chips should be used in a thickness of 2 to 4 inches.
  • Find some flat rocks and place one next to each tomato plant to aid them through droughts. The boulders keep the soil from drying out.

How To Fertilize Tomatoes

  • If you didn’t, work compost into the soil before planting, and add bone broth to the planting hole when transplanting.
  • Apply liquid seaweed or fish emulsion, or an organic fertilizer every two weeks to side-dress plants, starting when the tomatoes are about 1 inch in diameter. If you’re using an organic granular fertilizer like Espoma Tomato-Tone (4-7-10 or 3-4-6), scratch 2 to 3 tablespoons around the plant’s drip line. Water in, then mulch over top.
  • Continue to fertilize tomatoes every three to four weeks until frost, using a slow-release or low-nitrogen fertilizer. Fast-release fertilizers and high-nitrogen fertilizers should be avoided.

How To Harvest Tomatoes

Young family picking fruit on their farm. Concept farming. The canary islands, Spain.
  • Leave garden tomatoes on the vine as long as possible.
  • Harvest tomatoes when they are firm and highly red, no matter how big or small. Some yellow around the stem is fine. Harvest tomatoes of various hues (orange, yellow, purple, or another rainbow hue) when they reach the proper color.

If your tomatoes aren’t ripening despite the fact that the weather is warming, try one of these techniques:

  1. Remove all the leaves and flowers, then hang the plant upside down in a basement or garage. Remove any dirt and foliage before hanging it up.
  2. Place stem-up pale green tomatoes in a paper bag and loosely close it. Wrap them in newspaper and store them in a cardboard box, too. Keep them in the fridge (55°F to 70°F), ideally with some ice packs. Ripening is slowed by cooler temperatures; warmth helps it along. Check them every week to remove soft, spotted, infected, or ripe fruit if necessary.
  • Don’t put tomatoes on a sunny windowsill to mature. They might rot before they are ripe!

How to Store Tomatoes

  • Tomatoes are best when eaten soon after they’ve been picked. Fresh garden tomatoes should not be refrigerated. Their flavor and texture are ruined if they are kept for an extended period of time.
  • To prepare frozen tomatoes, core fresh and unblemished tomatoes and place them whole in freezer bags or containers. Freeze, seal, label, and freeze. When they thaw, the skins will slip off.
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