Tomatoes are one of the most popular garden vegetables to grow, especially for beginners. They are low-risk, high-reward vegetables that can go in so many dishes and recipes. While this vegetable is easy to grow, it’s important to know about tomato plant care, so you can have the best harvest later on!
Let’s dive in and learn more about how to care for a tomato plant.
Determining Which Variety to Plant
There are so many varieties of tomato plants out there. Beyond the classic red, you can find purple, yellow, green, and multi-color tomatoes. Each one has its own unique taste and purpose. To decide which variety to grow, consider how you will use the tomatoes.
For slicing and using on sandwiches, you could choose a large fruit variety like Beefsteak or Big Boy tomatoes. These are the tomatoes you will see most often in the garden department. They are a popular, easy-to-grow tomato for beginners.
For creating salsa, Roma tomatoes are a great option. These are the small, oval-shaped tomatoes that have dense flesh. Roma tomatoes are also a good option for canning diced tomatoes, along with the Amish Paste variety.
If you want to grow some fun, conversation-starter tomatoes, try the multi-color varieties like Black Zebra, Painted Lady, or Atomic Fusion. You’re likely the only one on the block to have these exciting tomatoes in the garden!
Beginning Tomato Plant Care
Once you’ve selected which variety you want to grow, it’s important to know a few things about tomato plant care. Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow. As long as you follow some simple guidelines, you’ll be harvesting your new fruit in no time!
Tomato plants require a minimum of six to eight hours of sunlight to produce a healthy harvest. The more sun your tomato plant receives, the more energy it will have to grow and make fruit.
Soil is an important factor in tomato plant care. Tomatoes prefer loamy soil that has a neutral to slightly acidic pH. Their ideal pH is between 6.0 and 6.8.
Adding compost to the top four to six inches of soil will help create good nutrients and soil conditions for the tomato plant. If you have alkaline soil, compost can also help make your soil more acidic for tomatoes.
Another essential task in tomato plant care is keeping your plant well-watered. Having good, well-draining soil will help with this process. You want the tomato plant to be consistently watered, but not over or underwatered. Don’t let the soil dry out completely before watering your plant again.
When watering the tomato plant, water at the base of the plant and not the plant leaves. This will prevent leaf burn and lower the risk of plant disease.
Tomato plants need lots of nutrients before they produce a good harvest, and they prefer a healthy presence of potassium and phosphorus. Choose a good fertilizer to mix into the top of the soil with a cultivator or hoe before planting your garden.
After planting, you can apply fertilizer around the base of the plant about six inches out. Make sure that the fertilizer doesn’t touch the tomato plant stem or leaves, as it could cause them to burn. Reapply as directed by the specific fertilizer.
Staking for Tomato Plants
Tomato plants will topple over if not staked properly, so there are multiple ways you can provide support for your plant. Let’s discuss a few different methods used in tomato plant care.
Using a Single Stake
Put a single stake behind your tomato plant. Tie the stem to the stake using string or cloth. Make more ties to the stem as the plant gets larger. Depending on the type of tomato you are growing, you may need a metal stake. For smaller tomato plants, you can use a wood or plastic stake.
This is one of the most popular methods, especially for those who have small gardens or just a few plants. You can purchase tomato cages at most garden departments and nurseries. To install, simply lower the cage over the tomato plant and secure the stakes into the soil around the plant.
If you have a large garden with many tomato plants, this is probably not the method for you, since the cages can be expensive when purchasing several.
The Florida Weave
The Florida Weave is a great way to support a large number of tomato plants, using fewer stakes. The stakes can be driven into the ground between every plant or every three plants. Make sure to use strong, metal stakes as they will be supporting several plants.
Tie string to the first metal stake. Holding the string tight, weave in between the tomato plants. When you get to a stake, loop the string around it tightly, then keep going.
Once you weaved through all the tomato plants and got to the last stake, loop it around the stake and go back through the tomato plants the other way. Once you have weaved the string in the opposite direction, tie the string off on the last steak and cut it.
For a more detailed demonstration, watch this video.
Pruning Tomato Plants
If you want to improve your tomato harvest, pruning your tomato plants could help. This is not required, and you will still grow fruit if you don’t prune. In fact, if you are growing determinate tomatoes, which produce fruit at once, don’t prune. Pruning just helps large, indeterminate tomato plants – that continually produce fruit – focus more energy on producing fruit rather than producing more leaves.
To prune your tomato plants, locate the suckers on the plant. These are the small stems that grow in the “V” between the main stem and the branches coming off. For small suckers, pinch them off. For large suckers that can’t be pinched, use sharp pruning shears. It’s as easy as that!
Harvesting Tomato Plants
When is it time to harvest tomatoes? Tomatoes are usually harvested in mid to late summer, depending on the variety. The fruit should reflect its mature color, which is usually a deep red.
The tomato should also feel a little bit soft to the touch. If it’s too firm, it’s not ready yet. If the fruit is mushy, it is overly ripe. You can also keep up with when the tomato plant was started to determine if its reached maturity yet.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Watching for common pests and diseases is important in tomato plant care. Catching any infestations before it takes over could save your plant.
Tomato plants are susceptible to many pests such as aphids, cutworms, hornworms, and beetles. These pests can damage your plant foliage and raise the risk of disease, so it’s important to know how to identify them. Depending on the pest, a usual tell-tale sign of an infestation is stem decay or frayed foliage with holes in it.
To read more about the most common tomato plant pests and how to get rid of them, take a look at our other post.
Common Tomato Plant Diseases
After all the hard work raising your tomato plant, seeing rotted fruit or discolored leaves is disheartening and frustrating. Tomato plant diseases are common, but most are treatable!
If you have discolored leaves or lesions on your fruit, your tomato plant may have blight. To prevent blight, it’s important to keep the leaves of the tomato plant dry. A good way to ensure this is by watering at the soil level instead of over the plant. Watering in the morning also helps the water dry off of any leaves it dripped on.
If you see that the bottom of some of your tomatoes has rotted, it could be a calcium deficiency that’s specific to that one fruit. This is called Blossom End Rot. To prevent this, avoid putting too much nitrogen in the soil or unevenly watering your plant. A good tip in tomato plant care is to remove any diseased fruits and discard them properly.
For more information check out our post detailing the most common tomato plant diseases.
Companion Plants for Tomatoes
A big part of growing a healthy garden is choosing plants that grow well together. To optimize your tomato plant care, it’s a good idea to sketch out your garden before you begin planting. This will help organize what plants go next to each other.
Good Companions for Tomatoes:
Bad Companions for Tomatoes:
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How long does it take tomatoes to grow?
Tomatoes take anywhere from three to four months to reach maturity. At this point, you will begin to see some ripened fruit. During these three to four months, make sure to follow all of our tomato plant care tips to see the best harvest!
2. How much space should I give my tomatoes?
Tomato plants should be spaced every 24 inches. If you plant tomato plants too close together, air will not be able to circulate through the foliage, and that will raise the risk of disease.
Wrapping Up The Complete Guide to Tomato Plant Care
Are you ready to grow tomatoes? Using the simple principles of tomato plant care, you can create a beautiful, productive garden that will keep you coming back every year! There are so many delicious varieties out there to try. All you need to do is start.
To read more about tomato plants, check out our other tomato posts.