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How to Grow Tomatoes: A Simple Guide for Beginners

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Tomatoes are highly adaptable and easy to grow. Extra care should be adopted when growing tomato plant as they are prone to pest and diseases. However, some varieties are more prone to pest and diseases than others. 

For general tomato plant care tips, it is best to expose your tomato plant to enough sunlight (say 4 to 8 hours daily depending on the variety); adequate watering and feeding (follow the feeding instructions on how to apply). Be sure to trim off all dead, diseased, or weak part to encourage more growth. 

Tomato plant

Apply mulch to conserve the soil moisture, and always keep the soil under the tomato plant clean and rake up fallen tomato fruits to prevent disease pathogens.

To get best results with your tomato farm, do well to follow our complete planting guide.

Types of Tomato Plant

Determinate (bush) tomato plant

grows 3 to 5 ft. in height. The fruits set all at once producing a large harvest over a 2 weeks period and stop. Due to their compact nature, it can be grown as container plants or in a small-spaced garden (say backyards or balconies). Pruning and staking or caging is optional. 

However, staking would help give support so as not to over-burden the plant when the fruits all set at once. Celebrity, Marglobe and Rutgers are common varieties. The determinate varieties are great for making tomato sauce, paste and puree.

Indeterminate tomato plant

grows long vines 6 to 11 ft. in height. The fruits set and ripen slowly and steadily throughout the growing season. 

Due to its extended long vines, staking or caging is required for support and balance. Beefsteak, Bigboy, Brandywine and Sungold are common varieties. The indeterminate varieties are great for making salad and tomato slicing.

Let’s briefly look at the growing and care tips for the most common varieties.

How to Grow Beefsteak Tomato Plant

Beefsteak tomato plant grows easily and fast, producing a large fruit size of about 2 pounds weight. 

The plant is mostly cultivated in North America on a small scale. Not suitable for growing in large scale. The plant is easy to maintain when compared to other varieties. 

However, they are prone to diseases; you have to ensure necessary growing conditions are met like adequate sunlight (about 6 hours per day), feeding and regular watering (3 to 6cm per week). Beefsteak love humid environment and grows up to 4 to 6ft tall. Beefsteak matures 80 to 90 days after planting.

How to Grow Bigboy Tomato Plant

Bigboy tomato plant matures from 70 to 80 days after planting. It can grow up to a height of 4 to 5 ft tall, and spreads from 1 to 2 ft wide. It has vines that continue to grow throughout the growing season. 

The fruit produces smooth skinned fruits and weighs more than one pound. The fruits will retain its distinctive flavor when you harvest with the caps and stems still attached. It can be stored in room temperature for 2 to 3 days. 

For optimum growth and fruit production, Bigboy is supported with stakes just like other indeterminate. It requires a well-drained soil of pH 6 to 6.8, full sunlight, regular watering, feeding and staking.

How to Grow Brandywine Tomato Plant

Brandywine tomato fruit is popularly known in North America for its big size and excellent taste. It is prone to diseases and not easily maintained by newbie home growers. 

However, if they are properly cared for by ensuring that the right growing conditions are met, like knowing the right amount of nitrogen, when to “starve” the plants of nitrogen. Other caring tips are adequate sunlight (about 2 to 4 hours per day), feeding, and regular watering.

Brandywine is a slow grower, susceptible to pests and diseases, has long shelf life of 80 to 100 days after planting. Stake or cage is used as support for optimum growth and fruit production.

How to Grow Sungold Tomato Plant

Sungold tomato Plant produces a large sweet tomato fruit all through the growing season. The fruit is firm and last longer. And can be harvested twice a week when they start producing fruits. 

They are prone to the following diseases: Verticillium wilt, Fusarium with races 1 and 2, and Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). To help reduce pest and disease problems and improve plant growth, expose your  plant to 5 to 6 hours of full sunlight, water twice per week early (in the morning hours), and feed regularly (use slow release). 

Sungold plant grows 6 to 8 ft. tall and produces a large crop that matures 60 to 75 days after planting. From experience, the fruit does not ripen well indoors when picked before maturity.

How to Grow Sweet million Tomato Plant

Sweet million are high yield tomato plant producing about 200 to 300 fruits per plant. The plant can grow 4 to 6 ft. tall and matures 60 to 65 days after planting. It produces a bright red sweet-flavored tomato fruits that continue to ripen and still retain its flavor after harvest. 

They grow better in well-drained acidic soil of pH 6 to 6.8. The plant is susceptible to fungal infections, caterpillars, slugs, rodents and birds. It can be grown in greenhouses and outdoors. It produces about 200 to 300 tomatoes per plant.

How to Grow Celebrity Tomato Plant

Celebrity plant produces their fruits in clusters ranging from medium to large sizes. The plant can grow 3 to 4 ft. tall and matures 60 to 65 days after planting. The plants are distinctive, being that, they thrive well in a wide range of conditions, and they require low maintenance. 

The fruits are large and fleshy with great flavors. Another fascinating thing about the plant is that, they are not easily susceptible to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium with races 1 and 2, Nematodes and Tobacco mosaic virus but fungal diseases (late and early blight) can be a problem.

How to Grow Marglobe Tomato Plant

Marglobe tomato plants require a long growing season. They thrive well under long periods of unfavorable weather conditions. It is recommended to start indoors 6 weeks before transplanting date. The fruits are large, well-rounded and deep red at maturity. 

The fruit matures into medium-sized tomatoes from 90 to 100 days after transplanting. For optimum plant growth and fruit production, seed in well-drained warm soil, expose the transplants to about 8 hours of sunlight per day, and support with stakes to bear the burden once the fruits are set. They are resistant to a wide range of diseases like Fusarium wilt, Nail-head rust etc.

How to Grow Rutgers Tomato Plant

Rutgers are high yield tomato plants that do not grow more than 5 ft tall, producing large red fruits that are globed–shape at maturity. It requires a long growing season, thrive well under long periods of unfavorable weather conditions and resistant to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt and Alternaria stem canker. The plant matures 70 to 80 days after transplanting.

Best Soil for Growing Tomatoes

Generally, tomato plants grow in most types of soils, but loamy and light clayey soils with lots of organic matter are best for tomato production. 

To give your tomato plant the best soil treatment, it is recommended to first know what nutrients your soil is lacking by having it tested as well as its pH. When nutrients are noticeably missing, you can choose the right fertilizer or planting compost to replenish the soil. Having the right nutrients and pH level will produce a healthy harvest. 

Therefore, amend your soil with moderately high Potassium (K) and Phosphorus (P) but with low Nitrogen (N). And soil pH should be slightly acidic from 6.0 to 6.8. If the soil pH level is too acidic, add lime to reduce the acidity, and if the soil pH level is too alkaline, add sulfur or fertilizers with ammonium sulfate [(NH₄)₂SO₄].

Tips for growing tomatoes

Growing tomatoes from seed

Start-off by choosing your seed from your local garden store (go for fresh seeds because they often do better than old seeds). Seed your tomato plant indoors from February to mid-march. 

After seeding, allow for 3 to 6 weeks growing before transplanting outdoors. To seed, use seeding trays or any small pots with drainage holes, add seeding compost, moisten the compost by sprinkling with water, slightly press the mix to firm, and then bury your seeds to a depth of 2cm to 2.5cm, seal with a layer of plastic cover or bag to keep in moisture until the seeds germinate, and then position the trays or pots where they will get warmth. You may need to provide extra heat if the room is cool using heating pad under the trays. 

Do well to check the moisture level 2 to 3 days until germination. If the compost looks dry, sit the tray in a flat water collector for 30 mins to 1 hour.

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

Uncover the plastic cover or bags once they germinate, gradually increase the lighting conditions. Once you observe the first “true leaves” (the second set of leaves after the seed leaves) then the plant is ready to be transplanted outdoors. 

Transplant your seedlings to their separate containers and gradually expose the plants to the outdoor weather conditions for about 1 to 2 weeks to harden off, so as to prevent the plant from shock. Plant early enough in spring or early fall so roots have enough time to adjust and settle before temperatures start to warm up. 

Tomato plants grow best in full sun and well-drained soil. Dig a planting hole of 5cm deeper than the pot and give spacing of about 45cm for each plant to allow plenty of rapid root growth and establishment. Remember to de-root the planting hole after you must have loosened the soil with trowel or garden shovel, then work-in some planting compost or native soil and water. 

If you are growing indeterminate varieties, do well to install poles of 8ft high and 1 inch thickness to act as support for the plant, allow settling for few days before planting. Once you have gently removed the tomato plant out of its container, ensure you do not disturb the root-ball when planting. Place the root ball into the hole and if necessary, straighten to stabilize the tomato plant by adjusting or filling beneath the root ball with the planting compost or native soil. 

Fill the hole with the compost that was removed from the hole and firmly press the soil in place. Plant so that the top of the root ball is leveled with the surrounding soil.

Tips for Tomato Plant Maintenance

Watering

Tomato plants need to be watered regularly 2 to 3 times per week, but once the fruit is set, water once per week. 

When watering, water gently from the roots rather than above. For pot-bound ones, over-watering could result to death; ensure pots have holes for effective drainage. Water when soil or compost is loose and feels dry, sit them in trays if possible to make room for drained water to be soaked-up and discard excess water after about half an hour. 

If pot cannot sit in a tray, collect drained water and recycle once or twice until it is well watered. Inadequate watering may result to splitting and cracking, stunted growth, blossom-end rot, root loss as well as pest problems of your tomato plant.

Pruning

Good tomato plant care requires some pinching and pruning. Pruning encourages more growth but this must be well controlled in containers to ensure that your plants do not suffer. Do well to remove the bottom leaves and suckers of your tomato plant to improve air circulation. 

When you see excessive growth in the joint of two branches you pinch off as well. It is recommended that you thin or prune, so that your tomato plant will have more air and sunlight. 

Consequently, increase in plant yield and fruit production. Unlike the Indeterminate varieties that require much pruning because they develop many stems per plant (prune and leave about 3 to 4 stems for best result), the determinate varieties need less pruning or pinching.

Feeding

When applying feeding compost or fertilizer to your plants, first know what nutrients your soil is lacking by having it tested or you can deduce what nutrients your plant is lacking by mere observation. When nutrients are noticeably missing, you can choose the right fertilizer and feeding compost to replenish the soil. 

Having the right nutrients and pH level will produce a healthy harvest. Generally, tomato plant like feeding compost or fertilizer that is moderately high in Potassium (K), high in Phosphorus (P), and low in Nitrogen (N). Soil pH should be slightly acidic from 6.0 to 6.8 for optimum yield.

Common diseases of tomatoes

Verticillium wilt of Tomato plant

Verticillium wilt is caused by a fungal disease that lives in the soil. The fungus invades the plant tissue by blocking the conducting tissues (that is Xylem and Phloem), so it becomes difficult for water and minerals to reach the leaves. Verticillium wilt causes stunted growth, yellowing of the leaves (chlorosis), tissue death (necrosis), and defoliation (loss of leaves). 

Symptoms first appear on one side of the leaf (at the top) and spread gradually to the entire plant. Sadly, there is no known cure for this fungal disease. 

To help prevent this disease, plant resistant varieties, sterilize your soil (heat-up the soil before planting), sterilize your tools, keep the soil under the tomato plant clean and rake up fallen tomato fruits to prevent disease pathogens. Finally, ensure regular watering and feeding programs.

Fusarium wilt of Tomato plant

Fusarium wilt is caused by a fungus called Fusarium oxysporum. It has the same symptoms with Verticillium. Fusarium may not kill your tomato plant unlike verticillium, but it will render your plant less productive. The best control is to plant resistant varieties.

Early Blight of Tomato plant

Early blight is caused by a fungus called Alternaria sp. Symptoms first appear on the older leaves around the base of the tomato plant and spread slowly. The lesions (injuries) appear dark brown with concentric rings with yellow halos around the edges. 

To control early blight, trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight, and then apply sulphur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent the spread. These fungicides will not kill late blight, but prevent the spores from germinating.

Late Blight of Tomato plant

Late blight is caused by a fungus called Phytophthora infestans. Late blight is a serious tomato disease that can damage the entire plant if left unattended. The Phytophthora infestans causes irregular shaped lesions on the leaves, which appear light brown or tan in colour, and can be found anywhere on the plant most especially at the top part of young leaves. 

The fungus spreads slowly to the entire plant, causing the leaves to turn brown and shrivel, death eventually. 

To control late blight, trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight and apply sulphur-sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of the disease to prevent the spread. These fungicides will not kill late blight, but will prevent the spores from germinating. 

And if you see no improvements after the treatment, harvest the plant from the ground into an air-tight plastic bag and trash to avoid spreading to other plants.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus of Tomato plant

Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) causes mottling and discoloration of leaves. The mottled area of the leaves may look yellow to light or dark green in colour. TMV causes stunted growth most especially in young tomato plants, followed by discoloration and distortion of leaves. 

TMV render tomato plant less productive that might result to low quality tomato fruits, distorted fruits, delay fruit ripening, and non-uniform fruit colour. TMV is transferred from plant to plant through working tools when pruning or when an infected leaf brushes against a healthy leaf. 

To control TMV, remove and destroy infected tomato plants to avoid spreading, wash your hands and sterilize your working tools in between each planting, keep the soil under the tomato plant clean and rake up fallen tomato fruits to prevent disease pathogens, and cultivate resistant varieties.

Verticillium wilt of tomato
Blight of tomato
Tobacco mosaic virus of tomato

Always go for resistant varieties

Harvesting Tomato plant

Tomato is picked at the end of its growing season usually mid to late summer when the fruit is completely matured. The fruits can be picked before they become ripen completely. 

The ideal time to harvest is when the fruit is matured green; allow ripening indoors off or on the vine. 

When picking your tomato fruits take the tomato in your hand and gently twist, the tomato will usually ease off from the stalk, or you can use garden scissors or secateurs to cut the stalk.

Storing tomato plant

Store your harvested tomatoes in paper bags, and Keep them in shade (in a cool and moist environment) off from direct sunlight so as not to ripen quickly. 

When stored properly, freshly harvested green tomato can last up to 3 weeks as they ripen. Add banana leaves to paper bags if you want your stored fruits to ripen faster. Refrigerated tomatoes lose their flavour and texture with time. 

Your tomato fruits could last up to 6 months if stored in the freezer; place your tomato fruits in a freezer-safe bags or plastic containers.