By Debbie Columbo with Tips from Tony LaMacchia
We're here to help you set your tomatoes up for success this season! In this article we'll share the best growing conditions for your tomatoes, how to select a tomato variety for your garden, whether to go organic, heirloom, or hybrid, as well as answering other common tomato questions we hear all the time at Garden Heights! Read on for all our tomato tips and tricks!
Tomatoes grow best in a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Soil pH should be 6.0-7.0. Tomatoes need a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Transplant into warm soils…when temps are in the mid 70’s by day and 60-65 degrees by night. Space 24-30” between plants (that will be staked/caged) and 48” between rows. Plan to stake or cage your tomatoes as it prevents disease and they will take up less space in the garden. Since tomatoes are vines they will need tall stakes.
NOTE: Tomatoes will only set fruit when night temperatures are between 55 and 75 degrees so they may not set fruit during extreme heat. It is not unusual to not have fruit set at the peak of summer. Fruit will set as night temperatures drop.
Tomatoes can be grown in containers…the bigger the better and the minimum being a 16” diameter pot. One plant per pot. Container grown tomatoes need frequent deep watering...often daily.
Plant your tomato where you will see it regularly. Seeing it daily you will notice if it needs water and will enjoy seeing your blossoms grow into fruit.
How to choose a variety of tomato
Consider how you want to use them. For slicing or eating fresh, a beefsteak or “slicing” tomato is good. For making sauce, paste tomatoes are good because they are meaty and have few seeds. The cherry and grape tomatoes are great for snacks or in salads. Tomatoes come in many colors other than red. There’s yellow, orange, greenish black and even striped. Nothing says Summer more than a platter full of colorful sliced tomatoes. If you have room, grow some of each!
What does organic mean?
Growing organically means choosing not to use any chemicals….fertilizers or pesticides. Organic practices stress keeping the plant healthy with healthy, living soils full of beneficial fungus and bacteria. These soil conditions help the plant fight off diseases and provide nutrients for your plants. Add compost to your soil yearly to keep the microbes fed and mulch after planting to conserve soil moisture.
What’s the difference between an heirloom tomato and a hybrid tomato?
An Heirloom Tomato is a variety of tomato that is open pollinated and will grow true to seed (The plant grown from seed collected from the plant will be identical to the parent plant.) Seeds are saved and passed down from one year to the next through generations. Hybrid tomatoes will not grow true to seed.
There is debate as to how many years it takes to be an heirloom…some say, 100 years, some say 50 years and some say prior to 1945, Heirloom tomatoes offer unique colors and tastes. Often they are not as productive as hybrids and may lack some disease resistance but they make up for this with exceptional flavor.
A hybrid tomato is man-made. Two different tomato parents were selected and a result was chosen as “better.” “Better” can mean more resistant to disease or not bruising easily in transit. A hybrid is not necessarily a bad thing… No genes from other plants (other than the two parent tomatoes) or animals were used in developing a hybrid.
A Grafted tomato takes the roots of a disease resistant and vigorous plant and joins it to often an heirloom tomato to make a more productive and hardy heirloom.
What does indeterminate/determinate mean and why does it matter?
A determinate tomato will be a shorter plant that produces most of it’s tomatoes at one time. This is a plus if you are growing tomatoes to can or need a smaller plant to grow in a container. An indeterminate tomato will grow, flower and set fruit and grow more setting more fruit and continue until the plant is killed by frost. A semi-determinate tomato like it sounds is between the two. Taller growing than a determinate but not so tall as an indeterminate and producing more than one crop.
A few tomato dos and don’ts (with extra helpful tips!)
From Tony LaMacchia
Plan to prevent blossom rot by combatting calcium and magnesium deficiency in your tomato plants. You can easily remedy this with the usual Tomato Tone available at Garden Heights or, surprisingly, with a bit of molasses! After your plants start flowering, add 1 tablespoon of molasses to a gallon of water once every two weeks and water your plants with it for happy healthy fruit!
Pest-proof your tomatoes by spraying neem oil on them in the evening and in the morning.
Enhance disease resistance by mixing 1 tablespoon of Epson salts into the soil around each plant.
Mix good compost in your soil to provide enough nutrients for your plants.
Plant with a minimum of 3-4 inches of depth and be sure to till your soil well if planting in ground!
Stake larger slicing tomatoes so they don’t fall over!
Don’t plant any vegetables in the Brassica family next to your tomatoes- as these will stunt the growth of your tomato plants! This includes cabbages, Brussel sprouts, kale, arugula, cauliflower, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
Don’t overwater. Overwatering can cause a powdery mildew to form on your plants as well as causing blossom rot.
Wishing you a successful year of tomato gardening! For more growing advice, check out our article on 7 vegetable gardening tips for beginners or stop by our vegetables and herbs section to talk with us and see our selection!
about the author
Debbie is a previous Garden Heights employee who was with us from day 1, and we're beyond thankful for her expertise and friendship from the beginning!
"Since retiring and inheriting a grow light I have enjoyed growing tomatoes from seed. Reading seed catalogs in January and planning the vegetable garden is a great way to pass the long winter nights. Planting the seeds, smelling the damp soil and watching the seeds sprout is so rewarding. Every year it amazes me. And to complete the cycle, I’ve learned to save seeds from my heirloom plants. At first intimidating, I found the process quite easy...thanks to YouTube. Hope you enjoy growing your tomatoes. Have fun!" - Debbie