Friday, June 20, 2008

Growing Tomatoes

How to Grow a Tomato Plant

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Are you yearning to grow your own sweet, juicy tomatoes? Luckily for you, tomato plants can grow almost anywhere. But as with most vegetation that produce a fruit, a little "tender, loving care" or TLC goes a long way. With adequate sunlight, water, and patience, you'll be greatly rewarded.


  1. Buy a tomato plant from a nursery and transplant it to your garden for the first-time grower. More experienced growers will find it easy to start their own tomatoes from seed, beginning, as appropriate, in a greenhouse or sunny window indoors.

    • In most cases, there's no reason to pay extra to buy larger plants.
    • Good first-time growers’ varieties include Better Boy, Creole, Big Boy, Early Girl, Brandywine, Celebrity, Lemon Boy, or just about any cherry or grape tomato variety.
    • Plant several varieties rather than all of one type-- this ensures a steady harvest. As a rule of thumb, it's good to have two plants for each member of the family who will eat tomatoes. If you plan on canning or making salsa, use up to four plants per person.
    • Plants usually cost US$4 or less.

  2. Choose a sunny spot to place the plants. Place tomato plants in a site receiving full sun (7 hours or more daily) Tomatoes need lots of warm sunshine for optimum taste.
  3. Prepare the garden bed by adding lots of compost (5 to 8 pounds per square foot/25 to 40 kilograms per square meter) to the soil. Turn compost into the top 3 inches (6 to 8 cm). Tomatoes demand a growing medium rich in organic matter. If you don't make your own compost, use store-bought compost or composted manure available in the 40-pound bags. Compost or Manure is usually less than US$5 per 40-pound bag.
  4. Transplant the tomato deeply. Bury about 75% of the plant. It’s okay to bury some of its leaves. New roots will emerge along the buried stem, giving the plant a development boost; a new transplant needs to focus on root production.
  5. Give each plant about 1 gallon (about 4 liters) of warm water (about 80 degrees F/ 27 degrees C) within ten minutes of transplanting to avoid transplant shock.
  6. Space tomato plants 18 to 36 inches (45 to 90 cm) apart; space them half the suggested distance in warmer climates, especially if using tomato cages. The normal distance recommended is for plants allowed to bush out hugely on the ground, while planting closer together in cages allows the plants to shade each other's fruit, helping prevent burn and allowing a sweeter flavor.

    • Don't forget to leave yourself enough space to get in between the plants to water, weed, and harvest. Those cute, little seedlings may not remain that way for long.

  7. Continue to water about 16 ounces (about 500 ml) of warm water per plant every day for the first 7 to 10 days after transplanting.
  8. Wait a week or two after transplanting,and then place a mulch of straw, dried grass, or pine needles to control weeds and keep the soil moist during dry weather. The mulch should be about an inch (2.5 cm) thick and surround at least a circle 12 inches (about 30 cm) in diameter around the stem. Pine needles are especially good for helping raise the acidity of the soil.
  9. Ensure that plants are receiving 1 to 3 inches (2.5 cm to 7.6 cm) of rain weekly. If not, give each plant about 2 gallons (about 7.5 liters) per plant per week, beginning 14 days after transplanting.

    • The tomato plant should be watered 2 to 3 times weekly (so, water each plant with about .75 to 1 gallon each time (about 3 to 4 liters).
    • It's okay in hot or dry weather to water even more frequently with larger volumes.

  10. Consider using a tomato cage or a stake to support the tomato vine about 14 days after transplanting.

    • A stake should be at least 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) thick and 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) long. Pound stakes about 12 to 24 inches (30 cm to 60 cm) deep, at least 2 inches (5 cm) away from the plant. Secure the plant to the stake using loose knotted double-loops that won't strangle the plant. Stakes can be made of bamboo, scrap wood, electrical conduit, or iron bar.
    • While it is less common, they can also be vined on a trellis or fence, like grapes, beans, squash, and other vining plants. This can produce especially large yields, but is less popular because tomato plants grow so large and bulky.
    • A cage should be at least 48 inches (1.2 m) tall, even taller if you grow the plant well. Some tomato plants can be more than six feet (1.8 m) tall in cages. Cages have a tendency to bend if the plants get heavy, and sometimes collapse in summer storms. Carefully pull leaves and secondary stems inside the cage as the plant grows. Cages cost less than USD$4 each.
    • If your plants routinely outgrow purchased tomato cages, get some hardware cloth (wire mesh) with a broad grid and cut it and roll it into wide cylinders to make your own, larger cages. Bend the wire ends around the wires on the opposite end, making a circle. This type of cage may need a strong stake for support.

  11. Choose whether to use use chemical fertilizers. Tomatoes can grow very well organically, provided the soil is well enriched with organic matter. If you do use chemical fertilizers, try using half the recommended concentration per gallon (using package directions), but fertilize twice as often, in order to avoid the stress caused by the feast-famine of the longer fertilization gaps.

    • Over-fertilization can cause plants to grow too quickly, leaving them more susceptible to disease and insects.
    • Remember that your goal in growing tomatoes is fruit, not leaves. Fertilizers, especially when used in excess, may cause the plant to produce more leaves and foliage.

  12. Shake your plants gently once or twice each week for about 5 seconds once flowering begins. According to the National Gardening Association, shaking the tomato plant increases fruit production by more evenly distributing pollen.
  13. Watch for fruit to appear 45 to 90 days after transplanting. Tomato plants usually have small, green fruit to start. Wait until the fruit is of good size with a bright, deep coloring. This means that the fruit is ripe and ready to pick. The texture of the fruit can also determine if it is ready to pick. Ripeness is usually determined by a slight softness. Be careful not to squeeze too hard and bruise the fruit. Also, be careful of allowing it to become overly ripe, which results in a very soft tomato.


  • For those who live with little ground space, or only a porch: plant tomatoes using only a pot! Take a pot about 18-24 inches high, about 15-20 inches wide. Fill with soil, fertilizer, etc. Plant tomato and cover soil with plastic black cloth that lets water through small holes. Cut around the edge in a circle and tuck the edge into the soil. This keeps weeds and bugs out. Buy long plastic stakes and put 3-4 into pot around plant and use plant tape to hold it.

    • Ripe tomatoes can be protected from predators by carefully placing a "Ziploc" type bag over the fruit from the bottom to the stem. Close the bag from both ends at the top to the stem-leaving a 1/4" on each side for air flow. Cut the lower corner for drainage and air flow. Don't be disappointed; spend the time bagging it!

  • Another fun idea for the space-restricted gardener is to start an upside down plant.
  • Tomatoes prefer a soil pH range of 6.0-6.8. Blossom-end rot can be caused by a calcium deficiency and occurs frequently on acid soils or during stress periods on soils with seemingly sufficient calcium. Source: Tomatoes Ohio State University.

    • To correct a calcium deficiency: bring about one gallon (about 4 liters) of water and a tablespoon (15 ml) of lemon juice to a boil. Add six tablespoons of bone meal to the water, stir well, cook covered for 30 minutes to help dissolve. Allow to cool. Solution may not be completely dissolved, that's okay. Feed each plant at leaves and roots one quart (about 1 liter) of solution. Repeat treatment a second time in three to five days. Bone meal is high in calcium and phosphorus.

  • Fruit may be picked any time after it starts changing to its ripe color and set on a sunny windowsill to ripen indoors. This will reduce the chances of it rotting on the vine or being eaten by a bird or squirrel. Tomatoes do, however, taste sweeter when ripened on the vine, so you need to balance risk of threats versus taste.
  • Use a tomato cage or tomato stakes after the plant has been in the ground for six weeks to make harvesting easier.
  • Prior to setting your seedling in the ground, toss a couple handfuls of organic material in the bottom of your planting hole. As the roots grow deeper, they'll hit this layer of nutrients just in time to really boost your fruit output.
  • When planting in the ground, you can place a large coffee can (opened on both ends) over the plant and push it halfway into the ground. When watering, fill the can to the top with water, which will then descend directly to the roots and allow the plant to flourish. Check for "suckers" (branches that grow in the joint between the main stem and other branches). There is a myth that suckers do not produce fruit; this is not true, but they do use some of the plant's nutrients as they grow. As a general rule, leaving suckers will produce more fruit, but smaller, while pinching them off will cause the plant to grow larger fruit, but less of it (because there will be fewer branches).
  • Purchasing Organic plants from your local farmers market can help ensure that your plant is free of pesticides and other possibly harmful chemicals.
  • You can get started earlier in the year by creating a temporary greenhouse. Make or buy cylindrical tomato cages made of heavy duty fence material. Use vinyl coated welded wire with a 3"x5" mesh, 5 ft. tall and about 1'6" in diameter. Plant the seedling and sink the cage into the dirt 4-6". Then take some sturdy, clear plastic (available in the garden center) and tape it securely to the cage. Moisture is retained and the plants are kept nice and warm. Remove the plastic when the plants emerge from the top of the cage or begin to form fruit, whichever happens first.
  • Use manure tea for fertilizer. If you have access to well rotted manure, you can make your own fertilizer. Put the manure in pantyhose or cheese cloth. Place the "tea bag" in a 5 gallon bucket and fill the bucket with water. Allow the "tea" to steep for a few days. Dilute the tea 1:1 with water and give your plants a drink...They'll love it. If you're near the ocean, you can also use sea kelp for the same effect. Kelp is a good fertilizer for foliar feeding; spraying directly on the leaves, because it contains trace nutrients and hormones which are more easily absorbed through leaf pores, instead of indirectly through the roots.
  • While you should avoid pouring too much coffee or fresh grounds into the soil for acidity, the very caffeine which makes this risky is also poisonous to slugs and other pests, which is why coffee plants evolved it. Even more effective than killing these pests is to simply spray the leaves of the plant with coffee. On the leaves, the caffeine is not concentrated enough to harm the plant, but is still enough to repel some pests.
  • If the stem or roots of the plant are damaged -- for example your toddler sits down on top of your 18 inch plant, snapping it near its base -- you can often save the plant anyway, by burying much of its above-ground stem and lower branches again, as you did to 75% of the plant when you first placed it in the ground. The little hairs on the stem and branches grow into roots. Since the plant is already in the ground, you accomplish this by piling dirt up around the plant, so that it grows out of a mound. Raised-earth growing is good for tomato plants at any time, because they are more vulnerable to certain ailments, especially fungus, when their hanging leaves and branches are in contact with the earth.
  • In order to improve flavor, promote growth, increase harvest, and protect from insects, consider using companion plants with your tomatoes. Planting basil within 18 inches of your tomato plant, for example, improves the flavor of its fruit and repels many insect pests. Carrots increase fruit production, because the tomato plant draws nutrients from the carrots (which may grow smaller as a result). Basil also makes a wonderful addition to tomato-based dishes. Try adding it to your spaghetti sauce or bruschetta.
  • If temperatures routinely get above 95 degrees F (35 degrees C), consider shading the tops of each plant from 11 to 3, to reduce the "burn" caused by the combination of heat and sunlight.
  • If you do decide to sucker (cut back) your indeterminate tomato plants, consider not pinching off the whole sucker, but letting it grow just long enough to produce some leaves, then pinching off its tip. This will keep it from putting much effort into growing a long branch, but lets the first few leaves increase the surface area available to your plant for photosynthesis.
  • Suckers that have been pinched off can also be rooted quite easily in moist soil to produce new tomato plants, but this practice does require a larger sucker, and is somewhat impractical in climates with a short growing season, since these plants will reach maturity later in the season and have less time to yield.

    1. Tomato plants love the heat and will grow rapidly once their roots are established. Tomato roots like the soil to be warm before they will really take off. Prepare your location as you normally would with organic matter. Make a very shallow trench that is not quite as long as your tomato plant is tall (pot included). At one end of the trough dig deep enough so that the pot when laying on its side can be mostly covered. This deeper side is to accommodate the plant ball only. On one side of the plant stem (on one side only) gently scrape from the root ball up 4/5th's of the way up the stem so that the outer skin is scraped off down to the firm part of the stem. Be gentle so that at the upper fifth of the plant is not broken. While you scrape the stem you will want to support it in the palm of your other hand. Then place the plant on its side in the trench. Place the plant scraped side down in the trench with the root ball being placed in the deeper side of the trench. The plant stem should be about 1/2" from the surface. Cover almost the entire plant with dirt leaving the tip 1" exposed. Mound some dirt up like a small pillow for the exposed section so that the tip is facing up - it does not need to be pointing directly at a 45 degree angle. Once again, be gentle especially with the top growing end. Gently press down on the soil to assure the scraped side will be in contact with the dirt Water thoroughly and add additional dirt if needed to assure the root ball is covered.

    • By scraping the stem you are exposing the cell layer that will grow roots, by planting close to the surface the plant gets the heat that it loves. The root system will ultimately grow its way down into the soil. It does not take long before you have a very strong root system that will more than support the green part of the plant. As the roots develop you will see your plant grow very quickly providing an abundant number of vigorous stems and blooms.

  • The reason for the shallow trench planting is that tomato plants love warm soil. When a hole is dug and the root ball is planted deeply, the roots will be slower to grow since the soil deeper down does not warm up as early as the surface soil. It is best to mulch well into the summer when the soil is very warm and you need to retain moisture and discourage weeds.
  • A determinate tomato plant grows to a certain, limited size and then stops or at least slows its growth greatly. An indeterminate plant keeps growing and spreading out.


  • Tomatoes are prone to a number of diseases, but you can avoid most of them very easily. First by planting disease resistant varieties,listed on the tomato package.
  • To prevent mold or fungal diseases, water plants in the morning, preferably by using drip irrigation or water furrows. If you spray the entire plant(s) from above, you will increase the chances of mold/fungal spores infecting it/them. Exception; There is a method of fertilizing plants called Foliar Feeding, where you spray the plant's leaves with fertilizer containing trace elements, which will be directly absorbed. This is good for the plant, though it should be done in the evening or morning, when its pores are open.
  • Only eat the fruit of a tomato plant, never anything else, as tomato vines are in the highly poisonous Nightshade family.
  • Tomatoes need good weather and soil conditions to produce good fruit.
  • When transplanting, be careful not to disturb the roots. If too many roots are cut or damaged, the plant may die. See "tips" above for how to fix root or stem damage.
  • As your plants flourish and grow, string, or cord tend to cut into the branches. Instead, try using torn strips of cloth for your garden tying needs, and especially when cinching up tomatoes. Cut-up strips of old hose or stockings work great for tomato ties; they are stretchy and gentle enough to tie vines well. One pair of 99-cent pantyhose in 1/2-inch strips will hold up rows of plants.
  • Never sucker (prune the new growths at the base of each fruiting branch) determinate tomato plants. This kind of plant sets its fruit all at once, and all you will accomplish is making your crop much smaller.
  • Seeds of tomato are pretty small and their planting depth should not be too deep. A deep sowing results in less or no emergence and as a result loss of seeds may be attained.It is therefore wise to cautiously follow the planting depth of seeds and this has to be a 0.5-1.5cm.

Things You'll Need

  • Tomato plants (several different varieties)
  • Composted manure. Available in 40-pound bags from nurseries, garden centers, or hardware stores.
  • Trowel or small shovel
  • Twine or cloth for tying
  • Tomato stakes (bamboo, iron rebar, wood) or tomato cages.

Related wikiHows

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