Master Gardener: Tips to Know Before Growing Tomatoes | Home & Garden

Tom Ingram Ask a Master Gardener

I am new to gardening, and want to start growing vegetables. I was thinking of starting with potted tomatoes. No suggestions? — SC

It’s no surprise you want to start with tomatoes, because tomatoes have got to be the #1 crop for home gardeners. However, there are so many different types that it can be confusing. Let’s declutter the tomato growing thought process a bit.

When selecting the variety of tomato you want to grow, the first decision you’ll probably have to make is whether you want to grow permanent or indefinite tomatoes. Determinate tomato varieties produce a single crop, usually all at the same time. After producing this crop of fruits, they are done. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to produce fruit throughout the season.

Determinate tomatoes are good if you plan to can your tomatoes or make a bunch of salsa to enjoy the rest of the year. Indeterminate varieties provide you with tomatoes for most of the growing season, perhaps slowing down a bit during the scorching summer days, but then picking up well into the fall. If you really like tomatoes, plan to grow some.

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The next step on the decision tree will be choosing between heirloom tomatoes and hybrid tomatoes. Heirloom varieties are those that have remained essentially the same for many years. These have seeds that are passed down from generation to generation. Hybrid tomatoes have been bred to help increase production or perhaps increase disease resistance. Seed packets will carry a variety of codes indicating resistance to certain tomato diseases.

If you want to increase your chances of success as a beginner gardener, maybe opt for hybrids for now, then move on to heirlooms as you gain more experience.

Tomatoes are a sun-loving plant, so make sure you have a location where they can receive 8-10 hours of sunlight per day. You can still grow tomatoes in places with about six hours of sunlight, but your plants won’t be as hardy as they would have been in full sun. Also, a bit of protection from the late afternoon sun is always a good idea.

If you are going to grow your tomatoes in a container, be sure to fill with high quality garden soil. And don’t forget to make drainage holes in the bottom of your pot so your plants don’t suffer from root rot.

Tomatoes do best with a low nitrogen fertilizer, so start them with a small pinch of 10-20-10 or similar fertilizer, about a tablespoon per plant. This amount of fertilizer won’t carry them through the growing season, so plan to add about 2 tablespoons per plant when the first fruits are about one-third full, then again about two weeks after the first fruits have ripened. , then again about a month later. . Water the plants thoroughly after fertilizing.

When deciding how many tomato plants to grow, a good guideline is about three to five plants per person if you want fresh fruit throughout the season. If you want to can or process your tomatoes, five to 10 plants per person is a good guide. It all depends on how many tomatoes you want your plants to produce.

The spacing of your tomato plants is critical and varies by variety. When growing tomatoes in a container, give each plant space. When planting in the ground, a spacing of 2 to 4 feet is recommended.

Most tomato plants will need some type of support, and there are a variety of ways to achieve this. Most of us are familiar with standard tomato cages. Tomato cages work best with determinate tomato plants, as they tend to be bushier. In contrast, indeterminate tomato plants can grow 4 to 6 feet tall, and cages that size can be expensive. Any staking system works well for these tall, indeterminate tomato plants. We have a video on the Vegetables page of our website ( that describes various ways to plant tomato seedlings.

Water is another thing you need to watch out for with tomatoes, as they can easily become stressed when they don’t get enough water, and stressed plants are more susceptible to disease and other growing problems. In May and June, plan to give your plants at least 1 inch of water per week, then in July, August and September, increase that to at least 2 inches of water. This will vary depending on your growing location and soil conditions, but tomatoes will tell you fairly quickly when they need water, so try not to worry about that.

If you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying tomatoes all season long — unless, of course, you’ve planted a certain variety; then you will have a big harvest all at once. See you soon in the garden!

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You can get all your gardening questions answered by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Helpline at 918-746-3701, visiting our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St., or sending us a email to [email protected].

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