Last Updated on July 30, 2021
If you’re wondering how to care for tomato plants, you’re in the right place. As one of the most versatile fruits, tomato plants are a great way to start your indoor or outdoor garden.
Planting tomatoes and watching the fruit grow and ripen could be the first step to set you on your way to a full vegetable garden, followed by excellent homemade food for you and your family to enjoy.
Unfortunately, while it’s easy to find tomato seeds and tomato plants to get you started, you may find that certain kinds of tomatoes are more difficult to grow than others. If you’ve always wanted to make your BLTs or salads with fresh, ripe fruit from your garden, here’s what you need to know.
Step by Step Guide on How to Care for Tomato Plants
Step 1: Choosing the Right Seeds
Growing tomatoes starts with picking the right tomato seedlings. As mentioned above, particular tomatoes may be harder to grow than others. Cherry tomatoes are usually the easiest for beginners, as you can produce several groups of cherry tomato plants with very few problems.
If you’re new to growing tomatoes, you’ll also find that it’s easier to start with tomato seedlings and young plants rather than trying to plant tomatoes from seed. Planting tomatoes that have already begun to grow can help to reduce your risk of common problems like tomato blossom-end rot and poor initial growth.
You can usually find tomato fruits ready to grow from a local gardening centre, or you could consider asking your friends to harvest seeds for you if they’re already enjoying their own homegrown tomatoes.
Once you have your seeds, it’s time to get planting.
Step 2: Planting Your Seeds
Whether you’re using young tomato plants or seeds, it’s essential to plan and plant them carefully. Tomatoes enjoy areas with a lot of natural light. The soil temperature is also important, as it needs to be warm enough to encourage growth. It is, therefore, probably not a good idea to start growing your tomatoes in the middle of winter. If the weather is unpredictable, start growing your seeds indoors and move them outdoors from March to early April.
If you’re growing the plant from the seed, give them plenty of room to branch out. It might be thinning the seedlings out to one strong plant per small pot or leaving spaces between tomatoes in your patch. If you have determinate tomatoes (tomatoes that have been genetically modified to only grow up to a certain point), you should have a good idea of how much they’ll grow. Indeterminate tomatoes are less certain, so you may need additional space for them to grow and spread out.
Light is essential for ripe tomatoes. When you’re ready to start growing your outdoor tomatoes, you’ll need to ensure they’re located in spaces, plant pots or hanging baskets where they can get full sun exposure during their growing season. If you’re growing your tomatoes indoors and especially when growing them from seed, we recommend using artificial lighting or placing them in a greenhouse to ensure your tomato varieties get plenty of the right light.
It’s also worth turning a fan on if you’re growing your plants indoors. The main stem of your tomatoes needs to move and sway in the breeze to gain strength, or they won’t be able to hold the tomatoes when they start to grow.
Step 3: Getting Ready to Plant Outdoors
Most tomato varieties will require you to move the developing fruit from indoor seed trays to an outdoor space at a certain time. You’ll be able to find out when you should move the plant outside by looking at your tomato variety packaging. If you’re moving starting tomatoes outdoors, you might need to preheat the garden soil. As odd as this may sound, it is pretty simple, as you can simply cover the planting area with black or red plastic for a few weeks before you plan to move the tomato plants outside.
The Planting Process
Additionally, you must choose a patch of fertile soil during the springtime and keep the soil moist so your tomatoes can start to blossom during early summer. Bury the stems up to the bottom row of leaves and get rid of any spent plants from the surrounding area. You can either dig a deep hole or a shallow planting hole and lay the plant slightly sideways. As long as some of the plants are above ground, you do not need to worry as it will quickly straighten up. Just make sure you don’t drive your tomato stake into the stems you bury.
Adding the Mulch
If you’re not going to place plastic over the soil to keep it warm, then you’ll need to give the ground plenty of time to warm up before adding mulch. Mulch will help to conserve water, attract beneficial insects, and prevent fungal disease and other problems. However, if you place the mulch too early, it could cool and shade the soil.
Step 4: Caring for Tomato Plants
As your tomato plants continue to grow, pay attention to their development. If you need to place stakes in the ground to help the tomato plants remain straight, try to avoid the root ball underneath as this could severely damage your plant. After your tomatoes reach around three feet in height, you’ll also need to remove the leaves from the very top, as these will usually be the first to fall and shade the lower parts of the plant.
To ensure your plants grow as well as possible, make sure you learn everything you can about the kind of plants grown in your garden. Certain tomato plants will benefit from more nutrition for the root ball, like adding eggshells to reduce the risk of calcium deficiency. This type of deficiency often leads to poor fruit growth, blossom end rot, and other common problems.
As your tomato plant continues to develop, don’t be afraid to pinch and prune it. Pruning your tomatoes using secateurs will help you to avoid tomato blight and should lead to better fruit quality. Remove any split fruit from the tomato plants which might attract tomato pests and get rid of suckers from the connection of two branches.
Although pruning is encouraged, try not to prune too much during tomato plant care, or you could end up depriving yourself of your tomatoes.
Remember, the secret to caring for tomatoes and achieving exceptional fruit growth is generally watering and feeding the plants regularly. Aim for consistent moisture in the soil as the fruits begin to develop and feed the plants fortnightly with a balanced feed.
Step 5: Preserving Your Tomatoes
If you want to get plenty of growth out of your tomatoes, you can’t just plant the seeds in a paper bag and hope for the best. Create a schedule for tomato care, with regular watering – especially when the fruits are developing. Irregular watering is another serious problem when it comes to tomato plant care. If you grow tomatoes without watering them regularly, rot can begin to set in.
When the fruits on the tomato plant begin to ripen, you can lessen the watering slightly, which should cause the plant to start concentrating its sugars, which leads to a better flavour. The more you grow tomatoes in your garden, the more you’ll get a sense of what kind of watering and feeding strategies work best without stressing the plant.
Remember to provide plenty of support for the plant shoots and stems too. You may need support canes to stop the plants from drooping, and some experts recommend removing any side shoots that are pulling attention away from the areas bearing the most flowers and fruits.
A bush type tomato plant generally won’t require you to pinch out growing tips or remove side shoots, but you might need to continue supporting heavy branches with canes and extra stakes.
Step 6: Harvesting Your Tomatoes
If you carefully follow the steps above, you should find that your greenhouse-grown tomatoes are ready to be enjoyed by the middle of summer. If you’ve been growing your tomato plant outdoors in the garden, you’ll probably be able to start eating the fruits sometime in the late summer, depending on the weather and where you are.
To ensure you get the best results, make sure you check the ripeness of your tomatoes before harvesting them. The ripe tomatoes in your garden should be the same colour everywhere. Remember, you can leave ripe tomatoes on the vine for up to two weeks without them going bad, so it’s worth simply picking what you need when you need it, rather than plucking everything at once.
As the temperatures begin to cool during the autumn months, your tomatoes will generally stop ripening, but you can bring them indoors to preserve the plant. During October, you can remove all of the remaining tomatoes and place them in a paper bag indoors, together with an apple or banana. These fruits will encourage the tomatoes to finish ripening over the next two weeks or so. Check the bag from time to time to get any extra tomatoes out of it as they ripen.
Caring Tomato Plants Made Easy
Overall, growing and caring for tomato plants are not difficult tasks to do. You just need to follow the right guide and seeds to start planting them in your garden.
If you have any other handy tips for growing and caring for tomato plants, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
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Nicole has a passion for everything about the home – especially decor. She loves to add new touches and style to every part of the house. Join her as she documents her ideas at Home & Style.