19 Tomato Growing Tips for Your Best Harvest This Year

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It’s never too early or too late for tomato growing tips! If you’re wondering how to grow tomatoes to insure your best ever harvest, this helpful information on growing tomatoes and our 19 best tomato growing tips is sure to help!

best tomato growing tips

Best Tomato Growing Tips

Many gardeners love to grow tomatoes in the home vegetable garden. The flavor of sun-ripened, fresh homegrown tomatoes cannot be beat! 

Tomatoes grow well with so many other plants and even thrive in large pots or raised garden beds. They are a staple in home gardens, but can also be a little finicky.

From types of tomatoes to pest control, I have all my best tomato growing tips for you here. Implement a few of these tips and tricks to get even more deliciously juicy tomatoes from your garden.

bowl full of different types of red, yellow, and orange tomatoes

What Types of Tomatoes Should I Grow?

The tomato growing tip is to choose the right tomato for your garden. Tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the choices.

How much time and space you have will determine which varieties of tomatoes are best suited to your needs. Different types of tomatoes are better suited to lots of space, while others grow well in pots or in raised beds.

As you decide which tomatoes to grow, think about your answers to these questions:

  • Are you growing in a small garden? 
  • A raised bed garden? 
  • Gardening in pots? 
  • Or do you have a large garden with ample space? 
  • Do you want to enjoy tomatoes all season long?
  • Or, do you prefer to pick your ripe tomatoes all at once?
  • How do you like to eat your tomatoes?
  • Do you want fresh tomatoes for salads?
  • Do you enjoy a handful of fresh, ripe tomatoes for a quick afternoon snack?
  • Do you want tomatoes to turn into tomato paste, homemade ketchup, or fresh tomato sauce for stocking your pantry?

The answers to these questions will determine which type of tomato will grow best for you.

tomato heart

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Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomatoes

Tomatoes come in two main categories: determinate and indeterminate. It’s important that you understand the difference as you think about which tomatoes to grow in your garden.

Indeterminate Varieties of Vining tomatoes

Sprawling or vining tomatoes prefer to spread out over the garden. They will send a lot of vines out, which should be trained vertically up a trellis. 

They will give you a prolonged harvest and allow you to grow all season and more. 

Tomato flowers appear on the vine at various times throughout the season, becoming fruit for a continuous harvest. Indeterminate tomatoes have the longest tomato harvest and require the biggest time commitment.

Our favorite types of indeterminate tomatoes are:

determinate tomatoes growing in garden with stakes

Determinate Varieties of Bush Tomatoes

Bush tomatoes are more compact and take up less room in the garden as they grow well in a pot or container. They will grow to a set height and will produce fruit all at the same time. 

While determinate tomatoes are technically a bush, they still have vining attributes and benefit from a trellising system.

Our favorite types of determinate tomatoes are:

Choosing determinate or indeterminate tomato types is important as you consider time and space. Now it’s also important to think about the different types of tomatoes and how you would like to eat them.

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types of heirloom tomatoes in red, yellow, orange, green and yellow

Types of Tomatoes and Their Uses

I used to think a tomato was just a tomato. Boy, was I wrong! Tomatoes come in a variety of sizes, textures, and flavors. Did you know there are actually more than 10,000 varieties of tomatoes?

Understanding the differences between types of tomatoes and their uses will also help you choose which ones to plant in your vegetable garden.

Cherry or Grape Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are round and bite size. These are perfect for adding to Mediterranean salads or eating fresh. 

Roma Tomatoes

Roma tomatoes are less watery and make a better sauce for canning or for salsas. They also are perfect for sun-dried tomatoes due to the minimal water content. 

Beefsteak Tomatoes

Beefsteak Tomatoes are thick and juicy and are perfect for hamburgers, BLTs, and other delicious sandwiches.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes are a general term that refers to any tomato that has been grown over many generations and grows a fruit that is true to previous generations. An heirloom tomato can be a Roma, Beefsteak, or Cherry Tomato. Save seeds from heirloom tomatoes and grow them over and over again.

tomato seedlings

How to Grow Tomatoes From Seed

Ok, now that you know to choose determinate or indeterminate and you know which types of tomato to grow based on your eating preferences. It’s time to understand how to grow tomatoes! 

Many people grow tomatoes from seed because they can grow many more tomato varieties than they might be able to buy at the gardening center. If you want to grow tomatoes from seed, at the minimum you’ll need:

Tomato seeds should be started indoors eight weeks before your last frost date. Seeds usually take three to ten days to germinate. But, using a germination mat will help the seeds germinate quicker.

To start tomatoes from seed, fill drainable pots with potting soil, add 1 to 3 seeds covered with ¼ of an inch of earth, and water them well.  

Set the trays or pots in a sunny window on a heat mat and wait for the tomato seeds to sprout. Once they’ve sprouted, choose the strongest tomato to grow simply by snipping the other plants level with the soil so as not to disturb the roots of the more robust seedling.

You can also simply plant without thinning the plants by teasing the roots apart and transplanting them deeper into larger pots with fresh potting mix once the seedlings have their first true set of leaves.

For step by step instructions on starting seeds indoors, read this post.

tomato tips transplanted to outdoor beds with silver water can on edge of raised bed

Gardening Tips for Tomatoes

So far, you have determined which tomatoes you want to grow and you’re successfully growing tomato seedlings that are strong and healthy seedlings. To keep your plants growing strong, here are some more tips.

1. When to Plant Tomatoes Outside 

Timing is important when it comes to planting tomatoes outside. Plant tomato seedlings outside in a location that gets full sun. Tomato seedlings are very susceptible to frost. As a result, you might want to wait a couple weeks after your last frost to set tender tomato seedlings outside. Make sure to watch your weather forecast when deciding when to put them out.

As tempting as it can be to get your tomato seedlings in the ground as soon as you can, don’t be in a big hurry to plant them. They need warm garden soil temperatures and nighttime air temperatures of at least 55F, preferably 60F degrees, before you plant them. 

Covering your ground with black plastic in the fall helps warm the soil in early spring.  Not only will the black plastic warm the soil, it also keeps weeds down and helps avoid tilling! I highly recommend covering your garden in the fall.

2. How to Plant Tomatoes Outside

Plant your tomatoes 18-24 inches apart using standard garden spacing or one per square foot if using the square-foot gardening method. 

When planting, remove the bottom row of tomato leaves. Encourage root growth by planting them in as deep a hole as possible. The tomato plant will grow additional roots along the stem, which will help support and anchor the plant.  

Add a trellising system or tomato cages before the root system grows to prevent plant damage.

If you do not wish to deal with starting seeds and heat mats, winter sow tomatoes or buy seedlings from the local nursery.

Related: Tips for Planting Tomato Seedlings

tomato growing tips

3. How to Fertilize Tomato Plants

At the start of the season, mix plenty of compost or fertilizer directly into the soil where you will plant your tomatoes to get them to get off to a great head start. 

All tomatoes are heavy feeders, so planting the seedlings with a tablespoon of balanced fertilizer and bone meal mixed into the soil will help establish a good root supply and develop delicious fruit.  

You should use a slow-release fertilizer every week to grow many ripe tomatoes, be they cherry or full-sized slicers, in around 60 days.  

I use my little garden sprayer and spray Organic Plant Magic fertilizer once a month or so. 

staked tomatoes in a garden

4. How to stake or cage your tomato plants

Another tomato growing tip is to provide support to your tomatoes. You’ll need some way to help your tomatoes stay upright, unless you want a sprawling tomato jungle. We’ve staked and caged our plants and find it to be a personal choice. Even though determinate tomatoes only reach a certain height and then stop growing, they still need support.

Indeterminate tomatoes definitely need support as they continue growing throughout the growing season. You’ll want to choose something extra tall for these tomatoes as I’ve had them reach over 6’ tall before!

There are lots of ways to stake tomatoes. Some favorite tomato staking methods include the Florida weave, tomato baskets, tying to hog panels or fence posts.

5. How much water do tomato plants need?

Tomatoes need plenty of water, one to two inches of water per week. Rain water is the best option, but that’s not always possible. Tomatoes prefer to be watered several times a week, instead of getting all of their watering quickly once a week.

Tomatoes like to be watered slowly and watered deeply. One way to do this is to punch holes in a water bottle or bucket and allow it to slowly drip down on the ground around tomatoes.

Using soaker hoses is a great way to slowly water tomatoes. Delivering the water directly to the plant is more efficient than using a sprinkler. 

If at all possible, avoid using a sprinkler. Sprinklers put more water on the leaves than on the roots. Wet leaves invite disease.

Related: Hot Weather Gardening Tips & 5 Genius Tips to Make Garden and Plant Watering More Eco-Friendly

6. Don’t forget to mulch!

Mulching keeps the weeds down and keeps the moisture in. Grass clippings, straw, and wood chips all make good mulch for your tomatoes. If you’d like to find sources of free mulch, this post will help.

Related: 7 Methods of Natural Weed Control

heavily pruned tomato plant

7. Pruning tomatoes? Or not?

You might not think it, but pruning tomatoes can be a contentious subject. Some people think heavily pruning tomato plants is the only way to go. They recommend removing suckers and any branches that don’t contain flowers.

Other people say pruning tomatoes is not necessary at all. My own father prefers to grow tomatoes in huge, homemade tomato cages like the these. I fall in the no pruning camp – but I’m experimenting this year with both methods in my garden. I’ll get back to you with the results.

8. Pinch off early flowers

To help get more tomatoes from your garden pinch off the early flowers from your tomato plants. This helps them establish a strong root system and plenty of strong stalks before they begin to produce. They’ll need a large root base to find water when it’s hot and dry.

cherry tomatoes companion planted with marigolds

9. Companion plants for tomatoes

Grow tomato plants alongside companion plants. These plant friends are useful because they attract beneficial bugs and pollinators. They also repel bad insects and enhance the flavor of your tomato crop.

For a larger tomato crop without issues like blossom end rot, invite beneficial bugs and pollinators into your garden by planting flowers that attract them. 

Add a bug house to encourage beneficial insects to stick around. 

If you do not see many pollinating insects in your garden you can opt to use a hand pollinator or even use a small paintbrush to ensure your tomatoes are fully pollinated.

Some popular tomato companion plants to encourage beneficial bugs include:

  • Nasturtiums
  • Marigolds
  • Borage
  • Bee balm
  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Oregano

Tomatoes grow well with herbs and flowers. My favorite mix to plant with tomatoes is basil, parsley, and marigolds. 

The basil improves the flavor of the tomatoes, the parsley attracts hoverflies that feed on aphids, and the marigolds deter many pests, including root-knot nematodes.  

Do not plant tomatoes with brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage or kale. Brassicas steal nutrients from the tomatoes and will stunt their growth.

diseased tomatoes on withering vine

Common Tomato Problems

No post on tomato growing tips would be complete without a list of common problems and how to fix them.

10. How to prevent blossom-end rot

Tomatoes need calcium to prevent blossom end rot. Fast acting ground limestone will give the soil a major calcium boost. Blossom end rot is most common during wet springs that turn into dry summers. In Eastern Iowa we definitely started out wet and it has been drying since then.

If you’re experiencing blossom end rot, lime can help! We love First Saturday Lime. It also kills bad pests like tomato horn worms too! Simply sprinkle lime around the base of your tomato plant and carefully work into the soil.

You might want to test your soil before applying FSL to make sure it doesn’t alter the pH too much. A healthy soil has s pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Use this lime calculator to see how much lime you will need to add based on the current pH level of your soil.

11. Why are the tomato leaves turning yellow?

If the leaves on your tomato plants are turning yellow, they probably need more magnesium. An easy way to get them magnesium is to use epsom salts

Feed them one tablespoon of epsom salts per foot of height, twice a month. If your tomato plants are 4 feet tall, give them 4 tablespoons of epsom salts twice a month. 

Track when you do this in your garden journal so you don’t forget!

12. How to prevent late blight

Blight is a common fungal disease that affects tomato leaves and sometimes the fruit. It causes yellow leaves and fruit rot. 

To prevent blight in your tomato, fall garden clean-up is key. It’s important to remove all dead plants because any diseased spores can reproduce over the winter.

The USDA recommends spraying tomato plants throughout the growing season with a homemade blight prevention mix:

  • One gallon water
  • Heaping tablespoon baking soda
  • One teaspoon vegetable oil
  • Small amount of mild soap 

13. Why are my tomatoes cracking?

Tomatoes often split or crack for a variety of reasons including, inconsistent watering and not enough fertilizers. 

To prevent splitting tomatoes, make sure to water your plants consistently, mulch heavily, and feed your plants according to the recommendations here.

tobacco hornworm with hornworm poop pellets

Tomato Pests and How to Protect Against Them

Vegetable gardeners around the world know how destructive plant pests are. Tomatoes have many pests, from nematodes and hornworms, to aphids and flea beetles. Tomatoes can and will be attacked at any stage of growth by multiple pests.

I always recommend Organic Garden Pest Control Methods as I don’t want chemicals around our food.

14. Nematodes

Root Knot Nematodes feed from the roots and cause the tomato plant to be stunted, weak, and yellow.  You’ll want to plant nematode-resistant varieties and consider letting the soil rest next year to disrupt the lifecycle.

green tomato hornworm happily eating tomato leaves

15. Tomato Hornworms

Hornworms will strip a tomato plant of its leaves.  If you go out with a black light at night, you will notice the hornworm glows.  Just pick them off and drop them into soapy water or toss them as a treat to your hens.

16. Aphids

Aphids suck the sap from the tomato plant.  You will notice the tomato plant will begin to yellow, the leaves to curl, and the flowers may not look right.  Spray the tomato plants with soapy water.  Be sure to spray on the underside of the leaves.

17. Flea Beetles

Flea beetle damage on tomato leaves looks like a sieve with pinhead-sized holes over the leaves. You will want to treat it with diatomaceous earth or a pyrethrin-based product. Sticky traps are also helpful in treating and preventing infestations.

How Long Does It Take For Tomatoes To Grow

Depending on the variety, it takes tomatoes 60-100 days from seed to fruit. You will notice fruits appear two to three weeks after flowering.

And then you’ll wait impatiently for the tomatoes to turn their proper colors. 

18. When to Harvest Tomatoes

It can be tricky to determine when to harvest tomatoes, especially if you’re growing tomatoes that aren’t red. Harvest tomatoes when they are in full color, whether they’re red, yellow, purple, black, or even tie-dye. 

If you’re having trouble determining when to harvest based on color, feel the tomatoes. They should be firm but not hard. 

If you let a tomato grow too long and it’s squishy, feed it to your animals or add it to your worm bin or compost system.

Some people prefer to pick tomatoes before their peak to avoid cracking and pest problems. Since tomatoes will finish ripening on a sunny windowsill, I think this is a perfectly acceptable way to pick tomatoes as well.

hands holding freshly harvested cherry tomatoes

19. How to Harvest Tomatoes

It’s easy to harvest tomatoes. Simply grasp the tomato in one hand and pull the tomato with a twisting motion of your wrist. 

You can also hold the tomato in one hand and clip the stem with pruning shears. I like to use shears for cherry tomatoes and to hand-pick the other varieties as I can pick each tomato at its peak level of ripeness. 

How to Preserve Tomatoes

Now that these top tomato growing tips have helped you have an amazing harvest, do you need to know what to do with your bounty? Tomatoes are best eaten fresh, but if you want to enjoy them year-round, you’ll need to preserve them by drying, canning, freezing, and fermenting them. 

Store tomatoes on the countertop out of direct sunlight. Once they are fully ripe, place them in the refrigerator. For best flavor, let them return to room temperature before eating.

Here are a few of our favorite tomato preservation recipes:

Hopefully these tomato growing tips will help you grow the most beautiful tomatoes yet! Do you have a tip I didn’t mention?

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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