Beginner’s guide on how to grow tomato plants

Share this post!

Are you considering starting a vegetable garden and dreaming of juicy, delicious, homegrown tomatoes? Well, you’re in for a treat! Learn here how to grow tomatoes in your vegetable garden!

Vine tomatoes which are starting to ripen
Vine tomatoes which are starting to ripen

Tomatoes are one of the most popular and rewarding crops to grow in a garden. Not only do they taste incredible, but they also provide a sense of accomplishment as you watch them thrive from seedlings to ripe, delicious fruits.

In this guide for a beginner gardener, I’ll walk you through planting and growing tomatoes, ensuring a bountiful harvest in your backyard.

GENERAL RULES FOR GROWING YOUR TOMATOES

  • Start your tomato seeds indoors or buy a seedling.
  • Grow seedlings, or young plants, outdoors or in a greenhouse.
  • Grow the tomatoes in a pot or in the ground.
  • Growing tomatoes in the greenhouse:
    • Start the seeds from March to April.
    • Plant the seedlings after the second half of April.
    • Harvest the tomatoes from July to October.
  • Growing tomatoes in the ground:
    • Start the seeds in April.
    • Plant the seedlings in late spring, or mid-May in a sheltered, warm, and sunny spot in the garden.
    • Harvest the tomatoes from August to September.
  • Water your tomatoes at the base of the plant, preventing common tomato diseases.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT TOMATO

The first step in learning how to grow tomatoes, or any vegetable, is selecting the right variety for your garden. Consider factors such as different tomato varieties’ size, taste, and growth habits. Determinate varieties are compact and suitable for smaller gardens, while indeterminate varieties are more sprawling and ideal for larger spaces. Popular choices include ‘Roma’ for sauces, ‘Beefsteak’ for large fruits, and ‘Cherry’ tomatoes for snacking.

A FEW POPULAR TYPES OF TOMATOES

Matina:

  • Weight per tomato ~60 – 80 grams.
  • Height of the plant ~1.5 – 2 meter (~5 – 6.5 feet).
  • Flavor: A juicy, refreshing flavor combining sweetness and acidity, and have a firm texture.
  • Often used in salads, and sandwiches but also salsas, soups, and sauces.

Roma tomato:

  • Weight per tomato ~80 – 100 grams.
  • Height of the plant ~1.5 meter (~5 feet).
  • Flavor: A sweet flavor and lots of flesh.
  • Often used in soups, pestos, and sauces.

Cherry tomato Cerise:

  • Weight per tomato ~18 – 25 grams.
  • Height of the plant ~2 – 2.5 meter (~6.5 – 8 feet).
  • Flavor: An exceptional sweetness and rich tomato flavor. They have a pleasing balance between sweetness and acidity.
  • Often used in salads, soups, sauces, salsas, skewers, and bruschetta.
  • Optional: you can grow this tomato variety in a pot or hanging basket or just in the soil as the rest of these varieties.

Beefsteak tomato Marmande:

  • Weigh per tomato ~120 – 150 grams.
  • Height of the plant ~1 – 1.6 meter (~3.2 – 5.2 feet).
  • Flavor: A rich, sweet, and tangy flavor with a good balance of acidity. The flavor intensifies as the tomatoes fully ripen.
  • Often used in stews, sauces, soups a sandwich, salads, or on a burger.

Beefsteak or Oxheart Coeur de Boeuf:

  • Weight per tomato ~500 grams or more.
  • Height of the plant ~1.8 – 2.2 meter (~6 – 7.2 feet)
  • Flavor: A rich, sweet, and tangy flavor with meaty, juicy flesh.
  • Often used in Caprese salads, sandwiches, salsas, and sauces.
  • The plant will develop around 5 tomatoes per cluster. But because of the high weight of the tomatoes, you can remove a few flowers. Keep 2 flowers on the cluster so you will yield 2 tomatoes per cluster.
oxhearth coeur de boeuf tomatoes that are still green
Beefsteak or Oxheart Coeur de Boeuf

Next to size, taste, and growth habits you should also consider in which environment you want to grow your tomatoes. Do you live in a warm or cold, or a wet or dry climate? Are you going to grow your tomatoes in a greenhouse or the open air and in a pot or in the ground?

UNDERSTANDING YOUR CLIMATE

Why is climate important?

Understanding and considering the climate is crucial when growing tomatoes. Climate directly impacts the yield and quality of your harvest. Tomatoes have specific temperature, sunlight, and moisture requirements at different stages of growth. Getting these factors right ensures healthy plants, optimal fruit development, and ultimately, a bountiful and delicious tomato yield. 

Different climates necessitate distinct approaches to planting, care, and protection against extreme conditions, making it essential to tailor your gardening practices to your specific region for a thriving tomato garden. Do you live in a colder climate? You should consider growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse. 

THE PERFECT TOMATO CLIMATE

The ideal climate for growing tomatoes is a warm-temperate climate with moderate temperatures, plenty of sunlight, and consistent rainfall. Regions with a long growing season with daytime temperatures typically around 75 to 85°F (24 to 29°C) and 55 to 70°F (13 to 21°C) at night, are ideal for tomatoes.

However, tomatoes can be successfully grown in various climates. The Mediterranean climate with its mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers is perfect for growing tomatoes. With proper care and attention to watering and shade, tomatoes can thrive in subtropical and tropical climates. Regions with distinct seasons and moderate temperatures, otherwise known as temperate climates, are excellent for tomato cultivation. 

Don’t panic if your climate isn’t suitable for growing tomatoes. In colder or less favorable climates, greenhouses provide a controlled environment to grow tomatoes year-round. The key is to adapt your growing techniques, select appropriate tomato varieties, and implement necessary measures to protect the plants from extreme conditions, such as cold weather, based on your specific climate.

MY LOCAL CLIMATE

I live in Limburg in the Netherlands and we have a temperate maritime climate. Although we don’t live near the sea, our climate is influenced by the North Sea.

Well, all fun and games but what does a temperate maritime climate mean? Because of this climate, we have mild summers and cool winters. Our climate is characterized by relatively moderate temperatures throughout the year, with rainfall evenly distributed over the seasons. However, local variations in climate can occur due to Limburg’s diverse geography. Because of the hills and valleys, especially in the deep south where I live, the climate occasionally differs from the rest of our province.

the view on top of a hill in Limburg
The view on top of a hill in Limburg

In the US this climate is comparable to zone 8b, based on the Köppen climate classification and general climatic conditions.

HOW TO PREPARE THE SOIL FOR YOUR TOMATOES?

Tomato plants thrive in nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. Prepare your garden bed by removing any weeds, rocks, or debris. To prepare your soil even better you can add organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, to improve soil fertility and drainage. You can best prepare your soil a few weeks before planting your seedlings. Work the soil thoroughly to create a loose, crumbly texture, allowing the roots to penetrate easily.

PLANTING YOUR TOMATO SEEDLINGS

Transplant your tomato seedlings in their seed tray outdoors once the danger of frost has passed, also called the last frost date, and the soil has warmed up. Here in the Netherlands, we are in Zone 8, we can usually plant our seedlings after (around) the 14th of May.

Make sure to dig a hole deep enough to cover the lower portion of the stem. Tomatoes can develop roots along their stems. Space the plants at least 0.6 – 0.9 meters (2-3 feet) apart to allow for proper air circulation.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT NEIGHBORS

Tomatoes enjoy the company of plants like basil, carrots, onions, garlic, bell pepper, pepper, and celery. These plants have a beneficial effect on each other.

Watch out when planting tomatoes in your vegetable garden. If you’re also planting potatoes, corn, fennel, zucchini, or cucumber, be sure to keep them apart from the tomatoes.

HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR TOMATOES

Tomato plants require consistent care throughout the growing season. Here are a few essential practices to keep in mind when learning how to grow tomatoes.

WATERING

Tomatoes need regular watering, especially during dry spells. Water deeply, ensuring the soil is evenly moist but not waterlogged. Avoid wetting the foliage, as this can lead to disease.

tomatoes that are bursting through their skin
Irregular watering or overwatering in a dry spell can make the tomatoes burst. You can prevent this by removing the ripe tomatoes before watering the plants.

MULCHING

Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, around the base of the plants. Mulching helps retain moisture, suppresses weeds, and regulates soil temperature.

STAKING OR CAGING

Most tomato varieties benefit from staking or caging to support their vigorous growth. As the plants grow taller, tie them gently to stakes or place them within tomato cages, providing stability and preventing branches from breaking.

FERTILIZING

Feed your tomato plants with a balanced organic fertilizer, compost tea, or regular compost every few weeks to promote healthy growth and fruit production. Follow the package instructions for application rates.

COMMON DISEASES AND PESTS AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM

Unfortunately, tomatoes are susceptible to various pests and diseases. Keep an eye out for common issues like aphids, tomato hornworms, or fungal diseases such as early blight or late blight. Regularly inspect your plants; if you notice any problems, take appropriate action and remove infected leaves or plants.

This year we were unlucky, I was watering our precious tomato plants and suddenly saw a leaf with a darkened spot on it. When you encounter something like this on your tomato plant you should take immediate action!

EARLY BLIGHT

Early blight, is a common, and destructive, tomato plant disease caused by a fungus. This fungal disease typically manifests as small, dark spots or concentric rings on the lower leaves of your tomato plant. Eventually, these dark spots will gradually enlarge and turn the leaf yellow, after which the leaf will drop. Unfortunately, this is not the end, if left untreated this fungal disease will reduce fruit production. 

The primary cause of early blight is the fungus Alternaria solani, which overwinters in infected plant debris, soil, or seeds. The fungus thrives in warm, humid conditions, making it particularly prevalent during the growing season in many regions. Once the spores come in contact with susceptible parts of the tomato plant, they germinate and penetrate the plant’s tissue, causing the characteristic symptoms associated with early blight.

What to do when encountering early signs of Early Blight on your tomato plants. 

  • Remove and destroy the affected leaves to prevent the disease from spreading further. 
  • Implement proper sanitation practices, such as cleaning and disinfecting gardening tools, to avoid inadvertently transferring spores. 
  • Providing adequate airflow and spacing between plants, using mulch to prevent soil splash, and watering at the base of the plants can aid in preventing and managing the disease. 
  • Fungicidal sprays and organic treatments, such as copper-based or neem oil solutions, can also be employed as preventive measures or to halt the progression of the disease. 

In future tomato growing seasons, crop rotation is crucial, avoiding planting tomatoes or other susceptible solanaceous crops in the same soil for at least two years to reduce the risk of reoccurrence.

LATE BLIGHT

Late Blight is caused by an oomycete pathogen, not a fungus. It is a devastating and highly contagious disease mostly affecting tomatoes and potatoes. Late blight is a destructive disease. It is characterized by dark, water-soaked lesions on leaves, stems, and fruits of the affected plants. These lesions often have a fuzzy, white fungal growth on the undersides of the leaves during periods of high humidity. If left unmanaged, late blight can result in rapid defoliation, rotting of fruits, and ultimately the death of the plant.

late blight infesting some tomatoes
Late blight can result in rapid defoliation, rotting of fruits, and ultimately the death of the plant

Late blight spreads through windborne spores, rain, irrigation, and movement of infected plant material. The spores can travel considerable distances, making them highly contagious and challenging to contain.

Immediate action is required upon encountering early signs of late blight on your tomato plants to prevent its rapid spread and minimize damage. 

  • Remove and destroy the infected plant parts, ensure not to compost them to prevent the disease from spreading. 
  • Fungicidal treatments specifically formulated for late blight can be applied to affected plants. 
  • Improve air circulation by spacing plants adequately.
  • Avoid overhead watering, which can further spread the spores. 
  • Rotate your crops in future growing seasons. 
spots of late blight on a tomato plant
When you see black spots on the leafs of your tomato plant remove them immediately! When the stem of the tomato plant also has black spots you should remove the plant altogether

BLOSSOM-END ROT

Blossom-end rot is a physiological disorder that affects certain fruiting crops, notably tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. It is characterized by dark, sunken, and leathery lesions that form at the fruit’s blossom end (bottom). This condition typically occurs as the fruit begins to ripen and enlarge, causing tissue decay at the end opposite the stem.

End rot is primarily caused by a calcium deficiency in the developing fruit. To prevent and manage blossom end rot, it’s important to ensure consistent and adequate watering, maintain proper soil calcium levels, and monitor soil pH. Mulching and keeping consistent moisture levels will help in calcium uptake and overall fruit health.

HARVESTING AND ENJOYING YOUR HOMEGROWN TOMATOES

As the summer progresses, your tomato plants will reward you with delicious, ripe, flavorful fruits with a taste miles away from store-bought tomatoes. Harvest them when they are fully colored and slightly firm to the touch. Don’t be tempted to pick them too early, even though tomatoes continue to ripen off the vine. Enjoy your homegrown tomatoes in salads, sandwiches, and sauces, or simply enjoy them right from the vine.

a grape tomato

SOME LAST TIPS ON HOW TO GROW TOMATOES!

  • Don’t forget to label your seedlings!
  • Use some form of mulch to prevent weed growth, regulate soil temperature, and conserve moisture.
  • Remove the suckers (the shoots that develop in the leaf axils) daily. This way the plant will focus its energy on the production of tomatoes.
  • Gently twist or cut the tomatoes when harvesting so you make sure you don’t damage the plant.
  • Plant what you consume, it would be a shame to throw away rotten tomatoes after all your hard work!
  • If the plant becomes too tall, you can cut off the main stem above the fourth cluster. This will prevent the plant from growing any taller.
  • Top the outdoor tomato plant around the end of July, while greenhouse tomato plants can be topped around mid-August. Clusters that develop after these dates will not ripen in time. This allows the plant to focus its energy on the clusters that will ripen on time.

Let me know, did you grow tomatoes in your vegetable garden? Or are you planning to grow them? Either way good luck and know the tomatoes from your garden taste the best!

Share this post!

6 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *