HOW TO GROW TOMATOES – FOR A BUMPER CROP

Follow these simple tricks on how to grow tomatoes to take your tomato growing to the next level!

HOW TO GROW TOMATOES
HOW TO GROW TOMATOES

Tomatoes are an easy crop to grow, but difficult to master. You may have success with tomatoes with absolutely no experience or knowledge, making them an exciting crop for beginner gardeners. But learning how to grow tomatoes will help you grow more and have a more reliable crop year on year. 

There is nothing quite like fresh tomatoes, straight from the vine. They are juicy and sweet and explode with all the flavours of summer. They’re versatile too and can be canned, frozen or turned into the most delightful chutney. 

When it comes to learning how to grow tomatoes, the most important thing is that we understand the type of tomato plant that we have, and therefore understand how it needs to be treated.

HOW TO GROW TOMATOES

The first thing that you need to know is that tomatoes can make very large plants. It is possible to put them into a grow bag or pot and watch them tumble all over your patio or greenhouse. But most tomatoes are in fact vining plants that grow very tall and need to be supported in their upward growth. 

With a little support and some pruning, you can help to avoid a lot of the problems that befall tomatoes and grow a more reliable crop.

how to grow tomatoes
How to grow tomatoes

WHERE TO GROW TOMATOES

Tomatoes can get very large when they are strong and healthy. It is, therefore, best to choose somewhere with plenty of space for them to grow. They will enjoy full sun and well-drained but moist soils with plenty of organic matter. 

If you are growing in a pot, choose the largest pot possible. Some varieties are better suited for growing in pots, so if you can, choose a patio tomato for growing in a pot. 

Should you have the space to grow tomatoes in the ground, they will create an enormous root system and will be less prone to drying out and the problems associated with this. 

Tomatoes are not cold hardy so they will need to be kept indoors until the risk of frost has passed. 

where to plant tomatoes
Where to plant tomatoes

WHEN TO SOW TOMATOES

Sow tomatoes approximately 8 weeks before the last frost for your area. They will need to be grown inside in a heated greenhouse, on a heated propagator or on a sunny windowsill.

When they have their first true leaves you can pot them up into their own little posts. Plant them deep, burying the stem. Backfill with compost until the first leaves are just above the ground. The plant will set roots easily out of the stem increasing the root system and creating a strong, sturdy stem.  

When to sow tomatoes

HOW TO TRAIN TOMATOES

There are two main types of tomato plants, determinate, and indeterminate. Determinate, or bush varieties are usually beefsteak tomatoes and need to be trained differently to indeterminate or cordon varieties. It’s worth finding out which you have before you start growing them. 

Bush variety tomatoes will need support in their upward growth, and they will need plenty of space to grow laterally too. 

Cordon varieties grow very tall and are only really limited by the height of the support they have, or the length of the growing season, as tomatoes will easily succumb to frost. It is therefore very important to give them support.

SUPPORTING TOMATOES

A bamboo pole for them to grow up is not usually sufficient if you have large, healthy tomato plants as they will outgrow this quite quickly. Plants may snap if the support fails mid-season, and you will lose all the fruits it has set above that point. 

A large A-frame or arch would be a better option for supporting your tomatoes.

If you are growing tomatoes in a greenhouse or polytunnel run a sturdy piece of string from the roof down to the ground and using a peg anchor it into the ground at the base of your plant. Then gently wind the plant around the string. Keep tucking it into the string as it grows. This is by far the easiest way to support indoor tomatoes reliably. You also only need to fix the strings once and use them every year!

Training tomatoes using string is best if growing indoors
How to train tomatoes

HOW TO PRUNE TOMATOES

It is necessary to prune tomatoes to keep good airflow around the plant which decreases the chances of getting blight. Pruning also helps to maintain the balance of a plant and helps it to grow tall, setting plenty of fruit in the meantime.

To prune bush variety tomatoes simply thin out the plant if it is getting too bushy, or if there is more growth on one side than another. Prune the branches that are too close to the ground as this is where there is the highest humidity and therefore where the plant is at most risk of blight. Also prune any branches that you are unable to support, or that look as though they might destabilise the plant causing it to break. 

When pruning cordon varieties, it is important to determine where the central stem is. This should be quite easy. From the central stem, there will be leaves that come out at a right angle. Then there are suckers. These are branches, that we would tolerate on a bush tomato, but not on a cordon variety. 

RECOGNISING SUCKERS

Suckers grow at a 90-degree angle between the leaf and the stem. They are easily snapped off when small by simply pulling to one side. If they are allowed to get a little bit bigger (which can happen in a matter of days), cut them off with secateurs. By removing these suckers, we ensure that the plant can put its energy into vertical growth which will produce more fruit.

It is also necessary to prune off old leaves at the bottom of the stem. Any leaves that are dragging on the ground should be removed, and any that are looking weak or old too. Usually, we prune leaves off from the ground up, unless you spot blight on any of the leaves. 

Remove any diseased material as quickly as you can, particularly if you spot blight. You can be quite ruthless when pruning mature tomato plants, so don’t worry about removing too much!

HOW TO WATER TOMATOES

Tomatoes need consistent watering to ensure good healthy growth, and to stop blossom-end rot in the fruit. Blossom-end rot is a calcium deficiency caused by inconsistent watering. Most soils contain plenty of calcium, but it cannot be taken up by a plant without sufficient watering. An interruption in the supply of calcium to a plant can cause a brown, rotten-looking, circular patch on the fruit, often rendering it inedible. 

When watering your tomato plant, avoid getting water on the leaves or the stem as this will increase your chances of getting tomato blight. If you are growing tomatoes outside, they will naturally get rained on. Don’t panic though as the increased airflow from growing outside does partially offset the risk.

HOW TO GROW TOMATOES IN POTS

When growing tomatoes in pots it’s important to make sure that they have a good supply of water. Pots will dry out much faster than beds, so it’s a good idea to water regularly, apply a mulch to the top of the pot to help retain water and use a good quality compost rich in organic matter. Ensure that the pots don’t dry out as this will lead to blossom-end rot. 

Your pot-grown tomato plants will need to be fertilised regularly to prevent them from developing deficiencies. 

Make sure to provide your plant with a sturdy structure to support its growth.

Beefsteak tomatoes grown in pots

HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE TOMATOES TO FRUIT?

Tomatoes will set fruit when the conditions are right. They will not set fruit until night-time temperatures are warm enough. When temperatures start to rise they will produce flowers and the flowers will develop into fruit if temperatures remain consistently high. 

You can encourage your tomatoes to fruit by growing them indoors, in a greenhouse or polytunnel where the temperatures will be higher than if they are grown outside. In the UK tomatoes usually start to fruit indoors in June or July, this may be slightly later outdoors. 

Beefsteak tomatoes
Encourage tomatoes to fruit by growing indoors

HOW DO YOU SUCCESSFULLY GROW TOMATOES?

To successfully grow tomatoes, you must:

  • Sow seeds in a good quality peat-free seed compost 8 weeks before the last frost
  • Transplant seedlings into individual pots when they have their first leaves
  • Ensure that they are not exposed to any frost by keeping them indoors until the risk has passed
  • Plant in full sun in a bed or large container
  • Provide them with some support 
  • Water consistently and make sure the plant doesn’t dry out
  • Fertilise regularly if growing in pots
  • Prune regularly to remove suckers or remove diseased material

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