So you want to grow your own tomatoes but don’t know where to start? We will discuss how to care for your tomatoes so that you can get the most fruit out of your plants! First, you will want to select a healthy, strong stemmed transplant to take home. There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes (from beefsteaks to salad and cherry tomatoes) so make sure to choose a variety you’ll enjoy eating and get the most use out of.
There is another factor in choosing which variety you want to grow. Tomatoes are broken down into three categories: Determinate, Semi-determinate, and Indeterminate. Please see the graphic below for their differences in growing patterns, size, and needs!
Spacing & Planting: Select a space or container large enough for the tomato. For best performance, they need about a 2-3ft of space around them and a soil depth of at least 1ft. Plant your tomato plant deep so that the soil line comes up to the first set of true leaves (about halfway up the plant). Roots will grow all along the plant’s stem underground and ensure the tomato will have a nice, sturdy base.
Sun: All tomatoes need at least 6-8 hours of full sun a day to produce fruit. Once summer in Texas hits, they do appreciate a little shade in the afternoon either from a sunshade structure or creative pot moving.
Soil & Fertilizer: Make sure your soil is well-draining, rich from added compost, and amended with a long-release granular fertilizer. We really like ‘Rose Glow’ and ‘Rabbit Hill Farm Tomato and Pepper Food’. Fertilize plants every 2 weeks once flowers and fruit start to appear. Tomatoes are hungry plants and need plenty of fertilizer to make tasty tomatoes! Try choosing one with a high Phosphorus and Potassium number rather than a high Nitrogen content, a fertilizer with too much Nitrogen will grow big leafy plants but not many flowers/fruit.
Support: At planting, go ahead and set up your support system for them! Supporting tomatoes is crucial for them to be able to hold the weight of the fruit, lower disease risk, treat pests easily, and aid in harvesting. Get creative with it, there’s a myriad of solutions to getting tomatoes up off the ground!
Watering: Water in the early morning so that the plants have enough moisture to make it through the day. Tomatoes require a fair amount of water especially when newly transplanted and during the heat of summer. If the soil is dry 2” down, go ahead and water deeply. Avoid watering overhead or splashing water on the foliage as that can cause fungal or disease issues.
Pruning: If you’re growing an indeterminate vining type tomato, prune out any “suckers” that occur in the crotch of the main stem and side shoot. They pull extra energy away from the main stem. Pulling them aids air circulation and allows more sunlight into the plant. If growing a determinate bush variety, pruning is usually not necessary.
Pollination: Tomatoes are self-pollinating and usually don’t need any help setting fruit. I like to give the tomato plants a little shake in the morning to aid pollination and ensure fruit. Sometimes in the high heat of summer, tomato plants will drop flowers or refuse to set fruit once temps rise beyond 90 degrees. If that happens, try setting up a sun shade or floating row cover to give them a bit of a break in the afternoon sun. Make sure to keep them well watered and fed even during unproductive times.
Harvesting: Leave tomatoes on the vine as long as possible, ripe fruit will be bright, firm, and shiny. Enjoy fresh or store them in a cool, dark space (never in the fridge). Good luck and happy growing!