tomatoes-on-the-vine1Planting tomato seedlings, your own or purchased, is a good opportunity for getting your tomatoes off to a good start. We all want the earliest and sweetest tomatoes but we need to follow some guidelines to do so.

1. Hopefully, you have picked disease resistant tomatoes that meet your other requirements and have set the stage for success.

2. Pick a site in the garden that gives the tomato plants at least 6 (six) hours of sun per day. Tomatoes plants in shadier conditions may grow and produce fruit but they will be spindly and less productive. If you have no choice, go a head and put the plants in the sunniest place possible. We all understand.

3. Watch the temperature and when the night-time temperatures are well above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), start planning and planting. Tomatoes are warm weather plants and will not grow well until soil temperatures are above 70 F (21 C). If you are really in to getting the earliest tomatoes you can put black plastic (garbage) bags on the soil where you want to plant the tomatoes and let the solar heat warm the soil.

4. Prepare the soil that tomato plants love:
rich in organic matter
well drained
slighly acid (pH6.2-6-8)
(add compost or manure to help to create the first two.)

5.  On a shady day or in the evening, plant the tomato plants 2’-4’ apart and deep enough so that the entire stem up to the leaves is under the soil. If you have “leggy” plants make a ditch, lay them horizontally, and cover the stems; they will develop roots all along the stems. Be sure that the roots of the plants are loose, not twisted around the bottom of the root ball.

6. Place stakes or cages (only suitable for determinate tomato plants) in place when you plant as later intrusions into the soil will hurt the roots of the tomato plants.

7. Once the soil and air temperatures have warmed up, mulch the tomato plants with organic mulch such as compost or manure. This will give nutrients to the growing plants as well as improve the moisture retentive qualities of the soil. Resist the temptation to mulch early in the season before the soil warms up as this will only hurt the plants by preventing the sun from warming the soil.

8. As the branches of the plants develop consider nipping off the small branches (suckers) that emerge in the axils (“V’s”) of the branches leaving only one to three at the base of the plant. The suckers compete with the fruit for nutrients, water, and light so you will get larger fruit if you remove them. You don’t need to do this with determinate plants. This pruning is a controversial issue because it also reduces the number of fruit in favor or larger fruit.

9. Check the soil moisture weekly and make sure the tomatoes get 1” of water per week. This is more than you think. But don’t over water or you will incur other problems that reduce yield, like blossom end rot.

10. Harvest tomatoes when they have turned color and are softening. Do NOT store in the refrigerator, as they will lose flavor. This is harder than you think because a huge number ripen at about the same time and you will want to preserve them in the refrigerator. The best thing to do is make a plan that includes friends, family, neighbors, food bank and maybe more, in your grand scheme of things.

Nota Bene (note well): If you have not mulched with organic matter you may want to add a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-10 or 5-20-20 early in the season. Once the plants have set fruit you can add a side dressing of 10-10-10. Resist the temptation to add a high nitrogen fertilizer before fruit set as you will get vigorous vine growth at the expense of fruit production.

I must confess that I am a tomatoholic and so I over start, over plant, and over cultivate tomato plants. In most years I get a huge crop and totally indulge myself in tomatoes (with basil, red onions and a bit of olive oil) and have many to give away. If I don’t get a bumper crop, I am not disappointed because there are usually “enough”. This is really a win-win situation. If you like/love tomatoes, give them a try…you will not be disappointed.

If you would like tips for selecting which tomato plants to grow see: My seven points to ponder when selecting tomato plants.

Vegetable Gardening pointer

By Karen

16 thoughts on “Ten Tips for Successful Tomatoes”
  1. Great tips Karen! I think I’ll try pinching off the suckers this year, as I am the only one in the household who eats tomatoes and so less fruit in favour of larger fruit is probably a good idea. I’m attempting container-grown tomatoes this year, as the vegetable garden is full of garlic. I have two very large pots and lots of compost, and a good potting soil. Do you know if the variety “Golden Queen” self-pollinates, or should I definitely have two plants?

  2. My understanding is that ‘Golden Queen’ self pollinates so one plant should be fine. It can also be pollinated by other kinds of tomatoes so seeds might not breed true. You seem to have all the things you need for a good container experience. Good luck!

  3. I had no idea that Houston was so mild that you could have tomatoes in March! Lucky you and thanks for the information. About the green tomatoes; how about frying them, using them in a green salsa or ripening them in a bag if they are far enough along?

  4. I used to grow a lot more tomatoes but we are now having a great deal of trouble with tomato blight in our area – probably because of our recent cool wet summers. I can only grow them in the greenhouse which is a shame because, like you, I love tomatoes.

  5. Thank you for the hints. I have my tomatoes going and they are doing great. You know what I have been doing for the past 10 years or so…When I have too many tomatoes, I of course share, but….I have found and it works great that freezing the tomatoes washed, dried and whole and putting in double bags of plastic works great. I use them for salsas and soups and cooking. They can’t be used for salads or sandwiches but hey, I don’t have to buy tomatoes to cook with all year long. 😀 Take care and thx again.

  6. Many thanks for sharing your freezing idea for tomatoes. Couldn’t be easier; I’m going to try it for sure!

  7. Thanks for following me on Twitter, and thanks for the great gardening info. Your articles have really lessened my panic, but I’m not receiving your Twitter updates. I think it’s a technical problem on my part. Look forward to a great instructional and pleasant experience!

  8. Thanks for these invaluable tips Karen! I’m attempting to grow tomatoes (amongst other vegetables) on my tiny London balcony, so a greenhouse isn’t an option – I really like the tip that suggests putting a black bin liner over the coil / grow bag to retain warmth, so will employ this when I transplant my plants! Thanks for the tips!

  9. I am glad to know that my home grown tips for East Coast USA are valuable for London. Good luck on your tomatoes!

  10. Tomatoes are always one of our favorites. Last year we enjoyed making a lot of home made pasta sauce. I came up with a short cut that saved me a lot of time. I just put the recipe up on my blog at

    I did just learn something today about planting tomatoes that I did not know before.

    I was reading the ebook I got at, and it said that you are not supposed to add compost to the base of your planting holes. It gave these reasons.

    Firstly, if the organic matter isn’t fully composted, the composting process will continue at the base of your plant, removing both nutrients and oxygen from the soil, rather than enriching it.

    Secondly, if the surrounding soil is not fertile, the plant’s roots will not explore beyond the hole it was planted in, making it practically ‘pot-bound’ in its hole.

    And thirdly, as the organic matter continues to break down it’s volume will decrease – most likely causing your plant to sink in its planting hole. If it was planted in clayey or poorly draining soil, the plant will be sitting in a ‘plug’ of water and probably end up suffering root-rot.

    I thought this was interesting and was glad to learn this as I hope to get my plants in this weekend if the rain lets me.

    Check back on my blog later if you want my pasta sauce recipe.

  11. Good points on the use of compost when planting. The problems are really bad in my soil because it is red clay and does not drain well. Thanks for the info and recipe referral.

  12. Great blog post! I love learning about this online as gardening/landscaping are not only hobbies of mine but I actually do a little bit of work like that during the summer months as a second job. I appreciate your content in your blog and wish that you would keep up the good work 🙂

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