Growing tomatoes can be tricky, but with these best practices for growing tomatoes you’ll be on your way to growing the juiciest tomatoes in no time!
Just think—in just a few short months, you can be harvesting stellar, juicy tomatoes in your own garden. Stay with me here as I go over exactly what I did from planting to harvest so hopefully you too can grow some killer tomatoes and not only enjoy them yourself but also share the wealth and impress all your friends! Gardening is all about sharing the abundance, right?🌿
Whether you have a big yard or an apartment terrace, here is my guide and best practices for growing tomatoes.
8 Best Practices for Growing Tomatoes
The best practices for growing tomatoes include:
- Buy starts from a local farm
- Plant your seeds deep
- Sprinkle mycorrhizal fungi before planting
- Plant them in the correct location
- Amend the soil with nutrient-dense additives
- Ground planting over pot planting
- Drain the soil well
- Consistent water is critical
- Fertilizing is essential
- Stake early and tie up often
- Prune them weekly
Before we dive into the best practices for growing tomatoes, it might be a good idea to start with this post about growing your first garden. I share tons of tips that will help you become an expert gardener in the post!
Okay, now for the tips.
Buy Starts from a Local Farm
I bought starts from our local farm because it wasn’t warm enough to start seeds in my zone (6a) and I was impatient! Growing tomatoes from seed is tricky if you don’t have a greenhouse and live in a cool climate— best practices for growing tomatoes suggests they want WARM temps for both air and soil plus lots of sunshine. These conditions are extremely challenging to provide inside your home. That’s why sometimes you’ll get very leggy tomato starts (not enough sun) or they’ll just be stunted and not grow AT ALL for weeks (too cold). In my opinion starts are worth every penny, let the growers use their greenhouses and you can reap the benefits with waaay less frustration!
Plant Your Seeds Deep
Plant your starts DEEP. Like deeper than you think! I planted mine when they were about 12” tall and had a few sets of leaves. I removed the bottom leaves, dug down about 6” and tucked the seedlings in deep. Tomatoes are fascinating because their entire stem can root out, that’s the little bumps you see towards the base sometimes! Little root nodes. The deeper you plant, the stronger root system your plant will develop, and if you’ve been following me for any length of time on Instagram you know I’m all about healthy root systems!
Sprinkle Mycorrhizal Fungi Before Planting
Speaking of roots, I highly recommend sprinkling a tablespoon of mycorrhizal fungi in each hole before dropping the plant in. This is one of my secret best practices for growing tomatoes. This stuff is MAGIC and we use it on every transplant whether it’s in the garden or in the landscape beds. It’s a combo of millions of beneficial soil fungi and bacterium that have a symbiotic relationship with plants’ roots. They help the roots grow and develop into super healthy plants!
These next tips should be obvious, but I must list them because they’re SO IMPORTANT to the health of your tomatoes and any garden plant.
Necessary Best Practices for Growing Tomatoes
Plant in the Proper Location
How much sunshine do tomatoes need? Tomatoes need 8 plus hours of direct sun! No joke, get them their sun otherwise you’ll have leggy, wimpy plants.
Amend the Soil with Nutrient-Dense Additives
I can’t stress this enough – healthy soil = healthy plants. We use compost, manure and worm castings in the early spring to create a healthy soil biome before even planting. Our beds are 8’x4’ and mostly filled with topsoil but each spring we add 4 bags compost and one small bag of worm castings. Be sure to rake the manure and worm castings lightly into only the top 3” of your soil (click here to learn more about worm castings in your garden). Your seedling roots need access to these nutrients immediately, and if dug in too deeply, might not grow as fast as you’d like. Next year I am also planning on adding beneficial nematodes to help deter pests and fungus!
Ground Planting Over Pot Planting
Most tomatoes prefer the ground as opposed to a container and best practices for growing tomatoes suggests to plant in ground as well. But if this isn’t possible, there are types of tomatoes that can survive in pots called “patio tomato,” so ask your local garden center if they carry them! And make sure, if you’re doing container tomatoes, you get BIG pots (like 24” diameter per plant) and it has very good drainage, with multiple holes, not just one in the middle. Prepare the soil for the pot the same way as for the ground but use a potting soil mix as the base.
Drain the Soil Well
This one is hard to describe but to me, well-draining soil means not too much clay (the type that holds on to water), and not too much sand (the type that can’t hold on to water). Ideally, you’ll have the perfect mix of both so the soil retains enough water for the roots to drink but doesn’t water-log and drown them. The good news is that compost helps both situations🙌 it makes clay soil more aerated and sandy soil more compact. I recommend adding compost as your first step if you suspect a soil issue!
Consistent Water is Critical
Water early in the morning at the same time. I water my tomatoes at 7 a.m. daily for 5 minutes. Try to keep the leaves dry if you are hand-watering.
The best fertilizer I have found so far for tomatoes has been Neptune’s Harvest fish emulsion. I use Neptune’s Harvest fish emulsion every 10 days until fruit appears. Just like us, tomatoes need food to grow big and strong! Nutrients matter with tomatoes!
Stake Early and Tie Up Often
I use (stakes, cages, trellises? Your choice) and train them to climb early. Using floral tape is gentle on the stalks and easy to use. When staking, remember to keep the leaves off the ground so they don’t transport possible diseases back into the soil. Prune leaves to about 6” off the ground.
Prune Suckers Once a Week
These rascals are plant growth that can rob your tomatoes of nutrients. Pruning sends the energy to the fruit, not to the sucker growth and helps them stay disease-free longer. If the suckers stay, your fruit will be smaller and less flavorful. I hope I’ve convinced you to be ruthless, prune away, and help your tomatoes grow big and hearty!
Some people love letting their tomatoes grow wild and swear by not pruning off the suckers, but I find that removing the suckers both helps them stay disease-free longer and produces bigger, juicier tomatoes!
So, there you have it! My tried and true best practices for growing tomatoes.
As a master gardener, these are the tips and tricks I was taught and have implemented in my own garden with great success. As soon as the weather warms up, head out to your local nursery and be adventurous. Try Cherokee Purple for deep flavor or San Marzano if you want to make tomato sauce. My favorites are _____________. Please send me a comment about your tomato experience and what you like to plant. We all learn from each other. Happy planting!
If you loved this post, I think you’d like these ones too!