Plant seeds indoors 8 weeks before last frost date. Keep them in a warm area because for seed germination the temperature needs to be at least 70 degrees F. Before transplanting seedlings outdoors, till soil to about 1 foot and mix in aged manure, compost, or fertilizer. Just 1 week before moving outdoors, start hardening off your transplants.
Transplant when the soil is warm, after last spring frost. Plant seedlings two feet apart. Pinch off a few of the lower branches on transplants, and plant the root ball deep enough so that the remaining lowest leaves are just above the surface of the soil. Water well to reduce shock to the roots.
Establish stakes or cages in the soil at the time of planting. Staking keeps developing fruit off the ground, while caging let’s the plant hold itself upright. Some sort of support system is recommended, but sprawling can also produce fine crops if you have the space.
When to Water
Water generously for the first few days. Water well throughout growing season, about 2 inches per week during the summer.
Most tomatoes are warm season plants and should only be planted after the danger of frost has passed. Tomato temperature tolerance for extreme heat or cold snaps is of extreme importance to the development of blossoms and subsequent fruit set. Blossom drop will occur in the spring if daytime temperatures are warm but night temps drop below 55 degrees F. (13 C.). In the summer when temperatures soar over 90 degrees F. (32 C.) with nights over 76 degrees F. (24 C.), again, the tomato plant will suffer damage to immature fruit or loss of flowers.
Humid weather creates ideal conditions for fungal diseases like early blight, which causes dark spots to first form on lower leaves. Late blight is a more devastating disease that kills plants quickly. Of all crops, tomatoes are the most likely to get problems, but many hybrids have been developed that resist the most prevalent diseases. Often diseases tend to be worse in one region of the country and practically non-existent in another, which is why it’s important to have varieties suited to your area. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for pests. In mid-summer, for example, big green caterpillars called tomato hornworms eat tomato foliage and sometimes damage fruits. One or two hornworms can strip a plant leafless.
No matter what kind of soil you have in your garden, you can shape it into a great home for your tomatoes with a little work. Both light, sandy soils that drain too rapidly and heavy, clay soils that take forever to drain and warm up in spring can be improved with the addition of organic matter -- leaves, compost, grass clippings, garden residues or easy-to-grow cover crops such as buckwheat, cowpeas or annual ryegrass. Soil's acidity or alkalinity is measured by its pH. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, while anything lower is acidic and anything higher is alkaline. Tomatoes grow best in neutral or near-neutral soil, so you may have to modify your soil's pH for best results. If necessary, you can raise pH by incorporating ground agricultural lime into the soil before planting. You can lower pH by adding elemental sulfur or fertilizers that contain ammonium sulfate.
Green peppers can reach a height of 3-4 ft. Establish stakes or cages in the soil at the time of planting. Staking keeps developing fruit off the ground, while caging let’s the plant hold itself upright. Some sort of support system is recommended, but sprawling can also produce fine crops if you have the space, and if the weather cooperates..Take that into consideration when planning your garden. Make sure there is enough distance between your tall vegetables and short vegetables. That way both will get enough sun light.
The perfect tomato for picking will be firm and very red in color, regardless of size, with perhaps some yellow remaining around the stem. A ripe tomato will be only slightly soft. If your tomato plant still has fruit when the first hard frost threatens, pull up the entire plant and hang it upside down in the basement or garage. Pick tomatoes as they redden. Never refrigerate fresh tomatoes. Doing so spoils the flavor and texture that make up that garden tomato taste.
Tomato seeds germinate readily in constant temperatures of 68 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, emerging in 6 to 14 days. Although tomatoes will germinate in temperatures as low as 60 F, it takes longer. Starting seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the average last spring frost date, or directly sowing them in the garden after the last frost date once soil temperatures reach 60 F or warmer will produce seedlings. A temperature range of 65-75 F is best for tomato plant growth. When temperatures drop below this range, growth slows. Tomatoes will grow in temperatures warmer than 75 F, but you'll need to water more often to prevent wilting.
Tomatoes grow well in moderately fertile soil with lots of organic matter. You can incorporate compost when you prepare the soil. Adding an all-purpose fertilizer containing potassium and phosphorous can also be helpful. Avoid fertilizers with high nitrogen content, because these can result in bushy plants that produce little fruit. A good starting point when you prepare your garden is to have your soil tested. Soil test kits are available at most garden stores as well as your nearest university extension office. The results of the soil test will reveal nutrient content and pH, as well as make recommendations for soil amendments.
To grow really strong tomato plants, it is recommend burying two-thirds of the plant’s stem when planting. This crucial step will allow them to sprout roots along the buried stem, so your plant will be stronger and better able to find water in drought. Please note that this deep-planting method only works with tomatoes (and tomatillos), not other veggies.
When using stakes or trellises, you will need to tie the plant's stems to these supports with plant ties. Never tie stems to supports so tightly the ties cut into the stems or so loosely they don't support the stem. A third support option, a wire cage, fits around the plants. The stems grow through the cage's spaces, resting on the wires for support.
Soak your tomato bed once a week, or every five days at the height of summer. Water directly on the soil, not on the leaves.
Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil. For northern regions, is is VERY important that your site receives at least 6 hours of sun. For southern regions, light afternoon shade will help tomatoes survive and thrive.
Broccoli, Brussels, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Corn, Kale, and Potatoes should not be planted next to tomatoes.
The following vegetables will do well when planted next to tomatoes: Asparagus, Basil, Beans, Borage, Carrots, Celery, Dill, Lettuce, Melons, Onions, Parlsey, Peppers, Radishes, Spinach, and Thyme, . Planting certain vegetables next to each other can deter insects and encourage growth.
"Next year, DO NOT plant peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplants on the same location where you planted tomatoes this year. Because they are all members of the nightshade family. Instead use that spot to plant other vegetables from a different family such as:
- Carrot (Umbelliferae) - celery, carrots, parsley
- Legume (Leguminosae) - peas, beans, lentils
- Mustard/Brassica (Cruciferae) - broccoli, caulifower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes.
- Sunflower (Compositae) - lettuce, artichokes.
- Cucurbit (Cucurbitaceae) - pumpkins, melons, squash, gourds, cucumbers.
- Allium (Amaryllidaceae) - onions, garlic, leeks.
- Goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae) - spinach, Swiss chard, beets.
Growing Tomatoes Overview
Tomatoes are not hard to grow as long as they get enough sun light and warm temperatures above 65 degrees F. They are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, peppers and eggplant. For more planting information, please visit our Farming Tips homepage.