How to Grow and Care for Tomatoes

Written by Natalie Anstey

A staple of every vegetable garden and incredibly easy to grow - you will wonder why you have never tried to grow tomatoes before. Once you do, you'll realize there is nothing sweeter or juicier than a tomato freshly picked from your own garden!

Originating in Mexico, the tomato plant was first popularized by the Spanish, who upon tasting them were hooked. The Spanish introduced them to the US, Europe and Thailand on their travels during colonization and the rest as they say is history!

Botanical Name:Solanum lycopersicum
Common Name(s):Tomato
Plant TypeFruit
Place of Origin:Mexico 
Sun Exposure: Direct, full sun 
Watering Schedule:Every 7-10 days 
Seasonality: Spring through summer
Bloom Time: Summer through autumn
Toxicity:Safe for cats and dogs 

TOMATO LIGHT REQUIREMENTS:

Tomatoes are the sun worshippers of the fruit and vegetable world and the more sun you provide them, the more fruit they will yield! The minimum amount of sun they should have is about 6 hours but any more is a bonus.

They can tolerate full or filtered sun but if you notice that your tomato leaves are looking a bit crispy and scorched, then you can happily move them out of intense sunlight but definitely no shade! 

TOMATO WATER REQUIREMENTS:

Watering should be plentiful in the summer months when they are growing. Make sure to water the tomatoes once a week, so that at least the top inch of soil is moist. If the weather is particularly hot this can be done more often - say every couple of days.

Rule of (Green) Thumb: Water the base only - tomato leaves hate to get wet and this can lead to bacteria and mildew forming. Water in the morning and allow any splashed leaves to dry throughout the day to keep mildew at bay!

TOMATO TEMPERATURE REQUIREMENTS:

Ideally tomatoes like to be kept nice and warm, so they don’t particularly like temperatures below 50℉. Having said this, tomatoes have been known to grow in cooler temperatures even down to 30℉.

The optimum temperature range is between 65-85℉ - any less than this and they can prove sluggish and any more they can burn. 

TOMATO HUMIDITY REQUIREMENTS:

Tomato plants love a certain level of humidity and anything less or more can cause stunted fruit or encourage disease. For indoor tomato plants we would recommend a humidity level of 65% - 85% to give you the best crop of juicy and delicious tomatoes.

TOMATO SOIL:

Tomatoes can be grown in the ground or in large pots and are very forgiving as long as they do not dry out completely.

They thrive in a rich, water retentive soil such as loam. Although, specialized tomato compost can be bought with added extra tomato feed so you don’t need to worry too much about fertilizing! 

TOMATO FERTILIZER:

During the early summer up until mid autumn, fertilize with a specialized tomato feed. This may seem overkill, but the more flowers that your tomato plant makes, the more delicious tomatoes you will have!

For tomatoes it is normally a liquid feed that is used, but check the instructions on the pack as to the frequency of feeding. - It is usually every two weeks but different fertilizers have different make ups, so make sure to follow the instructions given!

TOMATO PRUNING:

Pruning Tomatoes:
In the summer months there can be some confusion as to what stems to keep, as allowing too many stems can hinder the plants growth, shape, and fruit production.

It is best to keep tomatoes as one main stem with the side stems growing outwards. At the point where the main stem and side stems meet, smaller stems can form - these are the stems that you don’t want to encourage and that you need to remove.

Once you can identify which stems are surplus (or suckers as they are also called) this is an easy job and can simply be pinched off by hand if caught early enough or with secateurs if more established.

Rule of (Green) Thumb: Prune off or stake any leaves or stems that are touching the soil to avoid disease. Any nasties that affect tomatoes normally hide in the soil so by making sure this is clear nothing can harm your beautiful tomato plant!

TOMATO PROPAGATION:

Tomato plants are usually treated as annuals so are normally grown from seed or bought as a new plant each year.

You can however, propagate them over winter which can be effective and by doing this you won’t have to buy a new plant each year! 

Taking Cuttings:
A truly amazing way to grow tomatoes with no waste! When pruning the tomato suckers choose a sucker between 4-8 inches to propagate from and simply remove the bottom leaves and place in a glass of water on a sunny window sill.

Change the water regularly so it remains clear and within a month a good enough root structure should have formed that can be then potted on into a pot.

Growing from Seed:
Choose your favorite variety of tomato and remove the seeds. Allow to dry out and store in a brown paper bag somewhere cool and dry over the winter.

These can then be planted in February- March indoors. Make sure however that they are placed in a warm and sunny spot or under a grow light. When the risk of frost has passed these can then be planted outdoors!

Rule of (Green) Thumb: An even EASIER way of growing tomatoes from seed is to simply slice a tomato and plant a single slice in a pot with soil! If you have any tomatoes in your fridge that are not looking their best, don’t throw them away - grow a new one!!

TOMATO DISEASES & PESTS:

01. Aphids - Aphids feast on newly formed buds that are full of juicy sap. Aphids are easy to see on the buds as clear green insects and the buds will wilt and look dehydrated. Remove by hand or spray with insecticide/neem oil.

02. Blossom End Rot - This normally occurs due to insufficient or irregular watering. Little black circles form on the bottom of the fruit but fear not there is normally an easy fix and only requires plentiful and regular watering to bring the rest of your crop back to perfect health.

03. Tomato Blight - This is particularly common and is made worse by wet weather. Tomato blight causes the leaves and foliage to rot and unfortunately there is nothing that can be done - it is a case of trial and error to pick the most disease resistant varieties.

04. Tomatoes Splitting or Cracking  -  More of an aesthetic problem and does not affect the general health or taste of the tomato but can make your plant slightly more prone to disease. - Keep an eye on your tomatoes and harvest the cracked ones as a priority. Maintain proper and regular watering and feeding and should not be a problem for too long!

TOMATO PLANT TOXICITY:

Green tomatoes and the plant foliage are often given a bad rep as being poisonous but you would have to eat a lot to make you ill! Generally it is not advised to eat the foliage but that is because it tastes absolutely disgusting! For hungry pets, it would be advisable to keep them out of reach for two reasons:

01. Too many tomatoes may give them a stomach ache and a costly trip to the vets

02.They will eat your luscious tomatoes and there will be less for you!

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