I’ve gathered together a list of the best tips for growing tomatoes. In this article, you’ll find tips for growing tomatoes from seed, how to transplant them into your garden, how to prevent diseases, tips for saving tomato seeds, and more.
Tomatoes are an anomaly…
Some years they’re one of the easiest things to grow, and you have juicy red fruit coming out of your ears. And then there’s those other years that leave you begging for even the smallest cherry tomato from your puny plants.
It seems to be feast or famine. And the the famine years put a serious crimp on my addiction to homemade tomato soup. We can’t have that, now can we?
I’ve been digging around a bit to increase my odds of success whilst growing tomatoes, and here are some of the best tips for growing tomatoes that I’ve found.
If you are one of the experienced gardeners in the crowd, then you probably already implement many of these tips. But if you are a newbie, hopefully these will increase your odds of success!
(By the way, if you’re wondering where to find tomato seeds, check out True Leaf Market‘s huge list of tomato varieties!)
Best Tips for Successfully Growing Tomatoes
Learn the Tomato Types
One of the first things you need to do when choosing tomato plant seeds to start (or choosing tomato plants at the store) is figure out if they are determinate or indeterminate tomatoes.
Determinate tomatoes usually stop growing in height around 3-4 feet high. After that, the plants focus on making flowers for fruit. You usually get an intense few weeks of tomato crops from determinate tomato varieties, and then the plants stop producing and die. They are a great choice for canning tomatoes, since you will get a large crop for canning at once.
Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow and produce both new leaves and new flowers. They get very tall and can quickly become quite unmanageable. However, they also produce fruit all summer and into fall until the first major frost. These are the perfect plants for enjoying seasonal tomatoes all throughout the season.
Best Tips for Growing Tomatoes from Seed
Growing tomatoes from seed isn’t very difficult, but you DO need to have a seed starting system indoors. Tomatoes have a long growing season, and unless you live in a really warm, tropical climate, tomatoes should be started indoors. (Check out True Leaf Market for a huge variety of tomato seeds!).
First, you need to check out my beginner gardening tips and make sure you know your garden zone, climate, and frost dates.
Tomatoes need to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. Try to find the best varieties for your region. I love these seed companies and I personally prefer to grow roma tomatoes, because I like canning tomatoes and I don’t really care for eating them off the vine (I know, I’m bit of a weirdo!).
Use some sort of seed starting system for light and potting soil (you can either buy your soil or make homemade potting soil). If possible, get a heating mat, because tomatoes sprout easier in warm soil. I personally just put a space heater in the room with the seedlings.
Make sure there’s only one tomato in each tray spot, because tomatoes don’t like to be crowded.
Tomato seedlings grow very fast, and you might need to transplant them at least once before they are ready to go outdoors. I just plant them in re-usable red cups. But if you have access to random plant containers, that works great, too. The more space you can give their roots, the better!
A few weeks before you are going to plant them outside, start slowing hardening them off and transitioning them to the outdoors. Start by putting them outside for just 1-2 hours, and then bring them back in. Add a few more hours each day and take your time! They can have sun-shock and other transplanting shock issues, but if you take your time, they get super healthy and strong.
When it’ time to plant them outdoors (wait until AFTER your last frost date, when the soil is at least 60 degrees).
Dig deep holes about 18-26 inches apart. The more space between the plants, the better! Overcrowding can lead to diseases and other health issues.
Plant deep. If you can, bury the stem of the tomato well into the ground when you transplant. The steam and leaves that are buried will end up sprouting roots, and you’ll end up with a stronger plant.
Amend the hole with some crushed eggshells for added calcium. Blossom End Rot is a common problem which can be caused by a lack of calcium. A handful of eggshells at the bottom of your planting hole just might be the remedy for this trouble. And throw a bit of compost in the hole while you are at it. (Need more ideas on how to use up your extra eggshells? I’ve got ya covered!)
Water your newly planted tomatoes deeply to help them recover from transplant shock.
You should also consider some sort of mulch around the base of the tomato plants, as that will help keep the moisture consistent and also slow down back-splash issues on the lower leaves, which can produce fungus or disease issues. I like to mulch with grass clippings, but you can also use a live mulch like buckwheat.
Companion Plants for Tomatoes
There’s a lot of info in the gardening world about companion plants. Basically, if you plant certain plants next to each other, they can provide benefits for each other.
For example, certain companion plants for tomatoes can deter pests and prevent diseases. They might improve the flavor of the tomatoes, too.
Let’s take a closer look at the best companion plants for tomatoes:
- Basil: the most popular tomato companion plant. Basil can repel pests like whiteflies, aphids, and hornworms. It can improve the flavor of the tomatoes and the overall health. They also attract pollinators, if you let the basil flower.
- Borage: a beautiful blue flowering herb with a cucumber-y taste. Borage can repel hornworms, improve the overall health of your tomatoes, and improve the tomato’s flavor.
- Chives: chives can repel aphids, and if you let them blossom, they can attract pollinators (you can also make a chive blossom vinegar with them!).
- Marigolds: they can repel nematodes, hornworms, and slugs.
- Nasturtiums: an edible and pretty flowering plant that discourages aphids, whiteflies, and squash bugs.
Maintenance of Tomato Plants
For optimal health, you should provide your tomato plants with regular watering, pruning, and some type of support.
I love using an automatic system with soaker hoses (I talk about them a bit more in my raised bed article). I used to stand outside with a hose, and this is not an efficient way to get a consistent flow of water at the base of the plants. So if you can afford it, consider getting drip irrigation or soaker hoses.
The most consistent the watering, the less likely you will have split tomatoes after heavy rains.
You should also water tomatoes from the ground up. It’s best to avoid getting the leaves of the tomato plant wet if you can… (Although I’ve definitely used the sprinkler on my ‘maters in years past…) So if you can, invest in some soaker hoses to water the plants deeply.
There’s a lot of debate in the gardening world about whether or not to prune indeterminate tomatoes (you don’t prune determinate tomatoes). The more you prune, the less fruit you will get. BUT, you will also have a more manageable plant with stronger branches.
Also, pruning will help produce more air space between the branches, which helps prevent fungus and disease issues.
I prefer pruning some of the branches and leaving the others. I don’t really follow a ratio, I just eyeball it to keep my plant manageable and happy-looking.
In order to prune, look for the intersection of the main branches. There, small sucker shoots will try to grow, producing another branch. These suckers/shoots are the ones to prune if you want to prune your tomato plants.
This post from the Urban Organic Gardener will give you all the info you need to pinch the suckers off of your plants and maximize your harvest.
- Tomato support.
Another debate in the gardening world is about how to support your tomato plants. Should you use those tomato cages from the local hardware store? Or should you use stakes and tie your plants to the stakes as they grow?
If you use cages, try to get the heavy duty ones. They are more expensive, but they are also taller and sturdier and do much better with the weight of the tomato plants.
I use both cages and stakes. The stakes are kinda necessary with our brutal harsh Wyoming winds. I’d suggest trying some of each and see how they do for you. Sometimes gardening is all about experimenting!
You might also like experimenting with these tomato rings with your stakes.
Just make sure you give some sort of support. Tomatoes like to have something to lean on. Of course, you can purchase the wire tomato cages from the store, or go the DIY route and craft your own.
Here are a few DIY tomato cage ideas:
- A sturdy cage made from concrete wire
- Using livestock panels as a trellis
- A cage made from PVC pipe
- The Stake-a-Cage method
Feeding Tomatoes throughout the season
Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so they grow through the nutrients in the soil pretty quickly. It’s always a good idea to give them a boost of compost, compost tea, or some sort of organic fertilizer once or twice a month.
Seed Saving Tips for Tomato Seeds
Want to save money on next year’s tomatoes? Good news: saving tomato seeds is super easy. The only thing you need to realize is, unlike most other veggies that you can save seeds from, tomato seeds have an additional step with fermentation.
The fermentation stage for tomato seed-saving helps you have a better germination rate because it gets rid of the casing on outside of the tomato seeds that prevents seeds from sprouting.
In order to save tomato seeds, you must use an open pollinated (OP) or heirloom tomato variety. Many hybrid varieties, while delicious, cannot be seed-saved because the characteristics of the next generation won’t be the same.
Here’s how to save tomato seeds:
- Slice a garden tomato in half. Scoop out the seeds and pulp.
- Place the seeds/pulp in a mason jar and add a little bit of water.
- Stir it to loosen the pulp from the seeds.
- Cover the jar with a cheesecloth or towel. You can also just lightly put the top on the mason jar and just don’t screw it tightly. You basically want a little bit of air circulation but a way to keep the bugs out.
- This is important: label the jar with the tomato variety!
- Put the jar in a warm place, like on top of your refrigerator. Try to find a good place that’s at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Every day, remove the cover and stir the seeds/liquid. Then cover lightly and put it back.
- Repeat for 5-7 days, until most of the seeds have sunk to the bottom when you stir and there are signs of fermentation, like a white mold on the top (this mold is harmless) and a fermenting smell. There might also be bubbles in the jar, too. The seeds that still float are not viable seeds and need to be thrown out.
- Once this fermentation step is noticeable, remove the seeds (otherwise they might sprout). Rinse the seeds in fresh water. Fill the jar with clean water and the seeds, and then stir. The best and most viable seeds sink to the bottom and the others float to the top. Remove the floating seeds and drain out the water again.
- Repeat the rinsing steps until the pulp and gunk is all gone and all that remains are seeds that sink to the bottom of the jar. Once the water is clear, drain the seeds in a mesh strainer.
- Spread the seeds to dry in a single layer on parchment paper. Put this in a dry, warm place away from direct sunlight. (You can put this on top of refrigerator like you did for the fermenting stage)
- The seeds should be fully dry in 2 weeks. Occasionally, try to mix or move the seeds around to allow for even drying.
- Store the tomato seeds in a ziplock bag or envelope and put them with your other seeds, in a cool and dry place.
Common Tomato Problems and Solutions
While tomatoes can be pretty easy to grow, if they get a disease or pest problem, it can ruin your entire tomato harvest for the year. So I’ve put together a list of the most common tomato problems and what you can do about them.
Why did my tomato plant get blossom end rot?
Blossom end rot is when the bottom of the tomatoes on the plant develop dark brown or black sunken spots.
The main reason for blossom end rot is a calcium imbalance. Calcium is absorbed into the tomatoes through water. If a tomato grows too quickly or if something else makes the tomato have slower water absorption, not enough calcium gets to the fruit.
Here’s a list of things that can cause calcium imbalance:
- Cold soil temperatures
- An intense heat wave
- Damage to the tomato plant roots
- Inconsistent watering
- High nitrogen levels in the soil
Unfortunately, once blossom end rot signs appear in your tomatoes, it cannot be reversed for that particular tomato. However, there are some things you can do to prevent issues for your future fruit:
- Pick off the ruined fruit so the plant can focus energy into new future fruit that might not get blossom end rot.
- Boost your soil’s calcium needs with a quick-release organic lime fertilizer.
- Mulch around your plants to help keep the soil a more consistent temperature and moisture-level.
In your future gardening seasons, keep these things in mind to help your tomatoes stay free from blossom end rot issues:
- Next year, don’t put out your tomato plants too early to avoid cold soil.
- Plant your tomato plants with a scoop of crushed eggshells or good-quality wood ash for a calcium boost.
- Gradually harden off your young plants before planting so they get better used to extreme soil and air temperatures.
- Consider using soaker hoses or drip irrigation to keep watering consistent throughout the growing season.
Why are my tomato plant leaves turning yellow?
There are a few reasons for yellow leaves on your tomato plants.
- Nutrient deficiency. If the nutrients are balanced for your tomatoes, they can indicate this in the coloring of their leaves. Yellow leaves often indicate that your tomatoes aren’t getting enough nitrogen. Try using an organic tomato fertilizer to boost the nutrients in the soil (too much nitrogen can also cause problems, so a gentle overall tomato fertilizer might be best).
- Blight. See my suggestions (below) for dealing with tomato blight.
- Septoria Leaf Spot. A different fungus issue than blight, this is seen as yellowing leaves with tiny black dots. Remove the affected leaves (and do not compost them).
What can I do about Tomato Blight?
Tomato blight is a fungal disease that attacks your tomato plant’s leaves, stems, and fruit.
Preventing Early and Late Tomato Blight
There are a few ways you can lessen your chance to have tomato blight issues.
- Tomato varieties: make sure you plant varieties that grow best in your area and climate. If you are often struggling with blight in your tomatoes, you can look for blight-resistant varieties to try growing. You might also want to experiment with range of tomato varieties that mature at different times, so you can compare/contrast whether your early mature varieties or later mature ones do better where you live.
- Crop rotation: plant your tomatoes in different spots or raised beds in your garden every year. Since all garden plants have different needs, crop rotation can help keep all of your plants healthier by actually taking advantage of the different things different crops put into the soil. Try moving tomato plants to the place in your garden where you grew beans or peas last year. Legumes add nitrogen to the soil, and the tomates love that.
- Better spacing: make sure to properly space your tomato plants. If you squish them together, less wind/air can move through the plants, leaving them vulnerable to blights and other health issues.
- Specific watering: Only water at the base of the plant. Excess moisture on the leaves can encourage blight. Try removing lower branches that touch the ground, too, to help prevent extra water to hit any of the leaves.
Treating Early and Late Tomato Blights
When you find blight starting on your tomato plants, immediately remove (and do NOT compost) the infected leaves. It can spread quickly to the rest of your plant, but if you catch it quickly and get rid of the infected parts, your tomato plant might still be okay.
If the blight is still progressing despite fixing your best efforts, you can treat them organically with a copper fungicidal spray. You can also fight fungus with a homemade organic fungicide. Underwood Gardens has a recipe for all-natural fungicide that reportedly works better than even commercial products. Simply combine 9 cups of water with 1 cup of milk and spray this mixture liberally on the plant.
Why are my tomato leaves curled and why do the plants look unhealthy?
Unfortunately, one of the major reasons for curled tomato leaves an unhealthy tomato plants is if you used a compost or mulch that was heavy in pesticides. Check out my super-sad post about how I poisoned my tomatoes and garden for more details.
Why did my tomatoes split?
Tomatoes split open if the inside of the tomatoes grow too fast for the skin. This often happens when they receive more water than normal. If your plants have a dry spell followed by tons of water, it puts too much pressure on the tomato, resulting in the split.
Try to evenly water your tomato plants to prevent this issue. And make sure you harvest and eat the split tomatoes right away or they can attract diseases or pests.
Bonus Tip: Watch those chickens!
I learned the hard way last year that my free-range chickens L-O-V-E tomatoes… There is nothing more disappointing than to reach for a big, juicy tomato, only to discover that its backside has been gored by a chicken beak…
When my tomatoes were ripening last year, I ended up locking my hens up for a couple weeks. They weren’t too thrilled with me, but hey– tomato sauce is a priority around here.
And of course, you can probably follow none of these tips and still have a good chance of growing tomatoes for a bountiful harvest. But, since my beginner’s luck has officially run out, I’ve started implementing these tips and I’m having much more success at growing tomatoes. If you do have a bumper crop, you may want to invest in a tomato press for all that sauce you’ll be making.
Listen in for more tomato info on one of my latest podcast episodes, or find my Old Fashioned on Purpose podcast on your favorite podcast player.
My Tips for Preserving Tomatoes:
- How to Can Tomatoes Safely
- Homemade Sun Dried Tomatoes
- How to Freeze Tomatoes
- Fast Tomato Sauce Recipe
- 40+ Ways to Preserve Tomatoes
- Creamy Tomato Garlic Soup
- How to Ripen Green Tomatoes
Mike the Gardener says
Great tips! Home grown tomatoes are the best. Have you see the cost of tomatoes at the store? It is ridiculous what they charge for tasteless tomatoes.
Mike the Gardener says
that’s “seen” not “see”
How do u keep the grasshoppers from eating everything?
Jill Winger says
I agree! They are outrageous– and they don’t taste as good either!
Lynne Shepherdson says
Another tip: treat them with aspirin to make them stringer and more disease resistant! Just crush a quarter aspirin in a litre of water and spray the plants when they are a few inches high. Ideally, this should be repeated a couple of times as they grow to maturity. Apparently,the plants understand this as an attack and it turns on their defence mechanisms. If you are interested in learning more, google Dr. James Wong tomatoes aspirin.
great advise ty. <3
I’ve been gardening a long time. My tomatoes usually get out of hand. Those little cages fall over as the plants get bigger. My biggest problem has been blossom end rot, which you solved. A CSA friend always recommends fertilizing with molasses in the water. The enzymes that feed the plant need sugars. If the plant gets enough minerals from the enzymes it puts sugar in the fruit.
I never pul off the suckers and I regret it later.
A good mulch is laying down newspaper and covering with grass clippings. I got that from Organic Gardening magazine and it works for me.
Jill Winger says
Yes- I like the newspaper for mulch, too– unless my chickens get in, and then they destroy it…. grrr!
Ron If U do the news paper thing the plants will lean to far to the left and that is BAD. LOL
Ron, that was way too funny! Thanks for the good laugh.
Any ideas on how to combat horn worms? I am in S Florida and the are relentless. I pick them of by the dozens and then 2 days later they’ve multiplied!
Don’t over fertilize. You’ll have beautiful foliage but no tomatoes. Make sure they are kept consistently moist. Allowing them to dry out will also contribute towards blossom end rot. Good luck! We have very hot summers that aren’t always friends towards tomatoes but we still try.
There’s a lot of conflicting information on the ‘net, but I’ve always heard if you used any type of tobacco product (not just smoking, but chewing or dipping) you should thoroughly wash your hands before working w/ your tomatoes due to the tobacco mosaic virus which can devastate an entire field of them in very little time. My mom smoked and my dad “dipped” and their last few attempts at tomatoes always failed, not sure if that was the case, though, but I’ve read the virus can last decades in the dead plant matter. I did ask a friend of mine who teaches botany at a college in Mass. and she confirmed to me that tobacco and tomatoes don’t mix and that commercial growers won’t hire someone who smokes or dips/chews..
pete from KS says
You can buy Mosaic Virus resistant varieties if this is a problem.
Jill Winger says
Wow- fascinating Mike- I had no idea!
And add to trim stems that don’t get much sun; this also increases air circulation and prevents mildew. A good source of info for that is here http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/pruning-tomatoes.aspx I’m using the spirals now and save the baskets for determinate bush tomatoes that don’t get as big as vine indeterminates. Pruning some lower and inner branches has helped ripen them faster as sun gets into middle of plant. This is a great list!
Jill Winger says
Good stuff here Leslie- I’m going to add these to the post if you don’t mind! 🙂
pete from KS says
Great tips. I have a few to add.
1. Epson Salt. Use it every couple of weeks.
2. Definitely use mulch. This year I used straw. I had the best carpet of wheat I had ever seen in a garden. Got the bales from my friend. Told him he needed to tighten up his combine since A LOT of wheat berries were still in the straw…and not in his grain bin. If you use straw, just know you might get some wheat seeds. I have used grass clippings several times. Friend uses the newspaper and weight (grass clippings or wood chips or …..) to keep it from blowing away in our KS winds. What ever the mulch, don’t put it too close to the stem. Give it a little breathing room (couple of inches) around the stems.
3. Plant deep like said above. I always pull off the leaves of the buried part. Don’t want suckers sprouting. If your seedlings got leggy on you…plant then very deep. If you can not go too deep due to soil conditions, plant at an angle. The stems will always grow straight up regardless of the angle of the roots.
4. If you are going to use compost, make sure it is finished composting. Seen several people put compost containing manure on the garden. The seeds in the manure were not composted and lead to ample weeding opportunities. Might as well just planted the weeds.
5. Water well…but not everyday. Make the roots grow deep. We place a gallon coffee (both ends removed) can around our plants for protection when they are young. Just push the can into the ground an inch or two. Then when you water, you can fill each can and let it soak into the ground. I only have to water every 4-5 days this way.
6. Definitely cage them. I love the concrete wire cages. With a 150′ roll, you can make 25-30 cages that will last three lifetimes.
7. Give them plenty of room to grow. Too close can cause diseases. Let the wind blow between the cages.
8. Water from below…but watch for spider mites. Years that I only watered from below..I tend to get hoards of spider mites. A common prevention for mite control is heavy blasts of water….and horticultural oil. Just keep an eye on them.
9. Lastly (sorry for the rambling, ended up typing more than I planned 🙂 RELAX, nature has a funny way of taking care of itself.
Jill Winger says
Excellent advice Pete! I’m going to add these to the list if that’s ok with you!
Ingrid McCord says
I water only when the leaves droop. Learned that from the tomato farmers here in Sacramento. Tomatoes and roses hate to get their leaves wet so I always water by hand.
Wendy S Zeimantz says
I have also used Epson Salt on both my tomato and pepper plants when planting and then spray on plants later. Really helps…the magnesium is what does it.
Susan Gudas says
What is your water to salt ratio for the spray? Thank you! Susan G
I have a question rather than what works! This is the first year we have been successful with our tomato plants. We live in Phoenix. We got the timing right this year and the plants are really producing. Yeah! BUT, every one of the tomatoes has a hole in it…even the green ones! We have a netting over the plants but something is clearly getting to them. What can I use to actually be able to harvest these gorgeous tomatoes?? I know how to naturally treat flowers but I don’t think pepper juice will be the wisest on a tomato. Whatever it is is even eating our cucumbers too.
I put sprinkle llama beans (poop) generously thru-out my garden area, then I put down weed cloth on top of that. I plant my maters then put some old field fencing up along the north side of my tomatoes and tie them gently to the fencing. Then I mulch it up on top of the weed cloth with the material my goats and llamas have broken down over the winter in their pens. (they are penned at night for protection) Its a mixture of straw, pooh and loose dirt. I also put a sheer white fabric over the tops of the tomatoes like a tent or maybe a canopy to protect them from the hottest sun as it gets well over 100 here in the summer for days at a time. The canopies allow the brightness in but keeps the tomatoes from getting burned. I no longer grow in rows but instead create “dams” around the entire row of plants and flood the area gently and slowly, I find I water less and more deeply this way. I also plant different sizes of zinnias (depending on what is grown nearby) through out my garden to attract the bees to ensure pollination. They also make great cut flowers for the table !
Jill Winger says
SUPER helpful tips Stephanie– I especially like the white fabric idea!
Susan P says
I too, have a question rather than a “what works” comment. We are VERY new to tomato gardening (we are trying straw bale gardening as well this year) My question is this: Last year and this year too, we are finding that our plants come out with wonderful flowers, but they all fall off before they develop into fruit. Got any suggestions? We live in rural southern MN. We are also growing peppers, brussels sprouts, marigolds, beans, zucchini, pumpkins, herbs, onions etc. We just bought two hanging flowering plants nearby hoping to encourage bees to come pollinate. Got any other suggestions?
Jill Winger says
Hmmm… That’s strange Susan. I haven’t a clue. If you would like, you can post this question to the Prairie Homestead Facebook page and we can ask everyone to see if they have any ideas. 🙂
Anita Tavernetti says
Tomatoes will drop their blossoms when night time temps fall to ow. Around forty degrees or so. Also tomatoes are wind pollinated and don’t need bees to do the job
We had this problem one year and it was actually due to a lack of pollenation . We had a man come out and he told us to either take a q-tip and gently dab into each flower distributing the pollen thru-out the tomatoes or he said we could buy a spray on product that would “set” the tomatoes. We chose to buy the spray and it worked fine. The problem this year if you have been watching the news is that a big (very big) percentage of the bees in the US are dying. It is thought to be from insecticides. Any way to help encourage the bees, you can put a bird bath and keep it filled with water or a small, child sized wading pool with water in your garden as well as plant some quick growing bright flowers like sun flowers, zinneas, marigolds, etc. The bees have to have water to survive and of course the bright flowers will attract them and they will come back over and over to harvest the pollen. Remember not only do bees pollenate but also butterflies, flys, wasps and even the hummingbirds. If you make your garden an enticing place to the birds and bees they will come back every year and do their jobs for you. I even have a couple of lawn chairs out in my garden just so I can sit and enjoy the activity.
Nancy W says
I plant Korean Hyssop in my yard and garden. The pollinators love it and it makes a relaxing tea. It is perennial too.
Lorraine Clark says
This is from Gardenweb, “Blossom-Drop” is a condition suffered by tomatoes, peppers, snap beans, and some other fruiting vegetables where the plant blooms but fails to set fruit, the blooms die and fall off. It may be caused by the use of excess nitrogen fertilizers or dry windy conditions, but the most common cause is temperature extremes. Tomatoes,
peppers and beans are especially picky about the air temps when it comes time to set fruit. If the night temps fall below 55 or rise above 75 or if the day temps are above 90, the pollen becomes tacky and non-viable. Pollination cannot occur. If the bloom isn’t pollinated, the bloom dies and falls off.
Control: Water the plants deeply once a week, mulch heavily to maintain constant soil moisture levels, establish windbreaks as needed, avoid using excessive amounts of nitrogen fertilizers, and wait for temperatures to moderate and stabilize. Earlier timed planting can help attain fruit set prior to the on-set of high temps, and the use of protection can compensate for cool nights. Some recommend attempting hand-pollination with an artist brush or a gentle shaking of the plant/cage/support prior to the hottest part of the day will also help. Fruit set will resume when temperatures moderate. Hormone sprays, such as “Blossom Set”, may prevent some blossom drop due to LOW temperatures. However, the resulting fruit are often misshapen. But studies prove that hormone sprays do not prevent blossom drop due to HIGH temperatures.
Cathy - Missouri says
Some folks don’t believe in it, but if you plant when the moon signs are in the bowels, all you will get is blooms! My mother used to say “They just bloom themselves to death”! Go to the Farmer’s Almanac site and look when is the best time to plant and you will find the days to plant for each item.
PL C says
We’re in the higher foothills of NorCal, and have found that giving your blooming tomato plants a shake every morning (vigorous but not hurtful) really helps pollinate. They are self-pollinating, and don’t need the bees. Also, sometimes I don’t notice a sucker till it is nearly a foot long and already branching. If it seems vigorous, pinch it right at its base and plant it deeply (and water it, of course). Voila! Another tomato plant! Last season I started out with 9 plants, and ended with 14. Kept all pruned for air circulation, and kept harvesting right till Thanksgiving. I do need to keep hunting the dreaded tomato worm – they grow tremendously nearly overnight and do serious damage,if not caught and cut or squashed.
Monica - SE Texas says
Hi… ‘spank’ my tomato blooms lightly or I use the vibrating toothbrush. Simply touch the toothbrush lightly on the bloom and Boom…you have pollinated the tomato bloom.
Anita Tavernetti says
blossom drop is caused by low night time temps. Forty degrees or so. Tomatoes are also wind pollinated and don,t require bees to do the job
An old-timer’s trick to get the blooms pollinated so blossoms don’t fall off without producing is to whack the plant (gently!) with a broom. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy but it seems to work. We live in a very hot climate and the pollen gets sticky. The whacking dislodges the pollen or so they say. All I know is it solved the problem for me. I basically just smack or shake the plants gently with my hand where the blooms are setting.
Kelly C. says
I have mulched my tomatoes with shredded office paper for several years and they seem to love it!
Having had both good and bad tomato harvests, I’ve also been digging around for growing tips. I found some surprising advice to use corn meal and corn gluten when planting or transplanting tomatoes — http://homeguides.sfgate.com/plant-tomatoes-corn-meal-27812.html
So, I mixed in some of my chickens’ crushed corn with the soil in the hole, which had been improved several months ago by tilling in chicken manure and wheat straw. So, here’s hoping. My plants look good, but are still too young to produce.
Jill Winger says
Very interesting- never heard of that before- thanks for sharing!
Taylor-Made Ranch says
I use a cattle panel for a tomato trellis and weave the plant in/out of the grid as it grows. I usually plant way more than we can eat fresh so I have plenty for the freezer. My tomatoes are just now getting ripe and I can’t wait! I make a fresh salsa with our tomatoes and my honey has been asking frequently if it’s time yet! LOL
Wolfe City, Texas
Jill Winger says
I’m jealous that you already have almost-ripe tomatoes! 😉 And love the cattle panel idea.
You forgot a very important tip, plant basil in between your tomatoes. I usually get some basil seeds and just throw them on the ground in between. They will grow like weeds. The basil and tomato compliment each other in soil usage and nutrition storage in the soil. growing basil amounts to a yield increase of about 20%. It also acts like a ground cover and prevents the ground from trying up. I use a variety that is very low to the ground and is a sweet basil, I let it go to seed at the end of the season and use the seed the next year.
Jill Winger says
Ah yes- great tip John!
Great idea on the fungicide. I used this on my lemon tree several months ago and amazingly it cleared up the fungus on the trunk and leaves.
Secondly, as to pollination, I read somewhere that if you gently tap the plant on a regular basis, this will also help in spreading the pollen.
Also, when using lemons, don’t throw out the rind. Save a few and pour boiling water over them and allow to steep overnight. Next day strain and pour into spray bottle. This works great as a natural bug killer. Worked great on the aphids attacking my roses.
Jill Winger says
Wow– I never thought of the lemon peel/bug killer idea- thanks for sharing!
Shirley in So CA says
Gal at the store told us to use Blood meal when planting our tomatoes to make them grow nice and healthy, then Bone meal later for flowers and fruit. WOW! Do we have some beautiful tomato plants this year. Put out the Bone meal last week and the flowers are really starting to show up. My brother used to work for a conference center and he said that the blood meal would attract wolves, but would keep the rabbits away. 😉
Jill Winger says
I need to try this too! Thanks for sharing Shirley– and a bonus on the rabbit deterrent!
If you put egg shells around your tomatoes, won’t you grow an eggplant instead?
Jill Winger says
Kathleen McCarthy says
Lol, I wish!
Chris Ann says
Ok so I have a potted tomato plant and what the problem I’ve run into is that my leaves on my plant are turning brown and dieing. I do have flowers and tomatoes on the plant but not sure what to do about the dieing leaves. I looked it up and it told me to get an all purpose fertilizer to water it with. Haven’t tried it yet because we’ve gotten a lot of rain here in Michigan and it doesn’t need to be watered yet 🙂 Any suggestions?
pete from KS says
Does you pot have a drain hole in it? If it does, the rain could be leaching the nutrients out of the pot. If there is no drain hole, the tomato might be drowning in all your rain. Did you use soil or premixed potting soil? Standard soil from the ground is not the best option for pots. Try some fertilizer and see what happens.
Chris Ann says
I bought it from walmart already planted and it was a pretty good size when I bought it too…pretty much full grown so not sure what soil it was planted in. Yes it does have a drain hole in it and I just yesterday watered it with the fertilizer so I’m hoping that will help 🙂
What color pot do you have it in? I had the same problem, and discovered that I was ‘cooking’ their roots! I was using black plastic tree pots – and tomatoes hate hot feet. Apparently.
Adding to the thread – I use alfalfa pellets for mulch. They work wonderfully well, as they add additional nutrients to the soil that T’s like.
Chris Ann says
It is a dark brown/greyish color pot. I bought another ‘patio’ tomato plant this year and put it in there and used Miracle grow potting soil, plus I added some manure, hummus and compost to the mix 🙂 I added that to the ones I planted in the ground also. Think I may try the ‘sugar water’ treatment to them too to get sweet tomatoes this year. I’m hopeful that all this will grant me some yummy tomatoes this year!
Linda Pimple says
These are all great tips for tomatoes.I heard years ago that if you put 1/2 cup epson salts in hole and mix with soil before you plant you will have healthier plants.It seems to work and I get tons of tomatoes!
Jill Winger says
Yes- I need to try the Epsom Salt idea!
Last year was crazy with our tomatoes. We didn’t tie them up on sticks soon enough, and they ended up getting all tangled in with each other. It took hours to finally get them organized! This year, we didn’t plant them so close to each other and they seem to be doing pretty well. I only wish I knew about the stem suggestion, because the tomato plants tend to get weak when the big tomatoes come on. Oh well, next year hopefully.
My MIL taught me to put sugared water around the plant when there are blooms on it. She puts about a 1/2 cup sugar to1/2 gallon water and “sugar waters” them 2 x during the season. Talk about sweet tomatoes without much acid in them.
Here in the south where the sun gets blazing hot we learned not to use new straw to mulch around the plants. An old timer told us that the sun will reflect off the straw and cook the tomato plants. We use straw that has been left out to weather for a year. The neighbors didn’t listen and lost hundreds of dollars of plants.
Jill Winger says
Wow– I didn’t know this! VERY good tip- thanks for sharing!
Kathleen McCarthy says
I really don’t have anything else to share other than Im from New Jersey and there is nothing like a Jersey tomato!! I read all the 10 tips and looks like I have been doing all the right things with my tomato plants! Thanks
This year we converted our garden to raised beds. We LOVE this method as it makes companion planting easier. In our tomato beds we planted basil as well as lettuce and carrots. This keeps weeds down. Carrots and tomatoes are great companions, and as the tomato plants grow larger they shade the lettuce, keeping it cool. We also planted a border around the tomatoes of marigolds and nasturtium flowers which attract beneficial bugs which in turn eat the bad bugs. You can also work in onion sets around the tomato plants. We put some in every few weeks for a constant supply. Hope that helps. Happy gardening and a blessed harvest!
I have something that really works, though I had my doubts….taken from Love Apple Farms.com, they use lots of bone meal, fish meal, and so on, but the one that made the biggest difference…..aspirin! 325mg of reg non coated aspirin in the hole when you plant your tomato…..
I have also collected from Pinterest the use of 2 aspirins dissolved in a quart of water for plants such as roses that have fungal problems….
I have a rose that almost died due to rust…It is alive and doing very well!! Just spray that on for roses….
Guess plants need a little aspirin once in a while too…….
April S. says
Lots of great tips here! Something I do for my pallet garden (and my office plants) is to periodically water them with leftover cooled off coffee or tea (straight, not with sugar or creamer). I also will save coffee grounds once in a while and add them to the soil around the base of my vegetable, herbs and strawberries. The coffee/tea adds nutrients back to the soil and gives the plants a boost – I can see a big change in the health of plants that seem to be not doing well. That’s the only fertilizer I use and it allows me to go years between repotting my office plants.
My fiancé wants to grow a garden for us and I will recommend him your website! 🙂 Such a great source of informaion. And I love the comments above too. Thankyou:)
Jill Winger says
You are welcome Petra- hope your garden is a spectacular success!
I haven’t read all the posts, egg shells are a great calcium boost like you mentioned. I put two tablespoons of dry milk powder and two tablespoons of epsom salts at the bottom of the tomato hole before planting. I had the best tomatoes last summer, hands down.
Hi Jill! thx for the tips. My problem seems to be the watering. In the past years I kept them really wet and would end up with the black rotten spots on the bottom of the fruit. This year I have not been watering evenly yet yikes. I was kinda letting them get thirsty. Might change that after reading you. Do you have any tips on squash. So far my spaghetti squash and some zucchini will blossom and them the flower dies and that’s it :-/ im a total beginner , I had one beautiful garden in the past in Guernsey (sheltered) but this year, the wind is about to win…
thx for your blog!!
Jill Winger says
Hey Miss Nadine! It sounds like the black spots could be blossom end rot, which would be caused by a lack of calcium. And bummer on the squash! Perhaps they aren’t pollinating correctly?
And if it makes you feel any better, I’m having a horrible gardening year as well!
Crystal b. says
I believe that i’m correct that most squash/zucchinni have male and female blossums. The males simply fall off and the females produce fruit. So u may just be seeing the male blossoms fall off.
I found beetles on my squash that caused all the blossoms to fall off. My chickens loved the bells and now I have zucchini and squash in abundance!
John Voill says
For pollination problems; Hold something black, like a wallet, under a tomato flower and tap the flower. You will see pollen drop if the temperature and humidity are optimum. 80 degrees and 25% or less humidity is good. Wind, insects, vibrating the plant all work. Tapping the support with a stick will do it. In the greenhouse we used electric toothbrushes against the string support to vibrate the whole plant. Remember, one pollen = one seed, the more seeds the larger the fruit!
John Voill says
One thing I forgot…tomatoes pollinate within the same flower, no need to spread pollen from flower to flower.
I used to pick off the suckers…No more! I was always told by everyone that grew tomatoes to pick suckers. I found I get many more tomatoes if I don’t! If tomato plant is growing slow, I will take two or 3 full grown branches off the lower part of the plant, only once, that is, if it don’t have blossoms to let a little light through, then it takes off! I get 50 or more on each plant and never remove a branch with blossoms on it! I get loads of tomatoes and jealous looks from neighbors, out picking off suckers from their bare tomato plants. I have heard some professionals say that it is not really needed , and they don’t do it either.
Jill, I love this post on tomato growing tips, as well as the great information your readers share! Thanks for using our information on using milk for fighting fungus, we really appreciate it!
Jill Winger says
You bet! And thanks for having such helpful info on your website as well. 🙂
Shelley Alexander says
Hi Jill, Thanks for all the great tips on growing tomatoes! I just found your lovely blog from VGN and you have some really great information on your site. I just shared this post on my Facebook page.
Jill Winger says
I’m so glad you found me Shelley! And thanks for the share!
When planting or transplanting, throw a little used coffee grounds into the pot to help defray the chance of root or blossom rot and also add a handful of wood ash into the soil.
Jill Winger says
my mother in law taught me to water the tomatoes when they first start to bloom with sugar water. 2-3 Tablespoons per quart of water to the base of your plants will give you the sweetest tomatoes you can imagine.
Jill Winger says
Sweet idea CJ! *wink*
I blog frequently and I really appreciate your information.
This great article has truly peaked my interest. I will
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Tomato Worms Can make short work of a tomato field if you take a bad of Long leaf chewing tobacco and soak it in a half gallon of water to make a Tee then spray that on your plants that are affected will kill the worms you have and prevent others from starting with no funny taste to your tomatoes like you did with the commercial product and the whole lot cheaper I learned this trip from a old Kansas Farmer and it really works.
So glad someone mentioned those awful worms! Thank you for your tip – I will be using it this year!
Michael Baca says
Last year we used lawn cuttings from the neighbors (I don’t grow grass) as a cover for almost all of our garden. Holds in the warmth and the moisture too. Had tomato plants almost 7′ high and half as wide – guess pruning would have had some real benefit last year. Going to try that this year.
Thanks for the advice!
Sam Peet says
Just planted my first (container) tomato plants today. Now I’m wishing I found your tips earlier as I did not plant deep – most of the stems & leaves – as suggested. I also did not put egg shells under the plants. Hoping all is not lost!!
Jill Winger says
I bet you’ll still be OK Sam! I’ve broken the “rules” many times and still had good results. 🙂
Patty R. says
We had success last year using our own homemade organic fertilizer http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/a-better-way-to-fertilize-your-garden.aspx#axzz2xjfVzHq1.
In addition, just finished reading a kindle book on soil testing and Beyond Organic. Everyone’s soil is different and it gets down to making sure your soil is properly balanced for the plants to yield the most nutrient dense crops. It starts in the soil. Research information on that as well will help individual gardens.
Using the above recipe for the organic fertilizer helped our plants grow extremely tall and our crop to yield a high amount of fruits and vegetables.
Jill Winger says
Great tips Patty–thanks for sharing!
Deb Leibbrandt says
To help with attracting pollinators, we have a butterfly garden near our fruit and veggie garden but I also sit out very shallow lids and put honey in those. Within a few minutes you will have bees and other pollinators.
Dan Burnett says
We have a local gardening guru who always advises that you plant 2/3 of your visible tomato plant stem in the ground. It seems pretty deep but I have done it with good results. I know that my plants are firmly rooted when I try to pull them out in the Fall. If you didn’t put egg shells (or crushed limestone) in the hole before planting, don’t despair – hydrated lime mixed into the soil has prevented blossom end rot in my tomatoes for the last 5 years. I rake it into the soil in the top inch or so out to the drip line of the mature plant (3 ft diameter) at planting and haven’t had an issue. Two things I think I know about tomatoes; 1.) They are a tropical plant brought to Europe from the South Pacific by Captain Cook – they need small amounts of rain daily (even watering) 2.) They have a very shallow but wide root system – this is why mulching works well. I fertilized last year with composted chicken poop and my plants really took off. It was a bad year for tomatoes (cool nights, etc) but the plants looked great. I have a friend who is an avid fisherman. His cleaning station is next to his tomato garden. All of his fillet waste goes into the garden. He has picked tomatoes out of his rain gutters before and, yes, it is a two story house!
I am planting tomatoes for the first time ever. I grew them from seed. I hardened them off & they are growing large on the balcony. Now though, the leaves are dry, crispy & white. What did I do wrong?
dan cathey says
you got me at “follower of JESUS. thanks for the good info, we grow must of our veggies in the Ar. Ozarks.
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I am relatively new to gardening The problem I have is every year I get those green worms on my plants I don’t want to use an insecticide so not sure how to get rid of. Any suggestions?
Jill Winger says
Try this spray: https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2015/07/organic-pest-control-garden-spray.html
One year we were really short of our favorite variety of tomato plants. While pruning the few we had, my DH stuck a few suckers in some potting soil. Those suckers rooted and made a bunch of extra tomato plants. We transplanted them into the tomato garden. Those suckers did as well as the original tomato plants.
We never throw out suckers now. We have a somewhat later tomato season using all the suckers that root.
Anne Davis says
Hi Jill. I really enjoy your blog. It’s like reading the ‘Little House’ series. I’m a single, Jewish, city dweller so I enjoy reading as an experience in imagination. I seldom communicate online, but this tip is too good to share:
Roasted tomato (inspired by Delia Smith. Take a lot of tomatoes, remove head, slice in half top to bottom. Slice some garlic. Lay each tomato halfway a n a roasting tin (it’s ok if they snuggle), pop a garlic slice and basil leaf into each tomato half. Season with salt, pepper, touch of sugar and a sprinkling of oregano. Liberally douse in olive olive. Pop into a medium oven (sorry, Fahrenheit is a foreign language) and roast untiedges brown.
Once cooked, you can:
– serve as a veg side dish
– roughly chop into couscous or similar
– purée (in your case to can) to make super easy tomato sauce
– add to ground beef and onions for Bolognaise
– purée, add home made stoke and cream for tomato soup
Anne Davis says
Should have mentioned my city is Johannesburg, in South Africa, very far away in lots of ways ?
Jill Winger says
This sounds amazing!! Thanks for sharing, Anne! And thanks for following along. 🙂
It is also good to put the tomatoes into halved red peppers first with a little piece of anchovy as well as the garlic. From Roast red peppers Piedmont by Delia Smith.
Gilbert orosco says
Thank you for all the wonderful information wished I could have found this sooner, will use it from now on and keep coming back for more
Marlon Tomera says
Birds are not the only critter you have to worry about. I have seen grey squirrels running on the ground and climbing a tree with green and red tomatoes. I watched one once trying to climb the tree with a big old mator that was have his size, and he kept dropping it and would have to climb back down to retrieve it. It was pretty funny to watch, but yet aggravating.
Daryle in VT says
One thing seems to be missing, Jill. Soil testing! Unless you actually know what is in the soil, throwing “this” at it or “that” at it could make things worse. I often hear that not getting enough calcium is what “causes” blossom end rot. Most soils have enough calcium … but sometimes Ca can’t be released to the tomato. Epsom salts! (nope). Egg shells! (nope). Egg shells were found at a garden site on the Thomas Jefferson estate. The shells were from an area thought to be around 200 years old. The shells were still intact!
There is a mineral deficiency, more common on the east coast, that “binds up” calcium. That mineral is probably in your laundry room. It’s in the box with the mules on it! Check your soil test. For every 1,000 parts per million of calcium, there should be 1 part BORON. 20 Mule Team Borax is about 10% boron. 7 ounces of 20MTB in a gallon of water will raise the ppm of boron 1 ppm in a 1,000 sq. ft. garden. Use LESS rather than more. When calcium and boron are in sync, the soil pH will magically stabilize at about 6.4 … there will be no blossom end rot!
Daryle in VT says
Lets try that again. The lack of boron binds calcium into the soil. Adding what may seem like a tiny amount of boron (it is) will allow the plants to “take up” the calcium that is usually already in the soil.
Judi Castille says
Great tips. I have just started following your blog and looking forward to reading all your tips and advice, especially as I am starting a self sufficiency life in France. I don’t have the acres as you have, but we are hoping to buy more land in a couple for years and expand. I hope you don’t mind, but instead of my tips on growing toms, I put a link to an article I wrote about raised bed and growing these lovely fruits.
Years ago the Asbury Park Press (NJ) had an article about growing tomatoes. It solved the watering problem with a circular cage of chicken wire or similar about 3′ diameter filled with layers of dirt, grass clippings, newspaper, and mulch. The plants were spaced around the perimeter about a foot or so out. Generally, after watering the pile of dirt, grass, mulch, etc. heavily once, rain would keep it moist for the rest of the season.
I have a question for you – I’ve had a successful garden for years, but moved to a more rural location a couple of years ago. Now I am plagued with leaf-hopper bugs that drill little holes in the tomatoes, which then rot from the inside. Any help for them? We also have had squash beetles for the first time. I’m definitely going to try the lemon rind bug killer mentioned in the replies below, but if you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
Violet Luce says
Do NOT plant your tomatoes deep!! It’s cold down there and your tomatoes sit there doing nothing while they make new roots in more hospitable areas. Take all the leaves off up to the first fruit. Let your plant wilt a little so it can bend without breaking. Dig a six inch trench amending soil deeper (to one foot) with fertilizer (bunny dung is best, lots of it) and ground up eggs shells. Lay your plant in the trench and cover with more amended soil. curve the top up to go on a stake, cage or whatever your mode of protecting the fruit is.
Epsom salt may be a quick fix for some but it adds salt to your soil, which you don’t want. Tomatoes are heavy feeders so planting them with lots of aged manure is best, then all you need to do is keep them evenly damp.
Cheryl Hale says
All year long we throw our banana peels and egg shells into a large foil pan that we keep in the oven. It stays in there while we preheat the oven for baking. When it is full, I make sure the peels are all dried out and then run it all through the blender. I keep a bucket under the sink with the crushed up peels and shells and add that to each of the plants holes when planting. I will add some Epsom salt and fish meal also.
Kayla- Prairie Homestead Assistant says
That’s a really interesting idea!
Dody Myers says
This was a good posting, but you didn’t specifically address Septoria Leaf Spot. This is my problem year after year…..what can I do??