SELECTING tomato plants at the nursery for planting
after all danger of frost has passed. Otherwise,
start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last
expected frost (About May 15th for zone 7)
-Check your zone for more info on your last frost date.
PLEASE NOTE: When buying seed or plants consider the following:
INTERDERMINATE- Indeterminate tomatoes are actually vines that
continue growing in length throughout the growing season.
Also referred to as “vining” tomatoes, indeterminate tomato
varieties will also continue to set and ripen fruit until
killed off by frost.
DETERMINATE- Determinate tomatoes are varieties that grow
to a fixed mature size and ripen all their fruit in a short
period, usually about 2 weeks. Once this first flush of fruit
has ripened, the plant will begin to diminish in vigor and will
set little to no new fruit.
The majority of tomato varieties are indeterminate including
most heirlooms and most cherry types. Other indeterminate
tomatoes include: Beefsteak, Big Boy, Brandywine and Early Girl.
STARTING SEED: Buy a seed starting mix, and clean
sterilized containers to avoid disease. If you are re-using
containers, clean them in a hot water & bleach bath.
Start your seed about March 1st. (About May 15th for zone 7)
-Check your zone for more info on your last frost date.
LIGHTING: Use grow lights and position them between 2-4” above
the flats/containers. Keep the temp about 72-74 during the day,
and slightly cooler at night.To avoid seedlings from getting
too leggy, lower the temperature, to @ 60 degrees F, and if
you have a grow light, lower the light to about two inches
over the your seedlings.
FERTILIZE: When the seedlings have their 2nd set of true leave,
you can fertilize with a water soluble feed diluted to ¼ strength.
At this point, the light can be about 6” from the tops of
the plants. Maintain this until they are nearly ready to be
Tomato growers seldom allow tomato plants to actually vine.
Indeterminate tomato plants will require substantial staking
or caging to support what can become a large (6-10') heavy plant.
However, tomato plants can easily be grown as a hanging vine.
This eliminates the need for support, keeps the fruit up off
the ground and permits the plant to grow in an open manner,
allowing sunlight to reach throughout the plant.
Determinate tomato varieties are often referred to as “bush”
tomatoes, because they do not continue growing in size
throughout the growing season. They are generally smaller
than indeterminate tomatoes, with most growing to a compact
4-5 feet. Pruning and removing suckers from determinate
tomatoes is not recommended. Despite their compact size,
staking or caging is still recommended, since the concentrated
fruit set can contribute considerable weight to the branches.
Many paste or roma tomatoes are determinate varieties.
STEP 2: Choose a spot and test soil-
Choose a site that gets full sun for at least 6 hours, and has
soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Perform a soil test to determine if
soil needs additional fertilization (nitrogen, phosphorous, or
potassium- aka N-P-K*. Tomatoes need plenty of warmth to taste
their best, so provide shelter from chilly breezes, whether with
a windbreak of trees, a garden wall, or a vine-covered trellis.
Apply 2-1/2 to 3 pounds of a complete fertilizer, such as 5-10-10,
5-20-20, or 8-16-16 per 100 square feet of garden area. Work the
fertilizer into the soil about 2 weeks before planting. An
additional side dressing of a nitrogen fertilizer may be
desirable after the first cluster of flowers have set fruit.
For example: A bag of 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10 percent
nitrogen, 10 percent phosphate and 10 percent potash. You will
have to determine your plants needs in order to select
the correct fertilizer. For example, a foliage plant that
does not produce fruit or flowers would not need a fertilizer
high in phosphorous, but would need a feed high in nitrogen
(for the lush green growth) Ex: 20-10-10. A plant that produces
many flowers would need a higher phosphorous ration, for ex: 10-20-10.
NITROGEN- Nitrogen is the first letter N on a bag of fertilizer.
Nitrogen is required for vigorous green tissue growth. This is
what makes plants green. Yellowing leaves on plants is an
indication of nitrogen deficiency, plants will eventually die.
Nitrogen is probably the most widely recognized nutrient, known
primarily for its ability to "green up" lawns. Nitrogen mainly
affects vegetative growth and general health. Chlorophyll, the
green substance in plants responsible for photosynthesis, is largely
composed of nitrogen. It is also used heavily in new shoots, buds,
and leaves. Air contains about 78% nitrogen, but atmospheric
nitrogen is not readily available to plants. They must absorb
it through the soil. Ammonium and nitrate are both readily
available forms of nitrogen, but they are common in chemical
fertilizers and leach heavily and quickly out of the soil.
Nitrogen can be applied organically in many ways, including
composted manure, blood meal, canola meal, fish powder and various
liquid organic fertilizers. Keep in mind that many organic dry
fertilizers are slow-release, helping the long-term nitrogen
content and building up organic matter in the soil.
Nitrogen deficiency is recognized by the yellowing of older
leaves, slowing or stopping of growth. Leaves may drop sooner
than expected. Excess nitrogen is recognized by extremely fast
growth, resulting in long, spindly, weak shoots with dark green
leaves.Sources of nitrogen: manure, blood meal, cottonseed meal,
fish emulsion, manure tea or a commercially prepared fertilizer.
PHOSPHATE – Phosphate is the 2nd letter on a bag of fertilizer.
Plants need this to stimulate good strong roots. It also aids in
the production of fruits and flowers. Symptoms include stunted
growth and extremely slow growth rates. Phosphorus is important
for healthy roots and is used more heavily during blooming and seed
set. Phosphorus is easily rendered unavailable to plants when the
pH is slightly unbalanced. It is released in soil through
decomposing organic matter.
Phosphorus deficiency is recognized by dull green leaves and
purplish stems. The plant is generally unhealthy, sometimes yellowing.
Lack of blooming with lush green foliage may also indicated a lack
of phosphorus. Organic phosphorus can be found in rock phosphate,
bone meal and various liquid organic fertilizers such as fish
emulsion. Sources of phosphate: bone meal, rock phosphate or
a commercially prepared fertilizer.
POTASSIUM – Potassium is the 3rd letter(K) on a bag of fertilizer.
It helps promote less water loss in plants and helps their roots
take more water into the plant. It also aids in making plants more
disease and insect resistant. Symptoms include dry leathery leaves
and brown curly edges. Potassium , sometimes known as potash, is
important for general health of plants. It is key in the formation
of chlorophyll and other plant compounds. Potassium is also known to
help with disease resistance.
Potassium deficiency is hard to symptomize, but plants are
generally sickly, with small fruit, yellowing from the older
leaves upwards, and sickly blooms. Sources of organic potassium
include sul-po-mag (sulfate of potash magnesia, quick release),
greensand, and liquid fertilizers such as Earth Juice's Meta-K.
Sources of potassium: wood ashes, leaves, greensand, or a
commercially prepared fertilizer.
STEP 3: Preparing the outside planting site-
Amend the soil with plenty of compost; tomatoes need soil
rich in organic matter. Add additional amendments according to
the soil test, if needed. Remove any rocks you find in the soil.
Till at least 12” into the soil, 24” would even be better to
encourage root growth. Also add a tablespoon of Epsom salt
to the planting hole. Optional: You may also add perlite
to the planting hole to make your soil porous.
STEP 4: Get those plants ready-
Harden off seedlings, whether store-bought or homegrown, and
move them to the garden when nighttime temperatures remain above
50 degrees F. You can also harden off your plants by bring them
outdoors in the sun for several hours a day, and bringing them
back indoors at night. Do this for at least 2 weeks.
This will acclimate them to the climate, and toughen their
stems; thus lessening the shock of the outdoors
once they are permanently placed outdoors.
STEP 5: -Just before planting outside-
Dig a hole the size of a basketball for each plant. Add a shovelful
of compost and a handful of crushed eggshells (for needed calcium)
to each hole.
STEP 6: -Plant those plants!
MAKE SURE THE WEATHER IS WARM ENOUGH-TOMATOES CANNOT TOLERATE
ANY COLD. ONCE HIT BY COLD, THE PLANT WILL DIE.
Set the plants at least 24” apart depending on variety (see the
seed packet or plant label). It is encouraged to plant the plants
at least 2-3’ apart, as tomatoes do not like to be crowded, and
need the sun to filter throughout the plants. Plant them deeply -
up to the fourth branch from the top - to encourage new root
STEP 7: -Protect-
Place a paper collar around each plant to deter cutworms, and
cover the plants with cloches or floating row covers to protect
them from insects and cool temperatures.
Remove the covers when the weather has warmed, mulch the soil 3”
and install any supports the plants will need as they grow.
STEP 9: -Maintain-
Make sure plants get between one and two inches of water every
week, and to ensure a bumper crop, spray them with compost tea
or seaweed extract four times: two weeks after transplanting,
after the first flowers appear, when the fruits reach the size
of golf balls, and when you spot the first ripe tomato. Please
note: tomatoes need a steady water supply or growth will slow
down. Be sure not to wet the leaves when watering, as this will
encourage fungal diseases.
Pick tomatoes when their color is glossy and even, and their
texture midway between soft and firm.
INSECTS- Scout your plants at least once a week for insects &
disease. Look under the leaves, as that is where insects usually
hide. You may dust with a vegetable dust to deter pests. You may
have to re-apply after a rain.
PRUNING: Throughout the growing season, remove any ‘suckers’
that appear between the stems. This will put the energy into the
main stems. You can plant the suckers to make new plants. Add
the suckers to a glass of water, roots should appear in several
days. These new plants will have to be protected into fall, a
greenhouse is ideal.
END OF SEASON- Once frost hits: At the end of the season, you
may pick any remaining green tomatoes, and store them in a cool
place, in a single layer. They will ripen on their own. You may
also dry, or can them.