How to grow tomato, the perfect guide

Tomatoes plant

Tomatoes are the first plant gardeners grow in their vegetable gardens!

Key facts about tomato

Name – Solanum lycopersicon
Family – Solanaceae or nightshade
Type – fruit / vegetable

Height – 30 to 55 inches (80 to 140 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – light, rich enough

Sowing End of winter – Harvest – Summer

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From sowing to planting, caring and harvesting, every step is important and helps produce beautiful tomatoes.

Sowing and planting tomato

It’s best to consider that tomatoes can only successfully be planted outdoors after May 15th, and that it is useless to start sowing them too early.

Sowing tomato from seed

Tomato sowingSowing tomato seeds must be done at the end of the winter, towards mid-March, indoors and with a temperature of around 65°F to 70°F (18°C to 20°C).

If you don’t have seed growing equipment, or if you are growing tomato for the first time, start with small seedlings purchased in a nursery.

  • Refer to our page on sowing tomatoes and start indoors in February-March.
    This method takes longer, but it is very easy to accomplish and you’ll be rewarded with a unique, delicious taste in the fruits you will harvest!

Did you know you could grow tomato seeds from scraps?

Planting and growing tomato

Growing tomatoes, immatureThis is the best way to start growing tomatoes, or at the very least save all that seedling-growing time.

If you purchase tomatoes in nursery pots, it means you’ll have purchased them in spring.

  • Plant them in a sun-bathed area, sheltered from stronger winds, once freezing is definitely over.
  • Space each plant around 30 inches (80 cm) apart.

For better tomatoes, add organic tomato fertilizer once or twice a month.

Tomato loves

  • Humus-rich soils, preferably mixed in before planting.
  • Being exposed to the sun as much as possible.
  • Regular watering, but without wetting the leaves to avoid diseases.

Pruning tomato, here is what to do

It is important that fruits be exposed to sunlight for them to develop correctly.

  • Remove growth (they’re called “suckers”) that may sprout where the leaves are connected to the stem.
    These “suckers” tend to absorb a lot of sap, and this slows the growth of the plant.
  • When the plant has reached its maximum height, prune the head off, leaving 4 or 5 groups of leaves.

Harvesting tomato

Tomatoes can generally be harvested starting middle of August, and harvest can continue till the end of fall if the climate stays mild.

  • growing tomatoTomatoes are best harvested only once they are well colored.
    Usually this takes 4 to 5 months of growing, from the moment seeds started sprouting.
  • Some fruits might mature very late in the season.
  • You can harvest them if still green and let them ripen in your garage or on a windowsill.
  • With green tomatoes, you can make delicious green tomato jam.

Don’t stop at harvesting tomato – save tomato seeds for next year’s crop!

Diseases and parasites that attack tomato

Tomato bloomingThere are various common diseases that attack tomatoes, often types of fungus that can be avoided if basic rules are followed.

You can find the best advice for each disease by clicking on the links for each of these diseases.

  • Tomato blight – Black spots on leaves.
  • Powdery mildew – white velvet covers leaves.
  • Aphids – leaves curl up.
  • Early blight – Treatment for early blight is the same as for tomato blight
  • Late blight – also called Septoria leaf spots
  • Whiteflies – Tiny flies gather on the underside of leaves. A plant-based insecticide must be sprayed on the pests, or nasturtiums can also be planted at the foot of your tomatoes.
  • Tomato pinworm – pinworm larvae dig tunnels on both stems and leaves of the tomato plant.

Take note that copper-based treatments such as Bordeaux mixture applied as a deterrent help avoid most of the diseases that impact tomato growing.

Among the best tomato varieties

Nature-and-Garden selected several delicious strains of tomatoes, both recent or heirloom, that stand out either due to their growth, or to their taste.

  • Banana Legs‘ – cylindrical, harvested from mid-July onwards; pleasant sweet flesh, ideal for salads or tomato carpaccio.
  • Beefsteak‘ – round, flat, large size; harvested from August onwards; the most productive, great for stuffed tomatoes, few seeds, also good for tomato-based sauces.
  • ‘Cherry cocktail’ – also called cherry tomatoes, bears fruit in bunches, harvested from mid-July onwards; sweet and subtle taste.
  • Tomato varietiesAndine Cornue‘ – long, matures relatively early; flesh both firm and melting.
  • ‘Gardener’s delight’ – small, crunchy and slightly tangy. Very productive.
  • ‘Elko F1’ – long and pointed, 3 inches (8 cm) long; whole season, from July to October; no need to prune or stake, very productive.
  • ‘Fandango F1’ – round, matures early in the beginning of July; very productive.
  • ‘Farta F1’ – long, thin and pointed; from August to October.
  • ‘Green Zebra’ – round; harvested in July; heirloom tomato, striped light green. Very beautiful.
  • ‘Luxor F1’ – flat; whole season, from July to October; firm and juicy flesh.
  • Marmande‘ – flat and ridged; matures early during June; very productive variety.
  • Black Krim‘ – round, matures early during June; surprise deep red color, delicious taste, no seeds. It is fragile and its shelf life is rather short. It resists diseases well.
  • ‘Ophelia F1’ – round, harvested in mid-season from July to October; generous production, holds well during baking and cooking, and resists diseases.
  • Roma‘ – long and pointed; harvested in mid-season from July; firm flesh that keeps well.
  • St Pierre‘ – round; mid-early variety harvested in July; easy to grow and disease-resistant.
  • ‘Sweetie 100’ – round, small and matures early from June; savory flesh; resists diseases.

All there is to know about tomato

If all these tips are followed through, growing tomatoes is relatively easy.

Tomato is among the most cultivated fruits & vegetables in the world, and show up in many recipes.

In the vegetable patch, but also on a balcony or a terrace, this plant has the added advantage of being very decorative.

Since tomatoes are 95% water, they have very few calories, but are rich in vitamins C, B3, B6, A, K and E.

Tomato also has high mineral content, like potassium, manganese, copper, magnesium or phosphorus.

Smart tip about tomato

A fertilizing mulch such as cocoa hulls will complement your tomato plants perfectly!

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Luscious red tomatoes by kie-ker under Pixabay license
Green tomatoes by ryotachibana0 under Pixabay license
Tomato flowering by Wolfgang Claussen under Pixabay license
Tomato varieties in bowl by Dion under © CC BY-SA 2.0