Tomatoes are the most popular and useful garden vegetable plants of all time, and they are easy to grow at home. We have designed our new planting guide to show you how and when to plant tomatoes for your next bountiful home harvest.
So, when is the best time to plant tomatoes? Tomatoes are a warm-season crop and they don’t like frost. It’s usually best to plant seeds in late spring through summer. But climatic conditions play an important role, and soil temperatures are more important than planting dates.
It is important to prepare the soil before you plant tomatoes. Ideally, you should do this two or three weeks before planting seeds or transplanting tomato seedlings.
The best plan is to get your beds ready before the growing season. Then plant your tomatoes when the soil has warmed up, and both day and night temperatures are high enough for the young plants to thrive.
WHEN TO PLANT TOMATOES
Growing tomatoes is lots of fun and it can be very rewarding. But it can also be hit and miss for many home growers.
If you are serious about growing tomatoes, it’ll pay you to factor a little bit of science into the fun part.
If you plant your tomatoes at the right time and care for your tomato seedlings, you will get the best possible crop. Because tomatoes are a warm-season crop, try and ensure that the ambient day and night temperatures, as well as the temperature of the soil, are right.
The optimum temperature for germination is between 75°F and 90°F, and for setting fruits it is between 65°F and 80°F. The best soil temperature is between 55°F and 60°F.
This means that your climate plays an important role when you plant tomatoes. In addition to temperature, rainfall is also important, though you can always irrigate or water your tomatoes by hand.
Tomatoes can’t withstand frost, so in colder climates, it pays to check frost dates.
HOW CLIMATE AFFECTS PLANTING DATES
Whatever your climatic conditions, it is important for tomatoes to get at least eight hours of direct sunlight every day.
- Tropical Climate conditions are warm and rainfall is regular. It is usually better to grow tomatoes in late summer and autumn, rather than in the intense heat of summer.
- Dry Climate conditions typically have large daily and seasonal temperature variations. Rainfall is low, so irrigation is a must.
- Temperate Climate conditions are mild, with a distinct cold season. So, summer is the best time to plant tomatoes.
- Continental Climate conditions vary from mild to polar, but the growing season is shorter. Also, there are different types of continental climate including those with a warm versus a cold summer.
- Polar Climate conditions are not generally suitable for growing vegetables unless they are grown in a heated environment indoors.
CHOOSING TOMATO SEEDS
There are hundreds of different tomato varieties that you can grow. So how do you choose the best tomato seeds for your kitchen garden?
The truth is that some varieties grow more successfully in different conditions than others. Also, some are more resistant to disease.
Another factor is whether to choose, hybrids, non-hybrids, or heirloom tomatoes.
- Hybrid tomatoes are produced by cross-breeding two pure varieties to get the best qualities, except for flavor. They are generally resistant to diseases.
- Non-hybrid tomatoes are open-pollinated varieties that continue to produce the same fruit year-after-year. You can collect your tomato seeds and keep on growing them.
- Heirloom or heritage tomatoes, recognized for a specific taste or texture, are also open-pollinated. Many are grown from seeds passed down by family and friends, but there are also commercial varieties.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT WHEN CHOOSING TOMATO SEEDS?
Size, color, flavor, and texture are all characteristics to consider when you choose seeds. But you need to narrow down the choice based on climate and other conditions.
Of course, you don’t have to choose only one variety. If you have space, you can grow pink, red, orange, yellow, green, and dark purple tomatoes of different sizes.
Once you know which types of tomatoes thrive in your garden environment, you can make a more educated decision in future growing seasons.
HOW MUCH SPACE DO YOU NEED TO GROW TOMATOES?
While some varieties grow bigger than others, you can grow tomatoes in pots and planters that take up very little space. This means that you can grow them successfully on a deck or patio if your garden is small.
People often plant seeds in planters or trays and then transplant the seedlings when they are established. This is a no-brainer when you are in a cold region and you need to get started while there is still frost and soil temperatures are too low.
There are two growth-style categories to choose from:
- Determinate varieties that stop growing when they get to no more than 5 feet. The plants sets the fruit and lets it all ripen over a short period of time.
- Indeterminate varieties that just keep on growing, setting fruits and ripening until frost kills the plant. Most large fruiting varieties are indeterminate, but so are some cherry tomatoes.
HOW TO GROW TOMATOES
Growing tomatoes is no different from growing other fruits and vegetables. Having identified what grows in your environment make sure that the soil is properly prepared.
You need to check that soil temperatures aren’t too high or too cold. This will depend on the weather as well as on ambient night temperatures.
You also need to be sure that once your plants have germinated, and start to grow, that they get enough sunlight and not too much wind.
Determinate varieties are often called bush tomatoes because they don’t grow tall. If they are very bushy, and the fruit gets heavy, use stakes or cages to support them.
Indeterminate varieties are sometimes called vining tomatoes and it’s important to use stakes or cages for support. You should also pinch out suckers to increase your harvest and stop them from growing unevenly.
HOW TO PLANT TOMATO SEEDS
You can sow seed directly into the ground, but it’s generally better to sow in seedbeds, planters, or in trays indoors.
Just remember that you need to get the soil right first. Prepare it two to three weeks before you plant.
SOIL PREPARATION FOR TOMATOES
Tomatoes can be grown in most types of soil, but you will get a better crop if you add lots of organic matter to the soil.
If you use manure to improve the soil, it needs to be well decomposed before you sow seed or plant seedlings. The soil must also be well-drained.
You have a choice between organic and chemical fertilizer to add essential elements to the soil. Just remember that tomatoes need potassium to boost flowering and increase fruit.
You can use potting mix for starting seeds. But it tends to be coarse and can contain field soil with weed seeds.
If you are planting seeds in pots or planters, starting seeds in a special mix is a good idea. It’s a lot lighter and finer than a potting mix, which makes it a lot easier for the seedlings to root and grow.
PLANTING THE SEEDS
If planting in the ground, make furrows no more than an inch apart.
Soak your tomato seeds in warm water the night before you plant the seeds. This will soften the hull and help them sprout.
Cover the seeds with fine soil, firm down, and water.
If transplanting seedlings, make sure that the hole you dig is big enough for the root ball that has formed.
HOW TO WATER TOMATOES
Water is essential for growth, but don’t hose your tomato seedlings.
Tomatoes hate being sprayed with water and it can result in leaf viruses and other diseases. It is best to water consistently, maintaining steady moisture in the soil.
Once your tomato plants are established, give them a good soaking every seven to ten days if the weather is cool to warm. If it’s hot, water every four to five days.
FEEDING YOUR TOMATOES
We all need food AND water!
Even if you added fertilizer to the soil before you planted, it’s a good idea to feed your tomatoes while they grow.
One quite common disorder tomatoes suffer from is blossom-end rot. It usually happens to the first fruit of the season and it looks like decay.
The cause is not enough calcium as well as inconsistent moisture in the soil while the tomatoes are growing.
HOW LONG DO TOMATOES TAKE TO GROW?
Of course, you want to know how long it will take for your tomatoes to grow and be ready to harvest and eat.
Information about time to maturity is printed on seed packets or, if you’re buying seedlings, on plant labels.
When you choose your seed, it’s a good idea to identify the best time to start tomatoes.
Some tomato varieties will bear mature fruit in 55 and 69 days. Some big beefsteak varieties take about 90 days to mature.
Cherry tomatoes generally mature a lot more quickly, depending on fruit size. But some types will be ready for harvest in 45 days, while it can take as long as 80 days for others to mature.
Do your homework before you plant.
Tomatoes are easy to grow and they are a staple in any kitchen garden. There are lots of varieties to choose from and they will grow in just about any climate.
Our planting guide will show you when and how to plant tomatoes in your garden with minimum effort. Eat them raw, dry them, or cook with them.
Growing your own tomatoes might just be the most rewarding gardening task you have ever embraced. Enjoy!