I am going to try to cover everything about how to grow tomato plants in this article. I have been growing tomatoes for many years in Southeast Missouri. Although different locations will require different growing dates and techniques I will try to word this article in a way that will work for almost everyone.
Indeterminate tomatoes are long growing and sun loving plants. If you are in an area that has excessive temperatures though, they will benefit from a little evening shade.
The tomato plant will not tolerate frost so you may need to check your last frost date HERE. You just enter your zip code and it will look the information up for you.
If you are interested in hydroponic growing, I have a friend that promotes hydroponic supplies and writes how to articles. You can see their site at My Indoor Growing Systems.
Tomatoes from Seeds Or Plants
I used to start my tomato seeds inside in late February to plant in April. Most places will tell you to start your plants 8 weeks before your last spring frost.
I found that if you have lights on your plants and keep them fed and watered, they are ready to set out in 4 to 6 weeks after sprouting. If you only need a few plants it is just as well to buy them. I was raising my own, plus a lot to sell at my plant and produce stand.
One bad thing about buying from the big box stores is the vigor of the plants. Some of the growers that they buy from use a growth inhibitor sprayed on the plants to keep them from getting too big before they can get them sold.
A tomato plant that looks older but is still small has probably been sprayed. The growth inhibitor wears off after awhile but the plants will take longer to start growing when planted.
Cover Tomato Plants From Frost
If you do get them set out and find that the temperature is going to drop at night you can cover your tomato plants from frost. Most people cover with containers of some sort.
I had eighty plants set out one spring and we had a cold couple of nights that dropped into the upper twenties. I ran out of containers and covered the last 10 or 12 plants with straw. The ones that I covered with straw were the only ones that survived. The rest were dead as could be but the straw covered ones stayed just as green as they were when planted.
If you cover the plants with any type of plastic you can’t let the plastic touch them. The plastic will cause them to freeze faster. The whole idea of covering is to protect from frost but also to keep the warmth from the soil around the tomato plants. I realized that is why the ones that I covered with straw lived. The straw held the ground heat right against the plant. Covering with a container leaves a layer of air around the plant. I thought this was a pretty amazing find in how to grow tomato plants.
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Planting Tomato Plants In The Ground
I am going on what I have always done before, not necessarily the way the books tell you to do. If I am planting a lot of plants I do it different than I do now that I am only planting a few.
With a lot of plants I dig a deep hole, up to 1 foot deep and wide then I back fill it to the depth that I want the plant. If I am fertilizing I wait till I am done planting. Plant the tomato plant deep (I plant at least half of the stem) and remove any flowers or tomatoes and the bottom leaves.
The Ridge Of Soil
Leave a ridge of soil six or eight inches from the plant all the way around. Mix up your water and whatever type of plant food that you use and water the plants in well enough to settle the soil around the roots. Any stem that is under the soil will grow new roots.
When I am only planting a few plants, like I do now. (I’m getting older and can’t do what I used to). I use three to six gallon hard plastic nursery pots with the bottom cut out. I have a set of post hole diggers from the farming days and I dig a hole big enough to put the pot in with 2 or 3 inches left above ground. There is a picture farther down the page where you can see the pot sticking up out of the ground.
I back-fill around the pot to ground level. I mix soil and compost together and fill the pot to around 2 inches from the top and set my tomato plant. When using the compost I only water them in without any other plant food. Too much nitrogen can kill your plants but if it doesn’t it will produce more leaves and plant then tomatoes.
You can read my article on how to grow tomatoes in containers here.
Tomato Types To Grow Determinate Or Indeterminate
If you want a lot of tomatoes at one time for canning or freezing the determinate are what you want. When I was selling a lot of tomatoes I grew the determinant type. My favorites were Mountain Fresh (red) and Carolina Gold (yellow) tomatoes.
There are lots of other types of determinate that are available and some may be better suited to your climate. Both of these types are around eighty day plants (eighty days from transplanting till you get a ripe tomato).
Determinate plants are easier to take care of because they don’t get as tall and they don’t need to be pruned. Most varieties get around three to four foot tall. Most of the tomatoes will get ripe at the same time. The ones I raised usually got around three pickings off of them. Less tomatoes each time that I picked.
Indeterminate tomatoes are larger plants that keep growing until frost or disease kills them. Some greenhouse tomato growers keep the plants for two to three years. As long as the frost or disease doesn’t get them they will keep producing fruit. They produce more fruit than the determinate plants but it is spread out over a longer period of time. If you are wanting tomatoes to eat yourself then you probably want the indeterminate type.
I have went back to growing the indeterminate type myself. If I want to peddle tomatoes I have found a place where I can get Arkansas grown tomatoes at a reasonable price. I can start getting them in June and with mine it was usually mid to late July before I had enough to sell.
No more than I grow now it is not that much trouble to stake or cage them. Pruning doesn’t take me long and the flavor of the tomato is better to me than the determinate types. That’s just my own personal opinion on the taste. I am sure there are determinate types that taste just as good and I just haven’t found them yet.
Hybrid Or Heirloom Tomatoes
Hybrid tomato plants are more disease resistant. Most hybrids will produce more fruit than an heirloom. To me they are lacking in taste compared to the heirloom tomatoes. The hybrids come in all shapes, sizes and colors. If I raise any of them it is usually Big Beef, Celebrity or Jet Setter. To me these have the best taste and seem to be more disease resistant in my area. Carolina Gold and Mountain Fresh that I mentioned before just don’t seem to have that good tomato taste.
You just can’t beat the taste of a good heirloom tomato. Cherokee Purple, Great White Beefsteak and Aunt Ruby’s German Green are my favorites. I’ll say it again, you just can’t beat their taste! 🙂 These types have to be staked or caged but that is no problem. Almost forgot about the Tommy-toes large cherry tomato, if I can’t kill a tomato plant it has to be hardy. Tommy-toes are hardy and stay in my garden till the frost kills them.
Disease is the biggest problem with the heirloom tomato plants. I have a lot of trouble with early blight, fusarium wilt, and leaf spot. Some of this can be treated with a copper based fungicide that is supposed to be organic.
Staking Or Caging Tomato Plants
If I am only planting five or six plants I cage them. I have made a few cages out of concrete reinforcement wire that are five foot tall. On the indeterminate tomato plants I just let them grow without trimming much. When a limb gets away from me and gets too long to get back in the cage I just cut it off. If I don’t use the cages I use the Florida weave that you see in the above picture.
There should be a stake every three or four plants and baler twine is woven through the plants and around the stakes. This works better on determinate types that don’t need to be trimmed but I have used it on the indeterminate types too. The main problem with this and indeterminate plants is that they have to be kept trimmed down to around two main shoots. I have a lot of problems with sun scald when they are done this way. Sun scald is when the sun burns the tomato. It turns white on the side that the sun hits and then dry rots on that side. I don’t have any afternoon shade so they are in the sun till it gets dark.
Mulching Your Tomato Plants
The ideal mulch for tomato plants is wheat straw. Around here it is no problem at all to find it but in your location you may have to opt for store bought mulch. Whatever you decide to use you need to wait till the ground warms up well enough for the plant to grow. Tomato plants don’t like cold ground and if mulched too early in the season they will just set there and not grow till the ground under the mulch warms.
Mulching does three things for your tomato plants. It helps to retain moisture (tomatoes need a lot of water) by covering the ground from the drying sun. Mulch helps to control weeds and grass that can take your whole garden over if not controlled. Also mulch helps keep your plants disease free by keeping the rain from splashing soil up on the plant and leaves.
How To Grow Tomato Plants – Suckering
A tomato plant has one main stem. The stalk that grows out at the union of the limb and main stalk is called a sucker. Any suckers and limbs at ground level should be taken off of the plant.
If you are staking your plants and want two main limbs you should leave the sucker right below the first flower cluster. If you only want one stem to grow then you need to remove all suckers as the plant grows.
I have put an X on the sucker in this picture on how to grow tomato plants. If you want some later tomatoes you can root the sucker when you remove it.
To root the sucker you need some potting soil, a small pot, and shade. Tomato suckers root so easily that you don’t need rooting hormone but if you have some it won’t hurt them. Plant your tomato sucker in the pot, water it in good and set it in complete shade for a few days. Be sure and keep it watered and if you can spray some water on the leaves it helps. When you notice that it is starting to grow, it is rooted. Gradually get it used to the sun until it can handle the sun for all day. Set it out in the garden and have some fall tomatoes.
Conclusion To My Tomato Plant Post
Tomatoes are one of the most widely grown garden plants. Anyone can grow them anywhere. They can be grown in pots or the ground. In a good sunny spot in your house. They do need at least eight hours of full sun though to produce fruit. Spring is almost here and it will be time to plant another garden.
There is a lot that I haven’t covered here about how to grow tomato plants. Chances are I will have some follow up posts along these same lines. I appreciate you taking the time to check out my site. If you have any questions I will be happy to answer them, just leave a comment below and I will find you an answer.