The Best Way to Take Care of Tomato Plants


Tomato plants are one of the easiest vegetable plants to grow. With a little care and preparation, you can keep your tomato plants healthy, vigorous and productive all season long. Proper planting is the most important step in caring for your tomato plants. Keep your tomatoes watered and fertilize regularly for the best-tasting fruit. Healthy tomato plants are more resistant to disease and can withstand attacks from insects better than tomato plants that receive haphazard care.

Step 1

Select a spot to plant your tomato plants that receives full sun. Plant tomato seedlings when daytime temperatures are above 65 degrees F and nighttime temperatures do not fall below 50 degrees F.

Step 2

Prepare your garden soil 4 to 6 weeks before planting tomatoes plants. Spread 3 to 4 inches of compost on the soil. Use your shovel or a garden fork to mix the compost into the top 6 inches of soil.

Step 3

Use a soil pH test to test your garden soil. Do this after mixing in the compost, as compost can change your soil's pH. Ideal soil pH for tomatoes is between 6.5 and 7.0. If necessary, you can adjust the pH by adding lime (calcium carbonate) if your soil is too acid or adding sulfur (calcium sulfate or iron sulfate) if it's too alkaline.

Step 4

Select tomato seedlings that are 8 to 10 inches tall. Healthy tomato seedlings are dark green, with stems slightly larger in diameter than a #2 pencil.

Step 5

Remove all leaves and stems below the top grouping of leaves.

Step 6

Use one of two methods for planting your tomato seedlings. In early to mid spring plant your seedlings in trenches. Dig a trench that is 4 to 5 inches deep and long enough to encompass the stem of the tomato but short enough to place the top set of leaves 3 to 4 inches above the soil's surface. Alternatively, in late spring or early summer plant your seedlings in holes. Dig a hole that is deep enough to place the top set of leaves 2 to 3 inches above the soil's surface.

Step 7

Mix 1 cup of commercial or organic 15-30-15 liquid fertilizer in 1 gallon of water. Add 2 tbsp. of the mix to the roots of each tomato plant before backfilling the hole or trench with soil.

Step 8

Mulch your tomato plants with black plastic or an organic mulch. Use 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch around each plant. Mulch stabilizes the soil's temperature, retains moisture and reduces weeding.

Step 9

Prune off flower clusters from tomato seedlings less than 12 inches tall. After the tomato plant has reached 12 inches, allow it to produce flower clusters. Once the tomato plant is tall enough to produce flower clusters, prune off all leaves and stems below the lowest flower cluster.

Step 10

Use tomato supports like cages, stakes or a trellis system to keep foliage and fruit off the ground. Supported tomato plants have fewer problems with disease and insect pests.

Step 11

Fertilize your tomato plants when the fruit is one-third of its full size with a balanced 10-10-10 organic or commercial fertilizer. Apply according to package directions. Fertilize your tomato plants again with the 10-10-10 fertilizer two weeks after the first fruits ripen. Fertilize again with the 10-10-10 fertilizer four weeks after the second application of fertilizer. Work each application into the top 2 to 3 inches of soil around the base of the tomato plant.

Step 12

Water your tomato plants regularly. Give actively growing tomato plants 2 quarts of water a day. Increase the water to 3 to 4 quarts a day for tomato plants that are setting and ripening fruit.

Step 13

Promptly pick ripe tomatoes. If you allow tomatoes to stay on the plant too long, they will begin to rot and attract insect pests. Pick up fallen tomatoes around the base of the plant.

Step 14

Prune off yellowing, discolored or dead leaves and stems as soon as you see them. This prevents disease (bacterial and fungal) and insect pests from gaining a foothold on your tomato plant.

Tips and Warnings

  • Overfertilizing tomato plants will lead to fewer, smaller fruits. This is because the tomato plant will concentrate on foliage growth rather than producing flowers and setting fruit. Don't use insecticides unless you have a severe pest infestation on your tomato plants. Overuse of insecticides has caused several insects to become resistant to some insecticides.

Things You'll Need

  • Compost
  • Shovel
  • Soil pH test
  • Pruning shears
  • 15-30-15 organic or commercial fertilizer
  • Black plastic or organic mulch, like straw or grass clippings
  • Tomato plant supports, like cages, stakes or trellis
  • 10-10-10 organic or commercial fertilizer


  • Step by Step Organic Vegetable Gardening; Shepherd Ogden; 1992
  • University of Missouri Extension; Growing Home Garden Tomatoes
  • Organic Gardening for the 21st Centure; John Fedor; 2001
  • Organic Gardening; Tomato Growing Tips

Who Can Help

  • University of Illinois Extension; Watch your Garden Grow
  • Fine Gardening; Frank Ferrandino; Pruning Tomatoes
  • Victory Seeds; Growing Tomatoes from Seeds
Keywords: planting tomatoes, caring for tomatoes, growing tomato plants