Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable to grow; 95 percent of home gardens grow tomatoes. One tomato plant produces 10 to 15 pounds of fruit, and they're easy to grow in containers, within flower beds, or in a vegetable garden. There are a few facts to know about tomato plant growth before you get started.
Tomato plants are categorized as "determinate" or "indeterminate." A determinate tomato plant is a hybrid that has been genetically altered to grow a certain height, usually about 3 feet. Container tomatoes can be as small as 1 to 2 feet in height. An indeterminate tomato plant grows until the end of the season or until an outer factor such as disease ends its growth. Heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate plants that grow from 8 to 12 feet.
Tomato seeds do well when planted 1/2-inch deep in composted soil. Tomatoes are "heavy feeders," which means they like nutrient-rich compost. The seeds germinate in 5 to 10 days when the temperature is between 70 and 80 degrees. Planting seeds before the soil temperature is warm enough is one of the most common mistakes made in growing tomato plants. When the seedlings reach 2 to 3 inches in height they grow their second pair of leaves, called "true leaves."
Cornell University Department of Horticultural Sciences describes one of the "Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Tomatoes" as putting them too close together. Space young tomato plants 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart. Plants placed too close to each other are more likely to develop disease problems and produce less fruit. Tomato plants can be staked or caged at this time.
Lateral branches begin to develop when tomato plants reach 5 to 10 inches in height. Leaf clusters grow quickly, and some varieties may even begin to set fruit on the lower branches. Water growing tomato plants thoroughly once a week. Deep watering helps the plant develop deep roots. Do not spray the plants with water because this makes them susceptible to wilt and fungus problems.
When the plants are between 5 and 10 inches tall, you can apply a side dressing of compost. Spread a 1-inch layer in diameter around the plant base, leaving a 1-inch space directly around the base stem. Do not apply compost when the plants have begun to set flowers. Fertilizer of all kinds encourages green growth at the expense of the red fruit.
Companion planting is one method of controlling harmful pests on tomatoes. Companion planting is the science of placing mutually beneficial plants in close proximity. The natural chemistry of one plant is helpful in combating disease in the plant next to it. Onions, nasturtiums, asparagus, marigold, carrot, parsley and cucumber are companion plants for tomatoes. Irish potato, fennel and the cabbage family are incompatible with tomatoes.