From slicers to cherry and paste tomatoes, the quality and flavor of homegrown tomatoes is exceedingly better than those you find in the supermarket. Growing tomatoes successfully is fairly easy for even the novice gardener, with the most important factors being light, water and proper nutrients. Whether you choose to grow in a garden or in a container, your tomatoes should thrive happily when the right conditions are met and you plant after the last frost for your area.
Prepare a container, if you're going to grow your tomato in one, by adding gravel along the bottom of the pot and pouring potting soil over the gravel to fill the container to the top.
Dig the ground of a garden bed with a shovel and loosen the soil 8 inches deep. The garden plot and/or your container need to be located in areas of full sun. Direct sun must shine on the plant for at least six hours a day.
Dig a rectangular hole with the hand trowel as big as the pot your tomato seedling is in and as long as the seedling is tall. In your garden bed, tomato plants need to be set 2 feet apart to allow room for the maturing plants.
Ease the pots off the tomato seedlings carefully and loosen up any roots that have begun to spiral around the base of the root ball. Lay a seedling in the hole so 80 percent of the plant is on its side, with the top 20 percent of the seedling gently curved upward above the soil line.
Cover the majority of the plant with soil, but don't pack the soil down around the plant. The portion of seedling that is now underground will sprout roots, making your mature plant have a stronger base with more access to water.
Water the soil with a light shower, only enough to dampen it without making the soil soggy. Water any time you notice the top of the soil looking or feeling dry for the first month as the seedling acclimates.
Caring for Tomato Plants
Water the soil more deeply, soaking the soil one to two times a week, after you see new growth appearing on your tomato plant. New growth is also the signal to add a garden stake or cage around each plant to give it support. Avoid piercing the roots.
Apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer, whether granular or water-soluble, according to the manufacturer's instructions as frequently as the packaging reads is safe until you start to see small, green tomatoes forming.
Support the plant as it grows by tying it to the stake or cage with stretchy plant ties. While some plants will hold the cage fine on their own, others will need to be tied.
Treat your plant with pesticides and/or fungicides if you see pests or disease starting to affect it. Checking the leaves and stems regularly will alert you to slime trails, nibbled spots, brown patches and any other discoloration.
Weed the soil around your plant regularly once or twice a week by manually pulling up invading plants or using a cultivator along the top few inches of soil without disturbing the root system.
Harvest fresh tomatoes once they are ripe by gently pulling them from the vine without yanking the plant. Ripe fruits should let go of the plant with ease. In the threat of frost, unripe fruits can be picked and set in a sunny window to mature.
About this Author
Margaret Telsch-Williams is a freelance, fiction, and poetry writer from the Blue Ridge mountains. When not writing articles for Demand Studios, she works for WidescreenWarrior.com as a contributor and podcast co-host.