How To Grow Big Juicy Tomatoes

Gardeners at all types and levels have something in common…tomatoes. There are hundreds of varieties, colors, shapes, flavors and they not only look beautiful climbing up a trellis but most of the time put out lots and lots of fruit. What a lot of people don’t know is that tomatoes are actually one of the more technical fruits to grow in your garden and take quite a bit of care and planning to make sure you get the most out of your hard work.

Which Tomato Plants Should You Grow?

Hybrid and Heirloom Tomato Plants

If you’ve ever explored the world of growing your own vegetables, you’ve no doubt heard the terms hybrid and heirloom. Heirloom tomatoes are varieties that have not been crossbred for 40-50 years or more. These varieties can be passed down through generations and keep their characteristics through those generations because of the careful planting to prevent cross-pollination.
Hybrid varieties have been specifically bred to have characteristics that are desirable to the grower. These characteristics can be anything from size, color, flavor, or disease resistance. When planting a hybrid variety, you have a much better idea of the characteristics of the fruit that the plant will produce. Most people tend to be much more successful planting hybrid tomatoes because of their improved disease resistance.
So which type of tomato do you plant? 
Well, we recommend both. Heirloom tomatoes will have an unexpected yield typically, but what you do get is not only special because of its history, but the flavor is phenomenal. Hybrids are tried and true and will give you a great crop that is reliable. Plant both types and experiment with multiple varieties.

Because the world of tomatoes is such a vast one, figuring out what is the best variety and type for you really comes down to preference, use, and location. While you can absolutely grow tomatoes from plants, we always prefer starting tomato plants from seed. Growing tomatoes from seed gives you the opportunity to have access to unique varieties that commercial growers otherwise don’t as well as the ability to experiment with different types to see what grows best in your garden.

Determinate and Indeterminate Tomato Plants

When purchasing tomato seeds, you will see them usually labeled either determinate or indeterminate. This refers to the tomato plant’s growth habit and will play an important role in choosing the best tomato plant for you.
Indeterminate tomato plants are known commonly as vining tomatoes because they tend to grow upwards sometimes reaching heights over 10 feet tall. They will also produce and set fruit throughout the growing season until frost eventually kills the plant. Because of their size and weight, indeterminate tomato plants have to be supported by using heavy-duty tomato cages or stakes.
Determinate tomato plants grow more as a bush style and have smaller plants that are 4 – 5 feet tall. This variety produces in 3 stages over a 4 week period usually so making sure to support them with trellising or cages is important because when the tomatoes do produce, it happens relatively quickly and the stalks will need the extra support.

Did You Know

0 feet tall

In 1985, Charles Wilber from Alabama set a world record by growing his tomato plants over 3 stories tall. One plant had nearly 400 pounds of tomatoes on it and the cherry tomatoes weighed almost 2 1/2 pounds each!

Transplanting Your Tomato Seedlings

Transplant your tomato seedlings by checking the weather and knowing that the danger of frost has passed and the tomatoes are firmly rooted in their start trays. Test the plans by very gently tugging on the base of the stem and if all of the roots and soil stay in tact, they are likely ready for transplant into the ground. 
Stepping Up Tomatoes
If the danger of frost has not quite passed but your tomato plants, transplanting them temporarily into 4″ pots will give the root system more time to develop while staying in a controlled environment. 
Hardening Off  Tomatoes
Because tomatoes are frost-sensitive, they need more time to adapt to the cooler air outside of the greenhouse. This adaptation process is called hardening off. For tomatoes, it’s best to let the plant dry out a bit, cut off fertilizer, and put them outside during the day to let cooler air circulate around them to help with the transition.

In-Ground Planting

Row Spacing – 3 to 4 feet
Plant Spacing – 18 to 24 inches
*Planting Depth – 4 to 12 inches (depending on plant size)

Raised Bed Planting

Row Spacing – 2 feet
*Plant Spacing – 18 to 24 inches
Planting Depth – 4 to 12 inches (depending on plant size)
        *See extra credit for more information on planting depth.

Tomato Soil, Irrigation, & Fertilizer

Tomato Plant Soil Requirements

HOSS always recommends getting a soil sample to your local extension office several weeks before planting. Once you get your results, you will  need plenty of time to adjust your soil accordingly and make sure your plants are getting the best nutrients possible as soon as they hit the ground.
Click Here to find your local extension office.

Tomato Plants On A Drip Irrigation System

Drip irrigation will control the amount of water each plant gets and will push water into the soil slowly and precisely for maximum absorption. Too much water too fast can cause stress to the plants and keep oxygen from getting to their very deep root systems. On the flip side, too little water can result in cracking, low yields, and increased disease and pest issues, blossom end rot, and a host of other problems. A good rule of thumb is regardless of how you water your tomato plants, be sure they’re getting at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches of water per week but checking in on your plants and watering as needed is really the best way to manage irrigation for tomatoes.

Proper irrigation for any vegetable is important but probably more so with tomatoes. Being sure to not only water enough, but the right way will be a major factor in your crop. Drip irrigation is the only method we recommend for irrigating your tomato plants. Overhead watering is not a good option because having moisture on the leaves can introduce a host of problems like disease and pest control resistance. Drip irrigation is the best option because the root system of tomatoes goes much deeper into the soil than most vegetables. Getting water directly to the base of the plant will help prevent excess evaporation, disease spreading through the crop from moisture on the leaves, and ensures water gets down into the soil directly to the root. 

Raised Bed Tomato Fertilizer Schedule

Several Weeks Before Planting
Test your soil at your local extension office.
1 Week Before Planting
After adjusting soil pH to 6.2 – 6.8, mix 1 1/2 cups per 10 ft. of row of Hoss Complete Organic Fertilizer with your soil.
2 Weeks After Planting
Sidedress 2 cups of Hoss Complete Organic Fertilizer per 10 ft. of row.
Every 7 Days (After 1 Week Planting)
Mix 1 tablet each of Dr. Joe Nutri Bubble -AND- Dr. Joe Tomato & Vegetable Bubble into 1 gallon of water. Apply as a drench per 4 plants.
* To prevent Blossom End Rot: Apply ½ cup of Hoss Pelletized Gypsum Soil Conditioner per plant. Spread evenly around plants roots at bloom set and every 2 weeks after.

In-Ground Tomato Fertilizer Schedule

Several Weeks Before Planting
Test your soil at your local extension office.
1 Week Before Planting
After adjusting soil pH to 6.2 – 6.8, mix 1 1/2 cups per 10 ft. of row of Hoss Complete Organic Fertilizer with your soil.
2 Weeks After Planting
Using the Hoss Fertilizer Injector, Mix 1 to 2 cups of Hoss Premium 20-20-20 Fertilizer – AND – 1 to 2 cups of Hoss Micro-Boost Micronutrient Supplement per 20 ft. of row.
Alternate Every 10-14 Days
Mix 1 to 2 cups of Hoss Calcium Nitrate – AND – 1 to 2 cups of Hoss Micro-Boost Micronutrient Supplement per 20 ft. of row.
* To prevent Blossom End Rot: Apply ½ cup of Hoss Pelletized Gypsum Soil Conditioner per plant. Spread evenly around plants roots at bloom set and every 2 weeks after.

Tomato Pest & Disease Protection

Tomatoes are prone to insect damage and a alot of different diseases. With the proper selection of disease-resistant varieties and a good pest control program, you can have success in growing healthy tomatoes. 

Organic Controls
Garden Insect Spray – Thrips, Horn Worms
Horticulture Oil– Aphids, Stinkbugs, Flea Beetle, Whiteflies, Spider Mites
Bug Buster-O – Aphids, Flea Beetle, Whiteflies
Monterey BT  – Hornworms
Take Down Garden Spray – Aphids, Horn Worms, Flea Beetle, Whiteflies
Diatomaceous Earth – Cutworms

Bug buster ll – Aphids, Horn Worms, Stinkbugs, Flea Beetle, Whiteflies, Spider Mites, Thrips

Treat as needed using label instructions.

Organic Controls
Crop rotation and select resistant varieties
– Fusarium Wilt, bacterial wilt, Tomato Mosaic virus, early blight and late blight
Complete Disease Control (Drench)-  early blight

Fungi max – Bacterial wilt
Liquid cop – early blight, late blight, bacterial spot
Garden Phos – late blight, bacterial spot
Vegetable, flower, fruit and ornamental fungicide – early blight, late blight

Treat as needed using label instructions.


Harvesting And Storing Your Tomato Plants

Because tomatoes are one of the rare fruits that ripen off the vine, they can be picked when they are a fully mature green color with just a slight hint of beginning to turn red. Doing this will help have some control over the ripening process as well as helping the tomatoes from cracking, bruising, getting scalded by the sun or attacked by other pests. However, letting your tomatoes ripen on the vine is going to give you truly outstanding flavor.
Tomatoes usually begin to ripen from the bottom so once you see that first sign of color change, they can be picked. Simply squeeze the tomato lightly but firmly and break the stem off just above the calyx of the fruit.  Once harvested, the ripening process is based on the current ripeness of the tomato and how quickly you want it to further ripen.
The magic temperature for storing ripe tomatoes is 55°F. If your tomatoes aren’t quite ripe, storing them on the counter at room temperature will let them ripen naturally. But you can also store your unripe tomatoes stem side down on a paper towel in the fridge and take them out a couple of days before you need to use them to get back to room temperature slowly. The only drawback of that method is you can lose a slight amount of flavor and texture if they stay in the fridge too long so be mindful if going that route.
Ideally, you’ll want to use your tomatoes within a few days of picking them. Tomatoes can be eaten fresh or preserved, canned, roasted, frozen or any way you can think of to make your crop last through the year. All you need is some planning and imagination!

Shop Our Huge Tomato Seed Selection!

Tomato Tips & Tricks

Trim Your Suckers

On Indeterminate tomato varieties, it's important to trim suckers on your plant. Suckers are small leaves that develop around the stem and branch. It's important to trim these because, while they aren't detrimental, they take away vital energy from stem production that the plant will need to be able to support tomatoes when they start to bear fruit. It can end up affecting your yield and cause deformed fruits. Determinate varieties don't have to have suckers trimmed because they will eventually stop growing on their own. Also, determinate tomatoes need as much foliage as possible to help prevent sun scald.

It's Ok To Be Impatient

Impatients are the perfect flower to plant with your tomato plants. The moment they lack water, they wilt, so that’s a good indicator that your tomato plants likely need water too.

Plant Tomatoes Deep Deep Deep

Tomatoes’ root systems are unique in that they grow out as well as down and need to have a strong healthy stem to support the fruits. So a good rule of thumb when planting your tomatoes is to bury it as deep as the first set of leaves on the stem, then prune those same leaves. 

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