First-Timer Tips for Planting Tomatoes

Harvesting tomatoes

Planting tomatoes can be a great gardening activity that offers plenty of rewards at the end of the season. If you’re a new gardener, these tips are sure to help you out throughout your effort!

Preferred Tomato Plant Locations

Tomato plants require plenty of sun exposure. When you decide on the location of your tomato plants, make sure they’re in a “full sun” location. What does “full sun” mean? It means your tomato plants should get at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Six hours is the bare minimum though. For best results, you want your tomatoes to be exposed to 8 or more hours of sunlight.

Tomato plants convert sunlight into energy, and more energy means more and bigger tomatoes!

Should You Grow Tomatoes from Seed?

You can start your tomatoes from seed or buy young plants that you transplant. But which is better?

Nursery-bought plants will have already been pre-selected for certain positive traits. Of course, the nursery may also have used chemicals on the plant, so you should consider that.

If you plant and grow your own, it takes more time, but you know exactly what you’re getting.

Here’s a quick tip: To get your tomato seeds started right, begin with sterile potting soil. If you simply plant them in previously used soil, you’ll have a hard time telling your seedlings apart from freshly sprouted weeds.

What Fertilizer Do Tomatoes Need?

You can treat tomatoes with fertilizer, but do so cautiously. Get a soil test done to determine whether you have acidic or alkaline soil. Tomatoes prefer a slightly acidic soil — with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Add fertilizer when you transplant seedlings to the ground, then add more about three weeks after that and then a final dose as your first tomatoes begin appearing.

Fertilizer isn’t the only thing you can add to your tomato plants to help them grow. Another option is to try adding some nutrient-rich compost for the plant to consume. In fact, you’ll be surprised by the quality of a compost-grown tomato plant.

Learn how to create your own compost to make the most of your table scraps.

The Perfect Tomato Cage

Tomato plants can grow very tall and should be supported as they expand. Doing so helps to keep air flowing around the leaves and stems, which can help grow more fruit. It’s important to place tomato stakes when you’re first planting your tomatoes. Setting the stakes early is important so you don’t bother the root system later while growth is taking place.

The best stake option is the Gardener’s Blue Ribbon® Ultomato Tomato Plant Cage, it allows you to expand your plant support structure as your plant gets larger.

Tomato Water Requirements

Tomato plants need about an inch of water every week, but be sure to water them more if you notice your plants drooping or wilting.

The National Gardening Association has a unique idea for watering tomatoes — using cans full of water that slowly drain into the soil. This method is meant to encourage deep root growth.

Waiting for Your Tomatoes

Most tomato plant varieties need about 70-85 days to develop mature fruit. While you wait, check up on your plant for signs of trouble, including wilting leaves, strange spots or damage from pests.

A number of diseases can strike your tomato plants, but if you catch them early enough you can save your crop.

Need a hand protecting your plants from disease and animals? Check out our expert tips and make sure unwanted pests and critters don’t ravage your tomatoes!

Pick Your Tomatoes

How do you know your tomato is ripe and ready to harvest? First off, check the packet information for details on maturation time and what your ripened tomato should look like.

In general, a tomato that’s ready to be picked will feel heavy and firm in your hand. When you touch the tomato it should be somewhat tender but not soft. Another great indicator is whether the skin has turned from a dull to glossy. The color should be a fairly deep red, unless you are growing varieties that are lighter pinks.

Ripe tomatoes will not be hard to pull from their host plant, so if you find you’re grappling with it a bit, you should give it a day or two.

Alternatively, you may want to pick your tomatoes a little early and allow them to ripen off the plant. 

Now that you’ve got the basics on planting tomatoes and harvesting them, let us know how your season goes. Ask us any questions you have abou planting tomatoes in the comments below!


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