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Guide to growing tomatoes

Tomatoes are a favorite of home veggie gardeners, and there’s a tomato for almost everyone - from large vining indeterminates to smaller determinate bush types and container varieties.


  • Choose varieties suited to your climate (coastal cool or inland warm). Evaluate the “days to maturity” for the variety based on your local weather conditions. “Days” to maturity means warm, sunny days.
  • Select varieties based on how you eat tomatoes. Do you want cherry tomatoes for salads, slicers for sandwiches or to make tomato sauce?
  • Tomatoes range over a spectrum of sizes. Pick a bush or container variety if you don’t have much space.
  • If you've had previous disease problems or have grown tomatoes recently in the same space, opt for disease-resistant varieties.

Planting Your Seedlings

  • Amend your soil with compost and a balanced vegetable fertilizer.
  • Plant in a sunny spot - tomatoes want full sun for at least six hours a day.
  • Bury the stem deep, up to the point where the topmost leaves begin. It’s fine for the buried stem to be slanting if the hole is not deep enough to make it upright.
  • Indeterminate tomatoes need support; use a trellis, cage, or stake. Put the support in when planting to avoid plant damage later.
    Ideally, leave three to four feet between plants; maybe more if your plant is a big indeterminate. More space = better air circulation = less disease.
  • Try to rotate your tomato spot to avoid soil-borne diseases.
    If you plant in a container that has been used before, clean the container and use new potting soil. Containers for indeterminates need to be at least 10 gallons and 18” deep.
  • Tomatoes are a nightshade plant, like eggplant, tomatillos, peppers, and potatoes. To minimize disease problems, don’t plant tomatoes where they or another nightshade have recently been planted.

Soil and Fertilizer

  • After flowering and fruiting are underway, consider using tomato or vegetable fertilizer. Follow the directions on the label.
  • Mulching with cardboard, straw or paper bags keeps the weeds down and the soil moisture in. Keep at least three inches from the stem clear.


  • Water regularly and deeply as the tomatoes develop (no less than once a week, more if it’s hot or your soil is sandy) but don’t allow the soil to become soggy, only moist.
  • Containers, especially in hot inland areas may need to be watered up to twice a day at the height of the summer.
  • After you see tiny tomatoes peeking out (fruit set), water less - poke your finger in the soil 2 to 3 inches down. If it is dry at 2 inches, water.


  • Tomatoes are ripe when they give slightly at a light squeeze.
  • Tomatoes that feel soft are overripe.

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