Growing Tomato Plants:
How to Grow Tomatoes Organically

Growing tomato plants in a home garden is universally popular, perhaps because tomatoes are relatively easy to grow. Since their native lands are warmer than most of the U.S. and Canada, your biggest challenge for a bountiful tomato harvest will be to maintain warmer surroundings from start to finish.

Tomatoes may be started from seed, or purchased as young plants ready for the garden. If you are tomato lover who wants to enjoy a rich harvest of vine-ripened (or green) tomatoes this summer, a few tomato growing tips are in order.

Growing Tomato Plants: Plant Snapshot (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Growing Tomato Plants
  • Family: Nightshade (Lycopersicon)
  • Annual or Perennial? Annual - Ready to harvest 60 to 85 days after planting
  • Recommended varieties: Thessaloniki, Odoriko, Sweet Cluster, Carolina Gold
  • Cold tolerance: Warm Season – Will not survive frost and their seeds will not germinate in cold soil. Plant them at about the average date of the last 32 degree F (0 degree C) temperature in spring
  • Required Sun: Full sun (at least 6 hours each day)
  • When planning vegetable crop rotation, group with crops from this family: Solanaceae, aubergine, potato
  • Companion plants (see Companion Planting Charts for more info):
    • Companions: Asparagus, Basil, Bush Bean, Cabbage family, Carrots, Celery, Marigold, Mint, Onion family, Parsley, Pepper
    • Avoid: Corn, Dill, Fennel, Pole Bean, Potato
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Growing Tomato Plants: Planting the Seed

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Tomato seeds may be planted in almost any type of container as long as there is good drainage. You can use light, pre-moistened soil, but a good seed staring mix will probably yield better results. Plant seeds about 1/8 inch (3mm) deep.

Seeds may be planted as close together as one inch (2.5 cm) since they will all be transplanted after germination. Many people like to place plastic loosely over the seeds at this point to warm the plants and soil to a more desirable temperature, thus simulating a greenhouse.

Make sure the soil does not dry out and that the seeds receive full sun during the day. Tomatoes need at least 8 hours of sunlight a day to produce well. A watered down dose of organic fertilizer for vegetables every couple of weeks is also a good idea at this stage.

Young tomato plants have the same soil and water requirements as seedlings and should be planted only after the soil has warmed and frost dangers are over. To more easily maintain tomato plants’ preferred temperature, many gardeners prefer to transplant tomato seedlings into larger containers before transitioning them to the garden.

You’ll also need to decide if you want to let your tomato plants sprawl onto the ground as they grow, or if you want them to climb cages, stakes or trellises. If they don’t have supports, you’ll need to plant them further apart: 24 to 36 inches ( 61 to 91.4 cm) vs. about 15 inches (38.1 cm).

Snapshot: Planting Tomatoes

  • Planting depth: about 1/8 inch (3 mm)
  • Spacing in rows: about 15 to 36 inches (38.1 to 91.4 cm) depending on whether you use support (i.e. cage, trellis or stake)
  • Germination soil temperature: 70 to 80 degrees F (21 to 27 degrees C)
  • Days to germination: 6 to 10 days
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Tomato Growing Tips: From Germination to Pre-Harvest

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For the plant to bear more fruit, fertilize sparingly with a balanced organic garden fertilizer until the plant is well established and in full flower. An organic kelp solution can be sprayed on tomato plants several times during the growing season to help make them more disease-resistant.

Pruning also helps with many tomato varieties, especially trellised or caged tomato plants. Focus your pruning efforts in two places: anything that grows above the cage or trellis and the so-called “sucker” leaves that grow between the main stem and the larger outer leaf stems.

If you live in a colder region, consider using row covers to maintain a higher soil temperature until the plant flowers or temperatures hit 85 degrees F (29 C).

Allow the soil around the plants to dry out a bit between each watering. Using mulch around the plants can help with moisture retention and can help to limit garden weeds.

Snapshot: Growing Tomatoes

  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 5.5 to 7.5
  • Growing soil temperature: 60 to 85 degrees F (15.5 to 29.4 degrees C)
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Growing Tomato Plants: Harvesting Time

Tomatoes are ready for harvest when their color is even, the skin looks smooth and waxy and the fruit feels firm with just a bit of give when pressed with a finger.

Pull tomatoes free from the vines by hand with a gentle twist. If they don’t come off easily, clip the stems just above the fruit.

Snapshot: Harvesting Tomatoes

  • Time to harvest: About 16 to 20 weeks
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Storing Tomatoes and Freezing Tomatoes

You can keep ripe tomatoes at their peak of good flavor for about a week at 55 to 60 degrees F (12.8 to 15.6 C), while tomatoes that need to ripen at bit more should be kept at 65 to 70 degrees F (18.3 to 21.1 C).

Do not store tomatoes in a refrigerator!

Green tomatoes may be kept for 3 to 5 weeks if they are wrapped in newspaper and checked for signs of ripeness weekly.

Tomatoes may be frozen raw, stewed (cooked for 10 to 20 minutes), or as juice (cooked 5 to 10 minutes). Green tomatoes may also be frozen in slices, with no blanching needed.

Tomato seeds are viable for 4 years.

Snapshot: Storing Tomatoes & Freezing Tomatoes

  • Storage temperature: 55 to 60 degrees F (12.7 to 15.5 degrees C)
  • Humidity: 80 to 85% relative humidity
  • Storage life (unfrozen in above conditions): 1 week
  • Storage life (frozen): 6 months
  • Seed longevity: About 4 years
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Growing Tomato Plants: Pests & Diseases

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Tomatoes. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.

Pests

  • Aphids
  • Armyworms
  • Burralo treehopper
  • Cutworms
  • Flea Beetles
  • Hornworms
  • Leafminers
  • Loopers
  • Lygus bugs
  • Nematodes
  • Potato tuberworm
  • Snails/slugs
  • Stink bugs
  • Thrips
  • Tomato fruitworm
  • Tomato pinworm
  • Tomato russet mite
  • Vegetable weevil
  • Whiteflies
  • Wireworms

Diseases

  • Black mold
  • Curly top virus
  • Damping off
  • Early blight
  • Fusarium wilt
  • Late blight
  • Phytophthora root rot
  • Powdery mildew
  • Tobacco mosaic virus
  • Tomato spotted wilt virus
  • Verticillium wilt
  • White mold
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YOUR Experience & Advice About Growing Tomato Plants

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