Tomatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. Provide them with at least 8 hours of bright sunlight and a well-drained planting spot and you’ll enjoy your own juicy harvest. In recent years plant breeders focused on producing small tomato plants that boast a prolific harvest. Grape and cherry tomato cultivars bred specifically for containers and small spaces make growing these essential summer fruits possible on balconies, patios, and any other place that receives plenty of sunlight. Get ready for a great harvest.
Visiting the tomato section of a garden center can be overwhelming. Don't let the multitude of cultivars intimidate you. First, focus on how you are going to use your tomato harvest. Do you plan to eat fruit fresh? If so would you like a bite-size tomato? Or a slicing tomato? If you are planning to preserve some of your harvest, look for a roma-type tomato. Most tomato-loving gardeners like to plant a cherry or grape tomato as well as a couple of large slicing types.
Plum or roma tomatoes, with their meaty flesh, are perfect for salsa, sauce, and canning.
Once you decide what types of tomatoes you are searching for, consider the various cultivars. At the garden center you'll find traditional cultivars, bred for their fruit size and quantity, as well as disease-resistance and ease of care. You'll also find heirloom cultivars that might not boast good disease-resistance and productivity, but their flavor is exceptional. If you have space, select a few different cultivars and enjoy the diversity.
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Tomato Plant Care Must-Knows
Tomatoes are easy to start from seed indoors but many people choose to begin with transplants purchased at a local nursery. To start tomatoes from seed, plant seeds in a seed-starting mix indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Provide bright light for the seedlings and water regularly. When seedlings are several inches tall, move them outside during the day to acclimate them to garden conditions. Move the seedlings indoors at night. After the last frost date passes, seedlings can be transplanted outdoors.
Tomatoes are warm-season plants. They grow and produce fruit when temperatures are above 60°F. Wait to plant tomatoes in the garden until night temperatures regularly stay above 55°F. Choose a planting place that receives full sun and has moist, well-drained soil. Spread a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch over the root zone to maintain even soil moisture. Water plants during extended dry periods.
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Tomatoes benefit from staking at planting time. Place a strong stake near the base of the plant and use soft twine or cloth to loosely tie the main plant stem to the stake as the tomato grows. Wire cages are also useful for keeping plants upright. Put the cage in place at planting time and thread stems through the cage as the plant grows.
Grow great tomatoes in containers by following the same planting and staking tips discussed above. Choose a high-quality potting soil and a pot that is at least 15 inches in diameter. Container-grown tomato plants require daily watering during hot weather, but the sweet juicy fruit is worth the effort. Look for plants that are specially bred for container growing, such as 'Bush Early Girl,' 'Patio Princess,' and 'Fantastico.'
Pick fruits when they are firm, full size, and fully colored. Tomatoes will ripen when harvested at their green mature stage, but flavor will not be as good. Harvest all except the greenest fruits before a killing frost and take them indoors at 60° to 65° F to ripen. You can also harvest green tomatoes for pickling and frying.
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Types of Tomatoes
There are many new tomato varieties brought to the market each year. Varying by color, shape, size, and flavor, new tomato cultivars often boast excellent disease-resistance, too. Check with your local garden center for recommended varieties in your region. Here are a few recent introductions.