Knowing When to Pick Tomatoes

Last update: April 27, 2021

Gardeners usually have two options when it comes to picking tomatoes. You can either wait until the fruits are fully ripe before you pick them., or you can pick your tomatoes just before they are ripe. You might get better flavor if you wait to pick your tomatoes, but harvesting the fruits before they are completely ripe gives you more control over the process. It also reduces the risk for damage to the fruits.

Option #1: Wait Until the Tomatoes Are Ripe

Some people argue that letting tomatoes fully ripen before picking them leads to the best tasting fruit. There’s a scientific reason for this, argues Tomato Dirt. If you pick a tomato before it’s fully ripe, you cut off its supply of oxygen from the main plant.

when to pick tomatoes

The not-quite-ripe fruit will continue to ripen after being picked. But, the sugars that develop in the tomato do not have the oxygen they need. Without a supply of oxygen, the sugars easily turn into decay-promoting compounds, such as sugar alcohols and ketones. The decaying sugars can negatively affect the taste of the tomato when it does finish ripening.

For that reason, many gardeners prefer to wait to pick tomatoes until they are fully ripe.

Recognizing a Ripe Tomato

You can tell if a tomato is ripe partly based on feel and partly based on the way it looks. The above video, from About.com, walks you through the process of choosing a ripe tomato.

Once upon a time, home gardeners mainly grew red tomatoes. That made it easier to know when to pick a tomato, since all you had to do was wait for it to turn fully red.

Since many gardeners now grow tomatoes in a rainbow of colors, from yellow to red and from pink to green, it’s particularly important to know what the final color of your tomatoes will be. Knowing that will keep you from picking them too early or from waiting for them to turn a hue they’ll never be.

Usually, a tomato is ready to go when the color is even all over. For example, a red, ripe tomato will be red all over the fruit, not just on one side or not just on the bottom.

How the tomato feels can also help you determine if it’s fully ripe or not. A ripe tomato won’t be very firm to the touch. It also won’t be too soft or squishy. Instead, it will most likely be somewhere between too firm and too soft. Give the tomato a very gentle squeeze. If it gives somewhat to pressure, it should be good to go.

Option #2: Pick Them Before They Fully Ripen

Some gardeners argue that you should pick tomatoes before they become fully ripe. According to Aggie Horticulture, you can increase the size of your tomato harvest if you pick tomatoes before they are entirely ripe.

Harvesting the fruits before they are completely ripe tricks the tomato plant into thinking that it needs to produce more. Another argument in favor of harvesting the tomatoes before they are completely ripe is that doing so protects them from birds.

Birds are likely to go after fully ripe tomatoes and might get to them before you can pick the fruits. You can protect the fruits from birds by cover them with old, clean stockings or nylons. But for many gardeners, it’s just easier to harvest the tomatoes a little early.

Here’s one more reason to harvest tomatoes before they are fully ripe. Doing so reduces the risk of damage to the fruit. Some tomatoes, notably cherry tomatoes, are likely to crack or split when left on the plant for too long.

Cracks in the skin of the tomato make it more likely that the fruit will be exposed to mold or bacteria. The mold or bacteria can cause the fruit to rot quickly.

Heat and the Unripe Tomato

Picking tomatoes before they are fully ripe also gives the gardener greater control over the ripening process, according to K-State Research and Extension. Although many people think of tomatoes as sun-loving, heat-loving plants, the truth is that they get a little fussy when it’s too hot out.

According to Modern Farmer, temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit mess with the tomato ripening process. A green tomato won’t turn red or fully ripen on the vine when it’s too hot outside. If you live in an area that regularly sees 90 degree days (or hotter) in the midst of summer, your best option is to pick the tomatoes when still green and let them ripen indoors.

How Green Tomatoes Ripen

Tomatoes produce ethylene gas, which plays a big role in the ripening process. By the time a tomato has reached its full size and has an even green color, it has enough ethylene gas in its fruit to continue the ripening process on or off the vine.

Ethylene gas decreases the amount of chlorophyll in the fruit, so that the green color fades. The gas also increases the carotenoid pigments in tomatoes, which helps them turn red, yellow or orange.

Helping Your Unripe Tomatoes Ripen

Once you’ve picked an unripe tomato, you have some control over how quickly it finishes the ripening process. Storing the tomato in a warm place, such as on the counter in your kitchen, helps it ripen more quickly. Putting the tomato in a paper bag also speeds ripening.

Here’s a great video about how to help your tomatoes ripen.​

The bag traps the ethylene gas, so that the tomato ends up absorbing more of it. Some people put unripe tomatoes near ripening bananas to speed up the process. Like tomatoes, bananas produce ethylene gas. They have a tendency to speed up the ripening process of any fruits they sit near.

You can slow down the ripening process by putting the green tomatoes in a cooler area. According to Aggie Horticulture, tomatoes stored at 55 degrees Fahrenheit will finish ripening in 28 days Tomatoes stored at 70 degrees F will ripen in about 14 days.

Whether you wait for the fruits to fully ripen or you decide to harvest early, use a gentle hand when picking your tomatoes. If the fruit doesn’t come off the vine easily, it’s best to use a pair of garden shears to cut it away from the vine. You don’t want to damage your tomatoes when picking them, putting all your hard work to waste.

Photo by Jedidja licensed under CC0.

Choosing Proper Tomato Spacing

Last update: April 28, 2021

Tomato Plant Spacing in the Home Garden

Generally, tomato plants need at least two feet of space between them. The larger, indeterminate varieties often need more space, at least three feet, while you can plant smaller, determinate varieties closer together. You can plant tomatoes a bit closer together if you stake them or use tomato cages. Growing your tomatoes in containers or planting them in a square foot garden bed can help you maximize space and improve tomato yields.

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Tomato Plant Spacing for Determinate Varieties

You can divide tomato plants into two main types: determinate and indeterminate. The major difference between the two varieties is how they grow and produce fruit.

https://youtu.be/cBVLTEQWq94

The above video from Burpee Gardens clearly explains how a determinate tomato is different from an indeterminate. The narrator, Chelsey Fields, gives you a good idea of who might wish to grow a determinate tomato plant and who might prefer an indeterminate variety.

Determinate tomatoes are usually smaller than indeterminate varieties. They grow to a certain point, produce their fruits and are done for the season.

Due to their more compact size, the plants can be spaced closer together. According to Cornell University’s Growing Guide, you can space determinate varieties 12 to 24 inches apart when transplanting seedlings to your garden.

To be on the safe side, you might wish to space each tomato plant 24 inches (2 feet) apart. If you are planting more than one row of tomatoes, space each row 4 feet apart.

Tomato Plant Spacing for Indeterminate Varieties

While determinate tomatoes reach a certain size and produce their crop in a determined amount of time, indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow and to produce fruits until the first killing frost.

Determinate tomato plants tend to be ideal for gardeners who want to make tomato sauce or to process large batches of tomatoes at once. Indeterminate plants are better suited for gardeners who want to pick tomatoes one at a time, for slicing or enjoying on a salad.

tomato spacing

Indeterminate tomato plants can become very large, more than 6 feet tall, and usually need considerably more space than determinate varieties. Iowa State University recommends spacing your indeterminate plants at least two feet, if not three feet, apart.

Staking Indeterminate Varieties

The exact amount of space you should leave between indeterminate tomatoes depends on whether you decide to stake those plants or not.

Staking tomatoes means training them to grow on a trellis or in a tomato cage. It keeps the plants up off of the ground. Since your tomato plants aren’t sprawling all over your garden, you can usually plant them closer together when you stake them.

Your staked tomatoes can be spaced about two feet apart. Meanwhile, any unstaked varieties should be space at least three feet apart, although four feet might be even better.

If you have a smaller garden, staking your indeterminate tomatoes can save you space. But there are both advantages and disadvantages to staking your plants. Although staking your plants reduces the risk of the plant developing some types of bacterial diseases, it increases the plant’s risk for sunscald and for blossom end rot.

When you stake your plants, you might get fewer tomatoes. But the tomatoes you do get are higher quality, since they aren’t growing in the dirt and are less likely to come into contact with bugs, bacteria or fungus.

Why Tomatoes Need Space

Your tomato plants need several things to thrive. They need plenty of water, food, sunlight and air circulation. Giving your plants enough space helps them get enough air circulation. It can also improve the amount of light each plant gets.

Think about standing in a crowded room or on a crowded train at rush hour. You can feel people’s breath on your neck and you feel certain that you’re going to catch whatever cold the sneezing person standing next to you has. The same is true for tomatoes.

If you crowd your plants together in the garden, leaving no more than a foot of space between each, it’s easier for your plants to get sick. When plants are too close together, if one plant gets a disease, it’s very likely all of the plants will.

Maximizing Your Space When Growing Tomatoes

It’s possible to grow a number of tomato plants even if you only have a small amount of space. You can grow tomatoes using the square foot gardening method or by growing your tomatoes in containers.

Spacing Tomatoes in a Square Foot Garden

Square foot gardening involves growing plants in a raised bed that can be easily divided into square sections. Since you aren’t growing tomatoes and other plants in rows and because you are staking taller plants, they can be a little bit closer together.

Usually, heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate varieties that need ample room. But, Bonnie from Bonnie Plants has a step-by-step tutorial that shows you how to grow four tomato plants in a 4-foot by 4-foot garden bed.

Similarly, the video above, from Growing Your Greens, shows you how to grow 11 tomato plants in a 4-foot by 10-foot garden bed. The plants are grown in cages and the cages are staggered so that the gardener can fit the most plants into the least amount of space.

Spacing Your Tomatoes in Containers

Another way to grow tomatoes in a smaller space is to grow them in a container. Planting your tomatoes in containers offers a few benefits, aside from helping you make the most of a small space.

If your garden has poor soil, you can work around with container gardening, since you need to use a special soil-free mix. You can also move the tomatoes in containers if needed to protect them from too much rain or from certain pests.

A good rule of thumb to follow is one tomato plant per container. The bigger your tomato plant, the bigger the pot. A smaller, 5-gallon container can work for determinate or dwarf varieties, according to the National Gardening Association. You’ll want a pot that’s at least 20-inches wide for bigger, indeterminate tomatoes.

When spacing your tomato plants, it’s better to give more room than to try and crowd your plants together. Figuring out the proper spacing might be more work initially, but it will pay off in the form of more fruits for you.

Read also our other articles about kale spacing and carrots spacing.

Photo by enaoniro licensed under CC0.

How to Stake Tomatoes: Recommendations

Last update: April 29, 2020

You can stake tomatoes in the home garden in a number of ways from using a simple stake to building a trellis. The simplest option is to drive a wooden stake into the ground and tie the plant to the stake as it grows. Another easy option is to use a tomato cage, a wire frame that surrounds the plant and keeps it upright. If you’re growing multiple plants, a basketweave trellis, made with stakes and twine, keeps rows of tomatoes growing upright.

Ways to Stake Tomatoes

The method you use to stake your plants depends on the type of tomatoes you’re growing, how many you grow and where you’re growing them.

use a stake

One of the simplest ways to support your tomato plants is by using a single stake. The size of the stake you need depends on the type of tomato you’re growing.

Modern Farmer recommends using an one inch by one inch wooden stake that’s at least four feet tall if you’re growing determinate tomatoes. Determinate varieties are usually smaller than indeterminate tomato varieties. They produce their fruit all in one go, then are finished for the season. They need less support due to their smaller size.

If the tomato plant you are growing is an indeterminate variety, go for a bigger stake. One that is two inches by two inches and at least seven feet tall is ideal. You’ll want to push the end of the stake at least a foot into the ground, so that it’s stable enough to hold up the plant.

Push the stake into the ground next to the plant at the same time you plant the tomato in the garden. If you wait to stake the tomato, you can hurt its roots when you push the stake into the soil.

Gently tie the tomato’s stem to the stake using a length of twine, a piece of ribbon or a cut-up old nylon stocking. As the tomato grows, tie the additional lengths of stem to the stake to keep the plant off of the ground. You’ll most likely need to prune the tomato plant so that it doesn’t produce multiple stems.

use a tomato cage

Tomato cages are another simple way to support growing tomato plants. Some argue that they are even easier to use than stakes, since you don’t have to tie the stems of the plant to the cage.

Instead, the sides of the cage naturally support the tomato as it grows. Some tomato cages come in two parts, so that you can stack one part of the cage on top of the other as the plant grows.

In a video from Burpee Gardens, Chelsey Fields demonstrates how to use a stake and a tomato cage to support your plants as they grow. She outlines the advantages and disadvantages of using one or the other.

Although you can often find tomato cages at garden centers, it is rather easy to make your own. Homemade cages can often be more supportive than the store-bought versions, which tend to be made out of flimsy wire.

To make your own tomato cage, use either wire mesh or concrete reinforcing wire. Some chefs recommend using 10-gauge wire with 6-inch square holes. Shape the wire into a cylinder that’s about 18 inches wide, then push the ends of the wire into the ground around your tomato plant. You can tie wooden stakes to the sides of the wire to provide more support for the cage.

use the basket weave

If you are growing several tomato plants in a row, the basket weave method of staking allows you to support a number of plants. The method involves using wooden stakes and string or twine to create a type of trellis to keep the plants off of the ground.

When using the basket weave method of staking tomatoes, Penn State recommends spacing the plants about 18 to 24 inches apart. Push a wooden stake one foot deep into the soil. The stake should be about three or four inches away from one plant. You want to use one stake for every two or three plants.

The height of the stake depends on the type of tomatoes you’re growing. You can use a shorter stake, about four feet tall, for determinate varieties. Use a six or seven foot tall stake for indeterminate plants. Wooden stakes are fine to use, but metal poles might be sturdier.

Tie the end of a piece of twine to the first stake in the row. Draw the twine in front of the two or three tomato plants, then loop it around the stake on the other end. Keep the twine taut as you work.

When you reach the end of the row, loop the twine to the back of the plants and work your way back up the row. The twine should run across the back of the plants. Your aim is to sandwich the plants between the strings of twine, so that the strings hold them upright as they grow.

Continue to wrap the twine around the stakes and plants, until you’ve gotten to the tops of the plants. As they grow, you’ll want to revisit the stakes and add another row of twine.

Why Bother to Stake Tomatoes?

It seems like a bit of extra work to give your tomato plants some support, even if you use a simple method like a tomato cage. So why even bother?

Staking your plants offers a number of benefits. First, it saves space in the garden since your tomatoes aren’t running all over the place. Staked or caged tomatoes look a lot neater than plants that are allowed to sprawl.

Supporting your tomatoes also improves the fruit the plants produce. According to the National Gardening Association (NGA), the tomatoes on staked plants is less likely to rot, since it is not in contact with the ground. The fruits are also cleaner. The trade off, according to the NGA, is that staked plants often produce fewer fruits.

Although it does require extra effort on your part, staking your tomatoes is worth it, especially if you have a limited amount of space.

Photo by Jacopo Werther licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Our Primer on Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Last update: April 11, 2020

When growing tomatoes in containers, you need the right size and type of container and the right type of tomato plant. Pick a container that’s at least 18 inches wide and that has drainage holes. Choose a tomato variety that will thrive in a small space and that has a compact growing habit. You’ll also need a spot that gets a lot of sunlight everyday, a soilless potting mix and tomato cages to support the growing plant.

Choosing the Right Containers for Your Tomatoes

If you’ve ever walked through a garden store, you’ve probably seen that there are a lot of options when it comes to plant pots and containers. Some containers are better for tomatoes than others.

growing tomatoes in containers

There are a few things you want to look at when picking the ideal container for your tomato plants. One is the material the container is made out of. Another is the size of the container.

Ideal Materials for Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Plant pots can be made out of a variety of materials. You might find containers made out of the following:

  • Plastic
  • Terracotta or unglazed clay
  • Finished ceramic
  • Metal
  • Wood

There’s no “correct” material for growing tomatoes in containers, but some offer advantages others can’t. Plastic containers, for example, offer a range of benefits.

They are usually pretty lightweight, so you can move them easily if needed. The plastic isn’t porous, so water doesn’t evaporate from the container quickly in the heat of the summer.

Water evaporates quickly from terra cotta or unglazed clay pots, according to Burpee. The unfinished clay is very porous, so you might find yourself having to water a lot more when you use a terracotta pot.

The pots can also be on the heavy side and might break easily, especially if exposed to cold temperatures. Finished ceramic pots are also easily breakable, although they won’t lose water as quickly as unglazed terracotta pots.

Wooden containers, such as half whisky barrels, are large and can be ideal for growing tomatoes. But, as Sandra Rubino found out, they also attract wood roaches and termites.

Metal containers are durable and can be lightweight, depending on the type of metal. But, they can also rust easily and can be get pretty hot in the summer, since the metal absorbs and retains heat.

Here’s a great general guide before we dive into the details:​

Ideal Container Size for Tomatoes

The size of your container is more important than its material. Tomatoes need plenty of space to grow. They have large, deep root systems that need a lot of room to spread out.

The actual size of your tomato container depends on the type of tomato plant you’re growing. Small varieties, such as dwarf tomato plants or patio plants, can thrive in a 5 or 10-gallon pot.

Otherwise, some gardeners recommend choosing a container that’s at least 18 inches in diameter if you are growing a determinate variety of tomatoes. If you’re growing an indeterminate variety, pick a container that is 24 inches wide or even larger. The tag that comes with the tomato plant should let you know if it is a determinate, indeterminate or dwarf variety.

What Every Container Needs

For your tomatoes to be happy, the containers you plant them in need to be able to drain. Even containers made of porous materials like terracotta need to have a drainage hole or two in the bottom.

If there’s no drainage hole, water will collect around the roots and essentially drown them. Along with picking containers with holes, you can improve drainage by placing a layer of river rocks or gravel on the bottom of the container.

Where to Put Your Tomatoes

Another benefit of growing tomatoes in containers is that you can choose where the tomatoes will grow. You can also move the plants if one spot turns out to be less than ideal.

According to the National Gardening Association, all tomato varieties need at least six hours of sunlight daily. When choosing a spot for your tomatoes, pick one that gets ample sunlight. If possible, find a spot that gets the most sun in the morning. Afternoon sunlight tends to be more intense and hotter than the morning sunlight.

If you can, it’s a good idea to put your tomatoes in a spot that is protected from strong winds. Too much wind can knock a plant down. Plus strong winds can dry out the soil quickly. Putting a tomato container near a wall can provide adequate protection in a windy area.

Ideal Tomato Varieties for Containers

You can grow any type of tomato plant in a container. But there are some varieties that are better suited for containers than others due to their size and their requirements.

Penn State’s Master Gardeners recommend choosing varieties that are bred for growing in tomatoes. A few varieties they recommend include Bush Early Girl, Super Bush Hybrid and Patio Princess.

How to Plant Tomatoes in a Container

Once you have the spot, the pot and the variety picked out, it’s time to plant. Rule one when planting tomatoes in a container: Do not use regular garden soil.

The soil you scoop from the ground in your garden or that you buy in a bag labeled “garden soil” isn’t meant for use in containers. It doesn’t provide the drainage needed for the plants to survive and is likely to clump up and choke the roots.

If the soil comes directly from the ground, it might not have the nutrients your tomatoes need. Worse, it could be contaminated with bacteria or toxins.

Use specially designed container soil when planting your tomatoes in a pot. You can buy bags of it at any garden store or online. It’s usually labeled container mix or potting soil.

The video from In Beth’s Garden walks you through the process of planting a tomato in a container. She also includes tips for caging the tomato, to give it enough support as it grows and for pruning it to keep its growth in check.

Whether your space is limited or you don’t have yard space at all, growing tomatoes in containers allows you to enjoy the fresh taste of homegrown tomatoes all summer long.

Photo by Mike Lieberman licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Watering Tomatoes More Effectively

Last update: April 11, 2020

Every tomato you grow needs about three gallons of water. That translates to about 60 gallons of water per week, per 100-square-feet of garden. Tomatoes that don’t get enough or that get too much water can experience disease, rot or just end up malformed. Watering the soil, not the leaves, and adding mulch can help your tomatoes make the most of the water they get.

Give Your Tomatoes Enough Water

According to Fooducate, tomatoes are 94% water. It should be little surprise that they need an adequate amount of hydration to grow and thrive in the garden.

watering tomatoes

As this image from Business Insider shows, it takes a little over 3 gallons of water to produce one healthy, tasty tomato. What does that translate to when you’re actually watering your tomato plants?

A common recommendation is to give your plants about one inch of water per week during the growing season, usually from May through August. According to the National Gardening Association (NGA), gardeners in areas that are very hot or very dry are most likely going to need to give their tomatoes at least two inches of water per week.

“One inch of water” can be a confusing measurement. Luckily, the NGA provides a handy translation: one inch of water is about the same as 60 gallons of water for every 100-square-feet of garden. If you’re growing tomatoes in a 10-square-foot space, you’d need to give them about 6 gallons of water each week.

What Tomatoes Do With Water

Tomato plants need water to convert sunlight into energy to help it produce fruits and leaves. When you water your tomato plants, the plants take up the water from the soil through their roots.

The water then travels up the stems of the plants to the leaves. In the leaves, water plays a role in the process of photosynthesis, which turns the energy from the sun’s rays into sugar.

In case it’s been a long time since you took high school biology, the video above from Crash Course gives you a rapid refresh explaining how photosynthesis works.

Along with needing water for the process of photosynthesis, your tomatoes plants need it for some of the same reasons you do. Water helps the plants regulate their temperature. The leaves of the plant release water into the air, a process known as transpiration. It’s similar to perspiration, which people do to cool down on a hot day.

Problems from Too Little Water

Not getting the water they need can cause a number of problems for your tomatoes. In many cases, the problems develop in the fruit of the plants, causing them to crack or leading to a smaller than expected yield.

Blossom end rot is one common problem faced by tomato growers. You can tell if your tomatoes have it by looking at the bottom of the fruits. If you notice a leathery, brown spot on the bottom of the tomatoes, you’re dealing with blossom end rot.

The condition develops due to a calcium deficiency in the plant, according to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. When tomatoes don’t get enough water, calcium can’t travel through the plant, causing the rotted area to form.

One of the best ways to handle blossom end rot is to cut the affected fruits off of the plant. You can eat them if they are ripe, just make sure to cut the brown, leathery area away. Leaving them on the plant can put it at greater risk for infection or make it more attractive o pests.

To keep the problem from recurring, increase the amount of water you give the plants. It’s also a good idea to make sure you are watering consistently.

Protecting Your Tomato Plants

You not only want to make sure you give your plants enough water. You also want to do what you can to keep that water from evaporating from the soil.

Adding a layer of mulch around the plants will prevent the soil from drying out very quickly on a hot summer’s day. The mulch can also help control weeds around your plants and can keep them from getting too hot.

You have a number of options when it comes to adding mulch. Some gardeners add a 3-inch layer of straw, others use a few inches of commercially prepared mulch.

In a video from eHow Garden, gardening expert Teca Thompson demonstrates how to add a layer of mulch around a small tomato plant. She uses a mix of newspaper and yard trimmings to add a protective layer around the plant.

Avoid Over-Watering

It’s possible to give your tomatoes too much of a good thing. In some cases, excessive water might not be something you can control. If you have a lot of rain in your area, your tomatoes can suffer for it.

As Jeff Bernhard, the Executive Gardener explains in the video below, tomatoes that get too much water can experience root rot. When the soil is too wet, fungus is able to thrive.

The fungus infects the roots of the tomato, then travels up to the rest of plant. The leaves of the tomato plant will usually turn yellow and will eventually fall off.

Often, the best thing to do if your tomato plants have signs of root rot is to destroy the affected plants. Once it gets to the leaves of the plant, the fungus can easily spread to others in your garden.

Methods of Watering Tomatoes

You have several options when it comes to watering your tomato plants. If you only have one or two plants, the easiest way to water them might be to direct the spray of a hose at the soil near the plants for several minutes each day. Water the soil around the plants until it is saturated with water.

If you have more than two tomato plants, using a soaker hose, which has tiny holes up and down its length, can be the most efficient way to water your plants. Place the hose on the soil, turn on the water source and let it run while you work in the garden.

You might feel like Goldilocks when trying to find the right amount of water to give your plants, as you don’t want to give them too much or too little water. Pay attention to how your plants react, as they will usually let you know if it’s too much, too little, or just right.

Photo by Tomwsulcer licensed under CC0 1.0.

Picking the Best Fertilizer for Tomatoes

Last update: May 4, 2021

We reckon the best fertilizer for tomatoes is Miracle-Gro Tomato Plant Food, which you can buy online (clicking that link will take you to Amazon, where you can see user reviews, current prices, etc.). It’s likely one of the simplest fertilizers to use, and you only have to use it every one or two weeks. This is a water-soluble fertilizer. We also find the quality to be pretty high. Our runner-up is probably Espoma Tomato-tone Organic Fertilizer.

Our Picks for Best Fertilizer for Tomatoes

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Why Consider Fertilizer for Tomatoes?

When it comes to sucking down nutrients, tomatoes are voracious eaters. This is not because they’re greedy or anything. Their appetite is simply indicative of their nature as being highly productive plants. Fertilizer works so well in tomato plants because it makes it much easier for their appetites to be satiated.

best fertilizer for tomatoes

Of course, this can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes, a tomato plant will happily devour a second helping of fertilizer later in the year if their growing season is extended. While this requires a little extra green in your thumb, the sweet, delicious results that are produced makes it worth the extra effort.

How Much Fertilizer is Needed? A Video…

Because of the somewhat complex needs of a tomato plant, it can be a bit difficult for the novice gardeners to put together a proper rhythm to the fruit’s fertilization schedule. However, this video can provide you with a handy guide to the amount of fertilization your tomatoes may need throughout the growing season.

Common Fertilization Techniques

When it comes to adding fertilizer to tomatoes, the most prominent technique to use is called side-dressing. This technique is simply built upon the practice of placing fertilizer around the tomatoes to give them extra sustenance throughout the season. The goal here is to ensure the plants’ insatiable appetite, thus leading to more consistent fruit.

Usually, you can get away with one or two side-dressings in your tomato gardens. While the practice is not extremely labor intensive, you will still need to apply a touch of gardening knowhow to reap the desired results.

For instance, side dressing requires digging into the soil around the plant. It is a delicate process, as digging too deep will disrupt the roots, which could spell doom and gloom for your tomatoes.

Composting is another effective fertilizer-fueled method that can be utilized in your tomato garden. Adding elements like bone or blood meal to the fertilizer will serve to increase the fertilizer’s concentration. The one downside to this method is that it requires extra steps, such as mixing.

If that seems a little too arduous, you can always resort to deploying the top-dressing method of fertilization. This method contains the same basic principles of side-dressing, except that you simply put the fertilizer on top of the soil instead of digging into the area surrounding the plant.

Using water-soluble fertilizers may also be a terrific option to deploy, especially if you’re a beginner. While this technically requires a little more work, it’s easy work, as the labor consists of adding a periodic scoop of fertilizer to the water prior to spraying. As long as you keep track of when you’re adding the scoop, you’re good to go.

Know Your Numbers

Perhaps the most important thing to look at when considering a fertilizer is the nutrients you’re giving the plants through its usage. Fertilizers will typically have the nutrient content clearly labeled on their packages, represented in a series of dashed numbers such as 10-10-10.

These numbers will represent three major plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You can use them to gauge your tomato garden’s overall health. This is especially the case if you already have a bead on the nutrient content of the soil.

If you don’t have the time or the wherewithal to explore your soil’s nutrient content, you’ll want to pay special attention to the nitrogen content listed on the package. Specifically, it may be wise for you to stay away from high-nitrogen fertilizers.

The reason for this is because nitrogen tends to be the most abundant nutrient in a soil’s composition. If you add an overabundance of nitrogen to your plant, you will end up over-fertilizing them. This issue is marked by plants that produce dark green leaves but precious few tomatoes.

Don’t Be Afraid of Failure!

If you’re new to the whole gardening business, your successes will be counterbalanced with a few failures. It’s just like anything that you try to tackle in life. You will have a few hiccups on the way to finding a consistent rhythm.

When you use fertilizer on your tomato plants for the first time, don’t abandon all hope if your initial crop doesn’t come close to yielding the mind-blowing results that exist in your mind’s garden. Instead, use the experience culled from failed gardening attempts to learn and grow. Doing so will help you eventually match your dreams with your reality.

You May Also Read – Best Fertilizer for Carrots

Our Recommendation: Miracle-Gro Tomato Plant Food

A water-soluble fertilizer solution may be the best way to go about things while you’re developing a green thumb. A product like Miracle-Gro Tomato Plant Food simplifies the process of fertilizer use by simply requiring an infusion of its product during watering every 7 to 14 days.

Once you get the hang of deploying the water-soluble fertilizer and you see the results of its usage, it may be easier for you to graduate to an elevated level of fertilizer use, such as composting or side-dressing. Then again, you may be so comfortable in using this water-soluble method, you may not feel the need to change.

Regardless of what method of fertilizer deployment you use, the important thing to bear in mind is that you’re using fertilizer. When used properly, it can serve as the ultimate tool in your garden arsenal, one that can help you grown big, bountiful tomatoes that burst with flavor. And isn’t that the whole reason why you started growing them in the first place?

Do you grow cucumbers as well? Then you might find helpful our article about the best fertilizer for cucumbers.

Photo by enaoniro licensed under CC0.