Join Our Gardening Club
tomato sweet aperitiff

How to plant and grow tomatoes

If there's one food plant that people love growing the most, it's tomatoes. Picking your own, sweet, juicy, home-grown crop, straight from the vine always beats the flavour of anything bought from a shop, no matter how good they claim to be!

Tomatoes literally come in all shapes, sizes and colours, from the small and sweet cherry tomatoes up to the incredible Gigantomo, which can reach up to 7lb in weight! (over 3kg!). Red, yellow, even purple varieties are also available, so you could have quite the rainbow in your salad bowl.

How do I grow tomatoes from seed?

tomato gigantomo

Fortunately, tomatoes can be grown quite easily from seed. It's also a cheaper way to experiment with different varieties too. The seed can be sown during March or April, which should mean that by the time they are ready for final planting; all risk of frost will have passed.

Many people sow seeds individually in recycled yoghurt pots or small 3 inch plastic plant pots. If you are intending to grow a large quantity of plants though, it is easier to plant in seed trays and transplant into individual pots later on.

The seed should be sown on the surface of good quality compost, lightly covered with a fine sprinkling of the same compost and watered with a fine rose or spray. Keep the seeds in a warm place (approximately 21C) and make sure that the compost does not dry out, keeping it evenly moist but not soaking wet, as this may well rot off the seeds!

Once the seedlings are large enough to handle (they have produced one or two sets of true leaves) they can be transplanted into the 3" pots, obviously if they have been sown in this size pot already then there will be no need to do this stage, only handle the plants by the leaves as the stems will easily be crushed and the plants will die, very disappointing after you've seen your seeds grow!

How do I grow tomatoes in a greenhouse?

If you have a greenhouse large enough to grow tomatoes in, you will be lucky enough to have a longer season, with tomatoes being produced earlier and ripening quicker and further into the autumn too. If growing in a greenhouse, you can sow your seeds a month earlier as they will be better protected once they are ready to be planted.

Your plants should be large enough to be planted into the greenhouse once they have reached 6 - 8 inches in height, possibly with the first flower truss getting itself ready to open.

If planting directly into the soil in the greenhouse, make sure the ground is extremely fertile as tomatoes need a lot of feed. Well rotted manure, compost and fertiliser should all be incorporated into the soil, and replaced every year without fail - this also helps to prevent the spread of diseases too..

If you are growing your tomatoes in pots or grow bags then they will need a lot more attention from you, feed and watering is even more vital as they will quickly dry out in the heat of a greenhouse.

Also try and regulate the temperature in the greenhouse keeping it between 60 and 80C, outside of these temperatures, the tomatoes will not grow as well.

tomato alicante

How do I grow my tomatoes outside?

growing bag with collars

Some varieties will definitely perform better than others outside in the garden; 'Gardener's Delight' and 'Moneymaker' do particularly well, as do many of the "tumbling tomato" varieties.

Only plant out when you are certain that all risk of frost has passed. If growing directly into the ground, make sure that plenty of good compost or manure has already been dug in and the ground has been well prepared, tomatoes need lots of food to produce all those tasty treats! Keep the plants about 18 inches apart to allow for good air circulation and less competition for the water.

If you are growing outdoors in grow bags or pots then ideally no more than two plants per grow bag and always remember to keep them well watered - this will mean every day in the summer time!

What are the different types of tomato plant?

You often hear the terms 'Cordon', 'Indeterminate', 'Bush', 'Determinate' and even 'Semi-determinate', these actually have very simple meanings:

  • Indeterminate - these are most commonly grown as cordon varieties, meaning a single upright stem with all side shoots removed from the leaf joints, these tomato plants can grow very tall indeed and will keep going until you decide to stop them or winter takes its toll.
  • Bush or determinate - these types tend to be much shorter and actually finish themselves with a flower truss at the end of the stem, these don't need any side shooting and are often grown as hanging basket tomatoes.
  • Semi-determinate - these are treated the same as cordon varieties, kept as a single stem, but will grow much shorter with a flowering truss at the end of the main stem.

With the single stem types of tomato, support will be needed to hold the plant upright, especially when they are weighted down with crops. Canes are often used individually or horizontal wires are stretched between supports if you are growing rows of tomatoes in your greenhouse or outside, in both cases, the plants should be carefully tied to their supports using soft twine.

The indeterminate, and semi indeterminate tomatoes will need regular attention from you, tie them up to their supports and also whenever a side shoot appears on a leaf joint, these will need to be pinched out. This helps to make the plant put all of its energy into growing a good crop of fruit rather than producing lots of leafy growth instead. This is different to the determinate or bush varieties, which can be left to spread out and grow lots of side shoots!

When do I harvest my tomatoes?

You can start picking your tomatoes as soon as they have ripened on the vine, whatever colour they should be! Later in the year, when the weather turns colder and the fruit are less likely to ripen outside, then either the whole plant can be lifted and hung upside down indoors while the remaining fruit ripen or they can be picked and placed on a bright windowsill where they should ripen up too.

tomato gardeners delight

Enjoy growing these tasty and versatile fruits, the beauty of them is that they don't need much room, just a bit of care and attention and you'll be rewarded every time you take a bite!

Sign up to the Van Meuwen Gardener's Club for Special Offers