Growing tomatoes can be rewarding and challenging. Each year seems to bring something new. But there is almost nothing that tastes better than a fresh, delicious tomato from your own garden. Here's a general article with advice for Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden.
Cherry tomatoes have small and abundant fruit. They are available in red and yellow, and often used in salads. Some varieties are small compact plants, and some can grow up to 6 or 7 feet tall.
Container types are generally compact and determinate (bushy plants that grow to a certain height, set fruit all at once, then decline).
Standard types can be determinate or indeterminate (vine-like growth and fruit set throughout the season). Fruit is of different sizes, depending on variety.
Heirloom tomatoes are increasingly popular. The scientific definition of an heirloom tomato is an open-pollinated variety; that is, the flower is pollinated with pollen from another plant to make a fruit with seeds that can reproduce the tomato, true to type. Growers can save seed from their crop and sow again in following years and the plants will produce fruit with the same characteristics and quality of the parent. The seeds can be passed down so they become ‘heirlooms’.
They appear in all shapes, sizes, colors and flavors and offer opportunities to explore growing new and interesting varieties.
Click here for a list of tomato varieties (Table 1, page 3) that includes the recommended growing zone, disease-resistance, vine habit and plant size, color and size of fruit, and time to maturity.
How to Grow
Types of Tomatoes
Size of Container - Choose a container big enough to “hug” – 16 inches wide or more is best (15 gallon), although determinate varieties will do fine in a 5 gallon container. Make sure the container is clean.
Soil - Fill the container with good quality potting soil and plant the tomato transplant deep into the soil. Add organic fertilizer according to package instructions.
Variety - Choose a patio or bush variety for best results. Check the list of tomato varieties (Table 1, page 3) to find the one with an appropriate plant size and fruit size.
Water regularly, as pots will dry out faster than in-ground plantings. Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy.
Use support - even bush types should have a small tomato cage or other support system. Put in the support at the same time that you plant the tomato in the pot.
Fertilize with low nitrogen fertilizer every 2-4 weeks after blossoms appear.
Tomatoes can be planted in hanging baskets, but choose a variety with smaller fruit.
Most tomatoes are considered warm season crops and need summer temperatures in order to survive and produce. Almost all gardens have microclimates that are different from the norm and may allow continuation at least for a while to grow tomato plants. Container plants, in this instance, would most likely have the greatest probability for success since their environment can be better controlled than an in-ground plant.
For best results these plants need about 6 to 8 hours of sunlight, so look first for an area that gets the most sunlight. If that area is also protected or near a south wall it may also be warm enough. If the space is more in an open area, consider using a covering. In the colder parts of the county many home gardeners use a cloth covering (plant protector) to warm the area so they can start crops earlier in the spring. These can usually be purchased from gardening catalogs or at nurseries. Be prepared to cover or move the plants to a protected area if there is frost predicted.
There are a number of tomato plants that are considered cool season and can be planted in early fall to produce tomatoes throughout December and beyond depending on the weather. They have names like Siberian or Glacier. They can be found in the fall season at local nurseries. If the plants are already up and growing, just continue to enjoy them and let nature take its course. For more information about tomatoes, go to the UCCE Vegetable Resource and Information Center.