Growing Tomatoes: A Comprehensive Guide from Planting to Harvesting

tomato harvest

Looking for the best tips for growing tomatoes? You’re not alone! Tomatoes are a beloved and popular garden staple, and for good reason – they are relatively easy to grow, extremely versatile in the kitchen, flavorful, and packed with nutrients. If you’re new to gardening or just looking to add tomatoes to your garden for the first time, this comprehensive guide will take you through the process from start to finish. From choosing the right type of tomato plant and caring for it, we’ll cover everything you need to know to successfully grow your own tomatoes and harvest a bountiful crop. So, grab some gloves and a trowel, and let’s get started!

First Things First: Know your Tomatoes

Tomatoes are classified by colorshapepollination type, and growing habit. Knowing which of these classifications fit your growing needs will make it easier to pick which type of tomatoes you want to grow.


  • Red
  • Pink
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green
  • Purple
  • Black
  • Striped


  • Cherry: small, bite-sized tomatoes you can pop right into your mouth
  • Saladette: smaller tomatoes measuring between 2-3 inches in diameter
  • Slicer: an average-sized tomato measuring between 3-4 inches in diameter
  • Beefsteak: the largest tomato measuring between 4-6 in diameter
  • Roma: meatier flesh with less juice, often shaped like a plum


  • Open-pollinated: these varieties will grow the exact same plant with saved seeds. Heirlooms are a type of open-pollinated that have been around for more than 60 years. 
  • Hybrid: a cross between two or more varieties. These will not grow the same plant with saved seeds.

Growing habit:

  • Determinate: characterized by their compact growth habit and the production of a single large crop of fruit all at once.
  • Indeterminate: characterized by their sprawling, vine-like growth habit and the production of fruit throughout the growing season.

Growing Tomatoes: What Your Plants Need 

Tomatoes need these 9 things to grow successfully: sunlightwell-drained soilwatersupportsfertilizerpest controlpruningweeding, and disease prevention.


Tomatoes need plenty of sunlight to grow and produce fruit. Choose an area that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. 


Tomatoes grow best in well-draining soil that does not become water-logged. If you don’t have a suitable spot for growing tomatoes, you can grow them in containers with drainage holes at the bottom.


Tomatoes need consistent watering to thrive. Water them deeply at least once a week, or more in hot or dry conditions. If you want to cut down on the time it takes to water your tomato plants, try using a watering system like a watering spike or drip irrigation. A watering spike is a small, pointed object that you can insert into the soil near the base of the plant. When you fill the spike with water, the water slowly drips deep into the soil, providing the roots with a consistent supply of moisture.

If you have a larger garden, you can set up a drip irrigation line. You can accomplish this by connecting to your garden hose. If you live in a very hot area, mulching with plastic will help to conserve moisture. Try to stay away from using straw as a mulch because it introduces weeds into your garden.


Most tomato varieties benefit from support in the form of stakescagesringsnettingladders, or the Florida basket weave. These supports will help keep the plants upright and prevents the fruit from touching the ground and spoiling.

  • Stakes should be in the form of a 2-inch by 2-inch wooden stake or a metal steak.
  • Tomato cages are by far the easiest to use. However, most are not very tall and indeterminate plants will soon overflow the cage, making it very susceptible to collapsing. It is best to use these for determinate varieties.
  • Tomato rings are also easy to use. Put a stake in the ground next to the plant, then as it grows, move the rings up or down on the stake to support the tomato plant’s growth. 
  • Nylon netting is a great way to support tomatoes as they grow. Use stakes to hold up the trellis, especially once the plants start producing fruits and get heavier. Cattle panels are a simpler method way to create a trellis. They will also need stakes to support it; however, they will not fail due to a heavy harvest. The only drawback is they take up extra storage space in the offseason. 
  • Tomato ladders are another plant support that works well unless the plant gets too large. Then they are susceptible to toppling over, especially if the ground gets a soaking rain.
  • The Florida basket weave should be your first choice if you have a large number of plants. This system calls for stakes between every two plants. Do this all the way down the row. Then as the tomato plant grows, you use twine to go back and forth around the tomatoes and the posts. Repeat the process as the plant grows.


Tomatoes benefit from regular fertilization with a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 formula; however, a fertilizer created specifically for tomatoes, like Tomato -tone, will give you the best results and the most flavorful tomatoes. Wait 2-3 weeks between applications. 

Pest control

The most common pest for tomato plants is the Five-spotted hawk moth. This large moth lays eggs that hatch and turn into the dreaded tomato hornworm. The hornworm is a large, green caterpillar with white stripes and a distinctive horn-like protrusion on its tail. It feeds on the leaves and fruit of tomato plants and can cause significant damage in only a couple of days if left unchecked. To locate a tomato hornworm, you can search for signs of its presence on the leaves and fruit of your tomato plants. Look for large, ragged holes in the fruits, leaves or stems, as well as any green, black or brown excrement on the plants. Tomato hornworms are typically active during the day. You can usually find them on the undersides of leaves or on the stems of plants. Handpicking is the simplest and most effective method for removing hornworms.

Simply locate the caterpillars on the plants and carefully pluck them off. If you do not want it hatching into a moth and laying more eggs on your tomato plants, it is best to lay it on the ground, cover it with a little soil, and then step on it. If you feed birds, putting it in their feeding area serves as a tasty treat.


Pruning tomato plants can help improve airflow and light penetration, leading to healthier plants and a better crop. All plants grow extra stems called suckers. Suckers are small shoots that grow from the base of each leaf stem where it connects to the main plant stem. If allowed to grow they will become viable and produce fruit; however, it will take away from the overall production and leave you with smaller tomatoes. Also, the suckers are very weak and can break easily, causing any fruits that are growing to die. This would be a waste of energy for the plant. So it’s best to prune them before they get too large. Simply grasp the suckers with your fingers and give them a twist.


Keeping the weeds pulled will do wonders for your tomato plants. Each trip you make to the garden, look for any newly sprouted weeds and give them a pull. After you pluck them, lay them on the ground to dry out and die.

Disease Prevention

Tomato plants are susceptible to these diseases; blight, wilt, bacterial spotting, and mosaic virus. Most are fungal diseases, which are spread when there is poor air circulation or extended periods of high humidity. The best way to control them from damaging your plants is to use a copper fungicide regularly. This all-natural product can be sprayed on the leaves every 10-15 days as a preventative. We’ve laid out the most common tomato problems in this article.

Preparing Your Soil

  • Remove any weeds that may have sprouted over the spring
  • Next, loosen the soil with a garden fork, garden tiller, or a garden hoe
  • Water your tomato plants well before transplanting
  • Depending on the variety, plants should be spaced between 36-48 inches apart to allow for the most airflow
  • If the tomato plant is less than 10 inches tall, it can be placed into the soil so that the top of the potting soil is even with the new garden soil. If it is taller, a stake should be used immediately, or the trench method can be used for planting. 
  • Growing tomatoes means that you have to consider the health of the plant right from the beginning. That said, the most stressful time for a young tomato plant is within the first two weeks of being transplanted. So, it is very important not to allow the soil around the base of the plant to dry out. If the weather is hot, it may take two waterings per day. Mixing a liquid fertilizer like Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed into the watering will help the plant grow quickly.

Now for the best part of growing tomatoes, the harvest!

The feeling of biting into a juicy, ripe tomato fresh from your garden is like no other. It’s also a great time to recognize your accomplishment. Be proud of the fact that you’ve grown and harvested your own food!

When to pick your tomatoes

In general, tomatoes are ready to be harvested when they are fully ripe and have reached their desired color. Tomatoes should be firm, but not hard, when they are ripe. Gently squeeze the tomato and see if it gives slightly when you apply pressure. Too hard? It’s not ripe yet. If it is too soft, it may be overripe. By checking every few days, you will soon learn how a ripe tomato feels.

How to use tomatoes

Growing tomatoes is the work, now you get to enjoy them! Using your freshly picked tomatoes right away is considered to be the best way to enjoy them, as they are at their peak of ripeness and flavor. However, if your garden is producing tomatoes faster than you can eat them, you can preserve them by canningfreezingdryingfermentingpickling, and preserving them in oil.

  • Canned tomatoes can be used to make flavorful sauces and soups
  • Frozen tomatoes can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, and pasta sauces 
  • Dried tomatoes can add a savory, intense flavor to dishes
  • Fermented tomatoes can be used as a condiment or added to soups and stews for a tangy flavor
  • Pickled tomatoes can be enjoyed as a snack or used in sandwiches and salads
  • Tomatoes preserved in oil can be used in a variety of dishes, including pasta and pizza sauce

Ultimately, the best way to enjoy tomatoes is a matter of personal preference. Experimenting with the different methods will help you find the one that works best for you.

Take Notes on Your Process

As you experience the successes and challenges of the gardening season, take some time to jot down notes on which tomato varieties were successful, what worked (and didn’t work) in terms of pest and disease control, and any other important observations. These notes will be helpful as you begin planning for the next gardening season.

Ready to start planning your patch? Check out our complete collection of tomatoes!

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