You’ll know why it’s worth growing your own tomatoes after one juicy bite. Unlike produce shipped by truck, homegrown fruits can ripen on the vine for the best flavor. And you can’t beat the convenience of having them on hand all season long. These tips will help even novice gardeners have a successful tomato crop this season.
It’s time to plant!
In the Midwest, May is the generally right time to plant tomato seedlings, when frost is no longer a risk—you can look up your first and last freeze dates on sites such as this one.
Prepare a sunny garden bed for the plants that will receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day; all-day sunlight is better.
When planting a seedling, cover the stem with soil as high as the first set of leaves. This encourages root production, and more roots mean more yield.
You can grow tomatoes successfully either in a garden bed or generously-sized pots. And don’t forget to tie the plants onto a tall stake or wire cage as soon as the seedling is planted, to avoid damaging the roots later.
Choose the right number of plants
How many tomato plants should you buy? More isn’t necessarily better. It’s easy to go overboard with too many plants, which can quickly become crowded and encourage the spread of disease. The University of Missouri Extension suggests three to five plants per person in the family.
Savvy gardeners plant multiple tomato types, ensuring a harvest of varied sizes, shapes and colors. Heirloom tomatoes in particular are known for their variegated appearance that lends novelty to the harvest.
Keep your crop healthy
To decrease the likelihood of disease and insect problems, rotate the location of your tomato crop each year, and don't plant where a member of the nightshade family—peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes—was grown last year, says the University of Michigan Extension. Also avoid planting near the shade of any tree, but especially a black walnut tree, whose roots can kill tomato roots.
Compost and organic fertilizer will enrich your soil, and crushed eggshells offer a dose of calcium which encourages healthy tomato production.
If it doesn’t rain at least once a week, the Ohio State University Extension says to water with drip irrigation or a hose placed on the soil. Leaf diseases can occur from water splashing on the plant, so the water should ideally not come from a sprinkler system. If your crops do not make it despite your best efforts, don’t despair. By July and August, farmers markets will be awash in locally-grown, vine-ripened tomatoes.
Enjoy the tomato season
By early summer, your tomato garden should start producing. Now you can start using your homegrown tomatoes and sharing them with friends and neighbors. Keep up with picking the fruit as it ripens to encourage plants to continue the production of tomatoes.
Caprese salad with sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinegar makes for a summer treat—try it on skewers for entertaining.