Fresh tomatoes are the reason a lot of people garden. Learning how to grow tomatoes is incredibly rewarding, as, for tomato lovers, there is NOTHING like a fresh off-the-vine-tomato.
Wondering how to grow tomatoes here in Alberta?
In this blog we will talk about where to grow tomatoes, how to water & fertilize tomatoes, and how to deal with tomato suckers.
Fun Facts About Tomatoes
Tomatoes are originally a tropical plant. In their wild state, they had small berry-esque fruit. Yes, tomatoes are a fruit. Botanically, tomatoes are a fruit because they develop from a flower and seeds develop in the resulting fruit. We tend to consider tomatoes a vegetable because most tomatoes aren’t as sweet as a fruit and we use them in dishes that are typically savoury, such as pasta and pizza!
Tomatoes are very easy to cross pollinate and create new varieties, and horticultural researchers have been breeding new kinds for decades! Over the last century, thousands of varieties have been developed for better flavour, better storage, better texture, less acidity, more lycopenes, and different colours.
Where to Grow Tomatoes
Knowing that tomatoes hail from the tropics gives us clues as to how to grow them more effectively. First of all, tomatoes like sunny, hot, humid growing conditions. What does that look like? Here are some ideas:
- Tomatoes need at least 6-8 hours of sunshine to thrive — the more the better. That would mean an eastern, southern, western exposure; or a combination thereof.
- Grow tomatoes in the hottest spot in your growing space, like next to a wall that will reflect some heat — but be reasonable, you don’t want to scorch them.
- If you have a greenhouse, that’s a great option for growing tomatoes too.
- Tomatoes grow well in pots and in raised beds. Again, thinking of their origin in the tropics, tomatoes love to keep their roots warm. Raised beds and pots keep their toes warm & happy.
How to Plant Tomatoes
Growing tomatoes in large pots is very important because large pots will help hold enough water to keep the tomato healthy. If you use a smaller pot, the tomatoe’s water demands will have you watering that tomato two or three times a day when it’s really hot.
If you are growing tomatoes in pots because of your gardening space, deck, or balcony; check the label to see what their mature height will be. If they will grow to 1 meter (3 feet) or higher, use a pot that has a large diameter, at least 18″ or 22″ across the top. It will also need to be a deep pot.
Smaller tomatoes will grow well in smaller pots, but I really wouldn’t go any smaller than a 14″ diameter pot because of the water demands.
Taking Care of Your Tomato Plants
Tomatoes are heavy feeders and heavy drinkers. What does that mean? Because tomatoes grow so rapidly in the heat, they need a lot of support in the water and fertilizer department.
Grow tomatoes in a high quality soil with a good water holding capacity and a good draining capacity. Soil that doesn’t drain well will lead to root rot in tomatoes. My personal favourite for tomatoes is a composted bark soil. Soil with composted bark holds water, drains well, and maintains a neutral pH.
Using mulch around the base of tomato plants helps hold in moisture. I highly recommend using mulch around the base of tomatoes everywhere: in the ground, in raised beds, and in pots. Any organic mulch – that is a mix of chopped leaves, stems, and bark – will work well here.
Place 7-8 cm (3″) around the base of the tomato or on top of soil of the entire pot. Be careful to keep the mulch away from the tomato stem to avoid rotting it. Using mulch will decrease water evaporation, help retain soil moisture, and reduce the need for water up to 20%. Mulch will also keep the roots cooler temperature.
How much water should you put on your tomato plant?
Your tomatoes will tell you when they are thirsty their leaves will begin to flag or droop a bit — don’t let them go to extreme wilt. Wilting isn’t good for tomato plants because that is a sign of stress, so get to know how often your tomato needs water to keep it from water stress.
Keeping tomatoes from wilting is the goal, uneven watering causes blossom end rot, which is a brown discoloration at the end of the tomato opposite of the stem. Uneven watering also causes issues in flavour.
At the height of summer and on sunny days, the tomatoes in my raised beds get watered daily. That’s just part of the routine on hot days. If it is cloudy, I may hold back; if it is rainy, I definitely let Mother Nature water them for me.
When tomato plants are large and growing in pots, I recommend that you water them until you see water beginning to seep out of the pot. When the tomato plants are small, that isn’t necessary and they could get overwatered.
How to Fertilize Tomatoes
Tomatoes have a high demand for fertilizer because they grow so rapidly. Fertilize tomatoes weekly for maximum growth and fruit production.
There are many tomato fertilizer options on the market. Look around and choose the one that works best for you and follow package directions. There are some slow release fertilizers and tomato fertilizer spikes that work well too.
How to Deal with Tomato Suckers
There are no hard and fast rules anymore about whether tomato suckers need to be pinched out or not. There is research that supports either position. Some research says that tomatoes are more productive when the suckers are taken off, other research supports the opposite. So, it is really a personal preference.
One thing for sure is that when we get close to the middle of August, it’s a good idea to pinch off any new buds on indeterminate tomato varieties to give the green tomatoes time to ripen. Indeterminate tomatoes will grow and flower forever until the frost kills them.
Determinate tomatoes are self limiting and grow most of their fruit in a flush that lasts 2-3 weeks.
Tomatoes are one of the simplest garden vegetables to grow and a great place to start with the novice gardener — they can be grown virtually anywhere as long as there is enough sun in your growing space.
And for the flavour they add to the kitchen table, they are definitely worth the effort!
Got questions? Feel free to message me and I will get back to you.
© Sharon Wallish Murphy, Gardening with Sharon