Scientifically identified as Solanum Lycopersicum, the tomato plant discovered initially in South and Central America. It’s believed that the indigenous Mexicans may have contributed to the cultivation and domestication of tomatoes.
Depending on culinary or botanical terminology, the tomato is classified as either a vegetable or a fruit. Culinary categorization as a vegetable is based on flavor and recipe application, while botanical classification as fruit is based on the structure and function of the plant.
For our ultimate purpose for it, eating, we’ll consider it a vegetable.
Soon after invading the Aztec Empire, the Spanish took to the fruit and introduced the plant to Europe. Eventually, tomatoes found their way into European colonies and other parts of the world. Since then, the tomato plant has become a global staple food. Study shows that it’s ranked as one of the most widely consumed vegetables.
This article will discuss the best soil for tomato plants and other valuable tips like the best growing season and where and how to plant tomatoes. We’ll also delve into the best varieties available to help you understand how tomatoes grow.
Here are some of the topics we’ll cover:
- Tomato Classification
- Popular Tomato Varieties and Their Applications
- How to Grow the Best Tomato Plants
- Growing Tomatoes in Containers
Today, numerous tomato plant varieties grow in different climates and parts of the world. However, you can subdivide them all into two major categories: determinate and indeterminate. This refers to the growth pattern of the tomato plant—bush or vine.
Typically, the indeterminate varieties grow taller than the determinate. Here’s how to differentiate between the two classifications.
Also known as bush tomatoes, the determinate varieties grow into a fixed size. Their fruits mature and ripen within a short period, say, one to two months. However, after the first fruits have ripened, the plant starts to diminish in appearance and growth.
Typically, determinate tomatoes don’t grow beyond a particular point hence the term “bush.” Most don’t grow taller than four to five feet tall and do well in cages, pots, and open fields. However, like indeterminate tomatoes, they also require support due to the heavy fruits.
Fortunately, you won’t have to deal with pruning and removing suckers since they stop growing naturally. Some of the more common determinate varieties are Ida Gold, Beaverlodge and Italian Roma, among others.
Although determinate tomatoes can lack flavor, their success largely depends on the weather and diseases. In a conducive environment, the resulting fruits are excellent for making sauces and juice.
This category of tomatoes is also referred to as vine or cordon tomatoes. Unlike determinates which produce at once, these plants bear fruit all summer long. This is because the vines continue to shoot, hence the term “vining.” Most indeterminate tomatoes can grow up to 10 feet tall.
Your tomato plant will continue to grow until it dies off from frosting. Consequently, this means you’ll enjoy a steady harvest until the onset of the cold season. If you don’t want your tomato plant growing uncontrollably, it’s best to remove the suckers. Doing this will also ensure your plant focuses on production rather than getting taller.
Although you can let the vines lay on the ground, it’s best to support them to avoid unnecessary pests and diseases. Some of the popular tomato varieties in this category include cherry tomatoes, heirlooms, Beefsteak, etc.
Popular Tomato Varieties and Their Applications
Most people are unable to differentiate between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. As mentioned, the distinct way of telling them apart is how they grow, i.e., bush vs. vine. Although most people know tomatoes for salads and cooking in stews, there are various ways to consume them.
Below are some of the most popular varieties from both categories.
This crisp, crunchy oval-shaped plum variety hails from South East Asia. Although many people cannot tell them apart, grape and cherry tomatoes are different in size and visual appearance. Grape tomatoes have thick skin, thus have an ideally meaty texture when roasted, cooked in a pot, or eaten raw.
These indeterminate tomatoes pair well with chicken, steak, fish, and pasta dishes. The red varieties are sweet like candy, while the yellow grapes offer a delicious tangy flavor.
One of the most popular indeterminate varieties is the cherry tomato plant. They are red, yellow, orange, or purple in appearance, with medium and tender skin. Although small, cherry tomatoes add great flavor and color to dishes.
You can include them in a hearty pot stew, grill, dry, or eat them raw for a sweet, candy-like flavor.
Green Beefsteak Tomatoes
A unique indeterminate variety is the green beefsteak tomato, which is large, round, and firm. Unlike most green tomatoes, which are considered unripe, green beefsteaks are ripe and full of nutrients. As the name suggests, these bright green tomatoes have a meaty structure.
They pack a tart and tangy flavor, ideal for making artisan sandwiches, juicing, sauces and salsas. You can also use them for baking pies and desserts.
Red Beefsteak Tomatoes
Another popular indeterminate tomato is the red Beefsteak. Like its green counterpart, it’s large and meaty, thus excellent for making fresh sauces. The red Beefsteak’s flavor is reasonably mild, making it the perfect addition to dishes such as burgers and salsa. It’s also ideal for people who prefer a grilled dish.
Also known as plum tomatoes, Roma tomato plants fall under the determinate category since they bear fruit at once. The fruits are oblong-shaped and red, with a meaty texture ideal for canning, stews, and pastes. Roma tomatoes pack a tangy flavor that tomato lovers can enjoy raw in salads and on burgers.
How to Grow the Best Tomato Plants
Did you know that raised beds are the ideal location for growing your tomatoes? They help you preserve the fertility of the soil and control weeds and pest infestations. Raised beds are the best solution for gardeners who are keen on creating a conducive growth environment.
Additionally, you can include mulch or compost in the soil for maximum nutrient absorption.
Tomatoes benefit from the addition of composted manure to the soil. Compost enhances soil structure and adds essential nutrients. Manure that has been composted supplies a slow release of nutrients throughout the growing season.
Growing tomatoes in open farms or gardens is also widely popular. However, this demands a different set of spatial requirements from planting tomatoes on a raised bed.
Before planting your tomato seeds in the garden, it’s best to ensure the soil is healthy. You should continue organic soil amendments through fall and winter in preparation for planting during the spring season.
For clay soils, garden soil amendments increase the porosity, permeability, aeration, and soil aggregation. On the other hand, sandy soils experience an increase in their water and nutrient holding capacity.
The best soil for growing tomato plants is fertile, well-drained, and slightly acidic loam soil. The ideal pH level range is 5.8 to 7.0, with the lower end of the scale preventing a precarious condition called yellow shoulder.
If the soil testing kit indicates a pH above or below 6.0, you’ll have to apply elemental sulfur and dolomite lime, respectively.
To grow, tomatoes need rich but loose soil to easily spread their roots. Therefore, it’s advisable to add organic matter to improve the soil, e.g., compost and store-bought manure. The best application method is to dig the compost deeply into your beds (approximately 2ft deep) to allow the root system to grow out well.
However, if you’re planting tomatoes in containers, you can use a potting mix with natural and organic matter.
Tomatoes require no less than 8 hours of sun per day. However, if your garden doesn’t receive sufficient sunshine, you’ll have to provide conducive conditions to get a bountiful harvest. For instance, you can spread black plastic on the soil around your plants to soak up heat and control pests.
On the other hand, you should protect your tomato seedlings if they receive excess sun exposure. For such cases, shading your crop is the best preventive measure. Failure to do so results in the plants dropping their flowers and potentially hindering growth.
You can also erect a reflective barrier behind your plants to bounce back the heat waves.
Mulching helps conserve soil moisture, preventing common tomato plant problems linked to inconsistent watering like blossom end rot.
It’s best to provide your plants with a consistent watering schedule to prevent them from drying out or drowning in excess water.
The ideal time for watering tomato plants is in the morning and right before sunset.
Another helpful trick is to drape row covers over the tomato plants to trap moisture and heat. This creates a mini-greenhouse effect since the gauzy material protects the crop from cold while letting rain through.
Whether your plants are caged, staked or not, the tomato variety you grow determines the amount of space your tomatoes need. An ideal spacing should allow your plants to receive sufficient sunlight and air circulation. These prime conditions will protect your crops from any diseases.
The best approach is to follow the guidelines as indicated on the seed packet. Below are the general guidelines to follow:
- 4×8 Raised bed – 8 plants (each occupying 4ft2).
- Staked and indeterminate tomatoes – 1.5 to 3 feet apart.
- Determinate plants – 2 feet apart.
- Uncaged plants – 6 feet apart.
- Rows of tomatoes should be 3 feet apart.
Since tomatoes are heavy feeders, they need a significant amount of nutrients to achieve the desired height. Organic fertilizers will help you get a good harvest from your tomato plants. At the same time, the amount of fertilizer required is dependent on the number of seedlings you plant on the raised bed.
When growing an indeterminate tomato variety, you’ll need to prune your plant regularly. Doing this minimizes the competition for nutrients and other organic matter among the plants.
Growing Tomatoes in Containers
The lack of outdoor space shouldn’t prevent you from creating a successful indoor garden. Tomatoes will happily grow in any conducive environment, including pots.
Planting tomatoes in containers is one of the simplest and most convenient home solutions, especially for apartments and cities. The perks to this gardening alternative are portability and convenience since you can hang or place the pots on the balcony, patio, porch, etc. Here are helpful tips to help you maximize your yield.
Use Large Containers
The bigger your pot or container, the better your tomatoes will grow. A container that is approximately 2ft2 is ideal for each plant. If this is unavailable, you can also use a five-gallon bucket.
It’s also essential to ensure your container has good drainage before filling it with high-quality potting soil. This allows your tomato roots to spread out and downwards uninhibited. Another tip is to avoid planting additional seedlings in the same container as they’ll likely compete with the tomato for water and other nutrients.
Use High-Quality Potting Mix
The best soil for growing tomatoes is loam soil, as it can retain moisture easily. However, when you use garden soil in containers, the result is a heavy compacted mix. And since tomatoes require loose soil, your crop will likely fail. Garden soil also contains disease-carrying organisms, which often result in early blight and pests.
The best solution is to use a premium quality potting mix to allow air and moisture to flow freely in the soil.
Plant the Tomato Seedlings Properly in the Potting Soil
Unlike other vegetable seedlings, tomatoes don’t follow a similar planting soil depth to the original containers. Tomato seedlings require a deeper hole for the best growth pattern. The best thing is to remove the bottom sets of leaves before burying the tomato in the ground.
The best planting time for your tomatoes is after the last frost date. If the weather takes a turn for the worst, it’s best to cover your crop with a frost blanket.
Water the Soil Consistently
Since containers often let plants dry out quickly, it’s crucial to maintain a consistent moisture level. If the soil drains water too fast, it’s best to monitor the soil moisture content daily. You can also use a water-retaining additive or a self-watering container.
Soil with a low moisture content will result in a wilted and weak plant susceptible to blossom end rot. Additionally, if you water your tomatoes inconsistently, your fruits will crack or split. That said, it’s crucial to water your plants twice a day during scorching and windy weather.
The best practice is to water your plants in the morning. It’s essential to apply the water directly to the soil to ensure your crops are well-watered. Doing this will avoid wetting the foliage, thus preventing fungus and blight. It’s also best to avoid making the soil soggy as the plant roots might rot.
Feed Your Tomato Plants
Tomatoes need to be fed every two weeks, especially if you’re growing them in containers. Some of their primary nutrient requirements include nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. A good potting mix should come with pre-mixed fertilizer.
However, if the potting soil doesn’t have fertilizer, it’s best to use a slow-release fertilizer or one explicitly designed for tomato plants.
Expose Your Tomatoes to the Sun
Tomatoes need a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day, preferably between 1000hrs and 1600hrs. Therefore, the best location for your tomato container is where it can receive this specified amount of sunshine. You can invest in a sun calculator to help you inspect and confirm the best location.
If the temperatures are too high (more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit), your tomatoes will stop producing flowers, and the fruits will not mature. If they are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to transfer them to a shielded or warm area.
Home garden tomatoes taste much better than store-bought ones. They are fresh and juicy compared to market tomatoes, which may be firm and uniform in color, but are bland in taste. To achieve this difference, you should plant tomatoes in a conducive environment for the best yields.
Whether you’re growing your crops in an open garden or a raised bed, the best soil for tomatoes is well-drained loam soil. If this isn’t available, you can use organic or inorganic soil amendments on sandy or clay soils. However, if you’re planting tomatoes in containers, it’s best to use potting mixes rather than garden soil.