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Who doesn’t love a tomato fresh off the vine? They’re sweet, juicy, and, best of all, rewarding to grow at home. While tomato plants do require a fair amount of attention, if you give them what they need, you’ll have fresh tomatoes whenever you want—and what could be better than that? Here’s how to get started growing your own tomato plant.
How to choose the right tomato plant for your space.
According to Maria Failla, founder of Bloom and Grow Radio, tomato plants do require a fair amount of attention, especially if you’re a beginner gardener. “They’re actually heavy feeders,” she explains, “and throughout the season you have to fertilize them, keep your eye on them, and prune them.”
Depending on the space you’re working with, you can choose bigger tomato plants or seeds, or micro-dwarf varieties if you’re working with a patio or small space. Smaller varieties won’t get larger than a foot or two and will be much more manageable for starter planters.
Failla adds that it’s always best to look out for disease-resistant varieties since tomatoes can be susceptible to fungus.
- Seeds or a starter tomato plant
- A balanced fertilizer
- A small container (if growing smaller varieties)
- A cage or trellis (if growing bigger varieties)
- A sunny place that gets 6 to 8 hours of sun exposure per day
- If growing from seed, Joyce Van Dam of The Farm in My Flat recommends starting your seeds in a seed starter mix and placing them somewhere warm inside, making sure they get enough light and water while they grow.
- Once the plants are large enough, or if you went for a tomato plant rather than seeds, you can place them outside. Whether you plant them in the ground or in a container is up to you and the amount of space you’re working with. Tomatoes require lots of sunshine and thrive on warmth, so you want to plant your little guys in late spring to early summer. “Six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day will set them up for success,” Failla tells mbg. (Alternatively, if you’re short on outdoor space, small varieties of tomatoes can hold up a sunny windowsill.)
- For tomatoes in a container, Van Dam says to make sure they get used to the sun in phases before they get too much exposure at once. “This process is called ‘hardening off’ your plants and is an important step to keep a happy plant,” she notes.
- For tomatoes in the ground, Failla says to plant them 6 to 12 inches into the soil. “Unlike most other plants, you want to plant the root ball deep into the ground.” When planting, she adds, remove the bottom leaves and bury the first few inches of the stem along with the root ball. “The small hairs on the tomato stalk are actually ‘adventitious roots,’ she says, and when planted underground, they grow and develop as part of the root system and help stabilize the plant.”
- Larger varieties of tomato plants will require a stake, cage, or trellis to give your tomatoes something to grow up and lean on as they grow delicious—and heavy—fruits, Failla notes.
- Once they’re planted and in their sunny spot, they’ll need to be watered regularly. “Cover the exposed soil with mulch such as leaves or wheat straw to help your plant retain enough moisture while soaking up the sun,” Van Dam says. And Failla adds to not let them dry out and to maintain consistently moist (but not soaked) soil.
- Throughout the season, as your plant starts bearing fruit, it’s going to need a lot of nutrients. Failla and Van Dam stress the importance of using fertilizer regularly. (Here’s a beginner’s guide to fertilizing if you need to brush up.)
- If you notice any sad-looking leaves, Failla says to prune them right away, as they can zap nutrients from your plant.
Whether you want to make a fresh Caprese salad, some delicious shakshuka, or the ever-reliable pasta sauce, there’s no shortage of ways to eat and prepare tomatoes—and they taste that much better when you grow them yourself.
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