Buy Choose plants about 20 centimetres tall with dark green leaves. Avoid ones with fruit and flowers already growing: it’s better if the plants develop a solid root system in the ground or pot before they start to flower, otherwise the fruit may disappoint. Expect to pay about $2 for a medium-size plant.
Prepare Wait until the danger of frost is past (when night temperatures are consistently above 10C), then plant in soil enriched with compost or well-rotted manure.
Plant Place plant in hole. Pack soil around roots. Add water. If plant is tall or leggy, dig a deeper hole. Cover the stem up to the first leaves for stronger root systems. Set plants 60 to 90 centimetres apart and in rows one to 1.5 metres apart. Want to grow tomatoes in pots? Find pot-friendly varieties and planting tips in Terrific picks .
Water Cover soil with a five-centimetre layer of straw to keep the soil evenly moist and discourage weeds from growing. Aim for consistent moisture levels. If it doesn’t rain, pour seven to eight litres of water (two full-sized watering cans) per plant per week.
Fertilize Follow the label directions on the fertilizer package. Commercial fertilizers formulated for tomatoes have more phosphorus (to promote flowering and fruit) and less nitrogen and potassium. Organic options include fish emulsions and seaweed or kelp fertilizers. Add the recommended amount of fertilizer once a week or dilute it and give a small dose of fertilizer with daily watering.
Harvest For maximum flavour, allow fruit to ripen fully on the vine, then pick when still firm but colour has changed to red, yellow or orange, depending on the variety.
Want plumper tomatoes?
Gardening experts recommend pruning your tomato plants to maintain a better balance between leaf-and-stem growth and fruit production. Pruning also encourages fruit to ripen earlier and grow larger. Here’s how:
• Use your fingers to pinch off the little side shoots (suckers) that appear between the main stem and a side branch.
• Remove suckers when they are five to 10 centimetres long.
Staking plants or growing them in cages helps keep fruit off the ground, where it can rot or be nibbled on by pesky insects.
To stake Pound stake into soil when you plant. Use a 1.5-metre stake pounded 30 centimetres into the ground.
Tie plant to stake with garden string and add more ties as plant grows taller. Prune plants frequently to limit growth to a single main stem to help fruit grow larger and ripen earlier.
To cage Place a wire tomato cage (available at garden centres) around each plant and push into ground. Put the cage in place when planting – wrestling a cage over a mature plant is difficult!
Some commercial cages are made of light wire that’s not strong enough to support a mature plant laden with fruit. Add extra support by tying the tomato cage to a stake in the ground.
|TIP Cut-up pantyhose make great ties for your stakes|
Given a sunny wind-sheltered spot and regular watering and fertilizing, most tomato varieties will thrive in pots. Larger containers – bushel baskets, clay pots or wooden half-barrels – are ideal for large tomato plants. But if container space is limited, choose compact varieties bred for container growing (see Terrific picks ).
Mix Use a soilless mix sold as patio or container mix. For added richness, combine two-thirds soilless mix with one-third bagged, well-rotted cattle manure.
Support Stake with three bamboo sticks tied together at the top to make a tripod over the plant. Prune regularly so your plant will be easier to support.
Water Check containers daily and water thoroughly until excess flows out through drainage hole. During hot spells, you may have to water twice a day.
Fertilize Add water-soluble fertilizer once a week with a low first (nitrogen) number, such as 5-10-10 or 5-20-20. Or add timed-release fertilizer in conjunction with a biweekly water-soluble fertilizer.
How many plants do you need?
Six to 10 tomato plants will provide a plentiful harvest for a family of four. If weather conditions are good, expect to harvest up to 10 pounds (5 kg) of fruit per plant each season. But don’t worry if your family is small or space is tight. Even a couple of plants will almost certainly satisfy your yearning for summer-fresh tomatoes.
What is determinate?
Determinate plants grow to a certain height, produce fruit and then stop growing. They are best for canning because the fruit is ready to harvest all at once. Indeterminate tomato plants grow and set fruit throughout the season.