How to grow tomatoes
Find out how to grow tomatoes, with advice on sowing, growing and harvesting, in our Grow Guide.
Growing tomatoes is a fun and rewarding task, resulting in masses of fresh, nutritious tomatoes that taste better than anything you can buy in the shops. Tomatoes are easy to grow and taste best when grown in full sun. There are many different varieties of tomato to grow, including cherry, plum and beefsteak, each with its own distinctive shaped fruit, flavour and culinary use.
How to grow tomatoes at home
To grow tomatoes successfully, you need rich, fertile soil or peat-free potting compost, and a good sunny, sheltered spot. Water regularly and feed weekly with a high-potash fertiliser once the plants start to flower.
Tomatoes are split into two main growing types: determinate (bush) and indeterminate (cordon). Bush types are usually planted in pots or hanging baskets and their stems trail around the edge. Cordon types are trained to grow tall and are supported by a cane or stake.
If you grow cordon tomatoes then you will need a stake, such as a bamboo cane, to support the plant, and you'll need to pinch out side-shoots to keep the plant fruiting on one central stem. You don't need to stake bush tomato varieties.
If you're a beginner gardener then it's a good idea to grow bush tomatoes, as you don't need to stake them or pinch out growing tips.
Why not use your harvest to make delicious sauces for homemade pizzas? Check out our tests of the best pizza ovens, in collaboration with BBC Good Food.
More expert advice on growing tomatoes:
- 10 of the best tomatoes to grow
- Blight-resistant tomato varieties
- Tomato types explained
- How to grow tomato plants from cuttings
- How to grow the tastiest tomatoes
Growing tomatoes: jump links
- Sowing tomatoes
- Planting tomatoes
- Caring for tomatoes
- Harvesting tomatoes
- Storing tomatoes
- Growing tomatoes: pests and problem-solving
- Where to buy tomatoes
- Best tomatoes to grow
How to grow tomatoes from seed
Tomatoes are available to buy as young plants, but if you’d like to try some of the more unusual varieties it’s worth growing tomatoes from seed.
Start sowing in late-January until late-March. Sow seeds in 7.5cm pots of moist peat free compost, top with a thin layer of vermiculite, then water and cover with cling film. Stand on a warm, bright windowsill or in a propagator.
When your seeds have germinated, remove the cling film (or take them out of the propagator) and keep the compost damp. Transplant seedlings when they reach about 2-3cm tall into 5cm pots filled with moist multi-purpose compost. Return them to the windowsill. Keep potting on as necessary. Support stems by tying them to a pea stick with soft string.
In this No Fuss video guide, David Hurrion demonstrates the best way to sow tomato seeds:
Planting tomatoes outside
Move your tomatoes outside after the last frost in May. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot, where you can plant them into a border (into soil that has had plenty of well-rotted garden compost added), or into 30cm pots, or put two or three plants in a growing bag. If growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, try growing alongside basil, which thrives in the same conditions.
Watch Alan Titchmarsh's No Fuss video guide to planting tomatoes in a growing bag:
Planting tomatoes in a greenhouse
Growing tomatoes in a greenhouse is very similar to growing them outside, except you get a longer growing season. You'll need to shade your plants from excessive heat, which could cause tough skins, blotchy ripening and, if you forget to water regularly, blossom-end rot. So fit some blinds, use shade paint, or hang woven shading fabric.
More like this
In this video, Monty Don explains how to support tomatoes in the greenhouse:
Where to buy tomatoes online
Looking after cordon and bush tomatoes
Tall-growing cordon tomatoes will require pinching out (removing side-shoots) and staking (tying plants to canes with soft string). When the first tiny fruits begin to appear, strip away the leaves underneath to allow light and air to reach them better. When there are four trusses (clusters) of flowers, pinch out the plant’s growing tip.
Watch Alan Tichmarsh's No Fuss video guide to caring for cordon tomatoes:
Once flowers appear, feed your plants weekly with liquid tomato food, such as Tomorite. Keep tomatoes well watered because irregular watering causes fruit to split or develop hard black patches, known as blossom-end rot. This is caused by a lack of calcium, which is found in water.
With bush tomatoes, which have a sprawling habit, you can pretty much leave them to get on with it. If the fruits are hidden under the leaves, thin out the foliage a little to let the sun through to ripen them. Support heavy trusses on top of upturned flowerpots to prevent their stems snapping.
Leave tomatoes on the plants so they can ripen naturally, which greatly improves the flavour. Towards the end of the season, prune off the older leaves to let in more light and prevent grey mould fungus taking hold. If the weather turns cold, pick the trusses to ripen indoors.
Tomatoes are best eaten straight from the vine, when they're still warm from the sun. They don’t freeze well, but you can store them for a week or so at room temperature. Avoid storing your tomatoes in the fridge where possible, as this will give them a mealy texture.
The best way to store tomatoes is to make a tomato sauce and then freeze it.
Preparing and cooking tomatoes
Enjoy tomatoes in salads and sandwiches. Most types are also suitable for cooking, but plum varieties are especially suitable. If you’re lucky enough to have a glut of tomatoes, try experimenting with your own pasta sauces.
Our friends at olive have curated a delicious collection of tomato recipes, including a showstopping tomato and manchego tart.
Growing tomatoes: pests and diseases
Whitefly can be a problem for tomatoes growing in greenhouses, and tomato blight can affect plants grown outside, especially in warm, wet summers. Blossom end rot (pictured) is caused by a lack of calcium, and splitting fruits can be a result of erratic watering.
You may spot green shield bugs on your tomato plants. These are harmless bugs and will not damage your crop.
Especially in a damp summer, tomato blight can be a real problem. In this clip from Gardeners' World, Monty reveals the tell-tale symptoms of tomato blight, and how to deal with it. Find out how he salvaged the remaining crop and what you should do with blight-affected plants to limit any further spread of the disease:
Advice for buying tomatoesHere’s our guide to buying tomato seeds and plants, including where to buy tomatoes:
- Make sure you know what you're buying – do you want to grow cordon tomatoes or bush tomatoes? Remember that cordon tomatoes need training up a support, while bush tomatoes are suitable for pots and hanging baskets
- Check that your tomato variety grows well in the space you can provide for it. If you don't have a greenhouse, make sure you choose a vareity suitable for growing outside
- Choose the right tomato for your plate – don't grow cherry tomatoes if you want to make tomato sauces, or plum tomatoes if you want to eat them raw in salads. Research which varieties are best for you, and stick to them.
Where to buy tomatoes online
Great tomato varieties to grow
- 'Astro Ibrido' – produces vast quantities of small to medium plum tomatoes with outstanding flavour
- 'Gardeners' Delight' – a bush or cordon cherry tomato, with heavy crops of richly flavoured fruits
- 'Garden Pearl' – also called 'Gartenperle', this compact bush variety is ideal for growing in a large pot
- 'Ildi' – deliciously sweet, yellow, pear-shaped cherry tomatoes in large trusses of up to 80 fruits
- 'Juliet' – a cordon cherry plum, with fewer seeds than most. It cooks well
- 'Reduna' – this cordon type has a delicious, classic flavour and is easy to slice
- 'Sparta' – a cordon variety with lots of well-shaped and well-flavoured fruits
You can also check out some of our tried-and-tested gardening tools below, with a selection of great kit for planting and support.
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