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The Ultimate Guide to Planting Tomatoes

Do you want to learn how to grow tomatoes at home, even if you live in an apartment?

Tomatoes are some of the easiest plants to grow from seed, which makes them perfect for gardening beginners.

Sun-warmed, vine-ripened tomatoes are some of the best-tasting tomatoes you’ll ever eat.

We’ll show you how to plant tomatoes in pots, grow bags, raised gardens, or in the ground, so you can plant tomatoes no matter how much space you have.

How to Plant Tomatoes in 12 Steps

Instructions for planting and growing tomatoes vary depending on what kind of container you want to grow them in and if you’re going to start with seeds or plants.

In this guide, we’ll cover instructions for growing in grow bags, pots, raised garden beds, or in the ground.

You’ll learn how to start your tomato plants from seed or transplant pre-purchased plants when you don’t want to risk non-germinating seeds.

Step #1: Decide How You Want to Grow Your Tomatoes

Tomatoes can be grown in a variety of containers using several different methods, but we’re going to cover some of the most popular ones.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each method so you can decide what’s best for you and your unique situation.

Step #2: Choose What Types of Tomatoes to Grow

There is a wide variety of tomatoes you can choose to plant. They vary in size, shape, color, flavor, and hardiness. Tomato plants are also either determinate or indeterminate. 

Determinate vs. Indeterminate

Determinate tomatoes are bred to reach a predetermined height, produce all the fruit it’s going to produce, and then die.

When you’re planning to grow your tomatoes in pots or grow bags, determinate tomatoes are the right choice.

Determinate tomatoes don’t need as much support as indeterminate tomatoes, and they won’t grow as tall.

The average height of determinate tomatoes is 3-4 feet.

Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow and produce fruit until they are killed by frost.

They need more support than determinate tomatoes because they can grow 6-12 feet in height. 

You’ll enjoy a broader range of tomato types to choose from when growing indeterminate tomatoes, but they are a better choice for growing in raised beds or the ground.

Hybrid vs. Heirloom

Hybrid tomatoes have been crossbred to have the best traits of each parent plant. They can be bred to be more disease resistant, have a shorter growth habit, or even to produce a higher fruit yield. These are some of the easiest ones to grow.

Hybrid plants are bred by cross-pollinating plants manually or letting it happen naturally.

Heirloom tomatoes rely on insects for pollination and are passed down through cultures or families. These plants are at least 50 years old. These plants may produce fewer tomatoes, but they have a wider variety of colors and tend to be more flavorful.

The Farmer’s Almanac goes into more detail about hybrid and heirloom tomatoes here.

Most Common Varieties of Tomato Plants

Colors and Flavors of Tomato Plants

Step #3: Pick a Location to Grow Your Tomatoes

Tomatoes require lots of sunlight. You can grow your tomatoes in grow bags or pots indoors, but you will need to move them outside or place them by a window that gets plenty of sunlight.

The more sunlight your plants get, the better. At a minimum, they’ll need at least 4-8 hours of sunlight depending on the species of tomatoes you’re planting.

When planting your tomatoes in a raised garden bed or in the ground, choose a location with a spigot close by for easy watering.
Recommended Reading: How Do I Rejuvenate My Garden Soil?

Step #4: Plant Your Tomatoes at the Right Time of Year

Your tomatoes need to be planted at a specific time of the year for the best results. Look up the average last frost date for your area and use the chart below to determine when you need to sow your seeds or transplant plants.

This chart shows in detail the different planting zones and planting schedules for your area.

Step #5: Get the Supplies You Need

Purchase the necessary supplies before you get started, so you don’t have to make subsequent trips to the store to pick up things you forgot.

Refer to the chart below for a list of the supplies you need based on how you want to grow your tomatoes.

Step #6: Plant Your Tomatoes

Now it’s time for the fun part! Let’s plant your new tomato seeds, and you’ll learn how to transplant older plants when they’re ready.

Instructions for Starting Seeds

You can plant your seeds in a seed starter tray, or you can use red Solo cups.

Use a drill or Dremel to create drainage holes. Drill through the bottom of a few cups at one time to finish the task quickly.

Fill the cups halfway with a seed starting soil mix, or create your own mix by combining two parts peat moss for every 1 part perlite. 

Poke a hole with a #2 pencil or your finger, place the seeds inside the hole and cover it with soil.

Plant 2-3 seeds per cup to increase the chances that at least one of them will germinate. When you have more than one seed germinate, separate the plants into their own cups when they start to sprout.

Place your cups on a heating mat for faster and more even germination. Otherwise, use a grow light positioned right above the tops of the cups.

As your plants grow, continue adding soil until it reaches the top of the cup. Adding soil as the plant grows encourages a more extensive and more healthy root system—transplant at about six weeks.

When sowing your seeds outside, poke your holes in your prepared soil, place your seeds in the holes, and cover them. Position tomato cages so your tomato plants can grow up into them.

Instructions for Planting in Grow Bags

Put a tomato cage in the bag and fill the bottom of your grow bag with a few inches of potting soil.

You can plant your seeds directly into your grow bag, or purchase plants instead.

Follow the same instructions for sowing seeds outside when you want to start from seed.

For plants, gently remove the plants from their container, being careful not to damage the roots. Plant your tomato plants as deep as they will go.

Continue adding soil as your plant grows until it reaches the top of the grow bag. Use the flap on your grow bag to harvest tomatoes when your plant has matured.

Instructions for Planting in Pots

Sowing seeds in pots works the same way as sowing them outside or in grow bags.

When transplanting older plants, fill the pot with potting soil. Plant your tomato plant as deep as it will go.

As it grows, you need to add something to support your plant. You can use tomato cages or trellises meant for growing in containers, or you can DIY your own.

We’ll discuss how to stake your plants in more detail in step 11.

Instructions for Planting in Raised Garden Beds

Fill your raised bed with raised bed soil or a mix of topsoil, compost, and raised bed soil (50/30/20).

Follow the instructions for sowing seeds outdoors if you’re planting seeds.

Otherwise, plant your tomato plants as deep as they will go. Space your plants 12-18” apart if you plan to prune them.

If you aren’t going to prune them, keep them 2-3 feet apart.

Instructions for Planting in the Ground

Planting in the ground involves more prep work before you’re ready to plant.

You’ll need to till the soil to break it up and allow for more air circulation. Then you’ll want to add some amendments to the ground to make sure your plants have the nutrients they need.

You can use a mix of topsoil and compost (50/50) for this purpose. Simply spread your mix on top of the freshly tilled soil and till it again.

Follow the instructions for sewing seeds outside, or plant your transplanted plants as deep as they will go.

Create trenches before planting so you can cover them with more soil the first 12” that they grow.

Step #7: Water Your Tomatoes

Tomatoes love moist soil — not soggy.

Water the soil around your plants and avoid getting the leaves wet. Excess moisture on your leaves, especially at night, can cause mildew or rot and encourage plant diseases that can kill your plant and spoil the fruit. Water on your leaves during the day is problematic for your plants too. If you water in the afternoon, droplets on the leaves can act like tiny magnifying glasses with the rays of the sun and burn spots on the plant. 

The best time to water is early in the morning. Watering in the morning helps prevent fungal diseases that can set in with evening watering, plus this enables you to avoid burning the plant by watering in full sun.

Water deeply every 2-3 days or as needed to maintain moist soil.

Step #8: Mulch Your Tomatoes

Mulch your tomatoes to stop weeds from popping up, to lock in moisture, and to protect your plants from harmful pathogens in the soil.

You can use straw or hay for a cheap mulch option, but we recommend hardwood mulch.

It’s not a fire hazard like the straw or hay is, and it has a higher visual appeal. 

Another reason we love hardwood mulch is that as it decomposes, it enriches the soil, which leads to healthier plant growth.

Step #9: Fertilize Your Tomatoes

Tomatoes need a fertilizer that has equal amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen.

Phosphorus helps with root development and flower production. Nitrogen helps the plants get established and speeds up their growth.

Choose a fertilizer that contains extra calcium to help prevent blossom end rot.

Step #10: Prune Your Tomatoes

Prune the side growth off the main stem of your indeterminate tomatoes to promote vertical growth.

Proper leaf pruning keeps your plants from becoming too bushy and allows for better air circulation around the plant.

Step #11: Stake Your Tomatoes

Tomato cages or trellises are one of the most common ways for staking your tomato plants, but if you’re planning to grow a lot of plants, 2×2 furring strips and string are a much more inexpensive choice.

Use stretchy twine to tie your tomatoes every 12” as they grow for support. Don’t tie your plants too tightly. They’ll end up severed or die from lack of circulation if you do.

When using furring strips, either put them in first or keep the posts 4-6” away from your plant to avoid damaging roots when you bury it in the ground.

Step #12: Protect Your Tomatoes From Diseases and Pests

Blight, blossom end rot, and rust or mildew are the most likely diseases that could hurt your tomato plants.

Blight, rust, and mildew occur from watering the leaves, and blossom end rot happens due to a calcium deficiency.

Keep your leaves dry and use a fertilizer with added calcium to prevent these diseases from killing your plants.

Tomato HornWorms and birds are some of the most common pests attracted by tomato plants.

Simply use a black light at night to find and remove Tomato HornWorms, or spray with a pesticide.

Birds are after the water in the tomatoes, so you can place a birdbath nearby to keep them out of your plants. Another option is to cover your plants with a bird net when the fruit begins to ripen.

Quick Recap

Follow these 12 simple steps to plant your tomato plants or seed:

  1. Decide How You Want to Grow Your Tomatoes: grow bags, pots, raised garden beds, or in the ground.
  2. Choose what types of tomatoes to grow: determinate or indeterminate, hybrid or heirloom, snacking/salad, slicing, or sauce/paste.
  3. Pick a Location to Grow Your Tomato Plants: they need a minimum of 4-8 hours of sunlight, and you should have easy access to water.
  4. Plant Your Tomatoes at the Right Time of Year: refer to the chart in step 4 to find out when to plant your seeds or plants.
  5. Get the Supplies You Need: refer to the chart in step 5 to find out what supplies to purchase.
  6. Plant Your Tomatoes: follow the instructions in step 6 for sowing seeds and planting your tomatoes in bags, pots, raised garden beds, or in the ground.
  7. Water Your Tomatoes: the soil should be moist and not soggy. Keep the leaves dry.
  8. Mulch Your Tomatoes: use hardwood mulch to trap in moisture and prevent pathogens in the soil from harming your plants.
  9. Fertilize Your Tomatoes: use a fertilizer that has equal amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen as well as added calcium for the best results.
  10. Prune Your Tomatoes: properly pruning your tomatoes encourages vertical growth and higher fruit yields.
  11. Stake your tomatoes: your tomatoes need support to grow vertically. Tie your plants to the supports every 12”.
  12. Protect Your Tomatoes from Diseases and Pests: don’t water your leaves, keep an eye out for Tomato HornWorms, and consider adding a birdbath or use bird netting to keep birds from eating your tomatoes.

Grow tomatoes that are plump, juicy, and perfect for slicing or canning by using a planting mix that gives them all the nutrients they need to thrive.

Get the Best Planting Mix

Healthy plants begin with quality soil.

At WindWood Bulk, we make our custom planting mix with a unique blend of aged soil conditioner, mushroom compost, wheat straw, and leaves.

We offer this in bulk for garden and raised-bed planting, and for those who are container-planting, it is available at Ace Hardware in convenient bags as well.

You’ll be able to grow some best-tasting tomatoes around when you use our top-quality planting mix for your garden.

Stop by or give us a call to get the planting mix you need today.