How to grow tomatoes
Fun to grow and even more fun to eat – here’s how to take care of your very own tomato plants.
Got a sunny balcony, garden or windowsill? Then you can have a go at growing your own tomatoes. Let’s take you from sowing seeds to juicy fruit.
- You can start with seeds or young plants, like Tommy
- Don’t forget to ‘harden’ them before planting outside
- They’ll need lots of sun for the juiciest, sweetest fruit
- Keep them well-watered, especially when it’s hot
- Feed them once a week, when the first flowers appear
Which types of tomato plant can I grow?
First, decide whether you’d like to grow ‘cordon’ tomatoes (which will climb up to six feet tall and need tying to a support) or ‘bush’ tomatoes (which suit a pot or hanging basket). It might depend on how much space you have.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse, make sure the variety you choose is happy to grow outdoors. Then it’s all about the type you’re most keen to eat! Juicy beefsteak, flavoursome plum or sweet cherry tomatoes – take your pick.
When to grow tomatoes in the UK
If you’re growing tomatoes from seed, you can start them indoors in March or April. Pop them in clean yoghurt pots filled with seed compost and place them on a sunny windowsill. In May or June, you can move your baby plants outdoors (or buy ready-grown young plants). With lots of sunshine and a little love, they’ll flower and produce fruit from July onwards.
How do I ‘harden’ my baby tomato plants?
Once you’ve got little plants – whether you bought them or grew them from seed – you can get them started outdoors. First, it’s good to toughen up your baby toms by getting them used to being outside. Begin by putting them out for a few hours on a warm day. Over a week or two, let them stay out for longer. Then they’ll be hardy enough to thrive in the great outdoors. The only thing you need to worry about is frost, but that shouldn’t be a problem after May or June.
Where should I plant my tomatoes?
Your tomatoes need a sheltered spot, out of the wind, that gets full sun all day. We recommend planting them around 45cm apart in a special tomato growbag. That’s because they come with the best compost for tomatoes, and you can put the bag in a prime sunny place. A pot is fine too – you’ll need one at least 30cm across, to give the plant room to grow.
If you’re growing cordon tomatoes, you’ll need to give them a sturdy support to climb up. A tripod made of three tall canes tied together at the top is perfect. Then you can tie the plant to it as it grows. Bush tomatoes are happy to sprawl.
How do I ‘train’ my cordon tomatoes?
Training cordon tomatoes means keeping them supported as they grow, by gently tying them to their canes. That’ll stop them toppling over or snapping their branches. You’ll also need to ‘pinch out’ side shoots – these are the little shoots that grow at 90° where a branch joins the main stem. Removing them encourages the plant to put more energy into producing delicious, juicy fruits.
How to care for tomato plants
So long as they’ve got lots of sun, tomato plants aren’t too fussy. Just check their soil regularly and water them when it feels dry. When the first flowers appear, you can give your plants a dash of tomato fertiliser once a week. Then it won’t be long till you see the first fruits. Tomatoes taste their very best when you let them ripen on the vine. When they’re as red as can be, it’s time to pick them.
How to use your crop of tomatoes
Where to start? If you can resist eating them straight off the vine (tricky, we know) then there’s loads you can do with them.
We love a simple salad with olive oil, basil and mozzarella – it really shows off their flavour. If you’ve got a bumper crop to use, their freshness will make a pasta sauce pop. And why not drink them too? Don’t forget a classic Bloody Mary! Cheers – to you and your green fingers.
Rewild your inbox
Plant tips. Special offers. No spam.