How to grow tomatoes

Teach yourself how to grow tomatoes and enjoy a bumper crop of sweet, juicy fruit that'll last all summer

how to grow tomatoes
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Learn how to grow tomatoes successfully and you'll never look back. Homegrown tomatoes are sweet, tangy and delicious, and make the perfect addition to summer salads or homemade tomato sauces. It's easy to grow tomatoes but to ensure a bumper crop that will feed your family all summer, there are a few insider tricks you need to know. 

Tomatoes can be grown from either seeds or young plants. There are loads of varieties for you to try, from tiny, sweet cherry tomatoes to juicy beefsteak tomatoes. Both seeds and young plants available from garden centres in spring and can be ordered from online garden centres. See below for today's best prices for tomato seeds available for online delivery.

TOP TIP: If you don't fancy buying your seeds, remove seeds from a tomato you're eating with a sharp knife, rinse and allow to dry overnight on kitchen paper. They're then ready for planting.

When to plant tomatoes

Tomato seeds can be sown from late February to the middle of March if you're growing them indoors or in a greenhouse, or from the end of March to the start of April if you're going to be growing them outside. If you opt for small tomato plants, they'll be ready to plant when you buy them, normally around the start of April.

How to plant tomatoes

Method:

1. Sow your seeds indoors in small pots of moist compost. Cover with clingfilm or place them in a propagator and keep them on a warm windowsill at about 18˚C.

2. Once the seeds have started to grow and two leaves have formed, remove the clingfilm or take them out of the propagator and transfer 9cm pots filled with multi-purpose compost.

3. Support the stems of taller – or Cordon – varieties by gently tying them to a pea stick.

4. Continue to move into larger pots as the plants grow, keeping the compost damp. Growing from seeds to plants that are ready to move outside normally takes six to eight weeks.

5. Move your plants outside after the last frosts, which are normally mid-May. To start with, harden off the plants by moving them outdoors for a few hours a day. Gradually build up the time you leave them outside over a couple of weeks.

6. Choose a sunny sheltered spot and plant in a growing bag or beds full of plenty of well-rotted manure. Make sure the plants are 45-60cm apart in beds.

7. 'Pinching out' the tomatoes will give you a better crop. Simply snap  or cut off side shoots,  which grow between the leaf and the main stem. Just make sure you don't snap off any shoots with flower buds as these will become tomatoes.

What kind of tomato to grow

There are two main types of tomato plants – Cordon and Bush.

Bush tomatoes, also known as determinate, are bushy, don't require staking and are usually planted in pots or hanging baskets with their stems trailing down.  These are the easiest to grow for gardening novices.

Cordon tomatoes, also known as indeterminate, grow tall and need to be supported by canes.

How long do tomatoes take to grow?

Your tomato plants will reach maturity and be ready to start harvesting about 40-50 days after you've planted them in the ground. Always leave tomatoes on the plants to ripen naturally, as this will make sure they have the best flavour. 

Towards the end of the growing season, prune off the older leaves to let in more light. If the weather turns cold, pick the clusters to ripen indoors.

How to grow tomatoes

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Common problems when growing tomatoes

It's fairly easy to grow a few tomatoes, but getting a really good crop is much more difficult. There are lots of leaf disorders that impact tomato plants and these are all caused by the way the plants are grown. If you provide your tomatoes with appropriate levels of water, light and nutrients, and protect them from extremes of temperature, they will grow better and produce bigger crops. The RHS has detailed advice on the different leaf conditions and how to avoid them.

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