Tomato Basics

Tomato Basics

For many, summer brings to mind fresh, flavorful, locally grown tomatoes.  

In general, our relative low humidity, warm, sunny days and cool summer nights are ideal for growing an abundance of tasty tomatoes. 

Whether you are a novice tomato gardener or veteran, it’s not hard to geek out on the various types of tomatoes: heirloom, hybrid, cherry, grape, Beefsteak, etc., each with their own unique attributes. Regardless of your tomato eating and/or gardening preferences, it is worth considering the following information when deciding which types of tomato to grow.

Ideal growing conditions

Tomatoes grow best in a warm, sunny location with at least 8 hours of full sun. Soil temperature is equally important; it is recommended that you wait to plant tomatoes until the overnight temperature is above 55º F.  Soil that is rich in organic material and that drains well will help increase your yield and aids in overall soil moisture management.

Determinate vs. Indeterminate

 Are you familiar with the terms determinate and indeterminate as they relate to the growth habit of tomatoes?  Or perhaps you have heard “vining” or “bush” to describe the growth habit of tomatoes.  Understanding the significance and basic differences of these tomato growth habits will help you select the best type of tomato for your garden and ultimately your kitchen table.

Determinate tomato plants, or "bush" tomato plants remain compact in height, generally between 3 – 4 feet tall.  Determinate tomato plants stop growing once fruit sets on the top bud and all the fruit will ripen within a very short time frame. You will you have an abundance of tomatoes, seemingly all at once. This is great for canning as you will have lots of ripe tomatoes at basically the same time and by preserving your harvest you can enjoy the fresh taste of summer tomatoes all winter long.

Indeterminate tomato plants, or “vining” plants grow and produce fruit until the plant is killed by frost. Indeterminate tomato plants can reach heights (lengths) of up to 12 feet, although 6 feet is normal. This type of tomato plants will develop new flowers and fruit throughout the growing entire season.  This will provide a consistent supply of tomatoes.

A picture is worth a thousand words: the image below shows the different growth habits of indeterminate and determinate tomato plants.

tomato habit.png

Structural support

Both determinate and indeterminate tomato plants benefit from structural support. Whether it be a cage, fence, garden clips, or garden ties; versatility and timing are critical to support the rapidly growing plant and ultimately the heavy fruit. Establish the structural support around the plants before it is needed and modify as necessary as the plant and fruit mature.

Will my tomatoes ever ripen?

Lastly, consider how long you are willing to wait for your first ripe tomato. Tomato varieties vary in how many growing days until harvest. The plant tag includes this information and the staff at your local garden center are a great resource for variety selection as well as ideas on how to best support the growing plant.

Check future Blogpost Pile posts about managing common tomato pests and how to prune your tomato plants to maximize harvest.  

Allison Gault