8 Tips for Growing Tomatoes

Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener is a tomato-growing expert. Steve Bender shares these tips and tricks for growing juicy, perfect tomatoes.

  • <p>What time of the year is best for tomato planting?</p>
    Photo: Van Chaplin

    What time of the year is best for tomato planting?

    After your last frost in spring and at least 60 days before your first frost in fall.

  • <p>How do you prepare the soil for tomato planting?</p>
    Photo: Van Chaplin

    How do you prepare the soil for tomato planting?

    Tomatoes like moist, well-drained soil that contains lots of organic matter, such as composted cow manure, chopped leaves, kitchen compost, and peat moss. The soil should be slightly acidic (pH 6.5). If pH is lower than this, add lime to raise it.

  • <p>What is your favorite variety to grow?</p>
    Photo: Oxmoor House

    What is your favorite variety to grow?

    I like any tomato that will make my wife happy. She loves the taste of 'Cherokee Purple,' an heirloom type, so that's one I plant.

  • <p>What are some of the easier varieties to grow?</p>
    Photo: Van Chaplin

    What are some of the easier varieties to grow?

    All-America Winners tend to be easy for most people, because they're bred to grow well all over the country. If I had to recommend just one for beginners, it would be 'Celebrity.' If you like cherry tomatoes, plant 'Sweet Million.' It's well-named.

  • <p>Do you recommend starting with seeds or transplanting?</p>
    Photo: Ralph Anderson, Van Chaplin  

    Do you recommend starting with seeds or transplanting?

    I always start with transplants for two reasons — I get a head start on the harvest and I'm lazier than my cat.

  • <p>What maintenance do you suggest for keeping tomato plants happy?</p>
    Photo: Ralph Anderson, Van Chaplin  

    What maintenance do you suggest for keeping tomato plants happy?

    There are two main classes of tomatoes — determinate, which are bushy, and indeterminate, which are vining. Vining tomatoes need a support, like a big, strong tomato cage, to grow on. Keep ripening tomatoes off of the ground. Mulch under the plants and don't wet the foliage when you water. Pick off any yellowing or spotted leaves and throw them in the trash.

  • <p>How do you know when they are ripe?</p>
    Photo: Oxmoor House  

    How do you know when they are ripe?

    They should be fully colored and very slightly soft. But the real test is when you grab the tomato and give it a little twist. If it comes off easily, it's ripe.

  • <p>What is your secret for growing perfect, tasty tomatoes?</p>
    Photo: Ralph Anderson  

    What is your secret for growing perfect, tasty tomatoes?

    Prepare the soil before planting; choose varieties that do well in your area (heat-tolerant ones for places with long, hot summers; early-bearing ones for places with short summers); plant in full sun; and give the plants plenty of water during hot, dry spells.

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