Growing Tomatoes: A Comprehensive Guide for Your Garden
Tomatoes are a garden staple many people love to grow, and if you plan on starting your tomato plants this season, I’ve got some great tips and insights for you. In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of tomatoes, how to start your seeds, and the best techniques for transplanting and growing healthy plants.
Choosing the Right Tomato Variety for Your Garden
There are countless varieties of tomatoes out there, but I’ve had great success with the Pollock Tomato, which is perfect for colder climates and shorter growing seasons. Developed by Andy Pollock in the mountains of British Columbia, it’s frost-resistant and can even withstand light frost. Another frost-resistant option to consider is the Buckflats Wonder, which requires an even shorter growing season.
Keep in mind that there are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. Indeterminate tomatoes, like the Pollock Tomato, will continuously produce flowers and fruit, while determinate types, such as Roma tomatoes, provide one large crop all at once. Of course, you can also try root pruning to encourage vine ripening simultaneously.
Starting Your Tomato Seeds
Tomato seeds are tiny and only need a little soil coverage to start sprouting. The key to successful germination is providing warmth, as tomatoes are warm-weather plants. You can use a seed sprouting heat pad or place your seeds near a radiator or other heat source. A common technique to jumpstart germination is to wrap the seeds in a moist paper towel, place them in a plastic bag, and set them on a heating pad.
To start your seeds, follow these steps:
- Wet the soil in a small pot or seed tray.
- Sprinkle 2-3 seeds per pot or cell.
- Add a thin layer of dry soil on top and gently spray with water.
- Keep the soil moist by spraying regularly or using a covered seed starter tray.
Once the seedlings develop their first true leaves, trim away any weaker plants if you’ve planted multiple seeds in one pot.
Taking Advantage of Tomato Plants’ Unique Rooting Abilities
Tomato plants have tiny hairs along their stems, which can develop into new roots if given the opportunity. When transplanting your tomatoes, bury them deeper than they were previously planted, up to their top leaves, to promote more root growth. You can do this by planting them vertically or laying them horizontally in a trench. This technique helps create a more robust root system.
For even better rooting, start your seedlings in deep pots, such as cut-off milk cartons. These make excellent planting containers because they’re deep, waterproof, and inexpensive. As your plants grow, remove the lower leaves and add soil up to the new leaves, allowing the stem to produce more roots as it’s buried.
Transplanting and Growing Your Tomatoes
When it’s time to transplant your tomatoes outdoors or into their final containers, consider planting them on their sides. This method encourages even more root growth, as the entire buried portion of the stem will develop roots. Just be sure to trim the lower leaves before planting.
If you’re growing tomatoes in containers, opt for five-gallon or larger pots. These will require more frequent watering and feeding. Still, they give you the flexibility to move your plants indoors during colder weather, extending your growing season—especially if you’ve chosen an indeterminate variety.
With these tips and techniques, you’ll be well on your way to growing a bountiful tomato harvest. Happy gardening!
Pruning for Optimal Growth
In colder climates, pruning is essential to promote growth and ripening. To do this, trim the sucker branches that grow between the main stem and leaf branches, aiming for a “palm tree” shape by harvest time. This will direct more energy into fruit production and improve your chances of a bountiful harvest.
When the first flower clusters appear, you can prune the lower branches to encourage even more flowering. Then, a month before the first frost, clip the apex bud to halt vertical growth and focus energy on ripening the fruit.
Encouraging Even Ripening
To help your tomatoes ripen simultaneously, try root pruning about two weeks before harvest. Use a shovel to sever half of the horizontal roots from the main vertical plant. This will signal the plant to concentrate its efforts on ripening the fruit, ensuring a more uniform harvest.
Root Pruning Tomatoes
Root pruning, in the context of tomato plants, is a technique used to encourage even ripening and to focus the plant’s energy on maturing its fruit. This is especially helpful in areas with a shorter growing season or when you want your tomatoes to ripen simultaneously.
To root prune a tomato plant, you’ll need to sever a portion of its horizontal roots while leaving the main vertical root intact. This is typically done about two weeks before you expect to harvest the tomatoes. By cutting half of the horizontal roots on one side of the plant using a shovel, you create mild stress that signals the plant to prioritize fruit ripening.
This technique can help improve the overall yield and quality of your tomato harvest by ensuring that the plant directs its resources towards maturing the existing fruit rather than continuing to grow or produce new fruit.
Climate: Tomatoes like warm-to-hot weather
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
SFG Spacing: 1 per square foot (locally acceptable for cold climate)
When to plant: 4-8 weeks before the last frost indoors, transplant 2 weeks after last frost.
Soils: Deep loamy/sandy, loose, well-drained
Germination: 5-10 days (above 22 degrees C)
Some tomato terminology:
Determinate: Produce a full crop all at once. Good for storage and can be timed using root pruning to force ripening.
Indeterminate: Produce consistently over the life of the plant. Good for eating, salads and giving away/selling a small portion at a time.
Slicing tomatoes: Usually round, mod to large sized fruits. Indeterminate growth and ideal for eating/salads/etc. They tend not to be “mushy” when processed.
Paste tomatoes: Usually smaller plum/pear shaped tomatoes. Softer than the slicing tomatoes but perfect for canning for making of tomato sauce and pastes. Usually you want these to be a determinate variety, then use a root pruning method to allow for one large processing.
Cherry tomatoes: Always an indeterminate variety, small cherry/plum shaped. Usually sweet and soft skinned. perfect for snacking on or in salads.
Seeds and planting
Links and Resources
(These are some of what I use)
mybackyard.ca Seeds Page
Get a Head Start on Spring: The Benefits of Starting Your Seeds Indoors
Saving Vegetable Seeds: A Comprehensive Guide to Gardening Success
myBackyard.ca Planting Guide
Pollock Tomatoes (North hardy Tomato variety)
Tomatoes (Useful information on starting tomatoes from seed)
Individual seed and plant information is available in the "Gardening Shortcut Links" above under "North Hardy Plants to grow". I have successfully grown all of these, and most I grow year to year.