How To Properly Care For Tomato Plants

Ilona Erwin

Tomatoes are one of the most rewarding foods you can grow yourself. They are not only nutritious, they are not hard to grow and they produce quite a bit of fruit if grown well. This is the one “must have” for a vegetable patch, in my opinion.

Have you ever bought a good tasting tomato from a store? I thought not- at least the taste cannot compare with homegrown.

I like to buy my tomato plants already started because I don’t need more than about eight plants, but I have raised them from seeds in the past, and that is where this guide will start.

Growing tomatoes from seeds


When to plant tomato seedlings?

Time your seed starting activities to the last frost dates in your area, beginning six to eight weeks before last frost date. Transplant the hardened off seedlings into the outside garden after that date, when the soil has warmed.

Germination time plus a few weeks growing on is ideal. In Ohio, late February and early March are good times to start your indoor seeds.

5 Quicktips For Growing Tomato Seed

Quick Steps To Start Your Own Tomato Plants


6 to 8 weeks before the last expected spring frost date (in Ohio this would be the first two weeks of March)

  1. Fill flats or containers with seed starting mix. Moisten it well. Make furrows or planting holes i/4 inch deep.
  2. Place two seeds per plant (one will be thinned out). Cover with soil to 1/4 inch deep. Moisten lightly and label.
  3. Place in warm spot with plenty of light (under grow lights with heat mat for plants is ideal).
  4. Watering from the bottom is a good idea. Slowly raising light height as plants grow.
  5. Harden off seedlings in the week or two before you plan to plant them into the garden.

Transplant into the garden

About the second week of May.

When to plant tomato seedlings is simple to remember when you consider that they are warmth loving tender plants. Not only after all danger of frost is past, but when soils are sufficiently warm. This need for warmth in the soil is the reason to not start your seeds too early. They will get spindly and weak waiting for the full sunlight tomatoes crave.

Try These Varieties

I plant:
Better Boy – 70 days to harvest
Early Girl – 50 “”
Pink Brandywine – 78 “”
Amish Paste
Black Krim

Using Ohio as an example again, the usual time to transplant the seedlings into the garden is after the May frost date is past.

A week before transplant time, start to harden off plants by exposing them to outdoor conditions beginning with an hour’s time. Increase until they are sturdy enough for full time sunshine.

When planting tomatoes, remember the rules of rotation to prevent common diseases. This is especially important when growing heirloom tomatoes, since they may not have resistance. It is just good practice, since it gives time for the soil to replenish.

Best Method

I call it the “half buried” method.

Better Roots Mean Better Fruits

How to Half Bury

Plant at least three to four feet apart.

Place part of the growing stem under the dirt for greater root growth.

Make a small trench along side hole dug for the tomato plant. I remove the lower leaves and then gently bend the stem along the trench.
Cover all with soil, tamp down and water.

At this point I carefully place my drain tiles over the exposed parts of the plant, but it isn’t necessary. Our garden has lots of wind, and I think this helps the new plants.
I like to protect the new plant by placing a drain tile over it. A liter bottle with top and bottom removed would provide similar protection from wind, but not as much from sun. Remove this protection after about a week or two in the ground. (Don’t leave it, it is only temporary)

Place supports along side plants and tie stems loosely, but firmly to them.

Caring for tomato plants

Be sure to water regularly, but don’t water the leaves and don’t overwater.
Fertilize every two weeks.

hornworms are huge

hornworms are huge

Check for insects like hornworms, etc.

Remove the side suckers, as plants grow, attach to plant stake as they grow.

Tie plants to supports.


  • Tomatoes need Full Sun.
  • Tomatoes should have regular moisture.
  • Tomatoes benefit from fertilizer.
  • Mulch or low growing ground cover of parsley plants helps conserve ground moisture.
  • Prune the plants by removing side suckering branches.
  • Tie to supports to keep fruit off the ground and allow sunlight to access foliage and fruit.
  • Watch for insects such as hornworms.
  • Rotate plants from growing area each one to two years.


Tomato Troubles

Good Things To Know

Indeterminate plants grow bigger, six feet is normal, sometimes twice that. They produce until frost. they need strong support, They bloom, fruit, and ripen at the same time through the season.

Determinate tomatoes are “bush” tomatoes. they tend to be more compact (about 4 feet tall). Their fruit ripens over a two week period, all at once.

Don’t refrigerate tomatoes, they taste better if not refrigerated.

Heirlooms are old varieties that come true from seed.

Hybrids are crosses that yield disease resistance and improved qualities. They don’t come true from seed saved.

Need help growing from seed? Seed Propagation links

I like some of the heirloom types for taste, but the hybrids also can have excellent taste and are often healthier plants.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.