Growing Guides

How To Plant, Grow & Harvest Tomatoes

Table of Contents

The “King” of the home garden and roadside stands, the tomato is grown by almost everyone who grows vegetables.

Even those who do not have a vegetable garden will grow tomatoes from seed or plants, planting in containers or along a fence or in any sunny spot on a deck or patio.

Tomato Germination Tips

Tomatoes are generally started indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting outdoors.

What Soil Temperature Do Tomatoes Like?

For optimum germination, start seeds at a soil temperature between 75-85°F, using a soil thermometer to monitor soil temperature. Consider using a heat mat or building your own germination chamber to increase germination rates and consistency.

When Should You Transplant Tomatoes?

Seeds can be started in germination row trays and transplanted into larger plug trays once they develop their first true leaves. Tomato seeds can also be direct sown into 50 cell or 84 cell plug trays.

Transplant tomato plants outdoors when the plants are about 6” tall and after the risk of frost has passed.

High Tunnel

Start seedlings for high tunnel use following the guidelines above. To achieve larger transplants, many growers will transplant seedlings into 3½” pots.

Schedule approx. 8-10 weeks prior to transplanting to allow transplants to reach a larger size. General spacing in high tunnels is 16-18” in row and 48” between rows.

Tomato Fertility Tips

Soil testing is invaluable when determining a fertility plan. When sending in your soil sample, be sure to note tomatoes as the intended crop. Test results often include recommendations tailored for the crop and production situation.

High tunnel growers commonly collect foliar samples for nutrient testing, allowing them to closely monitor nutrient levels and ensure high yields.

Check with your State or Local Extension service for Soil and Nutrient testing programs.

Disease Control

Utilize the Extension service within your state to determine what diseases are affecting tomato crops in your area.

Well-timed applications of fungicides appropriate for the crop and pathogen can reduce crop loss from disease.

How To Choose Disease Resistance Varieties

When selecting varieties, carefully read the descriptions and quick reference charts to determine the best disease resistance package for you. For easy comparisons, see the Tomato Quick Reference Chart, as well as our top picks for disease resistances.


What Benefits Does Staking Tomatoes Provide?

Staking reduces disease pressure by increasing air flow within and around plants, and keeping plants and fruit from directly contacting the ground. It also makes overall crop management and harvesting more efficient.

The Florida Weave Technique

Growers commonly use the Florida Weave Technique supported by 1” x 1” wooden stakes, placed every second plant.

This method uses twine to support the plants at multiple intervals as they grow. For best results, first stake tomatoes when they reach about 1’ in height, and add additional layers of twine approximately every 4-8” as the plants grow.


Trellising is a process by which a lightweight wire is strung parallel to the ground 5-6’ high, and a string is spiraled loosely around the plant and tied to the wire.

As the plant grows the string is spiraled around the plant. The wire should be held up by sturdy wooden posts at the end of the rows and supported every 20-30’ in the row by metal fence posts.

When Should You Trellis/Stake Tomatoes?

Staking, trellising, pruning and stringing should only be done when foliage is dry to prevent the spread of bacterial diseases.

Individuals should not handle the plants immediately after using tobacco products to prevent the spread of certain tomato diseases also found in tobacco.

Harvesting, Handling, & Storage

When Should You Pick Tomatoes?

Tomatoes for fresh market are harvested in several picks when the fruit are at the breaker (first pink blush on blossom end) or turning stage (10 to 30% of the surface showing color). Fruit picked at this stage can still ripen normally.

Should You Pick Tomatoes When They’re Green?

Be careful not to harvest any immature green fruit as they never develop good color or flavor upon ripening or may not ripen at all.

How To Prevent Tomato Bruising

Fresh market tomatoes should be dumped from field containers into large tanks of water to prevent bruising. The temperature of the water should be 5 to 10°F higher than the fruit to prevent the movement of bacteria into the stem end of the fruit.

Tomatoes are usually washed with a chlorinated water spray immediately after the dumping operation regardless of whether a “wet” or “dry” dumping method is used. Fruit should then be dried with rollers or fans before it is packed.

What Temperature Should Tomatoes Be Stored At?

Tomatoes are susceptible to chilling injury if stored at temperatures below 50°F for more than 24 hours.

Continued exposures to these temperatures will prevent normal ripening even after temperatures are elevated. Store tomatoes at 55° F or above depending on how long they must be stored.

The speed of color development will increase up to 75°F. Temperatures above 80°F will inhibit color development. The best eating quality, ripening and color development will take place between 65 and 70°F

Can You Grow Tomatoes in Containers?

Containers should have a 5-gallon soil capacity for proper root development and staking or caging is most often necessary.

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