growing tomatoes

Tomatoes, Lycopersicon esculentum, are a long-standing favorite in the vegetable garden. With a little planning, adequate water and decent soil, a few plants can give you more succulent produce than you know what to do with. Abundant during its brief season, one of the food's special charms is the tradition of sharing it among friends and neighbors.

Technically a fruit, it is an important ingredient in the cuisine of Latin American countries and Italy. It has small, pointed yellow flowers. Like other members of the potato family, it loves warmth and sun. Over time, varieties have been bred for the specific climate conditions of different regions. Hybrids have been developed of many sizes, flavors and uses as well as for disease resistance. There is renewed interest in heirloom tomatoes, prized for unbeatable flavor, unique shapes and beautiful colors.

The plants have two types of growth habit. Determinate plants are bushy with one main crop of fruit, offering convenience to those who can, freeze or dry their harvest. The more compact plant is an advantage in small gardens and needs less staking. Indeterminate plants are vining and bear fruit continuously until frost. They should be supported with a tall cage or trellis.

Tomatoes Growing Conditions

General Information
Scientific name - Lycopersicon esculentum
Common name - Tomato
Planting time - Spring
Bloom time - Summer Uses - Vegetable garden, patio
Scientific Classification
Kingdom - Plantae
Division - Magnoliophyta
Class - Magnoliopsida
Order - Polemoniales
Family - Solanaceae
Genus - Lycopersicon
Species - esculentum
Height - varies
Spread - varies
Habit - Bush or vining
Growth rate - Moderate to fast
Leaf - Green, irregular
Flower - Yellow
Seed - Grey, beige or white, flat
Light Requirement -Full sun
Soil - Fertile, well-drained
Drought Tolerance - Low

Like most vegetables, the plants do best in full sun, in soil enriched with organic matter. They like regular watering, and need a lot during hot weather.

Tomatoes are great candidates for container gardening because they are heat tolerant. Choose a container that holds at least 3 to 5 gallons of soil, and has drainage holes in the bottom. Be aware that containers can dry out quickly. Cherry and early-bearing varieties are easy to grow in pots when space is limited, but just about any variety will work.


The plant can be grown from seed or bought as seedlings in packs. Wait to plant until the ground is warm and all danger of frost has passed. Space plants 2 feet apart. Providing some sort of support for your plants keeps fruit clean, keeps leaves up away from soil borne diseases and takes up less space. An easy way to do this is put a tall wire cage around every one or two plants when they are small- this way they can grow up into the support. Wayward vines can be pruned off or tucked into the wire frame. Some gardeners prefer to loosely tie each vine to a wooden stake as it grows, using strips of soft cloth.

Tomatoes are susceptible to a host of funguses, viruses, nematodes and bacterial leaf spot diseases. Avoiding the disappointment of a poor crop starts by taking preventive measures, such as choosing resistant varieties and practicing good garden hygiene. Each year rotate the position of crops that are in the same family. Mulch around plants to prevent soil splashing, and water with soakers hoses instead of sprinklers. In autumn, remove plants from the garden and clean up planting area. Toss any diseased plants out, not in the compost. Use companion plants like marigolds to discourage unwanted guests. Taking a tolerant approach helps ensure a successful crop as well. For instance, the hornworm may eat some of your plant, but becomes a lovely moth that is a member of your local ecosystem. Remember that stressed plants are more vulnerable to pests and diseases, so regular watering and healthy soil help protect your plants. The garden is a complex web of interactions and a holistic approach is best. Fungicide applied at the proper times can prevent infection, but will have little effect once visible symptoms, such as leaf spots, are present. University extension services are an excellent source of information on the specifics of disease prevention and control in your area.

Uses for Tomatoes

Various varieties produce different flavors and textures that are suited to different uses. Most indeterminate types will be great eaten fresh or in salads. There are many colors of cherry tomatoes that are very attractive when combined. "Yellow pear" is a sweet, 1 to 2 inch long pear-shaped heirloom that's delicious straight off the vine or in salad. "Isis" has red and gold streaks whereas the intensely sweet "Sun gold" is deep yellow. Regular sized versions aren't just red-look for antique purple varieties with smoky flavor, striped fruits like "Tigerella" and "Green zebra," pink varieties like the beloved "Pink Brandywine," or orange fruits like "Jubilee." There are also chartreuse, nearly white and almost black cultivars.

Determinate types, such as "Roma" and "Viva Italia" often have firmer flesh and are well suited to paste and sauce making. They are also used for sun-dried tomatoes. If you plan to can, look for a variety that produces fruits of uniform size and shape for ease of handling.