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Best expert advice on how to grow tomatoes

Tomato Seeds - F1 Fantasio from Suttons

If you need help growing tomatoes, here’s our pick of the best independent online advice. These are the expert home growers and allotmenteers whose blogs, Youtube channels, and Insta feeds offer the most helpful insights on everything tomato related.

From how to choose the right variety, through to sowing tomato seeds, growing and trouble-shooting tips, here’s everything you need to know about growing tomatoes. 

Contents

Best advice on choosing the right tomato for your garden

Tomato ‘Sweet Million’ from Suttons
‘Sweet Million’ is a popular cordon variety that grows fruit from one main, supported stem
Image: Tomato ‘Sweet Million’ from Suttons

For clarification on the correct tomato terminology, and help to decide which type to go for, Carol Bartlett at The Sunday Gardener discusses the pros and cons of ‘determinate’ tomatoes versus ‘cordon’ or upright varieties. ‘Determinate’ tomatoes are bushy and suitable for hanging baskets. ‘Indeterminate,’ upright, or Cordon tomatoes require a little more care and attention, but Carol’s excellent resource page points you in the right direction.

For those who have access to a heated greenhouse, Greg from @greggrowsuk shows just what you can achieve with that extra heat, light, and shelter – gorgeous ripe tomatoes in December no less!

No greenhouse? Don’t worry, Katharine Woods at The Tea Break Gardener tries her hand at growing tomatoes outside. She says, growing outdoors could mean anything from cherry tomatoes in a window box to neat rows of beefsteak tomatoes on your allotment, but you do need to consider how much room you have, how much sun you get, and how easy it will be for you to water your plants.

Best advice on how to sow and plant out tomato seeds

Tomato Seeds ‘Burlesque F1’ from Suttons
Growing from seeds gives you lots of variety choice
Image: Tomato Seeds ‘Burlesque F1’ from Suttons

Self-confessed heritage tomato obsessive and highly knowledgeable tomato blogger, Jane Perrone says you should plant your tomato seeds in a heated propagator in March or April. Beware planting out too soon though, Jane says, “The number one error in the month of May is being lulled into a false sense of security by the weather and planting tomatoes out too early.” Amongst Jane’s top tips for growing tomatoes outside, she recommends keeping your seedlings in old washing up bowls to make it easier to carry them in and out until the night-time temperature stays above 10°C.

If you live in the far north of England or across the border in Scotland, we suggest you bookmark The Kitchen Garden with Eli and Kate. A greenhouse grower, Eli says the trick to growing tomatoes in colder climates is to choose the right variety – cherry tomatoes, for example, tend to need less light to ripen than beefsteak varieties. She also uses pots for growing because you can move them around to get the best of the light and warmth. 

Once your tomatoes get going, you’ll need to support them properly. Over at Let’s Grow Wild, blogger Georgina Starmer recommends using either sturdy canes or readymade tomato supports to stabilise your plants. She also says, “as they grow, side shoots will appear. These grow between the leaf stems and the trunk on the plant. Pick off any side shoots you see, so the plant can put its energy into producing fruiting trusses.” 

If you’re growing your tomatoes in a polytunnel, Richard at the wonderful gardening blog, Sharpen Your Spades says tying natural twine to the frame and twisting it around your tomatoes as they grow is one of the simplest ways to support tomato vines. It’s also environmentally friendly, Richard says, because when you’re done, just compost the string.

No-dig expert, Charles Dowding, is also an exponent of training tomatoes using the string method. Do take a look at his excellent Youtube video where he demonstrates exactly how to string train your tomatoes by burying one end under your tomato’s root ball. He says the trick is not to stretch the string too tight so that you’ll have some slack to twist around the growing stem.

Best advice on how to grow and care for your tomatoes

Grafted Tomato Plant - The Black Tomato ‘Indigo Rose’ from Suttons
‘Indigo Rose’ was bred to have the same antioxidants as blueberries
Image: Grafted Tomato Plant – The Black Tomato ‘Indigo Rose’ from Suttons

Good compost is key to healthy tomato plants and the sort of bumper harvest you’re looking for. Over at English Homestead, Kev Alviti likes to add a few extras to the shop-bought basics. Here he offers his very own homemade potting mix recipe. A very rich mixture, it includes eggshells, ash, and the secret ingredient – chicken manure pellets. It’s rocket fuel for tomatoes. 

Plant your tomatoes deep, says Benedict Vanhhems of the professional gardening blog, Grow Veg. He says tomatoes can grow roots from anywhere on their stems, so make the most of this by going deep at every stage of the potting on and planting out process: “By planting deeper we can create sturdier, more resilient plants that are primed to thrive.

Nick at the well-respected gardening blog, Two Thirsty Gardeners, says that even though tomatoes like to be watered well and watered regularly, especially in hot dry weather, it’s a great idea to skip a few days early on in the growing season. This, he says, is a great way to encourage the roots to tap just that little bit deeper

Tomatoes do need plenty of water, says Sarah Carter at Let’s Grow Cook. A lady with 12 successful tomato seasons under her belt, her blog is well worth a visit. She checks her plants twice a day, watering to the roots, remembering that wet leaves can scorch in the sun or encourage blight if they don’t dry quickly. She also emphasises the need to feed your tomato plantslittle and often.”

Best companion plants for tomatoes

Dill herb plant from Suttons
Image copyright: Floramedia
Try dill as a companion plant for tomatoes
Copyright: Floramedia

If you’re looking for companion plants to grow alongside your tomatoes, Lee at Project Diaries offers some excellent choices. He says as well as tasting lovely with your tomatoes, growing basil nearby also helps to improve the flavour of the fruit. He also rates garlic and the edible flower, borage as excellent choices for warding off pests and diseases. Check out his video for more companion plants and plenty of tips for growing better tomatoes.

If you’re wondering which companion plant helps your tomatoes yield the greatest harvest, Gareth Richards at @thegrrdener rates dill, which he says helps attract pollinators. “Result – most tomatoes ever,” Gareth says, and if his photo is anything to go by, he’s onto something! 

Best advice common tomato problems

Tomato seeds ‘F1 Lizzano’ from Suttons
Blight resistant varieties like ‘Lizzano’ can be grown in greenhouses our outside
Image: Tomato seeds ‘F1 Lizzano’ from Suttons

Tomato blight can decimate your crop in no time at all, as Louise at @the_mindful_gardener_in_me sadly discovered. See how this avid gardener salvaged the green tomatoes by cutting away all the affected fruit and vegetation. Unlike the rest of her Insta feed which offers a delightful selection of gorgeous garden photos, her denuded toms are not a pretty sight.

Outdoor tomatoes are particularly susceptible to tomato blight, says Chris at GoTropicalUK. Make sure you check out his Youtube video in which he shares highly effective top tips to keep the problem at bay. Chris says you should always thin the leaves to ensure good airflow around your plants and he also removes the foliage from the first foot of each stem. 

Plant your tomatoes at least two feet apart, says Lee at Project Diaries. This also helps to improve air circulation and reduce the chances that your tomatoes will suffer blight. Another fan of cutting away all the lower leaves from his tomato plants, he explains that removing the lower foliage prevents slugs and snails moving from plant to plant quite so easily. 

Yellowing leaves? Magnesium deficiency could be the problem, says John Harrison at Allotment & Gardens. Fixing the issue simply involves spraying the leaves with an Epsom salt solution, for which John’s informative blog post provides full instructions. He says overdosing on potash is often the source of the issue. To avoid it, replace one feed in three with a standard nitrogen fertiliser.

For more tomato troubleshooting, Carol Bartlett has published an excellent post over at The Sunday Gardener. Here she lists some of the more common issues – like curling leaves which she says can arise from low night-time temperatures, but is harmless. Split fruit? Check your watering schedule as this often happens when you do it too irregularly.

Best tomatoes to grow

Tomato ‘F1 Sungold’ from Suttons
Sungold is a superb orange-coloured, cherry tomato with exceptional sweetness. 
Image: Tomato ‘F1 Sungold’ from Suttons

If you’re wondering which tomato varieties to grow, the horticultural team at Suttons blog gives you a comprehensive rundown of the most popular options. We provide easy-to-grow choices like the determinate variety, Gardener’s Delight or, for an indeterminate, we recommend the vibrant red cherry tomato, Sweet Aperitif. For a tough, disease resistant variety, try F1 Lizzano.

If you’re looking for a heavy crop of medium-sized tomatoes to grow without a greenhouse, Georgina Starmer of Let’s Grow Wild recommends giving tomato Moneymaker a go. She says they’re easy to grow “in garden soil, or they work well in containers and growbags.”

Jo @the_vegetable_garden writes, “so happy with the tomato crop this year.” Still harvesting ripe fruit until the very last days of September and beyond, she says that the blight-resistant “Sun Gold has been a particular favourite for us… Eating these every day and still have about 5 lots of sauce stashed in the freezer.”

Over at @oxfordshireherbandspice, it’s a case of all tomatoes large and small, with the emphasis on variety. Why? Because, says this tomato fanatic, variety plus spice equals the best tomato salsa you’ll ever taste which, afterall, makes all the effort it takes to grow tomatoes thoroughly worthwhile.

Now you’re equipped with all the knowledge you need to have a go at growing your own tomatoes, all that’s left is to wish you the best of luck. If you have any queries about this or any other gardening subject, do get in touch via our Facebook page. We always love to hear from you.

Lead image: Tomato Seeds – F1 Fantasio from Suttons

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