One of the greatest joys of summer gardening is picking and enjoying vine-ripened tomatoes. We have been successfully growing tomatoes for the past five years and have learned a lot. Here are some important tips we have learned along the way.
Be sure to pick varieties that are known for growing great tomatoes. We have had success with several varieties and our favorites include Roma, Big Boy, Early Girl, Black Pearl, Yellow Pear, and Quarter Century. Heatwave is also a great variety that holds up well in the Arizona summer.
Rather than directly sowing tomato seeds in the garden, we recommend starting your seeds indoors or purchasing seedlings from a nursery. We’ve had the greatest success with tomato plants grown from seedlings that were transplanted into the garden. Starting your plants in a controlled environment with adequate nutrients and water sets the stage for great plants and tomatoes later on. See our guide for starting seeds indoors.
Where to Plant
Tomatoes should be planted where they will receive around 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. In Arizona, it’s possible for the tomatoes to get too much sun in the summer. Plants and fruit can easily get sunburned and perish in the heat. Make sure they have adequate shade during the hottest part of the summer. We use tight weave shade cloth which provides just the right amount of sunlight.
When transplanting, tomatoes should be planted 2 feet apart to prevent overcrowding. Make sure the seedlings are planted deep, up to the first set of true leaves. This promotes development of a larger root system which will help fruit development.
A good balance of nutrients is key to growing great tomatoes. Potassium promotes strong stem growth and phosphorus is needed for flowering and fruiting. Too much nitrogen will cause the plant to grow large and leafy, but will have little fruit. It’s most important to fertilize the soil prior to transplanting your seedlings and when the fruit has set. In addition to compost, we use organic fish emulsion to fertilize our tomatoes which has equal parts N-P-K. Often the fertilizer you use depends on how your plants look, so be sure to monitor them while you are growing and fertilizing.
Plants should be watered often and consistently, especially when they are first transplanted. Our established plants are watered for about 10 minutes three times per day with drip irrigation. This allows the soil to drain and not become water logged. You can also place mulch beneath the plant to promote moisture retention.
For ease of harvesting and to reduce pest attacks, larger plants should be staked or caged to lift them up off the ground. If you are using a cage this should be placed around the plant when it is still small so the vines will grow within the cage.
Monitoring for Pests
Tomatoes can be grown relatively pest free if you keep a close eye on your plants. The only pest we’ve had problems with is the tomato hornworm. Details on this pest and how to monitor for it can be found here.
Enjoying Your Harvest
Fresh tomatoes are one of the most delicious and rewarding treats from your garden! We have several favorite recipes we use to enjoy them:
If you have a large harvest, tomatoes can be preserved through canning and freezing: