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Ten Tips for Growing Great Tomatoes

ten tips for growing great tomatoes

We’re not sure if there’s anything that tastes more like summer than a delicious, garden-fresh tomato. The supermarket can’t even touch the quality of these gems fresh from our gardens. When you bite into a sun-ripened tomato straight from the plant, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would bother buying them from a store.

Tomatoes are simple and easy to grow, but if you want that knock-out flavor without the frustration, our pros have some recommendations for how to make your plants thrive this summer. Garden success has never tasted this good.

Tip #1: Do Some Research:
There are so many delicious tomato plants to choose from, so it can be daunting to make a decision on which one(s) to include in your garden. When it comes to annuals and pretty blooms, we advocate for falling in love with your favorites and letting some creativity flow. But when it comes to the more practical tomato plant, a bit of research ahead of time is important. Ask yourself what kind of tomato crop you want — small cherry tomatoes, big beefy tomatoes or something in between, and what kind of plant you want to be growing — determinate or indeterminate.

Think seriously about your garden and what you want from it: are you willing to put in more hours of work for the tastiest of heirloom tomatoes from more challenging plants? Or would you rather spend your summer relaxing and enjoying a beautiful garden with determinate plants that mostly take care of themselves? Thankfully it’s not an all-or-nothing game, you can plant as much of however many types as you want! A bit of research is all you need to start on the right foot and avoid any summer surprises as you grow.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #2: Some of Our Favorites:
Picking a tomato variety can be difficult because there are just so many good choices to pick from! To make it easier, these are some of our favorite tomatoes for all garden needs.

Roma is a great jack-of-all-trades tomato that doesn’t require much maintenance. For a simple and straightforward garden, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Beefmaster is an indeterminate variety that requires some work like pruning and staking to keep it in line, but the resulting harvest is worth the effort. Consider staking these plants, as their tomatoes are so heavy that they can bend or damage the stems!

Early Girl is another indeterminate, requiring a modest amount of maintenance. But with an early maturity, you’ll get to enjoy tomatoes sooner in the season and for longer with this plant.

Sweet Million has it all in the name, an indeterminate with millions (ok, hundreds) of tasty little tomatoes — perfect for snacking!

Green Zebra and Black Krim are heirloom tomatoes for those that are both adventurous and traditional. Heirlooms are varieties that have been passed down for decades, and these tomatoes offer unique looks for their heritage. You’ll also be impressed by their delicious taste.

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Tip #3: Start Off Right:
Whether you’re growing from seeds or buying starter plants, at some point you’ll be taking small little seedlings and planting them outside into your garden or containers. Only stocky plants, ones that aren’t lanky and floppy, should make the final cut and be planted in your garden. These are going to be the most successful at growing with the least amount of work from you.

Tip #4: Sun and Heat:
Tomatoes thrive with some warm weather and soil, so choosing a spot with maximum heat and sun exposure is the best way to get the tastiest tomatoes. We promise that with a good location, you’ll be able to taste the difference that sunshine makes.

If you have the option, the best places for many tomatoes are in big containers or raised beds, where their soil and roots are easily warmed by the sun. Pass on the traditional bed with one of these methods, and you’ll have your friends and neighbors begging for your secret when they have a taste of your tomatoes.

If you plant in a traditional bed make sure to plant your tomatoes in a different spot than the previous year.  This will help prevent disease and insect problems that can lay dormant in the soil until the following year.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #5: Drainage:
Tomatoes don’t like to have wet feet, so make sure your soil drains well. If it naturally retains water, you don’t have to give up, though. Simply add some peat moss into the mix before you plant, giving them the structure, nutrients, and drainage that they crave.

These plants are heavy feeders, too, so make sure you establish a fertilizing schedule to give them the nutritional boost they need to produce delicious crops. Use an all-purpose fertilizer for the best results.

Tip #6: Planting:
Tomatoes will sprout roots wherever the soil touches the stem. Start by submerging a third of the stem when you plant — you’ll get a head start on developing a healthy root system! Just make sure you take off any leaves that will be buried so you don’t invite rot.

If your tomato plants got a little lanky while you were waiting to plant, simply plant them a little deeper than normally would. This technique transforms that lanky and floppy stem into a healthy root system, saving the plant and encouraging successful crops.

When you plant consider adding an organic fertilizer to your planting hole to give your plants an extra burst of nutrients.  You can also consider adding a handful of egg shells, which contain calcium and will help deter blossom end rot.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #7: Mulching:
Mulch is a fantastic tool in the garden, as it suppresses weeds and insulates the roots of your plant keeping heat and water in. Your tomatoes will benefit from keeping more heat and moisture at their roots, which is exactly where they want it! Perhaps the best part about mulching is how much it cuts down on garden work by stifling weeds, which also leads to less competition for nutrients for your plants. Spread a natural mulch in a generous layer around your plants and reap the benefits!

There are lots of options for natural mulch that work fantastic in the garden. For your edibles, we suggest something that isn’t chemically treated. You can choose from all kinds of naturally-occurring woods and barks to find something that satisfies both your practical and design needs.

Tip #8: Proper Staking and Tying Up:
This tip is for indeterminate tomatoes primarily, because the determinate types have a bushy habit and generally take care of themselves.

When you’re tying up your more wild-growing indeterminate tomatoes, try to use something soft and flexible so that their stems aren’t broken by the ties. You can purchase ready-made ties for your garden that are designed for the task, or even use something like strips of old pantyhose to keep things tidy. Tie it loosely but secure with a knot to keep your plant in order and off of the ground.  Sturdy tomato cages can also be used to stake your tomatoes.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #9: Pruning is for Suckers:
Tomato plants, especially indeterminates, send out “suckers” during the growing season. These growths don’t help you and your tomato crop very much and actually pull nutrients away from the fruit that you are trying to grow. Prune away these growths, keeping all of the nutrients and hard work that your plant is doing focused on important things, like growing fruit!

Near the end of the season, pruning can also be useful for other parts of the plant that are wasting energy. As you near the first frost of the season, start thinking about cutting your losses and discarding some tomatoes that simply won’t make it to maturity so that your plant can focus its efforts on the last few crops of the year.

Tip #10: When to and Not to Refrigerate:
The ideal temperature for ripening tomatoes is at room temperature. Place fresh produce that you plan to consume right away on the counter to get the most out of their superior, from-the-garden taste. Trying to ripen tomatoes in the fridge is likely to leave you with tomatoes that lose their fantastic flavor and could end up mealy and lacking in texture.

While you might want to refrigerate some tomatoes if they are already ripe and you won’t be eating them quite yet, you can still end up losing flavor and quality this way. Instead, think about all of the fantastic dishes that you can cook them into now that you can save for later. Things like pasta sauces or salsas will help you make the most of your garden produce.

Growing tomatoes is popular and easy, but there’s more to know than just putting your plants in the ground and watching them grow. With a couple of simple tips, you’ll have all the tools you need to have phenomenal crops all summer long, to be enjoyed by you, your friends, and your family. If only we had tips for what to do with all of your bountiful harvests!

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Top New Edibles of 2018

“I like being able to tell people that the lunch I’m serving started out as a seed in my yard.” 

– Curtis Stone

One of the best parts of summer is growing your own fresh fruits and veggies right in the backyard. Meals never taste more delicious than after a fresh harvest. Save the trip to the grocery store and bring your own produce section home, only an arm’s length away! Here are some of our top choices for new edibles in Iowa this year.

Gigantic Verde Tomatillo 

These small, husked cousins to the tomato are packed full with flavor and are staples in Mexican cooking. The Gigantic Verde Tomatillo variety brings more delicious flavor and excitement to the table than its predecessors and tomato cousins. The larger yields, fruit, and juicier sweetness of this tomatillo makes it the perfect flavor for a salsa verde to bring freshness to your favorite summertime snacks.

Plant your Gigantic Verde Tomatillo in full sun against a trellis or stake to keep fruit off the ground. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, throughout the season for the best-tasting fruit. Harvest your tomatillos when they feel firm to the touch and the husks have broken open slightly. You know when they are ripe as their green flesh transforms to yellow. Eat them right away by removing the husk, or leave it on and your tomatillos will stay fresher longer!

Brandy Boy Tomato

An awesome beefsteak variety, the new Brandy Boy Tomato is a tasty way to change it up this year. This tomato is a cross of the heirloom tomato Brandywine and Better Boy. The result is a tomato that has a delectable sweet and tangy heirloom flavor, but with better disease resistance and a tidier growth habit. Try them in a homemade pasta sauce or even diced into a delicious bruschetta!

Tomatoes need plenty of sun and moisture to grow. Plant them in rich, moist soil and keep them well-watered throughout the season. Mulching plays an important role in growing tomatoes for both moisture retention and protection. Tomatoes’ delicate roots can be prone to many problems, including rot if damaged, so protecting them is key. Grow them against a stake or tomato cage for big, juicy fruit and harvest when they are heavy and firm to the touch.

Pixie Grapes

These perfect patio grapes are a cousin of grapes we often find in our houses in a tall, stemmed glass. Their mouthwatering, crisp, sweet flavor will probably taste similar to many wines! Homegrown grapes are a decadent treat all summer. These grapes got their start in vineyards and have been perfectly designed to fit in a patio container for delicious flavor at your fingertips all season.

Prep your pot with moist, well-draining potting mix with an organic, slow-release fertilizer for an added boost. Plant your Pixie Grapes in full sun with a small trellis to support your grapevines as they grow. You’ll know they are perfectly ready with a quick taste-test – sweet means just right!

Pictured below: Artwork Broccoli (left), Dragon Roll Pepper (right)
Images from: All American SelectionsBurpee

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Artwork Broccoli

We’re all familiar with our big, bushy broccoli varieties with short stems and thick stalks. Breaking tradition comes the new Artwork Broccoli. These little bite-sized broccoli heads harvest piece by piece, rather than as one, large head, so the flavor is always fresh day-of. Their long, flavorful shoots are just as earthy and sweet as the tops, making the whole thing amazing for every broccoli recipe, especially stir-fries.

Artwork Broccoli needs full sun and consistently moist soil to grow. Plant in a rich, well-draining soil and mulch to keep moisture even all season. Harvest the central crown of the broccoli first – the top of the stalk – when it reaches 1” in diameter. Do this first and enjoy the sprouting of tasty shoots all along the length of the stalk throughout the summer.

Dragon Roll Pepper

These popping peppers offer a slightly spicy, yet sweet flavor with a bit of smokiness and have become a culinary delight at farmers markets and restaurants across the nation. Starting off fairly mild, Dragon Roll Peppers will mature with a bit of kick, but only about 1/10th of a jalapeno. Just a bit of spice makes these the perfect snacking peppers on their own. They add awesome flavor when diced raw onto fresh tacos or for roasting. They are certainly a talking point of any dinner party.

Plant them in a hot, sunny spot in your garden. Warm and moist soil gives these peppers their edge, so mulching will keep them at top performance. Water regularly and feed them with an all-purpose vegetable mix to give them a boost if they need it. Harvest your peppers when they are still green by cutting off part of the stem.

Pink Icing Blueberry

Named for the blue and green foliage that is dusted with pink edges, Pink Icing Blueberries are the must-have berry for your garden this year. They’ve got adorable foliage that makes them a great accent plant for your garden or patio, and they are rich in delicious berries to enjoy all summer. The big, juicy berries are so flavorful and sweet that you’ll have a hard time holding yourself from eating them all right off the plant. If you can, though, try them fresh with some Greek Yogurt or baked into mouthwatering muffins.

Pink Icing Blueberries will perform best with at least six hours or more of sun. They are self-pollinating, so they do not need another plant to produce fruit, but they will have better yields if you plant more than one. They will need a rich, acidic soil to grow, so having compost or peat moss on-hand for amendment may be helpful. Water them regularly and deeply to provide plenty of moisture to your growing fruit. You’ll know they’re perfect for eating when the little berries are full of color and no longer green.

Enjoy a fresher taste in your kitchen this summer with some irresistible new fruits and vegetables. Add a twist to your cooking, baking, or even just snacking with a flavor for every palette. No matter who’s coming over, you’ll have something fresh for everyone with these top new edibles of 2018!