How to Cultivate Killer Tomatoes in Your Backyard

How to Cultivate Killer Tomatoes in Your Backyard

Growing luscious, delicious tomatoes in your own backyard takes some effort but is very rewarding. With proper care and attention, you can harvest basketfuls of juicy red tomatoes right outside your door. Follow these tips and you’ll be enjoying homegrown tomatoes all summer long.

Choosing the Right Tomato Variety

The first step is selecting the right tomato variety for your region and personal taste. There are hundreds of tomato varieties and cultivars to choose from.

  • For cooler climates, look for early season tomatoes that can mature before the first frost. Some good choices are Siberia, Oregon Spring, Glacier and other short season varieties.

  • In hot climates, heat tolerant tomato varieties are best. Try growing Sun Master, Sun Leaper, Florida 91 or other heat-loving tomatoes.

  • For optimal flavor, heirloom tomatoes can’t be beat. Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Green Zebra, Black Krim and other heirlooms have incredible taste.

  • If space is limited, compact bush tomato varieties like Tumbling Tom and Patio only need a couple feet to grow.

  • For higher yields, determinate tomatoes stay compact so more can fit. Celebrity, Big Beef and Early Girl are popular determinate types.

  • Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing taller all season. Beefsteak, Brandywine and others are indeterminate.

Preparing the Soil

Tomatoes need nutrient-rich, well-drained soil to thrive. Here’s how to get your soil ready:

  • Test the soil pH and add lime if needed to reach the ideal pH of 6.0-6.5.

  • Mix in 2-3 inches of compost or well-rotted manure before planting. This boosts nutrients and improves drainage.

  • Spade up the soil to break up compacted layers. Good aeration encourages healthy root growth.

  • Consider building raised garden beds for improved drainage and to prevent soil-borne diseases. Fill with rich potting mix.

  • If soil is very poor, blend in composted cow manure and organic fertilizers like fish emulsion or kelp meal.

When and How to Plant

With properly prepared soil, it’s time to transplant tomatoes!

  • In warm regions, plant tomatoes 2-3 weeks after the last expected frost when soil has warmed to at least 60°F.

  • In cooler areas, start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost, then transplant seedlings outside after danger of frost has passed.

  • Harden off seedlings for 7-10 days before transplanting. Set them outdoors for a few hours each day.

  • Dig holes the same depth as the root ball and space 18-36 inches apart depending on variety. Set the plant in and fill around with soil.

  • Water deeply after transplanting. Add mulch around plants to retain moisture.

  • Consider installing a wall o’ water or other protection to shield plants if cold snaps occur.

Tomato Care and Maintenance

With tomatoes planted, consistent care keeps them thriving all season:

  • Water tomatoes regularly, about 1-2 inches per week. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to keep foliage dry.

  • Apply balanced organic fertilizer monthly or based on soil test results. Fish emulsion and compost teas make great organic tomato foods.

  • Install tomato cages or trellises when planting. Staking keeps fruits off the ground and prevents disease.

  • Prune off suckers (shoots sprouting between branches) regularly so plants put energy into fruiting rather than vegetative growth.

  • Apply a thick mulch layer to suppress weeds, retain moisture and keep roots cool. Shredded leaves, straw or pine needles work well.

  • Scout for pests like hornworms, stinkbugs and tomato fruit worms. Remove by hand or use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) sprays if needed.

  • Prevent disease with drip irrigation, stakes/cages, good airflow, crop rotation and resistant varieties. Remove any diseased plants promptly.

Harvesting Juicy Tomatoes

Once tomato plants start flowering, fruits aren’t far behind!

  • Harvest tomatoes when fully colored but still firm. Leave on vine longer for maximum sweetness.

  • Pick tomatoes by gently twisting stem until it separates. Don’t pull fruit off vine or you may damage plants.

  • Harvest ripe tomatoes regularly, at least every 2-3 days. This encourages plants to continue producing.

  • Check under vines for ripe tomatoes hidden by foliage. The undersides often ripen first.

  • Bring picked tomatoes out of sun immediately. Set them in shade or indoors to prevent overheating.

  • Store freshly picked tomatoes at room temperature. Never refrigerate as cold damages texture and flavor.

  • Wash tomatoes just before eating. Store on the counter in a single layer, not touching each other.

Enjoy your homegrown tomatoes sliced on sandwiches, blended into sauces, added to salads, roasted with olive oil, or simply eaten right off the vine – still warm from the sunshine! With proper soil preparation, plant selection and care, you can grow a bountiful crop of incredible tasting killer tomatoes this season.