How To Grow Tomatoes

Plant Type: Annual
Scientific Name: Lycopersicon lycopersicum
Light: Full sun
Soil Type: Rich, sandy loam
Soil Temperature: 70 – 80°
ph Range: 5.5 – 7.0
Watering: Keep soil moist but not soggy
Plant (Payson): May 15 – July 15
Planting Method: Seed or transplant
Germination (days): 6 – 14
Transplant: Recommended – when days and soil are warm
Plant Characteristics: Sprawling – trellis or cage for best results
Maturity (days): 70 – 90
Common Pests: Tomato Hornworm, aphids, early blight, bacterial spot
Common Diseases: Curly top, tobacco mosaic, septoria leaf-spot, bacterial spot, early Blight, fusarium wilt, environmental problems: sun scald, blossom end rot, cracking


Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in home gardens and are fairly easy to grow. There are many varieties to choose from including beefsteaks, slicers, paste (Roma types), cherry and grape.

They are also classified as Determinate and Indeterminate. Determinate types grow to a certain height then stop and produce all their tomatoes at once, a benefit if you want to can your harvest. Indeterminates will continue to grow foliage and tomatoes though out the season and will need staking and possibly pruning.

Tomatoes are in the Nightshade family, as are potatoes, peppers, eggplants and tomatillos. Do not plant any of them in the same soil for 3 years to avoid disease spread.


Plant tomatoes in a fairly rich soil that is well drained.

Wait until the soil warms to 70° or use black plastic to warm the soil. Tomatoes should be planted deeper than the existing soil line to encourage more root growth. Some people lay the stem sideways in the soil, removing the leaves that will be covered.
planting a tomato plant


Tomatoes should be planted 18”-24” apart . Deeply cultivate each planting hole, add plenty
of compost, a handful of Glen’s Magic, a handful of bonemeal and a handful of Epsom salts. Be careful not to add excess nitrogen as you will grow beautiful plants, but no tomatoes. 

planting seeds to start 2

Start 6-10 weeks before average last frost. Sow ¼” deep in fine seed starting mix and use a heat mat to keep the soil between 70 – 85° .

After the second set of leaves grow, transplant into deeper pots putting the first leaves (remove the leaves!) under the soil. The stem will grow extra roots and make the plant even stronger.

Tomatoes can be transplanted several times before they make it to the garden, each time planting them deeper for a better root system.

young tomato plant

Mulch is recommended to maintain even soil moisture and to protect the plant from any soil borne diseases. Fungal diseases common to tomatoes and other nightshades can live in the soil for up to 5 years.

Never spray tomato plants, especially not during the heat of the day. Water at soil level or below the soil with drip irrigation.

Side dress monthly. Do not add excessive nitrogen. Lack of Calcium—part of the cause of blossom end rot—can be amended easily. When your almost out of milk, fill the jug with water and water at the base of the plant.

Weeding shouldn’t be necessary with a good mulch.

Try to choose disease resistant cultivars. Many diseases common to tomatoes are spread by insects. Using floating row covers at least early in the season will help stop them. Practice a 3-4 year crop rotation for all nightshades–potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and tomatillos.

Tomatoes contain solanine that acts as an insect repellent. Most bugs stay away, but tomato hornworm is the most common exception. Flea beetles attack tomatoes but aren’t a problem unless the plants are small. aphids and whiteflies can spread disease easily.

Sunscald: Too much pruning allows too much sun on the tomatoes. Provide shade if necessary to prevent this.

Blossom End Rot: Occurs with a calcium deficiency in the soil and is aggravated by warm, rainy weather. This shouldn’t happen if planted with bonemeal and Epsom salts. If you’re worried, add water to an almost empty milk container and water each tomato with it.

Cracking: Heavy rains and hot weather can cause cracking. It does not affect the flavor of the tomato.


Harvest when tomatoes reach their ripe color (which varies) and are slightly soft to the touch. If a hard frost is expected, remove all fully formed tomatoes, including green ones, and ripen indoors between sheets of newspaper.


Tomatoes can be canned, frozen or dried. From there the possibilities are endless: spaghetti, pizza, lasagna, salsa, marinara etc.


 Helpful Links

To aid in your gardening success, here are some useful, trusted links for more information on tomatoes.

10 Common Tomato Plant Problems – The Farmer’s Almanac

Growing Tomatoes Above 6000 Feet in Arizona – U of Az Extension

How To Mulch Your Garden In The Fall – The Spruce

Please remember Payson Community Garden is an organic garden. Some of these sites may contain recommendations for non-organic products. Please see this website or Plant Fair Nursery website for a list of recommended products
that meet the organic standards of Payson Community Garden.

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