Be Creative,   Be Inspired,   Be Selective   |   M-F: 9-6,  Sat: 9-5    |   937-845-0093

How to Grow Tomatoes

April 14, 2022


For The Best Yield!

Tomatoes are warm-season plants and should be planted only after the danger of frost has passed unless you are prepared to protect them in the event of a frost. Typically, that date for the Miami Valley in Ohio is May 15. 

Determinate vrs Inderterminate

There are over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes in colors including pink, purple, black, yellow and white, and even striped. The most popular varieties, due to their hearty growth, are beefsteak tomatoes, slicing, and scarlet red.

While the varieties are plenty, the plants are only two: determinate tomatoes and indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate plants have a predetermined size, meaning once they reach a certain size they stop growing, no matter if it’s near the spring frost date, early summer, or late summer. They also flower and set all their fruits within a relatively short period of time. This is an advantage if the tomatoes are being grown primarily for canning purposes. 

Indeterminate don’t have a predetermined size. So, plants will continue to grow in height until winter. Many times, a freeze comes before all the tomatoes do, so this is best for growers with large spaces and a moderate climate. Additionally, these are a good variety for growing tomatoes indoors.

Vegetable Soil

Start Seeds Indoors

Start tomatoes from seeds indoors, five to six weeks before planting outside BEFORE the last frost. The last expected frost date is May 15th for Miami Valley, Ohio. This means you should start your seeds indoors between March 30 and April 30th. Check out our detailed Seed Starting Blog here.

  • Plant seeds one-fourth inch deep in flats containing sterile, soilless germination mix.
  • For best germination, use a heating mat to keep the flat at 75°F to 85°F until seedlings emerge. Carefully monitor potting mix moisture, as heating mats will dry the mix out faster.
  • After emergence, a soil temperature of 70°F is ideal. Warm soil is better than cool.
  • Provide bright overhead light for the seedlings.
  • Thin or transplant seedlings after true leaves appear so that seedlings are two inches apart, and continue to grow under bright light. Without bright light directly overhead, the stems of the little plants will elongate and lean over.
  • Reduce watering when plants are about 5 inches tall and 6 to 8 weeks old.
  • Place plants outside where they will receive wind protection and a couple of hours of sunlight.
  • Gradually expose them to more sunlight over the next week or two, bringing them indoors if night temperatures approach freezing.

Soil & Sun

Tomatoes can be grown on many different soil types, but a deep, loamy, well-drained soil supplied with organic matter and nutrients is most suitable. If you have heavy clay soil in your garden, one option is to add organic matter, such as peat moss or compost, to improve soil structure and drainage.

Tomato plants require full sun, meaning the more sunlight they receive, the better they will perform. The planting site should receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Tomatoes will not be as productive if they receive less than optimum sunlight exposure.

Afternoon shade helps to cool the small tomatoes and prevent burning of leaves and staking.


Vegetable Soil
Dig a hole


  • Choose a location in your garden where you have not grown tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants and tomatillos for the past three or four years.
  • Crop rotation and sanitation are very important.
  • Allow two to three feet in all directions between vining plants. You can set bush-type plants closer together.
  • Water plants well before transplanting.
  • It is best to install plant supports —stakes, cages, spirals, or trellises— at the time of planting. 
  • If the plants were growing in a community pack or container, cut the soil between the plants with a knife so each plant can separate easily with a root ball attached.
  • When transplanting seedlings in peat pots, make sure you do not expose the top edge of the peat pot above the soil surface. The peat pot will act like a wick and rapidly draw the moisture from the root ball, stressing the plant.
  • With a hand shovel, make a hole large enough for the root ball of the transplant.
  • Firm the soil around the roots and water the transplants.

For a stronger, more vigorous plant, plant tomatoes so that some of the stem is below the soil line and new roots will emerge from the buried part of the stem. Rather than digging a hole, dig a trench three to four inches deep. Remove the lowest leaves from each seedling, and lay the plant down in the trench, burying the stem up to just below the lowest remaining leaves.

TIP 1:  When you dig your tomato hole, you want to make sure the soil is not cool to the touch. If it is, leave the hole open for at least a week to allow the soil to warm sufficiently. 

TIP 2: Pour a bucket of warm water in the holes about 20 minutes before you plant to warm up the soil. Remember, tomatoes like heat.

Tip 3: Be sure to have adequate room between plants for air circulation so that they have room to spread their leaves and lower branches.

Tip 4: Once your tomato plants reach about three feet in height, remove the true leaves from the bottom of the main stem.

These are the oldest leaves and they are usually the first leaves to develop fungal diseases.

Heirloom vrs Hybrid

Heirloom tomatoes come from tomato seedlings saved and grown for 50 years or more. They are passed down from farmer to farmer, generation to generation.

Hybrid tomato varieties tomatoes are grown from two different plants to get the best of both varieties. Farmers will select two comparable plants and cross-breed them to create a new plant that features the best of both parent plants.

Varieties of Tomatoes
Tomato Soil

Soil Testing

As with most garden vegetables, tomatoes grow best in a slightly acid soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. It is a good idea to have your soil tested by a reputable testing lab (Figure 4). Refer to OSU Extension Fact Sheet, HYG-1132, “Soil Testing Is an Excellent Investment for Garden, Lawn, and Landscape Plants, and Commercial Crops,” which is available online at The fact sheet includes a list of soil testing labs in Ohio and procedures on taking and preparing soil samples.

Reference: Ohio State University Extension Ohioline:


Keep your tomatoes consistently watered. In the heat of summer, when the root masses are large and established, they may need water daily. Be sure to water in the morning between 5 am-9 am. Water at the base of the plant. Do not topwater the leaves.

Watering Tomatoes
Fertilizing Tomatoes


An application of starter fertilizer at transplanting will help tomato plants grow faster and flower sooner. Starter solutions are water-soluble fertilizers high in phosphorus. Upon setting plants in the garden, apply a liquid starter solution to each transplant at the rate of one cup per plant so that the root ball is completely saturated. Be sure to follow label directions, because leaf burning and plant death can result from excessive fertilization application.

In addition to starter fertilizer, tomatoes need 2 to 3 pounds of a complete fertilizer, such as 6-24-24, 6-12-18, and 8-16-16 per 100 square feet of garden area, or apply fertilizer based on soil test recommendations. Do not use fertilizers containing herbicides in the vegetable garden. Row or band applications make the most efficient use of small amounts of fertilizer. This method allows for fertilizer placement near the plants where it will be of the most use. Make small furrows about 3 inches to each side of the row and 2-3 inches deep. Use caution, however, so that seeds or roots do not come into direct contact with the fertilizer. The entire amount of fertilizer needs to be worked into the top 6 inches of the soil before planting.

An additional side dressing of nitrogen fertilizer may be desirable after the first cluster of flowers has set fruit. Sidedressing is the application of fertilizer 2-4 inches beside a row of vegetables. The fertilizer is left on the soil surface rather than being dug in. This fertilizer will then need to be watered in.

Our Top Picks For Ohio

Early Girl
Early Girl salad tomatoes are a well-loved hybrid for gardeners in the upper Midwest. The sweet and slightly acidic fruits are about the size of a tennis ball. They start maturing early in the season, and the plants will continue to produce tomatoes throughout the summer. Early Girl tomatoes should be staked or trained up a trellis.

Roma tomatoes produce one large crop in late summer, so they lend themselves well to canning, freezing, or drying. The flesh is dense and the fruit has few seeds. Use Roma tomatoes for making sauce, paste, ketchup, and other products. The best flavor of Roma comes from cooking them, and the fruit is usually not eaten fresh, although some new Roma hybrids have been bred for sweeter, somewhat juicier flesh. Romas are pear-shaped and about 2 to 3 inches long.

Sun Gold
These cherry tomatoes ripen to a soft orange hue, and their sugar-sweet flavor makes them an irresistible garden snack. The small fruit matures early and will keep on coming until frost. Compared to other tomato varieties, Sun Gold can handle cool weather early or late in the season in stride. Sun Gold tomatoes are a good choice for container gardening. Use a 5-gallon container with drainage holes on the bottom for planting them.

A classic heirloom tomato developed by Amish farmers in the 19th century, Brandywine produces huge, soft fruit that can weigh 1 lb. or more and that may crack a little on top as it ripens. The comparatively dry summers of Ohio suit Brandywine tomatoes well since they are vulnerable to disease in humid climates. Use Brandywine tomatoes on sandwiches or cook them down for a sweet, richly flavored tomato sauce.


straw on tomatoes

Add Some Mulch

Once the tomato plants are established, apply a mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth. Apply 2-3 inches of organic mulch such as weed-free straw or bark chips after the soil has had a chance to warm up; this is typically around early June. Mulching too early will keep the soil cool and slow root growth, and consequently plant growth, which ultimately will reduce plant yield.

Black plastic mulch also is used as a mulch. It is more commonly used by commercial growers but can be used successfully in home gardens. Black plastic mulch helps to prevent weeds in the plant row, warms up the soil in the spring, reduces soil splashing onto fruit and foliage, helps soil retain moisture, and will help shed moisture under heavy rainfall events. Black plastic mulch works well when used in combination with a raised bed. Black plastic mulch is rolled out after soil preparation, secured or tucked with soil to hold firm against soil, and then holes are punched through the plastic, and plants are set into these holes.



The Ohio State University Extension Ohioline:

Garden Guides:

Interesting Information

Known scientifically as Solanum lycopersicum, the tomato is the berry of a plant from the nightshade family. Tomatoes originally came from Peru, where their Aztec name translated to “plump thing with a navel.” Eventually, yellow ones made their way to Italy and got the Italian name pomodoro. Red varieties arrived, too, and the famous tomato sauce we know and love was created.

According to the USDA, Americans eat 22-24 pounds of tomatoes per person, per year. No, we aren’t biting into them like apples. About half of that consumption comes in the form of ketchup and tomato sauce. China is the number one producer of tomatoes around the world with the U.S. coming in second with states like California and Florida.

In fact, forget the orange juice, Florida’s growing season produces more tomatoes than any other state, especially in late summer.

Tomatoes are the major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which is linked to health benefits including a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.

Fruit, not Vegetable:

Even though tomatoes are categorized as a vegetable, they are technically a fruit because they contain tomato seeds and their plants bear fruit, while vegetables are edibles that contain stems, leaves, or roots.

The confusion is actually the fault of the US government. In the 1890s, the supreme court wanted to charge a tax on tomato imports so they changed the category and major food pyramid confusion was created.

Reference: Wide Open Eats; 12 Expert Tips On Growing Delicious Tomatoes At Home: