How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed to Harvest
You consider growing tomatoes in your garden or on your balcony? Good news! It’s easy and also quite a lot of fun!
In this guide, I give you all the instructions that are needed and show you how to grow your tomatoes step by step!
Tomato Plant Profile
|Size (Height, Spread)||4 to 9 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide.|
|Climate||Most tomato varieties grow best in moderate to warm climatic zones with temperatures of 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.|
|Sun Exposure||Tomatoes grow best with many hours of sun.|
|Soil Requirements||Tomatoes prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.3 – 6.8.|
|Country of Origin||South America.|
|Growing Difficulty||Easy – Intermediate.|
|Perennial?||No, most tomato varieties are grown as annuals.|
|When should you start to grow?||In spring between March and May, depending on your region.|
|Expected Yield & Harvest||1 to 10 pounds of tomatoes per plant, depending on the variety you want to grow and also on your experience.|
|Time from Seed to Harvest||70 to 100 days to grow tomatoes from seed to harvest.|
|Pests & Diseases||Budworm, Aphids, Looper caterpillars, Cutworms, Thrips, Bacterial wilt, Leaf mold, Blight.|
|Use||You can use tomatoes for salads, soups, sauces and many other things.|
What Varieties and Types of Tomatoes can you grow?
There are numerous different tomato species out there. The most popular for growing purposes are
- Cherry tomatoes
- Cocktail tomatoes
- Heirloom tomatoes
- Roma tomatoes
- Green Beefsteak tomatoes
- Red Beefsteak tomatoes
- Ponderosa tomatoes
- Oxheart tomatoes
- Tomatoes on the vine
I personally love to grow Cherry Tomatoes since they are quite sweet and tasty.
However, if you are not sure yet what tomato variety you want to grow, I highly recommend you try many different ones.
You can also go for a tomato seed mix so that you will have many different tomato plants.
When should you start to grow Tomatoes?
Depending on the size you want your tomato plant to reach, you should also vary the start of your growing efforts.
In fact, the sooner you start, the bigger your plants tend to get since they will have simply more time to grow.
However, while there is some correlation between the growth of a plant and the yield, this doesn’t have to be the case.
In fact, many people just grow huge plants but don’t get too many tomatoes out of it at the end.
Hence, honestly, start when it is optimal for you regarding your schedule. You can start as early as in February or start as late as at the end of April.
However, if it gets too late, your tomato plant will have difficulties with developing fruits in time.
Thus, make sure not to start after the end of April. In my opinion, the optimal time to start with your growing efforts is the end of March.
If you live in a rather cold climate and temperatures drop below the freezing mark at this season of the year, make sure to start growing your tomatoes in your flat or in your house and only put them outside once it becomes warmer.
Otherwise, your plants may soon die off and you have to start from the beginning.
How long does it take to grow Tomatoes from Seed to Harvest?
Your tomato plant will take around 70 – 100 days from seed to harvest. However, this also depends on the climatic zone you live in and also on the overall conditions you offer for your plants.
While with optimal conditions, the duration can be even shorter than 70 days, it can also be far longer than 100 days in case you don’t know what you are doing.
Hence, make sure to stick to the instructions in this article in order to shorten your growing period so that you can enjoy the fruits of your harvest as soon as possible 😉.
What is the best Climate to grow Tomatoes?
Many tomato species have been cultivated and modified so that they are suitable to grow in many different climatic zones.
In fact, tomatoes are rather resistant regarding the climate they are grown.
Sure, if you live at the North Pole or in the Amazon Rainforest, chances are that you will not be able to grow tomatoes in a successful manner since it will either be far too cold or far too tropic.
However, if you live in rather moderate climatic zones like in the US or in Europe, chances are that you will be fine.
However, as mentioned before, make sure that you keep your tomato plants inside as long as the outside temperature drops below the freezing point.
What do you need to grow Tomatoes?
Although growing tomatoes is not difficult at all, you still need some equipment. This includes
- Tomato seeds (you can either buy them through my links on Amazon or extract your own seeds from tomatoes)
- Growing bed (to grow your seedlings)
- Big flower pots (the bigger, the better, since more soil means better nutrient supply and better growth; alternatively, you can grow your tomatoes in your garden and don’t need a pot)
- Potting compost (you can either buy it or use soil from your garden)
- Bamboo sticks and cord (or other sticks to stake and stabilize your tomatoes)
- Fertilizer (necessity of additional fertilizer also depends on the soil structure in your garden)
- Watering cans
- Garden shovel
- A little bit of patience and passion for growing plants 😉
What Yield can you expect when you grow Tomatoes?
This also greatly depends on the tomato sort you want to grow. In general, the yield from one tomato plant can vary from basically nothing to up to 10 pounds of tomatoes, depending on how good you did your job and also on the outside conditions of the respective year.
However, most often, your yield will be between 2 and 5 pounds of tomatoes per plant, which is pretty decent and can add up, especially if you grow multiple tomato plants.
What should you grow with Tomatoes?
If you want to know more about the best tomato companion plants, check out my article where I show you exactly what to grow with tomatoes.
Why should you grow your own Tomatoes?
Many people also don’t understand why it can make quite a lot of sense to grow your own tomatoes.
My short answer is: It’s quite a lot of fun and I love to see things grow. In fact, it is fascinating to me that such a big plant can develop out of just a tiny seed.
However, aside from the fun factor, it can also be quite good for your health to grow your own plant since you can refrain from the use of chemical pesticides.
Moreover, you will also have to water your plants and do some additional work, which will keep you physically healthy since you can exercise a little bit at home and keep yourself in shape.
Additionally, growing tomatoes and plants in general can also be quite beneficial for your psyche since it can give you a great feeling of peace.
Thus, especially if you currently work in a demanding office job for long hours and are stressed on a regular basis, make sure to grow your own tomatoes.
Even though this will not be a magic pill to solve your problems, it will still be helpful to lower your stress levels and to improve your overall quality of life.
Growing Tomatoes: Step-by-Step
1. Select a Site for your Tomato Plants
The first step to grow your tomatoes in an optimal manner is to select a suitable site.
In fact, many people underestimate how crucial site selection is for the growth behavior and the yields of their tomato plants.
In the following, all questions regarding the optimal site for growing tomatoes are answered.
Do Tomatoes like Sun?
The short answer is YES! Tomato plants love the sun and the more sun your tomato plants will get, the better your plants will grow and also the time from seed to harvest will be much shorter if you search a nice site that offers sun all day long for your plants. However, there is one caveat to this.
If your plants are still quite small, they are often rather sensitive to sun exposure.
In fact, if you start to grow your tomato plants indoors due to the cold climatic conditions early on in the year, you should be quite careful once you want to put your tomatoes out in your garden.
For the first days or even weeks, make sure that your tomatoes are only exposed to the sun for a few hours each day so that they can get used to the new conditions.
After they got a little bit bigger, you can expose your tomato plants to the sun for the whole day.
By doing so, you can make sure that your tomato plants have enough time to adjust to the sunlight and to grow in an optimal manner later on.
What are the Soil Requirements of Tomatoes?
Tomatoes are usually quite tolerant towards different soil conditions. In order to grow in an optimal manner, tomatoes prefer a slightly acid soil pH.
However, if you just buy conventional potting compost, you will be fine.
Sure, there are many people out there who claim that by altering the pH-value of the soil a little bit, results will be even better.
However, honestly, I tried all of those tips and I can tell you: As long as you offer your plants enough soil and enough space, you will be just fine and don’t need to care too much about adding additional components to the soil.
What should you add to the Soil for Growing Tomatoes?
As mentioned before, you can add some additional components to the soil in order to alter the pH-value a little bit. Moreover, you could also add some fertilizer to the soil. However, don’t exaggerate it!
In fact, many people do more harm than good when using fertilizer and I recommend that you use fertilizers in a rather economical manner since too much of it can hurt the roots of your plants.
Summing up, if you are a beginner right now, make sure that you give your plants enough space and soil without caring too much about adding additional components.
Chances are that your plants will grow quite well even without adding those additional elements which may even do more harm than good in some cases.
Moreover, refraining from the use of these components is also good for our environment since plenty of chemical fertilizers contain elements that are quite harmful to the soil in the long run.
What Temperatures do Tomatoes like?
Tomatoes generally like a lot of sun and are also quite happy with hot temperatures.
However, if it gets too hot and your plants are quite big, you will have to irrigate your plants at least once or even multiple times a day so that they can develop in an optimal manner.
Thus, especially on hot summer days, make sure that you look after your plants on a regular basis in order not to experience any unpleasant surprises.
How much Space do Tomatoes need?
Depending on the tomato species and also on the ambition you have regarding the size of your tomato plant, the space you need can greatly vary.
However, make sure that every tomato plant has at least 3 feet (1 meter) in each direction so that it can develop in an optimal manner and also gets sufficient sun.
In fact, if you plant your tomato plants too close next to each other, chances are that they will compete for nutrients and will also take away sunlight from each other.
Consequently, the more space your tomato plants have, the better they will develop and especially if you have a big garden, you should give each plant plenty of space in order to optimize the growth behavior and also the yields of your tomato plants.
Moreover, many tomato species can reach a height of more than 6 feet and you should make sure that you also leave enough space in the vertical in order to ensure optimal growth behavior.
Should you plant Tomatoes in a Pot or in the Garden?
Many people also don’t know whether they should grow their tomatoes in a pot or in their garden. In my opinion, it depends on a few factors.
Sure, if you have a big garden and want to grow your tomatoes as big as possible, you will be better off by directly planting your tomatoes in your garden.
However, if you only have a small garden and don’t have too much space, you may rather want to use a pot to grow your tomatoes.
Of course, the same is true in case you live in a flat and don’t have a garden at all.
One thing to note is that you will be more flexible if you plant your tomatoes in a pot compared to planting them directly in your garden since you will be able to move the pot to different locations.
Thus, depending on your individual circumstances, both options can be fine and you should choose for yourself which route you want to go.
In fact, you can also try out both options and figure out what is best for you. In turn, you can use those results for many years still to come.
2. Plant Tomato Seeds
Now that we know everything about the ideal location for growing your tomato plants, it is time that we talk about how to plant seeds in an optimal manner.
In fact, planting tomato seeds is rather simple as long as you follow some basic principles.
Should you buy Tomato Seeds or Seedlings?
The first thing to decide is whether you actually want to plant your own seeds or if you just want to go to your local store and buy seedlings.
While buying seedlings is the easier way to go and you can save a little bit of time, I would recommend starting from the seed to get the full growing experience.
In fact, for me, one of the most fascinating things when growing tomatoes is to watch how a small seed develops in a big plant.
Hence, in order to really get to know how growing tomatoes works from seed to harvest, I would recommend that you give it a try and start from scratch (or in this case from seed 😉).
Should you buy Tomato Seeds or produce Seeds by yourself?
If you decided that you want to start from seed instead of using seedlings from the store, it is time to figure out what seeds you want to use.
In fact, apart from the different tomato species, you also have to decide if you want to buy seeds from the store or if you rather want to produce your own seeds.
In fact, producing your own tomato seeds is quite simple and by doing so, you can even learn more about how nature works.
In fact, it only takes a few minutes to produce plenty of tomato seeds. You just have to get yourself your favorite tomato, cut it in half and remove the inside components of the tomato.
In fact, the inside is where all the seeds are and you can also see many small seeds in the inside of the tomato if you have a closer look.
If you don’t want to make any additional effort, you can just carve out the inside of your tomato in order to get out the seeds covered by pulp.
Alternatively, you can also remove the pulp around the seeds by using a sieve.
Either way, producing your own seeds is quite simple. However, if you don’t want to take this additional effort, you can also get your seeds from a garden center or through my links on Amazon and you will be good to go as well.
How to plant Tomato Seeds
Now that we know where and how we get our seeds from, it is now time to plant those seeds. You just need to grab your growing bed that we mentioned before and fill it with potting compost.
However, don’t fill it to the top. Make sure that you leave around one inch left. The reason is that we now just put our tomato seeds on the compost.
Make sure that those seeds have around 3-inch distance towards each other in every direction.
When you are finished with placing your seeds accordingly, we add this one additional inch of compost on top of the seeds and cover them.
In the last step, we just carefully need to water them. As soon as the soil becomes dry, you have to water the soil again.
How long does it take to see the first Tomato Seedlings?
After just one week, you should see the first seedlings. However, note that it can take a few weeks until most of your seeds will turn into seedlings.
Moreover, also note that not all seeds will be successful. Thus, make sure that you will use multiple times the number of seeds compared to the seedlings you want to get.
To make things clearer: If you want to get 10 tomato seedlings, you should plant around 30 seeds on average. And that’s it. Although you might be a little bit confused about what I am telling you, it is pretty simple 😉.
And don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Even if you don’t follow those instructions to 100%, chances are that you will still get some successful seedlings. Just try it and you will be surprised how easy it really is!
How to protect your Tomato Seedlings
Now that we know how to grow seedlings from scratch, we have to figure out how to protect our small treasures. In fact, small seedlings are quite sensitive to all sorts of outside influences.
While big tomato plants love the sun, small seedlings can even die off if they get too much sun exposure. Moreover, seedlings are also quite sensitive to fertilizer.
Additionally, also pests of many sorts can destroy our seedlings. Consequently, in order to protect your seedlings as best as possible, make sure to keep them inside for a few weeks until they have become bigger and more resistant towards outside influences.
However, still make sure that your seedlings get enough light so that they can grow in an optimal manner.
When should you transplant your Tomato Seedlings the first time?
In general, you can transplant your seedlings to your garden as soon as they reached around 5 inches in height.
However, also make sure that it is no longer freezing outside since those seedlings will still be quite sensitive to the cold.
Alternatively, if your seedlings reached a certain height but it is still too cold outside, you could also transplant those seedlings in bigger flower pots but keep those pots inside until it gets warmer in a few weeks.
The transplanting process itself is quite simple. If you want to put your seedlings straight to the garden, you just have to dig a small hole with your garden shovel and put your seedlings in there.
If you want to transplant your seedling into a pot, you fill your pot will compost and dig a small hole in the compost.
After that, you just grab the respective plant with the soil surrounding it and put it in the bigger pot or straight in the garden.
The only thing you really have to take care of is that you don’t hurt the roots of your seedlings.
Thus, make sure that you remove the seedings right at the bottom of the small seedling pot so that you will not cut off any roots.
And here you go! You just successfully transplanted your first tomato seedling, congrats!
When should you transplant your Tomato Seedlings outdoor?
As we mentioned before, you can transplant your seedlings outdoor as soon as the temperature doesn’t fall below the freezing mark anymore.
In most parts of our planet with a moderate climate, this will be between the beginning and the end of May.
Just listen to your local weather service and you will know when you can put out your seedlings without having to fear adverse effects from cold weather anymore.
If you plan to plant many tomatoes in your garden, make sure that each of them has at least 3 feet of space between each other so that those plants will not compete for nutrients or sunlight and can all develop in a healthy manner.
What kind of Protection do Tomato Seedlings need outdoor?
When you finally put your seedlings outdoor, you will have to protect them against additional pests. In fact, snails and other pests may try to get their piece of the cake.
Thus, especially if you put your tomato seedlings straight into the garden, you will have to take some additional measures to protect your plants.
A simple but yet effective and also eco-friendly way to protect your seedlings is to use a slug fence instead of using chemical substances which you could also get in your local garden center or through my links on Amazon.
3. The Tomato Growth Process
Now that we brought our tomato seedlings to a certain height, the hardest part is already done.
In fact, our plants will become more resistant the bigger they get and will also be better able to deal with pests and plant diseases.
In the following, I give you some basic information regarding the growth behavior of tomatoes and what measures you can take to maximize your tomato yield.
How fast do Tomatoes grow?
Many people are quite insecure regarding how fast their tomatoes should grow in order to stay in time. In fact, the bigger your tomato plant gets, the faster it will grow.
However, there is not a clear answer regarding how many inches of growth you should expect each week.
Just stick to the tips I share will you and you will not have to worry too much about the speed of growth since your tomatoes will ripen in time anyway.
Just do your work, be patient and nature will do the rest for you 😉.
Should you prune and pinch out your Tomato Plants?
Pinching out tomato plants is a rather controversial topic. Pinching out basically means removing side shoots from the tomato plant in order to give the main shoot more power.
While some growers think that pruning tomatoes is crucial to maximize yields, others claim that you should rather let your tomatoes grow in a fully natural manner.
If you don’t prune your tomatoes, they will become bushier and will have more side shoots and flowers. However, you will also need more space if you don’t prune your tomatoes.
Thus, whether you prune your tomatoes or not, it will not matter too much for the end result in most cases. In my opinion, if you have enough space, just let it grow and let do nature its work.
Do you have to pollinate your Tomato Plants by Hand?
In most cases, you don’t have to pollinate your tomato plants by hand.
In fact, if your tomatoes are in a pot outdoors or in your garden, you will have plenty of insects like bees around you who will naturally pollinate your tomato plant.
Thus, you don’t have to take any action in this regard.
How to stake your Tomato Plants
In order to protect your tomato plants against heavy winds, you also want to stake them in a proper manner.
In fact, you can do so by using a bamboo stick or any other sticks that are stable and can resist heavy winds.
For staking your tomatoes in a proper manner, you just need to put in your stick close to the tomato plant and bury it deep into the ground.
The stick has to be big enough so that you can stake your tomato on it while it also has to be buried deep into the ground at the same time to stabilize the plant in a sufficient manner.
After you placed the sticks accordingly, you can just use some cord and tie your tomato plants onto the sticks every few inches of height.
By doing so, your tomatoes will be stabilized and will be able to resist heavy winds much better compared to just letting them grow without any stabilizing measures.
4. The Tomato Harvest
If you followed all the instructions up to this point, you can expect a quite nice harvest at the beginning of autumn.
In fact, now the hardest part is done and you can enjoy the fruits of your labor you did the whole year.
When should you harvest your Tomatoes?
You can harvest your tomatoes as soon as they are ripe. Most tomato varieties are ripe when they have a nice red color.
However, there are also some tomato species that stay green or yellow and will never turn red.
Hence, make sure that you know which tomato species you are using in order to harvest your tomatoes in time.
How to store your Tomatoes?
Many people make the mistake to store their tomatoes inside the fridge. However, this often leads to a state where tomatoes lose plenty of aroma.
Instead of putting them into the fridge, I recommend using a box where you can store your tomatoes and to cover the box with a lid in order to protect your tomatoes from insects.
You should also eat your tomatoes in time since they taste best right after the harvest.
What to do with your Tomatoes?
Tomatoes are so popular all over the world since you can simply do so much with them.
In fact, you can either enjoy your tomatoes by eating them just like they are or you can also create delicious meals like tomato mozzarella or use it for all sorts of pasta or pizza.
Opportunities regarding how to use your tomatoes are basically endless and I am sure you will figure out how to use your tomatoes in the optimal way.
Tomato Plant Care Tips
In the following, I provide you with additional information regarding how to take care of your tomato plants in an optimal manner.
How often should you irrigate Tomatoes?
In order to ensure optimal growth conditions for your plants, you will have to water them on a regular basis. In fact, if your plants don’t get enough water, they may even die off sooner or later.
However, don’t worry too much about it! Watering your tomato plants is quite easy. You only have to watch the leaves of your tomatoes.
When they start to get curly, this is a clear sign that your tomatoes urgently need water. Hence, whenever you see this sign, it is time to take action.
While you will only have to water your tomatoes once in a few days in the beginning when they are still small, you will have to irrigate them much more often once they get bigger and once it gets hotter outside.
In fact, in summer, chances are that you will have to water your plants on a daily basis and if you are on vacation, make sure that you have someone who takes care of your plants while you are away.
At what Time of the Day should you water your Tomato Plants?
While it is not crucial at what time of the day your water your plants, the best time will be in the early morning since the water can be used in an optimal manner and less water will evaporate.
How often should you fertilize your Tomatoes?
Whether and how much you want to fertilize your tomatoes depends on the type of potting compost you are using and also on the soil structure in your garden.
In fact, I only recommend to just use pretty limited amounts of fertilizer since those chemical fertilizers are often quite bad for our environment and if you give your plants enough soil and space to develop, you will barely need any fertilizer at all.
If you urgently want to use additional fertilizer, you can get some in your local garden center or through my links on Amazon.
However, as mentioned before, make sure not to use too much of it since you can do more harm than good to your plants and also to our environment.
What kind of Fertilizer should you use for your Tomato Plants?
If you really want to use additional fertilizer, at least make sure that you choose natural instead of chemical fertilizers in order to minimize your adverse impact on our environment.
You can also make your own natural fertilizer by collecting stinging nettles and put them in a pot with water for a few days.
This natural fertilizer will be rich in nitrogen, which is crucial for a good growth behavior of your tomato plants.
However, if you decide to go for the stinging nettle fertilizer, make sure not to leave the stinging nettles in the water for too long and to remove them after a few days since the mix will smell quite bad otherwise.
Should you use Pesticides or Herbicides for Growing Tomatoes?
I am not a big fan of pesticides or herbicides at all. If you grow your tomato plants in your garden, just remove weeds by hand and you will be good to go.
I also don’t like using chemical pesticides since they can be quite harmful to our environment and not only remove pests, but can also hurt bees and other useful insects.
Instead of using chemical pesticides, you can use your stinging nettle liquid and spray some of it on your plants. In many cases, this will work to reduce the number of potential pests significantly.
In fact, stinging nettles are not only good for fertilizing purposes, they can also help to remove pests.
You should also have a look at how to control tomato plant diseases and pests to get further information in this regard.
What’s left to say?
I know this was a pretty long article, but if you made it until here, I am quite thankful for your interest.
If you follow all those steps and tips mentioned above, chances are that you will be able to grow tomato plants that will impress your family and friends.
Moreover, if you liked this article, make sure to also check out my other growing guides.
You want to get more specific information about tomatoes? Make sure that you also check out my
Grower’s guide how to grow Cherry Tomatoes
Grower’s guide how to grow Roma Tomatoes
About the author
My name is Andreas and I’m really passionate about our environment and also about growing plants. In fact, I have grown several different plants over many years. I love to see my own plants grow and always try new things.
In my blog posts, I want to share my experiences with you so that you can become successful in growing various different plants, even if you are still a beginner right now.