Basics of Growing Tomatoes In Your Vegetable Garden

Tomatoes are one of the most rewarding and most popular additions to our beloved gardens, but you may be wondering…how can you get the best tomatoes ever? With just tomato growing basics under you’ll belt, you’ll be on the rode to enjoying the juicy, fresh tomatoes, right from your own garden.

Visit Prairie Gardens & Jeffrey Alans for an incredible selection of tomatoes each spring season.





Tomatoes are classified in 3 different ways: Indeterminate, Determinate & Semi-Determinate based on their growth habits and how they produce fruits.

Indeterminate Tomatoes are the most common varieties of tomatoes you will find. They grow very tall and can continue to produce fruit frost. They are the best choice if you are planting your tomatoes in the ground, have a good amount of space to work with, and would like to harvest fruit throughout the growing season.

Determinate Tomatoes have a shorter, more bush-like growth habit and typically produce one large crop, ripening all at once (which makes them popular choices for tomato canning). Unlike Indeterminate Tomatoes, which will continue to grow and grow, determinate tomatoes grow to a “determined” size. They are the best choice if you would like to harvest fruit earlier in the season, if you have a smaller amount of garden space available, and you would like to enjoy one larger harvest.

Semi-determinate Tomatoes fall somewhere in between indeterminate & determinate tomatoes. Their growth habit is more compact than determinate varieties; however, they are capable of producing fruit throughout the growing season. They are the best choice if your garden space is on the smaller side, but you would like to enjoy multiple harvests throughout the growing season.


Not much is required when it comes to choosing a place to plant your tomatoes except for…lots of sun!

Tomatoes require full sun and should be planted in an area that receives at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight a day.

If possible, choosing a location that provides some protection from strong winds (such as up against a fence or building) is also ideal, but not necessary; providing proper support via stakes or cages is more of a must when it comes to wind protection.


While tomatoes aren’t super picky when it comes to soil, they do best in a slightly acidic (PH between 6 to 6.8), well-draining, rich soil. Plus, a soil that is not too compacted and loose. Not sure if your soil is loose enough? An easy way to check is by pushing your fingers in to the soil: you should be able to do this easily and without too much force. If it is difficult, your soil is too compacted.

If planting in a container, make sure to use a high-quality potting mix (we recommend Miracle Grow). Using soil from your garden will cause the soil in your container to be too compact & will not allow your tomatoes roots to establish.

If planting in a raised bed or container, loosen up your soil at least 6-8 inches and add compost.

You can easily test your soil using a soil test kit. If you soil PH is too low (too acidic), you can add lime to bring up the PH. If your soil PH is too high (too alkaline), you can add sulfur to lower the PH.


The best time to and the best way to fertilize tomatoes is before even plating them; by amending the soil with compost, providing rich nutrients your tomatoes can pull from throughout the growing season.

If already growing, you can side-dress your tomatoes (sprinkle fertilizer in a circle around the base of your plant) with a fertilizer low in nitrogen (too much nitrogen can lead to lush, green plants but low food production) right after planting…and then wait until fruits form to fertilize again.

Find fertilizers specifically for tomatoes on the PG Solutions wall, located in the greenhouse & just follow label instructions to begin fertilizing your tomatoes.


Wait to plant your tomatoes until your area’s frost free date: for our Midwest Illinois area, this is typically around Mother’s Day. If planting earlier, make sure to watch the temperatures.

While tomatoes can survive temperatures around 36 degrees and below, they start to get stressed with temperatures below around 50 degrees. If the temps are looking iffy, place it safe and cover your tomatoes with a plant cloth or plant domes.

It’s also best not too plant when the soil is too wet…this will cause the soil to become too compact, not allowing the roots of your tomatoes to establish. A good way to see whether or not your soil is dry enough is by taking a clump of it in your hand and squeezing: if the soil stays clumped together, it is too wet to plant. If the soil crumbles after squeezing, it is dry enough to plant. A quick tip is to cover the area in your garden with a tarp if rains are in the forecast to keep the soil dry in the days before you plan to plant.


When planting, most plants should be placed in the soil at the same height as they were planted in their container; however, tomatoes actually benefit from being being planted deeper than they came in the pot.

Remove some of the lower leaves up to the main stem and bury your tomato so about the top third of the plant is above the soil.

Tomatoes benefit from proper air-circulation, so also make sure when planting that you are providing your tomato with enough space to mature.

After removing your tomato from the pot, lightly loosen the roots with your fingers, plant them in the hole, and pat down the soil around the plant to remove any air pockets. Water in after planting.


Many tomatoes, especially indeterminate varieties, will need to given support with sturdy stakes or tomato cages. Stake or cage early to keep things under control and avoid breakage – allowing your tomatoes to reach for the sky.


Tomatoes prefer to dry out just a touch between waterings, so make sure to give them a good deep soak consistently, but not too often.

How often your water depends on environmental factors such as rain and wind. The best way to tell if your tomatoes need to be watered is by using the finger test: stick your finger about an inch into the soil. If the soil is moist, wait to water. If the soil is dry, give your tomatoes a good soak.

The best time to water your tomatoes is in the morning, ensuring they have enough water to make it through the heat of the day.

If planted in the ground, you likely will need to water every morning or every other day.

If planted in a container, you’ll likely need to water more frequently on hot, windy days.

When watering, make sure to water at the base of the plant – water on the foliage can increase the likelihood of disease, such as powdery mildew.

Consistency is also key, choose a time of day to water (preferably morning) and water around that same time each day.


Pruning “suckers” is a wonderful way to encourage new growth, allowing the plant to focus more energy elsewhere…plus, it encourages better air-circulation.

What’s a tomato sucker & where can you find them? Watch the quick video tutorial below:

Pruning around the base of your tomato plant is also a great way to increase air circulation, as well as prevent disease. Simply remove foliage near the soil level. The less foliage near the base of the plant, the less amount of bacteria and fungus has a chance to splash up on foliage when watering.


Prevention is one of the best ways to avoid disease. Not overcrowding and allowing proper air circulation, watering at the soil level, and mulching around your tomatoes are all great ways to help prevent and disease.

Find an incredible selection of tomatoes, fresh form the greenhouses, every spring season at…

Prairie Gardens & Jeffrey Alans

Extraordinary Gardening, Home Decor & More


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