How to grow tomatoes – Chicago Tribune


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Growing tomatoes from seeds Tomatoes grow on small plants in areas with direct sunlight. As seeds, they germinate best in warm temperatures. Within 2 months, they fully mature and start producing fruit until the weather becomes too cold. Unless they’re kept indoors or in a greenhouse, tomato plants won’t survive the winter. They also won’t grow back on their own, even though they’re perennials. Luckily, tomatoes are easy to grow. All it takes is the right environment, some planning and a little bit of care. When to start growing tomatoes When you should start growing tomatoes depends on a few things, such as where you live and if they’ll be planted indoors or outdoors to start. Consider the temperature before planting any seeds or transferring starter plants outside. The daily temperature should consistently be around 75 degrees for the best growing conditions. Overnight temperatures should ideally not fall below 55 degrees. Tomatoes can be started indoors in starter trays or small pots if they get enough sunlight. In general, seeds should be planted a month and a half to 2 months before the last frost in your area. This is typically around the middle of spring. In warmer regions, such as in the southeast USA, the plants can be started later in the year. The growing season in these areas often extends well into fall since the temperature stays consistent longer. Ultimately, as long as the environment is suitable to their growing needs, tomato plants can grow nearly year-round. Some varieties will continue to produce well into the winter and beyond, while others will stop after a few weeks or months. What you need to grow tomatoes Like all plants, tomato plants need specific resources to thrive. Not only does temperature matter, but so do sunlight, water, nutrients and space. Most tomatoes require around 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. They also need regular watering and plenty of space for their roots to grow. Indoors, they grow best in fertilized potting soil. Different types of plants require specific things, so check the seed packet for details when planning out your garden. Tomatoes come in a variety of sizes, colors and even shapes. They can be used for anything from sauces to salads. Choosing the best seeds to grow largely depends on personal preference and available resources. In an indoor garden or small space, cherry, plum and little Napoli Roma tomatoes are among the easiest plants to grow. These plants are usually more compact or shorter than other varieties, and the fruit they bear is small. Next, ask yourself how long you want the plants to produce. Some plants only grow to a certain point and then stop, such as determinate plants. They also only bear fruit for a set period of time, usually 1 or 2 months, before stopping. Other plants, such as indeterminate varieties, can grow and produce nearly indefinitely. Of course, the type of plant determines how large it gets. If space isn't limited, then any type of plant could work. For larger varieties, you may need trellis netting or stakes to help support their base. Compact plants can usually support themselves and require a little less maintenance. Consider how much fruit you want. Some plants can be harvested on a regular basis throughout their growing season. Others produce less frequently but in greater bunches. Depending on how often you intend to use the tomatoes, you may want a plant with more or less fruit. The steps to growing tomato plants vary based on whether you’re starting from seeds or using starter plants. Start by clearing out an area for the tomato plants to grow. Make sure there’s enough sunlight. If there are any weeds, grass, sticks or other debris in the way, remove them right away. Check the outdoor temperature before planting anything. Also, check the temperature of the soil to make sure it’s at least 55 degrees. Next, make 1/4-inch-deep holes in the dirt with 2-3 feet of space around each one. This will give the plants enough room to grow and fully mature without crowding each other out. If growing different types of tomato plants, separate them more, unless you don’t mind possible cross-pollination. Place a seed into each hole and add some fertilized soil or compost to the dirt as you cover it. Don't completely pack the dirt down. Use a watering can to dampen the soil. Avoid using a hose because the pressure from the spray could wash away some of the dirt or the seed. Also, don't water too much or the seed could drown. If growing vine plants, you can install the stakes or trellises near the newly planted seeds. Otherwise, wait until they’ve sprouted to do this step. Mark the areas with the seeds with small stakes or signs. Water them weekly or when the soil is dry to the touch. If pests are a problem, use organic insecticide to keep them away. When using starter plants, wait to transplant them until they’ve grown their second set of leaves. Then, clear out an area in the garden for them. There should be at least 2 feet between each plant. For each starter plant, dig a hole that’s deep enough to completely bury the roots and the lower third of the stem. That way, the roots can take hold and thrive more easily. If desired, add some fertilizer or compost to the dirt as you fill the dirt back in. Water the soil around the plant, avoiding too much direct contact with the leaves. Do this once a week or in warmer areas, any time the soil feels dry. As the plant grows, trim off any small shoots at the base of the leaves. If it has vines, keep them off the ground to avoid potential rotting and pests. This can be done by either wrapping the vines around trellis netting or by lightly tying it to a stake. Harvest the fruit as soon as it’s ripe. If you harvest too early, the tomatoes can be placed on a windowsill in direct sunlight to help them ripen a little more. Here are some quick tips to make sure your plants are healthy and produce juicy tomatoes as long as possible. Before it gets too cold, transplant any plants indoors until the weather warms back up. Some plants will continue to produce indoors this way. Always check the back of the seed packet for any information on growing conditions, including how much sunlight and water they need. Use a thin layer of mulch to keep weeds down around the garden. Tomato plants attract all sorts of creatures, including deer and rabbits. Deter them with granular repellent or plant netting. Ultimately, growing tomatoes is a straightforward process that doesn’t usually require a lot of maintenance. A little planning and care go a long way to making sure your plants prosper. Angela Watson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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