14 Tricks to Grow More Tomatoes

There’s nothing quite like biting into a juicy, sun-ripened tomato that you nurtured from seed to fruit. But for some gardeners, achieving a bountiful tomato harvest can feel like a challenge. With a few key tricks, you can transform your garden into a haven for thriving tomato plants and an endless supply of delicious tomatoes.

This guide unveils 14 essential tricks that will turn you from a tomato-growing novice into a master gardener. Let’s get started!

Trick 1: Sun, Glorious Sun – Powering Up Your Tomato Plants

Tomatoes aren’t shy when it comes to their love for sunlight. These sunshine-loving plants require a minimum of 7-8 hours of direct sunlight each day for optimal growth and fruit production. The more sunlight your tomatoes receive, the happier and healthier they’ll be, translating into a more abundant harvest.

When choosing a location in your garden for your tomato plants, prioritize a sunny spot that receives unobstructed sunlight throughout the day. Avoid areas shaded by buildings, fences, or tall trees during peak sunlight hours. Remember, happy, sun-kissed tomato plants equal a happy, tomato-loving you!

Trick 2: Start with Strength – Choosing the Right Seedlings

Just like any athlete needs a good foundation for peak performance, your tomato plants need a strong starting point. Selecting healthy seedlings is crucial for a successful growing season. Here’s what to look for when choosing your tomato warriors:

  • Sturdy Stems: Opt for seedlings with thick, sturdy stems that aren’t spindly or weak. A strong stem indicates a healthy plant that can support the weight of growing tomatoes later.
  • Bright Green Leaves: Vibrant green leaves are a telltale sign of a healthy seedling. Avoid plants with yellowing leaves, wilting, or signs of insect damage.
  • Starting Indoors (Optional): If you’re eager for an earlier harvest, consider starting your tomato plants from seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your area. However, purchasing healthy seedlings from a reputable nursery is a perfectly viable option, especially for beginner gardeners.

Trick 3: Dig Deep – Encouraging Extra Root Growth

Here’s a secret weapon in your tomato-growing arsenal: planting your tomato seedlings deeper than you might think! Unlike most plants, tomatoes have the unique ability to grow additional roots along the buried stem. This trick encourages a stronger root system, which benefits your plants in two key ways:

  • Enhanced Water and Nutrient Uptake: A robust root system allows your tomato plants to access more water and nutrients from the soil, leading to better growth and fruit production.
  • Improved Plant Stability: Deeper roots provide better anchorage for your tomato plants, especially as they grow taller and heavier with developing fruit.

Planting deeper is simple. When placing your seedlings in the hole, bury the stem up to the first set of true leaves. This may seem counterintuitive, but trust the process! Your tomato plants will thank you with a bountiful harvest.

Trick 4: Prune for Plenty – Encouraging Fruit Production

Pruning your tomato plants might seem counterproductive, but it’s a crucial technique for maximizing fruit production. Here’s the why and how of tomato plant pruning:

  • Suckers Be Gone: Suckers are small shoots that grow in the crooks between the main stem and branches. While they may look harmless, suckers divert energy away from fruit production. Regularly pinch off suckers with your fingers to encourage more energy to be directed towards developing delicious tomatoes.
  • Focus on the Main Players: When pruning, focus on maintaining the main stem and the fruit-bearing branches. You can also remove lower leaves that are touching the soil to improve air circulation and prevent disease. Remember, the goal is to create a plant structure that optimizes fruit production.

By strategically pruning your tomato plants, you’ll be directing their energy towards producing more and juicier tomatoes, making you a true tomato-growing champion.

Trick 5: Support System – Keeping Your Tomato Plants Upright

As your tomato plants mature and become laden with fruit, they’ll need some extra support to stay upright and avoid toppling over. Here’s where staking or caging comes in:

  • Indeterminate vs. Determinate: Tomato varieties come in two main types: indeterminate and determinate. Indeterminate varieties continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the season, while determinate varieties have a bushier growth habit and produce a concentrated burst of fruit.
  • Staking for Indeterminate and Semi-determinate Varieties: Indeterminate and semi-determinate tomato varieties require staking or caging for support. This helps prevent branches from breaking under the weight of the fruit and keeps the plants from sprawling on the ground.
  • Keeping Plants Off the Ground: Staking or caging also keeps your tomatoes off the ground, which reduces the risk of fungal diseases and fruit rot. Imagine a plump, juicy tomato resting comfortably on a stake, protected from potential harm – that’s the goal!

Here are some popular staking and caging options:

  • Tomato Stakes: These are sturdy poles made of wood, metal, or fiberglass. Simply drive the stake into the ground next to your tomato plant and secure the stem loosely with twine or garden fabric as it grows.
  • Tomato Cages: These are pre-made wire cages that provide all-around support for your tomato plants. Simply place the cage over the seedling when it’s young and allow the plant to grow within the cage structure.
  • Trellises: For a more decorative approach, you can create a trellis system using wood, wire, or string. This allows your tomato plants to climb vertically, maximizing space and creating a visually appealing garden feature.

Trick 6: Mulch Magic – Retaining Moisture and Suppressing Weeds

Mulch is your tomato plants’ best friend when it comes to moisture retention, weed suppression, and soil temperature regulation. Here’s how to utilize mulch effectively:

  • The Perfect Mulch: Apply a 2-inch layer of organic mulch like straw, hay, or wood chips around the base of your tomato plants, but not directly touching the stem.
  • Moisture Marvel: Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, reducing the frequency of watering needed, especially during hot and dry periods.
  • Weed Warrior: Mulch acts as a barrier, suppressing weed growth and preventing them from competing with your tomato plants for water and nutrients.
  • Soil Temperature Superhero: A layer of mulch helps regulate soil temperature, keeping the root zone cool during hot summer days and slightly warmer during cooler nights.

By incorporating mulch into your tomato-growing routine, you’ll be creating a more favorable environment for your plants to thrive, leading to increased fruit production and a thriving tomato haven.

Trick 7: Water Wisely – Keeping Your Plants Happy and Healthy

Watering your tomato plants correctly is crucial for their growth and fruit production. Here’s how to find the watering sweet spot:

  • Deep Watering: Focus on deep watering your tomato plants every 3-4 days for young plants and adjust based on the weather and maturity. Deep watering encourages the roots to grow deeper into the soil, searching for more water, ultimately leading to a stronger plant.
  • Avoiding Overwatering: Overwatering is a common pitfall for beginner gardeners. Soggy soil can lead to root rot, stunted growth, and even blossom end rot, a condition that causes the blossom end of the developing tomato to turn black and leathery.
  • Signs of Thirst: Wilting leaves are a telltale sign that your tomato plants need water. However, waiting until your plants wilt isn’t ideal. It’s better to water them consistently before they reach that point.
  • Drip Irrigation (Optional): For larger tomato gardens or those in hot, dry climates, consider using a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation delivers water directly to the root zone, minimizing evaporation and promoting efficient water use.

Trick 8: Feed the Beasts – Providing Essential Nutrients

Tomatoes are hungry little plants, requiring a steady supply of nutrients to produce a bountiful harvest. Here’s how to keep them fueled for success:

  • Soil Testing (Optional): Consider getting your soil tested to determine its nutrient levels. This will help you tailor your fertilization plan based on your soil’s specific needs.
  • Balanced Fertilizer: Tomatoes generally benefit from a balanced fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). Nitrogen promotes healthy leaf growth, phosphorus encourages root development and fruit production, and potassium strengthens overall plant health.
  • Organic Options: Organic gardeners can opt for natural fertilizers like compost, aged manure, or fish emulsion to provide essential nutrients for their tomato plants.
  • Foliar Feeding (Optional): For a quick nutrient boost, consider foliar feeding, which involves applying a diluted fertilizer solution directly to the leaves. This can be particularly helpful during times of rapid growth or if you notice signs of nutrient deficiency.

By providing your tomato plants with a balanced and consistent supply of nutrients, you’ll be setting them up for optimal growth and a heavy harvest of delicious tomatoes.

Trick 9: Pollination Power Play – Helping Your Tomatoes Set Fruit

Tomato plants are self-pollinating, meaning they don’t require insects or other external factors to produce fruit. However, some gentle encouragement can significantly boost your harvest:

  • Give Them a Shake: On windy days, tomato flowers may not receive adequate natural pollination. To give them a helping hand, gently shake the plants every few days during flowering to encourage pollen dispersal.
  • A Gentle Buzz: If you’re concerned about attracting pollinators like bees, consider using a small, handheld electric brush to gently vibrate the flowers, mimicking the natural movement of pollinators.
  • Hand Pollination (Optional): For a more hands-on approach, you can try hand pollination. Use a small paintbrush to carefully transfer pollen from the male stamen to the female stigma of the flower.

By implementing these simple pollination techniques, you’ll be ensuring your tomato plants maximize their fruit-setting potential.

Trick 10: Ripening Rhapsody – Picking Tomatoes at Their Peak

There’s nothing quite like the taste of a perfectly ripe, homegrown tomato. Here’s how to identify tomatoes ready for picking:

  • Color Cues: The most obvious indicator of ripeness is color. Depending on the variety, tomatoes will turn a vibrant red, orange, yellow, or even purple when fully ripe. A slight color change at the blossom end is a good initial sign.
  • The Gentle Squeeze: Ripe tomatoes should give slightly to gentle pressure. Avoid picking tomatoes that are rock-hard or mushy.
  • Flavor First: Ultimately, the best way to determine ripeness is by taste! Pick a tomato you suspect is ripe and take a bite. The flavor should be sweet and bursting with tomato goodness.

By carefully selecting ripe tomatoes for harvest, you’ll be maximizing their flavor and overall enjoyment.

Trick 11: Staggered Planting – Extending Your Harvest Season

Don’t settle for a single burst of tomato bounty! Here’s how to extend your harvest window:

  • Succession Planting: Plant your tomato seeds or seedlings indoors at staggered intervals throughout the spring. This allows you to transplant younger plants as the older ones mature and are harvested.
  • Choose Varieties with Different Maturity Dates: Select tomato varieties with varying maturity dates. Early-season varieties will ripen first, followed by mid-season and late-season varieties, providing you with a continuous supply of tomatoes throughout the growing season.
  • Consider Container Growing: If you have limited space, consider growing some tomato varieties in containers. This allows you to move them indoors to a protected area if faced with unexpected cold snaps, potentially extending your harvest even further.

By implementing these techniques, you can enjoy fresh, homegrown tomatoes for a longer period, turning your garden into a tomato paradise throughout the season.

Trick 12: Companion Planting – Creating a Thriving Ecosystem

Companion planting involves strategically placing different plant varieties near each other for mutual benefit. Here’s how to utilize this technique with your tomatoes:

  • Beneficial Buddies: Plant herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme near your tomatoes. These fragrant herbs can help deter some pests and may even enhance the flavor of your tomatoes.
  • Decoy Delights: Consider planting decoy plants like marigolds near your tomatoes. These vibrant flowers can attract beneficial insects like ladybugs that prey on common tomato pests like aphids.
  • Nitrogen Fixers: Interplanting legumes like beans or peas near your tomatoes can benefit both plants. Legumes have the unique ability to fix nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the soil, making it available for your tomatoes and other plants.

By carefully selecting companion plants, you can create a more balanced and supportive ecosystem in your garden, potentially reducing pest problems and promoting the overall health of your tomato plants.

Trick 13: Master the Art of Ripening – Encouraging Tomatoes to Reach Their Full Potential

Even if you haven’t picked all your tomatoes before the first frost arrives, there are ways to salvage the situation and enjoy their deliciousness:

  • Vine-Ripening on the Windowsill: For nearly ripe tomatoes still on the vine, carefully cut them from the plant and bring them indoors. Place them on a sunny windowsill and allow them to continue ripening naturally.
  • Paper Bag Ripening: Tomatoes that are starting to show some color change can be ripened off the vine using paper bags. Place the tomatoes in a paper bag and store them at room temperature. The trapped ethylene gas will accelerate the ripening process.
  • Green Tomato Salsa or Pickles: Don’t despair if you have a surplus of unripe tomatoes! Green tomatoes can be used to make delicious salsa or pickles, adding a unique flavor profile to your culinary creations.

By implementing these techniques, you can ensure that even late-season tomatoes don’t go to waste and you can still enjoy their delicious flavor.

Trick 14: Save Seeds for Next Season – Cultivating Your Tomato Legacy

Don’t let your tomato-growing journey end with the current season! Here’s how to save seeds from your favorite varieties for future harvests:

  • Open-Pollinated Varieties: This trick only works for open-pollinated tomato varieties. Hybrid varieties won’t produce true-to-type offspring when grown from saved seeds.
  • The Ripe Choice: Select a perfectly ripe tomato from a healthy plant. This will increase the chances of viable seeds.
  • Seed Extraction Fun: Cut the tomato in half and scoop out the pulp containing the seeds. Place the pulp in a jar or container with a small amount of water and let it ferment for a few days. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom, while non-viable seeds and pulp will float to the top.
  • Drying and Storage: After fermentation, separate the viable seeds from the pulp and debris. Rinse them thoroughly and spread them on a paper towel in a warm, well-ventilated location to dry completely. Once dry, store the seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dark place until planting time next season.

A Garden Overflowing with Success

Now that you’ve mastered these 14 essential tricks, you’re well on your way to becoming a tomato-growing champion! Remember, consistent care and attention are key to a successful tomato harvest. Always provide your plants with ample sunlight and ensure healthy seedlings, deep planting, strategic pruning, proper support, beneficial mulch, and wise watering to create the perfect environment for your tomato plants to thrive.