Growing Great Tomatoes

I remember one time, that a novice gardener asked a gardening guru how do you grow a great tomato? The reply was, ‘get a tomato plant!’

So far this season it is shaping up to be a great one for growing tomatoes so lets have a look at a few of the aspects related to the successful growing of tomatoes.

  • You are likely to be in one of the following categories at this time; Started plants off in a glasshouse before winter and now are enjoying ripe fruit.
  • Started plants of in a glasshouse in winter and now have plants covered in fruit waiting to ripen. (thats me)
  • Started plants off in the last couple of months and they are growing well and first fruit have formed.
  • Started off plants recently and they are growing well.
  • Yet to start off plants.

For this later group it is a good time to obtain a few plants from a garden centre and pot them up or plant them out. They should reward you with ripe tomatoes in a couple of months time. I am going to buy a few plants later on today and get them cracking to further increase and extend my cropping period into next year. Also in January and February I will be either sowing seeds of more tomato plants or taking cuttings from my existing ones so that I will have tomatoes right into winter. Often we find that these later tomato plants do better than the very early ones.

The tomato plants that have done best for me so far are the cold loving Russian ones called ‘Silvery Fir Tree’ which are available only from seeds on the Niche seed stands in some garden centres.
A strong growing bush tomato, only up to a metre tall with lots of average to smaller size tomatoes.

I prefer these dwarf or bush type tomatoes as they are just allowed to grow without having to remove any laterals (side shoots). Russian Red is a popular one along with Scoresby Dwarf. Besides not having to remove laterals they are tomatoes that will produce pollen in cooler temperatures and thus set fruit when other types will not. (These are the types to start off next year to have fruiting in unheated glasshouses over winter).

Talking about laterals or the side shoots that grow out between the trunk and leaf; on tall growing tomato plants, these are usually removed so the plant is more manageable and bigger fruit are obtained. (The growth goes into the fruit rather than creating more plant). If you don’t remove the laterals you tend to need to use a number of stakes to support all the growth. You get lots of smaller tomatoes rather than fewer, larger tomatoes. If you want really big tomatoes, from tomato plants that will produce the monster fruit such as the Beefsteak types (One slice covers the sandwich) then you remove all laterals allowing only the fruit trusses to form from the main and only trunk.

A problem can arise when removing laterals or leaves from a tomato plant and that is a disease can enter the wound and kill your plant. Only remove laterals or leaves on a sunny day when the air is dry, not humid, also make up some Liquid Copper in a trigger sprayer at double the normal rate (7ml per litre) and immediately on removing a lateral spray the wound. The copper solution will keep ok in the trigger sprayer, just shake well before using.

If Botrytis enters a wound it will form a rot on the trunk which initially appears as a darker area, as this rot develops the plant starts to have the top foliage cut off from the root system and the eventual collapse of the plant and death. One gardener last season told me that he painted undiluted Liquid Copper on the dark area when first noticed and was able to save the plant. (Worth a go as you have nothing more to lose once it happens).

Blight and Botrytis are the two greatest disease problems for tomatoes and you can protect them with a monthly spray of Perkfection.

You may find that tomato plants growing in full all day sun tend to curl their leaf surfaces away from the sun. Where tomatoes growing in morning or later afternoon sun do not show this tendency. I believe that it is the UV causing the problem and tomatoes are one plant that dislikes too much UV.

It does not harm the plant but the amount of energy gained from the sun is reduced which will slightly diminish the size and number of fruit. As the ozone hole mends in the new year this problem also disappears.

Another aspect that worries some gardeners is the lower large leaves become distorted as the plants mature. As far as I am aware this is a virus that has infected a number of varieties of tomatoes and other than the distorted result no other harm comes to the plant. Later I usually remove these leaves.

Tomato plants need ample food and moisture to fare best. There are several special tomato foods available including my own one called ‘Wally’s Secret Tomato Food’ which has added potash and magnesium, both which are vital to having a healthy plant and good flavoured taste. Regular applications of this food should be applied to the root zone and ideally watered in with Magic Botanic Liquid.(MBL) The same product can be sprayed over the foliage every couple of weeks for better results.

Growing tomato plants in containers is a neat and easy way to obtain a good crop of fruit. The larger the container the better and the minimum should be about 20 litres size for dwarf type plants,
45 odd litres for average plants such as Moneymaker and closer to 100 litres for the big Beefsteak types.

Use a good friable compost with a little top soil added, don’t waste your time and money using potting mixes. Add a few worms to the mix along with goodies such as sheep manure pellets and blood and bone. Do not overwater while the plants are establishing but once their roots have filled the pot, water well at least once a day.
Blossom end rot happens when the fruit is setting and there is insufficient moisture to move the calcium to the setting fruit. This means a black patch forms under the fruit making it just about useless.

If you find that one watering a day is not adequate then place a tray under the container so there is an extra volume of water to soak up as the plant uses the moisture out of the compost mix.

There are two pests that can cause you problems, whitefly and caterpillars. Placing Neem Tree Granules on the soil in the root zone tends to reduce both these pest problems. Sprays of Neem Tree Oil can also be useful.

A number of gardeners in the past have used special sprays to aid the setting of fruit. I do not think that these sprays are available anymore and they are not needed anyway. If the plants are outside the air movement is sufficient to move the pollen and set the fruit. If in a glasshouse then on a sunny day simply go into the house and tap the stake or plant to cause a vibration, this will set the fruit.
Often the reason that plants do not set fruit even though they are flowering, is because the temperatures are not high enough for certain varieties to create pollen. Growing cold types will help overcome this.

Birds can attack ripe or even green fruit and the use of Bird Repeller Ribbon will assist in this.

Fruit starting to colour up can be picked and ripened indoors as an alternative.

There are ample natural products you can obtain to supplement the diet of your plants from liquid seaweeds though to making your own liquid manures from any animal manure or sheep pellets. Diluted and watered into the root zone can assist in obtaining a bigger and better crop.

Hopefully your biggest problem will be what to do with all the ripe tomatoes you collect.

5 comments on “Growing Great Tomatoes

  1. Lawrence on said:

    Thanks for the great advice, currently growing beef stake in pots at the moment, they are doing well however a bit more explanation on which shoots/laterals to remove would be great thanks, as the plants are both tall and healthy , the leaves are fairly prolific and in some places touching and causing some damage.

    Also i have seen/heard that crushing the tomato leaves (1 or 2 per plant) until you can smell a slight chemical smell can repel insects that like to eat the leaf’s, done once or twice a week was the suggestion, can you confirm / help me verify this please?

    Also as companion plants aside from marigolds is there anything else suggested?

    Much thanks.

  2. Remove laterals as soon as they appear and spray wound with a solution of copper.
    Laterals will form branches other wise with more fruit but reduce the size of harvested fruit.
    Never heard of crushed leaves of the same plant repelling insects, likely the reverse would happen.
    Use Neem Tree Granules to control insect pests.
    Wally Richards

  3. Last year I had psyllids ruin my tomatoes and potatoes and capsicums. I have grown these for years with few problems but am uncertain what to do this year. I have used very little spray in the past but think this year I may have to change that. What should I use, and when do I start doing it, and how often?

  4. Rob Eastlake on said:

    Hello, I planted toms in pots added gravel for drainage, used tom planting mix from mitre 10 mega,watered every other day. plucked laterals when needed , fruit arrived the plant started to dry up, watered everyday no luck the plant slowly dried up. any ideas???

  5. i am a A LEVEL and i am into my environment management these days. So i have a few question.
    1.could you give me some information on tomato plant, its flowering period,weather suitability,scientific name and all that?

    2.And some basic requirement for growing tomato in winters?
    i would be very grateful if u provide me with your valuable project topic is “Observation of vegetative growth in different soil using chemical and organic manure”.

    thank you

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