Tomato Growing – A Crash Course – Tomato’s 101

The tomato is Americas most popular home garden crop. Tomatoes require a small area, bear repeatedly, are widely adapted and easy to grow, and have many culinary uses. Tomatoes are rich in vitamins A and C, low in calories, and an excellent source of lycopene, the pigment that makes tomatoes red and has been linked to the prevention of many forms of cancer.

Home gardeners have access to many excellent tomato varieties, ranging from new hybrids to tasty heirlooms. When selecting varieties, consider their productivity, disease resistance and potential for fruit splitting. Fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt are two common problems that can be overcome by selecting wilt resistant varieties and rotating the planting so that these organisms are not able to build up in the soil.

The hybrid tomato varieties listed here have been selected for quality fruit and good disease tolerance or resistance and have performed well under Missouri conditions.

Resistance key
Resistance to various diseases is indicated by the following letters.
Verticillium wilt resistance
Fusarium wilt resistance
Nematode resistance
Tobacco mosaic resistance

Better Boy (VFN)
An old standby with vigorous, productive plants, Better Boy has maintained its popularity for many years. Fruits are firm and globe-shaped and may weigh up to about one pound. Quality is good, and production is abundant. Matures in about 75 days.

Big Beef (VFN)
This variety has a greater range of disease resistance than many others and won an All-America Selections award in 1994. Fruits are smooth and red, may weigh 10 to 12 ounces and are produced abundantly. Matures in about 73 days.

Celebrity (VFNT)
This variety was an All-America Selections winner in 1984 and continues to be popular. Plants are determinate, which indicates that vines are short and bushy, not lending themselves to staking. Fruits are firm and red and weigh 7 to 8 ounces. Plants are highly productive, and first harvest can be expected in about 70 days.

Early Girl (VF)
True to its name, Early Girl matures in only 52 days, making it one of the earliest varieties available. It bears medium-sized fruit of 4 to 6 ounces in abundance on indeterminate plants and probably is best suited as a companion variety to provide early tomatoes from the home garden.

Jet Star (VF)
This variety has maintained popularity and continues to be a favorite of home gardeners. Fruits are abundantly produced and weigh about 8 ounces. Fruits are crack-resistant, meaty and flavorful. Considered relatively low in acidity.

Lemon Boy (VFN)
For gardeners interested in yellow tomatoes, Lemon Boy is a newer variety that is productive and attractive. Fruits are not a golden color like varieties such as Carolina Gold but are lighter yellow. Fruits are firm and weigh about 6 to 7 ounces. Plants are vigorous and productive and mature in about 72 days.

Mountain Fresh Plus (VFN)
This hybrid, semideterminate tomato matures in about 75 days. The globe-shaped fruit has a concentrated set with good size and external appearance. Performs well staked or in cages.

Supersweet 100 (VF)
This vigorous, indeterminate variety yields hundreds of small cherry tomatoes with incredible flavor. Bite-sized fruit are borne in grapelike clusters and are widely known for their sweetness. Plants mature in about 65 days.
Producing tomato plants

Earliness of production and quantity of fruit produced may be influenced by quality of the plant at the time it is set in the garden.

Selecting growing area
Tomatoes grow best when they receive full sunshine. Plant them away from trees and buildings to get highest yield. A tomato plant needs a lot of water, so arrange for easy watering. Select a well-drained area because poor soil aeration leads to root loss and physiological problems such as blossom end rot.
Preparing soil for planting

Tomato plants grow well in many types of soil. Work the soil only when it is dry enough so it will not stick to tools. Improve garden soil by adding organic matter such as peat moss, leaf mold, well-rotted manure or compost. Tomatoes grow best in nearly neutral soil with pH of 6.5 to 7.0. If soil test results indicate the need for lime, add it in late fall or early spring.

Add a complete garden fertilizer at the time the soil is prepared. For tomatoes, use a fertilizer low in nitrogen (N), high in phosphorous (P) and medium to high in potassium (K). Among the best analyses for tomatoes are 8-32-16 and 6-24-24. Avoid using ammonia fertilizers such as urea or ammonium nitrate for tomato fertilization.

Use a maintenance rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet after the proper fertility level has been developed from previous soil tests and fertilizations. If only 5-10-5, 5-10-10 or similar analyses are available, apply 2 pounds per 100 square feet.

Planting distances
Proper spacing and staking are essential for healthy plants and good fruit production. Planting distance depends on the type of tomato grown. Ideal spacing for home garden tomatoes is generally 24 to 36 inches between plants. Planting closer than 24 inches reduces air circulation around the plants and can trigger disease outbreaks. Large-vine tomatoes should be spaced 36 inches apart. Rows should be 4 to 5 feet apart.

Staking improves marketable yield, fruit set and fruit quality and also makes harvesting easier. Staked plants are less likely than unstaked plants to get diseases. Stakes can be made from a 6 foot long, 1 x 2-inch piece of wood, pointed at one end. Place it firmly into the ground about 4 inches from the plant at time of transplanting. Use soft cord for tying plants to the stake, and allow at least half an inch of slack for stem enlargement.


A tomato fruit is 95 percent water, so tomatoes need lots of water to grow and develop fruit. They should receive 1 to 2 inches of water a week. If this amount is not received as rainfall, then supplemental irrigation is necessary. Soak the soil thoroughly when watering. Frequent light waterings will encourage a weak root system. Mulching with straw, clean hay, compost, paper or plastic will reduce soil water evaporation. Plants growing in small containers may need daily waterings.

Blossom end rot
Very common problem on homegrown tomatoes. It appears as a depressed brownish, rather dry rot the size of a dime to a half dollar on the blossom end of the fruit. It is caused by a calcium deficiency coupled with wide fluctuations in available moisture. Training and pruning may increase blossom end rot. Remove the affected fruit so other fruits on the plant will develop normally, and keep the plants well watered. Provide adequate amounts of water along with good soil drainage. Mulch to maintain a more uniform moisture supply. Avoid cultivating, or hoeing, near the roots of tomato plants. Do not use ammonia fertilizers.

Badly formed tomatoes on the blossom end, usually rough with scar tissue. Cold weather at time of blossom set intensifies the deformities. Catfacing is usually most common in the large-fruited beefsteak-type tomatoes.

Fruit cracking varies by the variety. Cracking is usually a problem when soil moisture fluctuates. Tomatoes exposed directly to sunlight are highly susceptible to cracking. Select varieties that are crack-resistant, and keep them adequately watered at all times. Soil drying followed by watering encourages cracking.

Cloudy spots
Irregular whitish spots just under the skin. This is the result of stink bugs feeding on the fruit at some stage in its development.

Flower drop
Especially noticeable on early flowers when the grower is anxious for fruit to set for an early harvest. The problem occurs when night temperatures are lower than 55 degrees F, when day temperatures are higher than 95 degrees F, or when night temperatures remain above 75 degrees F. Hot drying winds may intensify the problem.

Leaf roll
Most common on plants that have been pruned and on early season varieties. Older and lower leaves of some tomato varieties may roll and become stiff and leathery. It is not a disease and is most common on plants that are trained and pruned. This condition does not affect fruiting.

Sunscald, poor color
High temperatures retard the development of good color. Fruits exposed to high temperatures will scald and develop uneven color. Good foliage cover helps prevent sunscald.
Chemical problems


A variety of insects may attack tomatoes, but they can be controlled with a regular spray schedule. The following insects are a few that commonly attack tomatoes.

Small, pear-shaped insects that congregate on the top growth or undersides of leaves. Aphids damage tomatoes by sucking plant sap and excreting a sticky substance on the foliage and fruit, making the fruit unattractive. Besides rain, insecticidal soaps and certain chemicals, controls include removing weeds, which may serve as hosts for aphids.

Fat gray, brown or black worms up to 1-1/4 inches long. They cut off plants close to the soil surface. They are most destructive early in the season. Use a wax paper collar as described under “Setting out plants.”

Flea beetles
Black or brown jumping bugs 1/16 inch long that attack young transplants and leave them looking as if they have been shot full of small holes.

Large green worms up to 4 inches long that eat foliage and fruit. Handpick the worms if only a few; sprays can be used for large infestations.

Leaf miners

Larvae that make long, slender white tunnels in the leaves. Start sprays early.

Spider mite
Tiny tannish mite, barely visible to the naked eye, that causes many small yellow specks and fine webs. Forceful water sprays, insecticidal soaps or chemical sprays may be used for control.

Stalk borer

Creamy-white to light purple larvae that eat tunnels in the stem, causing the plant to wither and die. Remove and destroy weeds where the insect may breed. Locate hole in stem where the borer entered, split stem lengthwise above the hole, and kill the borer. Bind the split stem, and keep the plant well watered. Spray to prevent further infestations.

Stink bugs
Brown, green or black shield-shaped bugs that give off a foul odor. They suck juices from the plant and cause hard whitish spots just under the skin of the fruit. Sprays are effective.

Tomato fruitworm
Green, brown or pink worm that eats holes in fruit and buds. Sprays during June help control this insect. Make several applications.

Source Document: Grow Tomato’s University of Missouri

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2 responses to “Tomato Growing – A Crash Course – Tomato’s 101

  1. Have to wonder when there are this many possible issues, how tomatoes got to be so popular??? 😉


    • Re:Lori Fontanes – Thanks for taking time to visit my tiny blog
      The short answer is tomato’s really taste good and find their way into food of every culture.
      There are thousands of known major gene modifications to tomato’s to force them to live and produce fruit far from their native home in central America and to produce fruit that is nothing like the original wild varieties. Along with all these gene modifications, tomato’s have lost much of their natural resistance to insects and disease.


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