Growing great tomatoes

20:41, Dec 12 2012
VINE CROP: How do your tomatoes grow?

I remember a novice gardener asking a gardening guru how to grow a great tomato? The reply was, "Get a tomato plant!"

So far this season it is shaping up to be a good one for growing tomatoes so let's 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 off in a glasshouse in winter and now have plants covered in fruit waiting to ripen. (That's me.) Started plants off in the past 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. 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 cooler Russian Red.

A strong-growing bush tomato grows up to a metre or so tall with lots of medium-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 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.

When removing laterals or leaves from a tomato plant 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 higher than the normal rate (5ml 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.

Blight and botrytis are the two greatest disease problems for tomatoes and you can protect them with a monthly spray of Perkfection. 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.Regular applications of food should be applied to the root zone and ideally watered in with Magic Botanic Liquid. 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 minimum should be about 20 litres for dwarf type plants, 45 litres for average plants such as Moneymaker and closer to 100 litres for the big Beefsteak types.

Problems? Phone me on 0800 466 464 or email

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