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How to Grow Tomatoes in Your Garden

There's nothing tastier than a fresh-picked tomato. Enjoy a bumper crop this year with these tips.


  • Step 1: Pick a good spot Pick a sunny spot. Tomatoes need at least six hours of sun a day.
  • Step 2: Test the soil Test your soil to find out what nutrients it needs. Garden centers often sell do-it-yourself kits, or you can arrange a test through the Cooperative Extension System, a national agricultural network. Find a nearby Extension office on the USDA web site.
  • Step 3: Choose tomato varieties Choose the type of tomatoes you want to plant. Apart from taste, consider the hardiness of the variety and whether it does well in your climate and soil. Plant types that mature at different times so you'll have a steady supply of tomatoes.
  • Step 4: Decide between seeds or transplants Decide whether to start your tomato plants from seeds or buy plants, called transplants or starts. You'll need six to eight weeks to grow plants from seeds. Start the seeds in plastic cups with holes punched in the bottom. Keep them inside, transferring them to larger containers once they begin to sprout leaves.
  • TIP: If you don't have a sunny spot for your seedlings, set them under fluorescent lights for 12 hours per day.
  • Step 5: Till the land Once the possibility of frost has passed in your area, it's time to plant! Break up the land you will be planting with a tiller.
  • Step 6: Fertilize and plant Dig a trench about seven inches deep in the area where you're planning to put your tomatoes. Add fertilizer, cover it with two or three inches of soil, and plant the transplants on top, spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. Bury the plant up to the first set of leaves – the whole stem can produce roots, making for a stronger plant.
  • Step 7: Water and watch them grow Water your plants daily for the first week. As they grow, they'll need to be staked, which means tying them to a pole so they grow upright.
  • TIP: Sturdy oak stakes work best. Using nylon stocking strips, tie each plant to a five-foot stake that's inserted at least one foot into the ground.
  • Step 8: Spring for cages Consider growing your tomatoes in cages. Except for a little pruning, caged tomato plants require less labor because you don't have to use stakes or ties. Just put the cage over the plant and push the legs into the ground to anchor it.
  • Step 9: Prepare for your bounty Read up on tomato recipes so you're ready to make the most of your summer bounty!
  • FACT: Every August at La Tomatina Festival held in Bunol, Spain, people pelt each other with tomatoes in what's billed as the world's largest food fight.

You Will Need

  • A sunny spot
  • A soil test
  • Tomato seeds or transplants
  • A tiller
  • Garden tools
  • Fertilizer
  • Stakes or cages
  • Recipes
  • Plastic cups and indoor planters

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