It’s fun to grow your own tomatoes. There’s pure joy in biting into a sun-ripened tomato that you grew yourself. And therein lies the question how long does it take tomatoes to grow? That depends upon the type of tomato, the climate and whether it’s grown in the ground or in containers.
Tomatoes belong to the Solanaceae, or nightshade family, along with eggplants and potatoes.
Let’s start with the varieties of tomatoes and that will determine the answer to the question: how long does it take tomatoes to grow? Today we have so many choices, especially with regular hybrid garden tomatoes. You know them by many names, and here are a few of my favorites: Big Boy, Better Boy, Heatwave, Health Kick, Jet Star, Marglobe, Better & Early Girls, Cupid, Honey Delight, Sweet One Hundreds, Rapunzel, Mortgage Lifter, and Super Snack. The list can go on and on!
Both regular and cherry-type hybrid tomatoes can be either determinate or indeterminate. The determinate varieties produce lots of tomatoes over several weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes produce for up to six weeks, but the yield is not as great.
Planting Tomatoes from Seed
Getting back to how long does it take tomatoes to grow, let’s start with seeds. Planting tomatoes from seed is rewarding, especially if you plant seeds you saved yourself. I save tomato seeds each year.
That way, I can start growing early in spring. Interestingly enough, the seeds from my hybrids produce like the parent plant. This isn’t a given, though. Heirloom tomato seeds come true to their parentage.
Regardless of whether you plant in a cold frame outdoors or a seed tray indoors, plan on starting seeds four to six weeks before the last spring frost date. Here in mid-western Ohio, that means starting the seeds around April 1.
Planting Seeds Indoors
Fill seed trays to within 1/2″ of the top. I use a seed starting mix which ensures good root development. Top seeds with 1/4″ of soil, press down and water a tiny bit with a mister.
Put the tray in a large pan of warm water for a couple of minutes to allow even watering from the bottom up.
Put the tray in a warm place. I put it near my wood stove, lightly covered with plastic wrap. Some seed starting trays have their own lid. The refrigerator top is a good place, too. If your budget allows, purchase a heat mat.
Water as needed, but be careful here. I check every day and mist the soil to prevent dampening off.
Plan on lots of sunlight; 12 hours a day. Grow lights or fluorescent lights work well if necessary.
OK, now you can remove the cover and put it in a south-facing window. I turn the tray to a different position each day so that seedlings grow straight up.
Planting Seeds Outdoors
You can sow seeds directly in the ground if your season is four months without frost.
If you plant in a cold frame, you won’t need to give the seedlings too much attention, except to keep even moisture and warmth. When the days get longer and the sun gets hot, I like to prop the cold frame cover up to let air circulate.
Ready to Transplant/Hardening Off
Here’s where the fun begins! And where patience is needed. For seedlings, it’s necessary to “harden” them off. What this means is introducing them to the outdoor climate gradually so that they can acclimate themselves to their new home.
I like to put them outside for about eight ti 10 days, for a few hours each day. Keep out of direct, hot sun and protect them if the weather turns windy or very bad.
Seedlings planted in cold frames are easier to care for. Gradually move the cover away from the plants for about a week or so, protecting them from the weather as needed.
If you purchase established plants, it’s still good to follow these methods, since they have been grown under optimal, controlled conditions and need to acclimate to their permanent home.
Growing tomatoes in pots or in the ground will produce delicious, healthful tomatoes.
If growing tomatoes in pots, start with a container that is at last 14″ in diameter. I find using a five-gallon bucket with holes drilled on the sides near the bottom for good drainage is ideal.
Use a good potting soil with compost and augment if necessary with a tomato fertilizer. You will need to water and fertilize tomatoes in pots more than you do with in-ground tomatoes.
Grow one tomato per pot for good air circulation and enough sun for tomatoes to develop and ripen. Cherry tomatoes in pots are perfect for urban gardeners.
If you’re growing tomatoes in the ground, remember they like their soil pH around 6.0 to 6.8. PH is a measure of soil acidity or alkalinity. On the pH scale, 7.0 is neutral; so the range which tomatoes prefer is slightly on the acid side. According to the National Gardening Association, that’s the pH range at which most vegetables grow.
How to Care for Tomato Plants
A successful harvest means knowing how to care for tomato plants. When we plant our tomatoes in the ground, we do not grow tomatoes in the same location season after season. Rotating your crops reduces the spread of disease and insects from year to year. There is always the chance, though, for diseases and insects to invade your plants, so be on the lookout for blights and aphids control.
How to Fertilize Tomatoes
For tomatoes grown in the garden, we use rotted chicken manure but not too much of it. We till it in several inches below the soil, so that the foilage doesn’t touch it, since that can cause foilage burn. And be careful of too much nitrogen, which will give you lush plants with little fruiting whether planting in the ground or in pots.
To use a commercial fertilizer, use one with numbers 5-10-10. This refers to the percentages, by weight, of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in the bag of fertilizer. They’ll always be listed in this order: N-P-K.
We love growing basil in between the tomatoes. Basil is a wonderful garden companion to tomatoes in keeping tomatoes healthy.
About halfway through the fruiting season, we will side dress with compost.
We plant our seedlings in the evening so that the hot sun doesn’t scorch the plants. Planting on a cloudy day works well, too. Plant deep! A good guide is to bury the plants up to almost the first set of leaves. Don’t bury any deeper than that, since burying the bottom leaves can result in fungal diseases. You’ll be rewarded with sturdy plants with plenty of roots.
For in ground tomatoes, we use tobacco sticks to stabilize them. Some folks use tires to plant tomatoes in. Others use cages. And then again, there are those who let them grow naturally on thick mulch. If the plants are dry, water thoroughly. Be careful here, though. Sometimes the top of the soil looks dry but it’s moist underneath.
Ready to Harvest
Tomatoes like even moisture and consistently warm days, so count on anywhere from about two to three months to set fruit and ripen. The more you pick, the healthier and more productive the plant will be. If tomatoes are particularly large, like mortgage lifters or big boys, it’s a good idea to cut the tomato from the stem so that you don’t have to tug or twist the tomato off.
My cherry tomatoes ripen earlier than my regular ones.
Tomatoes are Good for You
Tomatoes have good amounts of both vitamins C and A which help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease and make for a healthy immune system and good eyesight. The lycopene they contain makes for healthy prostates, as well.
Remember not to refrigerate tomatoes. That not only affects flavor and texture, but it makes nutrients less available for you. You can freeze tomatoes whole.
Cherry tomatoes work especially well for freezing.
Freeze them hard, then put into containers. When ready to use, simply place in a colander and run cool water over them to remove skins. Yes, I know there’s that whole enzyme debate about blanching before freezing. But I have found that tomatoes frozen like this are just fine for cooked dishes.
We eat tomatoes every day during the growing season. I even like to pick some green for fried green tomatoes.
Now you know the answers to two of the most important questions: how to care for tomato plants and how long does it take tomatoes to grow!
What’s your favorite way to grow tomatoes? What do you do with your bounty of tomatoes? Let us know in the comments below.