A website from UGA Cooperative Extension

by Elana Spaulding, Fulton County Master Gardener Extension Volunteer trainee

Spring is here, flowers are starting to bloom, and it’s time to plant those fruits and veggie seeds you have been itching to get in the ground.  While there are many summer foods that we look forward to eating (looking at you, watermelon), one we look forward to most is the wonderful tomato. 

Tomato seeds are usually easy to start, and, as long as they have adequate water and at least six hours of sun, tomatoes can grow prolifically.  That being said, there are a few tips you should take to make this season’s harvest your best yet.

ripening tomatoes on a vine

Tip #1: Take Stock of Your Garden Area

Take a thorough look at your potential growing space.  Do you get a lot of sunlight in that area during the day?  A good tip is to check out your growing space at different times of the day.  Make note of times the area may get too hot or may have too much shade. 

Does the area drain well after it rains?  Georgia is notorious for having brief but drenching rain showers year-round, so you may need to amend your soil to ensure that water doesn’t pool around your plants, leading to waterlogged soil.  

If you are growing in-ground, have you gotten your soil tested to ensure that the soil has the composition needed to grow your tomatoes?  Your local Extension office will walk you through how to collect samples and test the soil for you.  

tomato plants inside a greenhouse attached to a string trellis system
Indeterminate tomato varieties can grow more than 10 feet tall and are often supported by a “string trellis” system when grown in commercial greenhouses.

Tip #2: Determine the Best Varieties For Your Space

Once you have decided how and where you want your tomatoes to grow, you have to decide which types you want to grow.  There are many (many, many) kinds of tomatoes. There are determinate varieties that are good for smaller spaces and containers, as the plant size usually maxes out at around 4 feet tall.  Indeterminate tomatoes can grow to be massive, with some able to grow up to (and sometimes more than) ten feet tall and four feet wide!  

Tip #3: Plant Spacing 

Tomato plants will need plenty of space to grow. Whether determinate or indeterminate, all tomatoes need sufficient space so each plant’s roots can access water and nutrients from the soil without competing with the other plants.  Also, lack of spacing between plants can lead to reduced air circulation between them, which can encourage stunted growth and disease. 

Though it can be tricky to determine spacing depending on whether you are growing in-ground, in raised beds, or in containers, the back of the seed packet gives a wealth of information. Additionally, you can check out the UGA Extension publication, Georgia Homegrown Tomatoes, for everything you need to know to grow tomatoes in Georgia.

How I learned the importance of spacing… (image by the author)

Tip #4: Keep Tomatoes Hydrated

Tomatoes are thirsty, thirsty, plants.  Consistent watering is crucial for good growth and development. Some tips about watering your tomatoes:

  • Water in the mornings, if possible, to help keep the soil from drying out throughout the heat of the day.  These Georgia summers can be brutal.
  • Always water at the base of the plant. Overhead watering can lead to excess moisture on plant leaves and can increase the chances of disease and pests.  Also, you will lose less water to evaporation and will be getting more water directly to the roots.
  • Be consistent in your watering, but be mindful of the weather.  Tomatoes need 1 – 2 inches of water per week depending on the weather.  When we have rainy days (or weeks), adjust the amount needed.  Buying a rain gauge for your yard will really come in handy here. Inconsistent watering can lead to your tomatoes cracking or blossom end rot.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many more topics to discuss when learning to grow tomatoes, including mulching, staking, and fertilizing needs.  This information is to help you with your initial garden planning. Have fun and Happy Gardening!