Tomato Growing

Welcome to Tomato Growing where I share my experience of growing tomatoes, especially in containers. Bush varieties are usually among the first to mature and easiest to grow, so I’ve included quite a few of these on the website.

It’s week five of the Saturday Sow-Along – update on seedlings plus a quick look at Red Alerts growing in a Quadgrow planter in the video below – see all videos here.

You can grow your own tomatoes outside in pots & containers (you don’t need a greenhouse or conservatory) and growing cherry tomatoes can be done on a balcony, in a window-box or even inside on a sunny windowsill.

So, if you would like to discover real tomato taste, and be able to eat your own home-grown for up to four months each summer, then I hope you’ll browse these pages and have a go yourself, at tomato growing.

Important … tomato plants are sensitive to frost and cannot be planted outside until the end of May in the UK.

Timeline for growing tomatoes in the UK


When to sow tomato seeds
The seed sowing period is from the beginning of March to the end of April in the UK. It is possible to begin earlier but in January and February grow lights would be needed to stop seedlings from becoming leggy.

Help Guide & Tomato Tips
Germination and Seedlings
Tomato Growing Tips
Feeding Tomatoes
Watering Tomatoes
Removing Side Shoots
Tomato Growing Problems

Buying tomato seedlings and small plants at a garden centre a little later in the spring is also an option, but there is a greater choice of varieties when starting from seeds and it’s a lot more fun too!

Easy varieties to grow
If you are new to growing tomatoes, it’s a good idea to start with an easy variety to grow.

The following bush/cherry varieties are highly recommended:

  • Tumbler
  • Tumbling Tom
  • Red Alert
  • Garden Pearl
  • Maskotka

These bush types are sometimes called “determinate” and do not need their side shoots pinched out.

Bush varieties grow well in containers and large pots so they can trail over the sides, or in an upside down planter such as a topsy turvy.
Trailing and tumbler varieties include, Tumbling Tom, Tumbler and Hundreds and Thousands. These are also great for hanging baskets.

Among the tall varieties that are easy to grow are:

  • Alicante
  • Moneymaker
  • Gardener’s Delight
  • Golden Sunrise
  • Black Cherry
  • Sungold
  • Stupice

They are all very dependable. Tall varieties are also called “indeterminate” or “Cordon”.

Side Shoots and Suckers

Tomato Side Shoot

Side shoots grow out between the main stem and leaf branch (see photo left) and are best removed for the earliest harvest.

Leaving a side shoot to grow on a tall variety will produce an extra stem, more trusses and potentially more tomatoes, but if you live in a short season area such as the UK, the first tomatoes may mature later in the season and you’ll end up making green chutney! Removing side shoots is standard practice on tall varieties.

Containers for Tall Varieties
Tall, indeterminate varieties are best grown in pots at least 9 inches in diameter or grow bags. Using grow bag pots, also known as ring culture,  is a very good way to grow tall varieties as they can be fed and watered through the different rings. Inner ring for feed, outer for water.

Tomato Problems
Many of the problems associated with growing tomatoes are caused by over-watering and over-feeding. We want to be generous to our plants so they’ll grow quickly, but it’s easy to “kill them with kindness” and slow their growth down in the process!

The best advice is “less is more”, at least until plants begin to flower and fruit – then you can be generous with watering and food.

The Success of Last Season – 2013
In my part of the world, last season was the best for growing tomato in about six or seven years. Dry conditions made it easy to avoid fungal disease and the bright sunny conditions stimulated flower growth and fruit set.

This meant that the quick maturing cherries such as Black Cherry, Sungold and Red Alert produced an excellent crop – even the larger varieties were reasonably easy to grow!

However, the cautious tomato grower will plan for poor conditions and hope for a sunny, dry summer.

Choosing The Right Varieties for Your Part of the World
Many tomato varieties are best suited to the weather conditions of the countries and regions from which they originally came or areas they were developed to be grown in.

For example:
Siberian can cope with lower temperatures because it was developed that way – the name says it all!
Moneymaker is an old English variety that excels in a moderate climate and is very reliable.
Marmande originally came from France and requires the weather of the Southern Mediterranean to reach its full taste.
So if you grow tomatoes outside, choose varieties that will cope well in the weather conditions of your area.

Tomato Sizes
You may also wish to choose a selection of varieties such as a cherry, a medium/salad and a large/beefsteak variety for slicing or the barbecue. Some large tomatoes can be eaten like melons they’re so juicy!

Medium size fruit – are sometimes called salad tomatoes.

Cherry size fruit are great in curries and pastas and enhance the visual look of a salad … not to mention the taste!

Bush varieties are great to grow in large pots and containers and can be positioned almost anywhere around the garden or patio without needing a wall to lean against. The plants themselves can be small or large (as well as the fruit) so a pot on a windowsill or a large container may be required.

A Selection of Tumbling Tom red and yellow, Maskotka and Garden Pearl (below).

Choosing which varieties to grow each season is one of the most enjoyable jobs to do in the Autumn and Winter. You can browse the seed catalogues, or surf  online where you will find a huge number of tomato varieties from different seed companies.

Growing Tomatoes Outdoors …

Seed Sowing Time – March to end of April (UK).
You can sow up until the beginning of May if you choose a variety that matures early, or you have a greenhouse.

Even when growing tomatoes outdoors, always germinate seed indoors and in new seed or potting compost. This will get the seeds off to the quickest start without the possibility of disease lurking in old soil – tomato seedlings are very vulnerable at this stage.

When To Sow in Your Area.
To produce a crop of ripe tomatoes, seeds need to be sown around two months before your last frost date. They can be planted out when the risk of frost has past.

It takes around two to three months from sowing to flowering, and two to three months from flowering to fruiting … depending on the variety.

Therefore, sowing at the beginning of April will produce fruit from the beginning of August – if you grow a quick maturing variety.

Growing Under Cover – Unheated Greenhouse
A greenhouse will enable an earlier start and a later end to the season – a great way to increase your crop and have ripe tomatoes available for longer.

My own preference is to sow indoors and get the seedlings established first, before planting them out in the greenhouse.

The great thing about a greenhouse is that your plants are protected from rain and temperatures remain slightly higher.

Go for the biggest greenhouse you can afford , or have room for, as very small ones can create a lot of condensation – try to let the air circulate.

Some varieties can be sown slightly earlier or later
Cherry bush varieties are ideal for sowing early as they are easier to manage (movable in large pots) because of their size and height. You can also sow as late as early May (in the UK) if you choose a variety that is quick to mature such as Red Alert.

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