How To Grow The Best Tomatoes – Seed Starting, Planting Strategies, Harvest & MORE!

by Texas Homesteader ~ 

I’m sharing easy tips to grow the best tomatoes ever – when to start seeds, where in the garden to plant, best way to water, harvesting, how to ripen green tomatoes and MORE

Growing the best tomatoes in your garden. #TexasHomesteader

(Note: Some links in this post will take you to other related articles for further information. But links preceded with * are affiliate links. If you click and buy something I could receive a tiny commission.)

In many home vegetable gardens tomatoes are the crimson sweethearts of them all. Every gardener knows:

There’s no flavor comparison between the intense flavor of a ripe tomato plucked from the vine in your own garden and tomato shipped long distances to your local grocery store.

07-19 heirloom Amish Paste tomato from seed washed beneath mom's house. #TexasHomesteader

And you can enjoy that explosion of flavor all season long for just the price of a cheap packet of seeds!

Planting & Caring For Tomato Seeds

Tomatoes don’t like a chill, they require warm weather. Get a head start by starting the seeds inside 4-6 weeks before the average last freeze in your area.

Here in Hardiness Zone 8 it’s assumed to be safe to plant outside after Easter. 

I use *Heirloom Seeds and I often start them early in my ‘Indoor Greenhouse‘.

A clear plastic tote is used as my indoor greenhouse for starting vegetable seeds each year. #TexasHomesteader

I also like Starting Seeds in Milk Jugs for my heat-loving tomatoes, the same as I do with these bell peppers.

The jugs are portable and it’s easier for me to harden off the seedlings when it gets close to garden-planting time.

Milk Jug Greenhouse - Harden off for 1-2 weeks. #TexasHomesteader

Regardless of how I start my seeds, if plants are grouped closely together I transplant each tiny seedling into a small repurposed container.

This allows them to grow until they’re large enough to go into in the garden.

Tomato seedling planted in repurposed pot being prepared to be planted outside in the garden. #TexasHomesteader

When it’s time to transfer them to the garden I’ll harden them off for a week or so exposing them gradually to sunshine, wind, etc. This prepares them for garden life.

How To Plant Tomatoes

When temperatures have warmed up your young tomato plant is ready to go into the vegetable garden. 

    • Choose a location that gets plenty of sun throughout the day. Tomatoes like warmth & sunshine!

    • Plant seedlings 2 – 3 feet apart. Tomatoes like plenty of space & airflow to keep them healthy.

Gardener’s Tip: When planting tomatoes, Clip off the bottom leaves of your tomato seedling. Then plant deep enough that only the remaining top group 4-5 of leaves show above ground. Your tomatoes will grow roots along the entire underground stem!

How To Plant A Tomato Seedling. #TexasHomesteader

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, tomatoes take from 60 to 100 days to harvest.

Support For Growing Tomato Plants

Tomato plants can grow large. It’s best to give them support to keep stems & fruit off the ground. There are easy ways to support tomato plants:

Tether tomato plants to tall *Plant Stakes

Surround with a wire *Tomato Cage

Use a section of Cattle Panel bent to a peak (this is what I use)

Tomato seedling hardened off and planted in the vegetable garden. #TexasHomesteader

5 Tomato Mistakes To Avoid

  • Planting tomatoes too early in the season.

Tomatoes like warm weather that consistently reaches about 60 degrees during the daytime. Cooler temps can stunt the growth of your little tomato seedling.

  • Not planting tomatoes deep enough.

Clip those bottom leaves from your tomato seeding and plant that bare stem underground so it will grow roots along the stem. This also helps protect against drought conditions.

  • Fertilizing with fast-acting high nitrogen fertilizers.

High nitrogen fertilizer will make a lush tomato plant, but at the expense of flowering & fruiting. Opt for natural or slow-release fertilizers such as compost or *Special Tomato Fertilizer.

  • Not Removing ‘suckers’.

Sucker sprouts grow between a leaf and the stem. They pull energy from your tomato plant & block air & light from inside stems. Pinch sucker sprouts as soon as you see them.  

  • Planting tomatoes in the same garden spot each year.

Tomatoes are heavy soil feeders. And pests & disease common for tomatoes can survive in the soil for years. It’s important to rotate your crops to a new location each year.

Proper Tomato Watering Techniques

Obviously not enough water is bad for your tomato plants. But too much water at one time causes the fruit to split.

So water consistently and deeply when you water your tomatoes. 

I like to use Repurposed Coffee Cans next to my tomato plants. They have holes punched in the bottom.

Tomatoes in garden using cattle panel trellis, repurposed coffee cans for water, wood mulch. #TexasHomesteader

This allows for slow release of water to soak deeper into the ground instead of running off.

It also keeps soil from splashing onto tomato leaves (which tomatoes hate!)

When To Harvest Your Tomatoes

Nothing beats a perfectly-ripe tomato. To make sure it’s at its flavor peak, leave your tomato on the plant until it’s fully ripe.

Roma tomato fresh from our NE Texas vegetable garden. #TexasHomesteader

How do you know when to harvest your tomatoes?

Tomato will be shiny

For most varieties color will be uniform

Fruit will come off the vine easily

Tomato will be firm yet yield slightly to a light squeeze

Pick your tomatoes at the peak of ripeness & you’ll be rewarded with the most delicious tomato you’ve ever put in your mouth.

Ways To Enjoy Or Prepare Garden Tomatoes

Here are our favorite ways to enjoy fresh, ripe garden tomatoes:

In a crisp garden salad – fresh tomatoes are hard to beat. I even make my own healthy yet creamy Homemade Salad Dressing.

YES, you can actually have a healthy creamy salad dressing! This homemade dressing uses yogurt as a base. #TexasHomesteader

Roasted Garden Tomato Puree packs powerful flavor!

Italian flavored Tomato Leather makes homemade pizza a breeze!

Homemade Pico de Gallo – a favorite healthy garden food.

Pasta Sauce (goes great with Instant Pot Spaghetti or atop homemade Ravioli)

Can You Refrigerate Fresh Garden Tomatoes?

It’s not recommended to store tomatoes in the refrigerator. Although it could make them last a touch longer it also often results in changes to taste & texture.

I place my tomatoes in a bowl on my countertop and cover them with a clean kitchen towel. This gives them a cool dark environment which helps them to stay fresh.

What About Harvesting Green Tomatoes?

It’s the end of the season and a hard freeze is coming. You hate to waste all those green tomatoes that haven’t ripened yet. And you don’t have to!

Small green garden tomatoes growing in Texas vegetable garden. #TexasHomesteader

I harvest all those green tomatoes before the freeze and place them in a cardboard  box.

If I have more than one layer of tomatoes I’ll place newspaper between the layers. And I’m careful not to crowd the tomatoes, if one tomato starts going bad it’ll ruin the others next to it.

I place that box in a sunny south-facing window. The warmth of the sun will gradually ripen green tomatoes.

I’ll check the box every day, grouping tomatoes together that are getting closer to ripening. Then I’ll remove & enjoy them as soon as they ripen. Ripening green tomatoes this way keeps me in garden tomatoes for several weeks after that freeze would have killed them all.

What are your favorite things to do with garden tomatoes?


This post categorized in    

My Favorite Garden Hacks

My favorite gardening hacks all in one place. #TexasHomesteader

Garden Planning

Seed Planting

Soil Health

Garden Styles

Garden Plants/Harvest


Weed Control

Garden Tips

MORE Gardening Posts


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Texas A&M University – Tomatoes

Old Farmer’s Almanac – Growing Tomatoes


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