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How to Care for Tomatoes

Around the Gardens Blog

BY Julia Adams—Horticulturist for the Japanese Garden at Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens 

With the last frost date soon to come, our horticulturist, Julia Adams joins WBRC’s Good Day Gardening segment to help home gardeners start seeding tomatoes for their spring garden. Read Julia’s tomatoes tips below!

As spring approaches, it is now time to get a jump on your vegetable gardening. Here are important things to know and practice when caring for tomato plants.


When choosing what tomatoes to grow you should consider what you are looking for. Not only do you need to select for type of tomato, cherry, grape, slicer, heirloom, beefsteak, etc, but also the way your plant grows.

There are determinate and indeterminate varieties. Determinate tomatoes, bush tomatoes,  grow to typically 3-4 ft tall and produce fruit mostly within 1-2 months. These do well within limited space and are a good option for canning tomatoes. Indeterminate tomatoes need to be grown on a cage or trellis because they can reach around 8-10 ft. These produce fruit staggered throughout the entire growing season, even going into the fall.


Start seed 5-6 weeks before your areas last expected frost date, early April. Keep seeds between 70-95 degrees and in an area with full sun, in your house on a window-sill. Keep seeds consistently moist but not drowning, using a mister every 1-2 days should yield good results. 

Once they have sprouted, thin out your seedlings so that they are spaced at least 2 inches apart. At this point you can start introducing movement to the seedlings to encourage strong stems, set your seedlings outside or place a fan nearby.


As your seedlings grow and get ready to be planted outside, you’ll want to slowly increase their pot size before planting them in the ground or a large container. Another important note is to ensure your seedlings are planted deep into the ground or container. You only need to ensure 2-3 inches of stem is above soil level and everything else can be buried to eventually turn into a large and deep root system.

Tomatoes prefer a well draining, fertile soil mix which can be achieved by amending your soil with compost, manure and/or various fertilizers. Throughout the growing season your tomatoes will continue to need fertilizer added to the soil: calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc.


Water your tomatoes once or twice a week but thoroughly soak them. Make sure to fertilize every 4-6 weeks. Remove any dead plant material or rotting fruit to prevent disease.

Proper harvesting techniques can limit damage to plants and ensure best fruit flavor. To avoid mushy tomatoes, harvest when at least ⅔ of the tomato has its ripened color and allow for it to fully ripen inside. Be sure to gently grab the tomato and gently twist it away from the stem so you don’t rip or damage any of your stems or stalks.