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A Beginner's Guide to Growing Tomato Plants

Kryssy is a stay-at-home wife, a mother of two boys, and is happily enjoying every second of her chaotic life.


Tomato Plant Care

In the world of gardening, it could be a fun experience growing your own plants. For some, it comes easily. For others, it can be difficult. With tomatoes, growing and caring for the plant can seem to go either way, but they're good for beginner gardeners.

As with just about any plant, you cannot just plant and forget, or plant and just water. While it is sometimes joked about that plants are like people and that they need care and love too, it turns out that that idea is not as far-fetched as it quite seems. Every plant is different and unique. Although a plant may be of the same species as the one next to it, if you have two of the same next to each other, then each needs tending to in a different way. Neglecting a plant can deprive you of the rewards it could bring.

How to Start Your Tomato Plant(s)

The best time to plant. The best time to start a tomato plant is at the end of winter, and/or the start of springtime. You can keep a container, which can be as simple as an egg carton or a can, and place a decent amount of dirt inside. You don't exactly need potting soil to start. You can go outside, and scoop up some dirt from your yard, for free. Although, if you do choose the route and go for a potting soil of some sort, make sure it has a balance of nitrogen and phosphorus (although you will need a bit more phosphorus than nitrogen) and is a slow feed type. If it is not a slow feed type, it will wash away quite fast.

Sun and soil. Over time, check what you have planted, and make sure there is plenty of sun. Because every home and area in the world is different, check to see if the soil is moist, but not soaked. Moist soil is best. You can keep the soil moist by adding gentle drops of water, or a gentle mist of a spray bottle. You do not really want to disrupt the soil, very much. Over time, your seedlings will start to grow.

Starting from seed. If you are starting to plant tomatoes from a seed, this may take much longer than expected. (I have had moments where they came up right away, and times where they were planted in the spring, only to come up in the fall.) You may really experience a bit of trial and error. But, that is okay. We all need to learn, right? Eventually, we get the hang of it.

With seeds, take one of your fingers and dig into the dirt, and plant the seeds. Cover the seeds gently and do not pack them down. As it may seem silly, think of it as tucking them into bed. Gentle is key with most plants, as is loving.

Starting from seedlings. If you choose to buy seedlings from a store or have seedlings of your own, you will want to be planting them in your garden soon. The best time to plant the seedlings is when the temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 degrees Celsius, and warmer. Seedlings will not do very well in colder temperatures, or with frost. So keep an eye out for constant temperatures among this range.

Balancing Wet and Dry

With planting in your garden, you will want to find an area full of sun, and you will need to aerate the soil. You can do so by taking a shovel and digging up the soil, chopping it up so it is not so clumpy and hard. Make sure to remove twigs and anything foreign to your soil. This will help your tomato plants to grow.

When watering, keep to a light mist, and water lightly. Once or twice a week, depending on the weather, be it too sunny or too much rain, you may want to do a heavy watering or no watering at all. Again, this depends. It is best to pay attention and continue to keep the soil moist.

If you water your tomato plants too much or have a clay-rich soil (which will hold water), you begin to chance problems. Such as suckers, or pests. As they do produce a juicy, fruit product, it doesn't mean that they always need a lot of water. Having too much water may produce tasteless tomatoes.

Stages of tomato growing.

Stages of tomato growing.

Why Is My Tomato Plant Turning Yellow?

As your tomato plants grow, you will need cages for them, so they do not fall over, break, or die. This will help encourage their growth, and support the plant as the flowers begin the process of becoming tomatoes. You can either start with cages when you first plant them in the ground, or when they become about as high as your shin. Placing the cages too early will cause a need for adjustment of them, as the plant may shift due to high wind, storms, and tend to lean off to the side a bit. Soil movement may also cause a change in the way the plant is growing, leaving it also lopsided a bit. Whenever you feel the need to cage them, about the height of your shin or so, is best.

While growing your tomato plant(s), you may notice the leaves turning yellow. When this happens, begin by removing the leaves, a little at a time. You will eventually have to remove this whole branch of leaves, as it is slowly dying off to conserve water. Although, if the leaves are curling, in addition to turning yellow, it could be that the plant is becoming oxygen-starved and has too much water. And having too much water could also lead to root rot, which will kill your plant.

You may also want to trim the branch of leaves every so often, from the bottom of the plant, so more water can travel farther up the plant. Just make sure to not trim away too much, and only the withered and dying parts, otherwise you can damage the plant. You will also need to trim away the "suckers." Suckers side shoot, and are growth that happens between the branch and the stem of the plant. If you want to know what you are looking for, make an L shape with your finger and thumb. That is how your tomato plants should look between the stem and branch. New growth in a spot such as so, is not always that good. Although pruning is good, is it also good up until a certain point. Only do so when necessary.

Note the suckers, and the one branch that is beginning to yellow... These odd branches are what need to be removed.

Note the suckers, and the one branch that is beginning to yellow... These odd branches are what need to be removed.

Possible Problems With Tomato Plants

As your plant grows, remember that no plant will ever be perfect, and no two plants are alike. Some may grow faster, and produce tomatoes faster, and some may grow slower than others. There will also be times when problems arise and the plants need extra care. As long as you are alert and taking care of your plants, it should not be too hard. And at times, even though you are alert and caring, it may be completely out of your control when problems arise. Most problems can be solved, though.

Dealing With Tomato Pests

When it comes to pests, each pest needs to be solved differently. Rushing to solve the problems, or any accident or misunderstanding can harm the plant. Some pest removal solutions are easy, and some are not. Listed on the table below are a few common pests.

Most pests can be dealt with by a mixture of water and a few drops of soap in a spray bottle. And if worse comes to worst, many swear by using Sevin brand pesticide. If you do take the route of using pesticides, remember to wash your veggies off before consumption.

When Tomatoes Fail to Produce Flowers

Another possible problem with tomato plants is when the plant decided to not produce flowers... Therefore not producing fruit. When this is the case, you will notice that the plant has greatly grown in size, but again, no flowers. There are three main reasons for this situation:

  1. late-blooming tomato plants (be it that it's too late for a supply, or that they produce later in the year),
  2. too much nitrogen or fertilizer,
  3. or not enough sunlight.

Balancing Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium

Although nitrogen can be great for tomatoes, it is best to keep a balance of phosphorus and potassium, with a lower nitrogen level. Most fertilizers, and plant foods, will state this on their products. You could also keep an eye out for plant food specifically targeted at tomatoes. Remember though... It is never a good idea to give a tomato plant fertilizer, or plant food, too early on. This could cause problems later on.

To neutralize having too much nitrogen, bonemeal, and/or soft wood mulches like pine bark, will help bring the amount down.

Not Enough Sun

As for sunlight, a tomato plant should have up to 8 hours a day of sunlight. Any more than that will give you a tomato plant that will grow and give fewer blooms than it should. Keeping an eye on your plant, as well as removing lower branches, could help solve this problem, as well as help give you more blooms.

Type of Pest:What to Look For:

Hornworm Species

Chewed Stems and defoliation


Purpling veins in leaves

Stalk Borers

Holes in stem

Flea Beatles

Holes in leaves

Leaf Miners

Zigzag patterns or tunneling in leaves


Curled leaves and yellowing, also may leave a white stick residue ("Honeydew")


"Honeydew", a white sticky residue


Light or discolored patches on tomatoes, may also leave holes in fruit and dark pinprick marks


Holes in tomatoes

Tomato Fruit Worm

Dark colored pinpricks, or holes in fruit

Other Tomato Plant Problems

There are many ways to solve problems with tomato plants, other than what is listed here. Consulting a local nursery (not a hardware store, no matter how big the name) should help, when in doubt.

Diseases, etc. :Type of Problem:Solution:


Small, circular area on tomatoes that seems indented. May or may not have rings around it.

Fungicide (that is okay for tomatoes)

Septoria Leaf Spots

Circular spot, small in size, black spots in center or a gray to white center with dark edges (which will cause leaves to yellow and die)

Fungicide (that is okay for tomatoes)

Verticillium and Fusarium Wilt (Root Rot)

Leaves on the very bottom or very top of plant, will curl up, wilt back, and die

The plant is doomed and cannot be saved. Discard to trash, to prevent spreading it to other plants, and treat the area as contaminated area which cannot be used.

Alternaria (Early Blight)

Looks like a target on leaves, but with brown to black spots with dark edges. Stem areas connecting to tomato may show a sunken, black area.


Late Blight

Irregular greenish-black splotches. Tomatoes will have odd shaped blotches that are brown in color, and rot away quickly.

Fungicide (that is okay for tomato plants)

Mosaic Virus

Leaves become misshapen, resembling a fern plant, and will have a mix of green and yellow on the leaves. Tomatoes will begin to mottle.

As much as this may seem absurd... If you use tobacco, avoid touching this plant if there are cracks in the stem or other parts of the plant, as it can damage it and cause this problem.

Tomato Fruition

As your tomatoes grow, you will begin to notice a green star shape forming on a branch, with several of them nearby. This is the start of your tomatoes. Eventually, you will notice a change in color, which should be a yellow color. This is a normal process of your tomato plants. After that change, you will notice a green little ball beginning to appear, which is worth getting excited over... It is a baby tomato starting to form! While they are beginning to form and grow, continue the usual care of your plants. Soon, you will have plenty of red tomatoes, ripe for picking, and something refreshing on a summer day!

Growing tomatoes should not make a person feel discouraged. In fact, as much as it may seem a lot to do, it really is not. All that is needed is love and care, patience, and being alert. If you continue to feel discouraged as you grow your plants, just remember that you are starting to create a delicious, and healthy reward. Yes, this can feel rewarding! In fact, just remember to tell yourself when you take a bite out of your first tomato that you have grown "Wow. Was that rewarding!". And maybe, you will grow enough that you can share the rewards with others.

Happy Gardening, and best of hopes to you and a bountiful year!

Happy Growing! I hope you have a plentiful harvest!

Happy Growing! I hope you have a plentiful harvest!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Kryssy Bruckheimer


Julie on August 04, 2020:

Thanks for this read. Its my first time growing tomatoes so reading this helps. In April potted 6 pots of tomatoes that was in my fridge that i had got from iceland. They have grown to about 4ft and its now august and are flowering nicely. A few of the flowers are dropping and tomatoes are coming. so i must be doing something right. I love the smell of the tomato plants.

Allan ssuuna on April 30, 2020:

Thanks for the nice post

Mike on May 14, 2019:

My friend has collosal plants and no fruit every year. I repeatedly have to remove branches and beg him to not fertilize so much. Within a week, his plants blossom. I fertilize when I plant and then AFTER the plant sets fruit. I make tons of tomatoes using this method.

Susan on July 16, 2018:

I cut my stalks accidentally when cutting back a pumpkin vine, any way to save the plants? There are green tomatoes on them.

Margie's Southern Kitchen from the USA on June 12, 2018:

Thanks for all your great tips. I am doing better this year than I ever have growing tomatoes! Hope I didn't jink it! Ha, ha. My granddaughter had a hornworm on her tomato and it was dying. I hope it will survive for her.

Al on August 04, 2016:

My tomatoes are 6 ft tall but have never flowered . Why. They get 6 Hr sun and watered at base with drip system.,daily temperatures are 92- 100