This is soooo long guide but I wanted to be thorough and explain why some things are the way they are.
Edit 9/17/2020: If you want an easy one-page guide to growing tomatoes, check out my new onePrintable tomato growing guide!
Firstly, where your garden matters
Depending on your microclimate, tomatoes can be super easy or incredibly difficult to grow.
Why? Tomatoes love warm, sunny days.
In areas of the city with less fog, like Mission, East Bay and areas below the fog belt, they grow like weeds (no exaggeration: in little Brisbane where I live, bordering San Francisco, the mountain protects us the most from the Daytime fog and tomatoes do so well here that the "volunteers" are actually more of a weed!).
At Sunset or even Glen Park, cold summers mean fewer and worse tomatoes.
How to deal with a foggy garden? Try some of the strategies below and see what works for you - you will find the sweet spot for your microclimate if you are patient. What is gardening if not patience, right?
You can buy tomato plants from many nurseries and even find decent varieties, but I don't recommend it. You'll pay anywhere from $4 to $10 for a tomato plant, but for less than $3 you can start your own tomato forest from seedlings.
And even starting from seed has even more benefits than price:
- More variety. You have the entire catalog of seeds to choose from instead of the few varieties the nursery might have.
- No imported pests or diseases. When you buy plants, they may already have wilt, fungus, or are harboring aphids.
Tomatoes are hardy plants, even if you're new to growing from seed you should be successful. There is a lot of advice out there about starting seeds and it seems like there are a lot of rules. I can tell you from experience that you don't have to be perfect in every way to get good results.
Öessentialfor starter seeds:
- Soil or seed starter mix **
- Container with drainage holes for soil
Yes, you can grow tomatoes in an air-conditioned greenhouse, on a rack under grow lights and on a heat mat or in yogurt pots on your windowsill. I have found that the effort does not equal the result. If you do not want to spend a lot, do the windowsill. If, like me, you're too caught up in gardening addiction to escape, a lamp shelf is good for tomatoes and a few other plants.
Something to remember as you read most gardening tips:comes from professional agriculture🇧🇷 When to fertilize, pH levels, bleaching your containers before using them again - these are things professional growers need to do to maximize yield and profit. Is it good advice? Absolutely! Is it important to get some happy plants and a caprese salad or two? DO NOT.
To give your tomato plants the best start in the garden, consider planting them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before planning outdoors. I usually try to plant in April or May, so sowing in March works really well.
- Make sure your containers have drainage holes (scissor-stitch yogurt containers work well) and are labeled with the variety of tomatoes you're growing (if you have more than one).
- Take your containers, fill them with your soil or seed starter mix and dampen with water.
- Take 2 or 3 seeds per container and plant them in the center of the container to the depth recommended by the seed packet (usually 1/4 inch deep).
- Put the containers in a warm place.
- In a few days you will see little U shapes appear and then they will come out completely and you will see the smooth leaves of your plant seeds.
- Place the container in a sunny window or under grow lights and keep moist.
- If you have more than one shoot per container, use scissors or carefully remove the weaker plants, trying not to disturb the ones you want to keep. This isn't easy to kill your baby plants, but if you don't, all your plants will suffer and compete with each other. Slaughter the weak! Knife!
**The best option for starting seeds is what is known as a "soilless pot mix". you can buy thatalready mixed for you, or you can make your own by mixing in halfperliteor vermiculite with halfTorfmoosorCoconut phases🇧🇷 They sell all these things in garden shops. You can also just use soil from your garden - the danger is that you will introduce insects, soil diseases and weed seeds that can easily kill seedlings. You decide.
Tomatoes are one of the few plants that love to be repotted. If your seedlings look leggy (i.e. long at the stem) and you have a few true leaf sets (i.e. no seed leaves; not the first pair of leaves) you should look into the pot. Think of it as an upgrade to a larger home for your plant's roots. The new container should be large enough to hold the plant as it is now, with room for most of the stem AND room to grow. Also, the new container uses real soil, ideally with compost as the nutrients in the seeds will be depleted and those roots will starve!
Take your largest pot, add some soil with compost (but don't overfill it), and gently pull the tomato plant out of its current container. Then gently separate the roots a little to encourage the growth of the others and place them in the new container. The stem of your plant should be in the pot, not at the top, because you want to bury as much of the stem* as possible, right down to the first real leaves.
Now, as before, treat your potted plant with light and water until you are ready to transplant it outside.
*Tomatoes are weird. Along with its belladonna cousins like potatoes, it can take root on its trunk. Burying the stem of your plant gives it a deeper root system, making the plant more stable when you eventually plant it outside. It's especially good when you get a lot of wind. Bonus tip: Burying stems of potato plants means more roots, and potato roots = potatoes!
You can grow tomatoes outdoors in most parts of the Bay Area.April to June🇧🇷 If you're in the cloudier areas, aim for April to ensure your plant has time to mature when summer is on the cool side (which means seeds start in February), or aim autumn, which tends to have less fog, and only plant shorter-season tomatoes in June (beginning of seeding in April).
Tomatoes grown indoors should have a few true leaves before they are brought outside, and ideally give them a few pots before they reach the garden.
But before you start digging holes in the garden for the tomatoes, you need to do the WORST THING IN GARDENING: harden off.
It's tedious, it's boring, I hate it, but if you don't you'll probably kill your plants.
About two weeks before you actually transplant your tomato plants outside, you need to start hardening off your plants. This means you need to gradually acclimate your plants to being outside. Your baby plants are like children raised in a soap bubble - they've never been exposed to the hostile world outside. Wind, direct sunlight, unreliable humidity and temperature fluctuations are all new. Be friendly.
Temporary arrangement for hardening tomatoes:
- Day 1: 2 hours in the shade
- Day 2: 4 hours in the shade
- Day 3: 1 hour in the sun, 3 hours in the shade
- Day 4: 2 hours in the sun, 4 hours in the shade
- Day 5: 4 hours sun, 6 hours shade
- Day 6: 6 hours in the sun
- Day 7: 8 hours in the sun
- Day 8: 12 hours in the sun
- Day 9: All day in the sun
- Day 10: Sun all day, stay outdoors overnight
It all depends on how your plants look. If they look sick and weak on day 4, do all the shading the next day: you need to adapt more slowly.
Please note when curing:
- Water your plants before they are exposed to the sun, especially in the beginning.
- Set a timer so you don't forget to bring your plants or roast your babies. I did it. Is very sad.
- Use the sun's movement to do its work for you, like day 3, by placing your plant in full sun in a spot that will be in shade within an hour.
Good compost is the best fertilizer for tomatoes, but agood balanced plant fertilizerYou can get a happier and healthier plant. Make sure it says "vegetable" or even "tomato," as some fertilizers are high in nitrogen and provide lush foliage at the expense of flowers and fruit.
Depending on your soil, it can work well even if you don't fertilize, but a plant that is deficient in nutrients is more likely to succumb to fungus, disease, and pests. In addition, tomatoes in particular, which lack calcium, will be on displayblossom end rot, a gross condition that, you know,rotsaend of bloom.
I've noticed that some varieties rot more than others. I grow San Marzano almost every year and even with regular fertilization the first fruits of the season show it. So the rest is fine. My little cherry tomatoes and even monsters like Gold Medal never show this as they grow in the same general range under the same conditions.
Do not buy "tomato cages" for tomatoes. You are a total joke. Check out my unidentified tomatoes from this year: if I had used those cute little cages, this would have made an even wilder scene. The indeterminate tomatoes, which make up 99% of what I grow, can reach six or seven feet tall when planted on trellises, not the lovely four feet of most cages.
I built my own (fully) tubular hardware fabric cages that I cut into 4 foot lengths and then connected with zip ties. The holes are a little tight when I get my tomatoes and the tomatoes sometimes get stuck in them. So if I were building more cages I would probably find hardware cloth with an opening at least 4 inches square and make them 5 feet around instead of 4 feet.
When stray branches appear, I take my trusty string and tie them together so the tomatoes never touch the ground.
My favorite strains (seeds)
That isaessential sauce tomato and it grows well here. They are spherical in shape, ripen to a deep red, and easily detach from the vine when ready to harvest. Aside from early season [end flower blight], they resist aphids fairly well and do not succumb to wet weather blight like some varieties. Inside, they have few seeds and not much liquid, so they prepare delicious sauces for children without straining the seeds.
Availablefrom the Amazon.
I have a full review of them.beautiful Italian beasts🇧🇷 In short, they are big, perfect for gravy and don't get blossom end rot.
Available fromTerritorial Seed Company.
What an apt name for this amazing tomato. It's beautiful, easy to grow and delicious. Each fruit is a sunset of colour: yellow, red and orange blend inside and out, reflecting the bright citrus flavor that makes a fantastic Caprese salad. Not to mention, the berries can weigh around 2 pounds each, so you're not inclined to keep them all to yourself.
Available fromTerritorial Seed Company.
So fruitful and so adorable, these marble-sized orange balls make a fun addition to a salad.
These tomatoes are amazing, both for their fast growth and fruiting, and for the volunteers! I grew them from seed about 4 years ago and new plants appear every year. They are the tastiest weed! And its 1.5 diameter fruits are large enough to be used in sauces and are not too sweet; So while I'm waiting for my San Marzanos to mature, I can already enjoy fresh tomato sauces and soups!
Tips for growing in foggy areas
Big, plump tomatoes need more sun and more time to look their best. If it's a cloudy summer you may not have these things, so smaller varieties are better.
Living in Glen Park, I tried growing some of the "Cool Weather" strains, like the Siberian, and found it lacked flavor.eTexture so I would recommend that you avoid most of these. I foundCosmonaut Volkovpretty good but not super productive - although I'm not in a foggy area right now. Choose your strains for a short growing season, and also consider starting earlier rather than later—summer is hazier than fall in the San Francisco Bay Area and there are (generally) no frosts. I harvested tomatoes during a dry winter through February, so fall tomatoes are fully viable.
When should I plant tomatoes in the Bay Area? ›
Planting. You can plant tomatoes outside in most of the Bay Area from April through June.Do tomatoes grow well in San Francisco? ›
Tomatoes are a good choice for planting in San Francisco, but grow better in warmer seasons, so aim for mid-February through March or April. San Francisco's microclimate may guide you on what works best for your garden, depending on where you live in the city.When should I plant tomatoes in San Francisco? ›
Plant these tomato seedlings out in the garden during April or May. Provide tomatoes with a wind-protected warm sunny spot for best results. Growing tomatoes in the Bay Area can be tricky. Lack of heat in combination with summer fog is not ideal for growing many varieties.How often do you water tomatoes in the Bay Area? ›
Keep the soil moist around new plants for the first three to four weeks. After that, water plants when the top 2 to 3 inches of the soil is dry.What is the best month to plant tomatoes in California? ›
What month do you plant tomatoes? Tomato season in California starts in June for the Northern region and in July for the Southern region. For harvest in those months, tomatoes are typically planted from March to May, depending on the tomato variety and region.When should I plant tomatoes in zone 9b? ›
Tomatoes & Hot Weather Growing Zones
Zone 8b can enjoy fall tomatoes by planting transplants in late August/early September. Zones 9 & 10 can enjoy fall tomatoes by planting either seeds or transplants throughout September.
Water your plants when the soil gets dry–if the plants are in pots or if it's very hot out, this could mean watering every day. If the soil two to three inches down is dry, the plant should be watered.
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi can stunt the growth of your tomato plant because they out-compete them for the same nutrients. These vegetables are in the brassica family.Do tomatoes grow better in shade or sun? ›
Perfect Tomato Growing Conditions
Tomatoes love the sunshine. A position in full sun (that means an average of at least eight hours a day) gives the best results in most areas, though if you're in a hot climate you can get away with dappled shade.
Daytime temperatures consistently above 90° F or night time temperatures consistently above 75° F create all kinds of stress for tomato plants. It's too hot for tomatoes to be pollinated.
Can I plant tomatoes in September in California? ›
Planting tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) in summer can sometimes lead to lackluster results, because they don't thrive in extreme heat. This means growing tomatoes in September and beyond can actually give you better a better yield and healthier plants than growing tomatoes in summer, depending on where you live.What time of day do tomatoes need sun? ›
No matter where they live, tomatoes, roses and other disease prone plants always want morning sun; the sooner the sun strikes their leaves in the am, the faster the dew will evaporate and the healthier the plants will be.Is it OK to water tomatoes every day? ›
Water newly planted tomatoes well to make sure soil is moist and ideal for growing. Early in the growing season, watering plants daily in the morning. As temperatures increase, you might need to water tomato plants twice a day.Is it better to overwater or underwater tomato plants? ›
Tomato plants prefer evenly moist soil with a slight dry-down between waterings.Is it better to water tomatoes in the morning or evening? ›
The best time to water your tomatoes is early in the morning. This will allow any moisture that makes its way to the leaves an opportunity to dry before the heat of the day, and that can help to prevent diseases and burning of the plants.Do tomatoes come back every year California? ›
Tomatoes are considered perennials, and as long as they're protected from the frost, they can continue to grow.When should I plant tomatoes in Northern California? ›
They're frost tender but seeds can be started indoors up to six weeks before your garden's last average frost date. Seedlings can be planted out in the garden as soon as all danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures remain above 60°F.Can you grow tomatoes year round in Northern California? ›
If you lived in the tropics your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants could well last for more than one year. But generally in Northern California, winters are too cold, and we need to pull the plants out when they stop producing and replant when the weather warms in early spring.Is August too late to plant tomatoes? ›
As long as the days to maturity are less than the number of days away from your first frost date you can still plant. For most areas, you should still be able to plant late from late June to late August with no problem.Can you plant tomatoes in the same bed as the year before? ›
Most gardeners will tell you that it is not a good idea to plant tomatoes (or any crop for that matter) in the same spot year after year because it will build up pests and diseases in the soil.
Can I plant tomatoes in September? ›
Technically the answer is yes, but for a much better result – wait until late October/early November. Use the time in September to prepare your soil and get your irrigation systems in order, so that when your Tomato seedlings go in they will have a great start.What are the signs of overwatering tomatoes? ›
Overwatered plants may have wilted or yellowed stems and leaves, or the leaves might develop bumps and blisters or fall off entirely if plants continue to get too much water. Another way to tell overwatered plants from underwatered ones, once the case is severe enough, is to check the roots.Should you water tomatoes every day in hot weather? ›
In areas with sandy, fast-draining soil, like parts of the Southwest, South Florida, and Coastal South, you may need to water plants daily or even twice a day during the hottest days of summer. No matter where you live, drip irrigation is probably the best, most economical watering option.What is the correct way to water tomato plants? ›
Tomatoes do best when watered slowly and deeply. As water sinks down lower into the soil, the tomato's roots must follow suit and reach down further to absorb it. Deep watering helps tomato plants build strong root systems. Superficial watering allows roots to be lazy.Should I put coffee grounds around my tomatoes? ›
Coffee grounds contain around 2% nitrogen as well as varying amounts of phosphorus and potassium which are all very important for the growth of tomato plants. By mixing some coffee grounds into the soil below your tomato plants you're introducing these nutrients that the plants need to thrive.Is it OK to cut branches off tomato plants? ›
Pruning tomato plants helps them produce earlier in the season. Tomatoes can be stronger, bigger, and healthier. When tomato plants are both pruned and staked, their chances of contracting diseases are reduced because leaves and stems stay drier and allow for more circulation.What is too hot for tomatoes? ›
Contrary to what many think, tomatoes are not heat lovers. They much prefer 75 to 95. When temperatures get too hot during the day (over 85 degrees) or are too hot overnight (over 70 degrees) many vegetables including tomatoes and peppers will drop their blossoms.Is 4 hours of sun enough for tomatoes? ›
ANSWER: Unfortunately, four hours of sunlight is not enough to give tomato plants the energy that they need to produce tomatoes prolifically. Tomato plants generally require between six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day for optimal growth.Should you remove flowers from tomato plants? ›
Remove flowers until plants are 12 to 18 inches tall, so plants can direct more energy to the roots. Remove all leafy suckers beneath the first fruit cluster so they won't slow the development of the fruit.When can you plant tomatoes in Northern California? ›
They're frost tender but seeds can be started indoors up to six weeks before your garden's last average frost date. Seedlings can be planted out in the garden as soon as all danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures remain above 60°F.
What is the best month to plant tomatoes? ›
Tomatoes are warm weather plants which need plenty of sun to thrive and grow best at temperatures between 70 and 75°F (21 and 24°C). Seeds are best sown under cover in March and April ready for harvesting from July to September.