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How to Grow Great Tomatoes. Adapted from Presentation created by Bob Nixon Kent Phillips [email protected] Also by these 27 other Howard County Master Gardeners…. Linda Branagan, Columbia Diane Brown, Westminster Drenda Collins, Clarksville Linda Decker, Highland

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how to grow great tomatoes

How to Grow Great Tomatoes

Adapted from Presentation created by Bob Nixon

Kent Phillips

[email protected]

also by these 27 other howard county master gardeners
Also by these 27 other Howard County Master Gardeners…

Linda Branagan, Columbia Diane Brown, Westminster

Drenda Collins, Clarksville Linda Decker, Highland

Michelle Domangue, Columbia Aylene Kovensky Gard, Columbia

Leslie Gilbert, Mt. Airy Corliss Glennon, Dayton

Pat Greenwald, Sykesville Joyce Halasz, Ellicott City

Jane Hayes, Clarksville Jerry Kissel, Ellicott City

Paul Kojzar, Ellicott City Chris McComas, Woodbine

Holly McFarland, Columbia Shelley McNeal, Clarksville

Ron Newmister, Dayton Barbara Nibali, Ellicott City

Rosemary Noble, Ellicott City Sylvia Rampini-Huestis, Columbia

Jo Ann Russo, Sykesville Paul Rutter, Elkridge

Carolyn Taggart, Columbia Louisa Rogoff Thompson, Columbia

Barbara White, Ellicott City Jan Marie Williams-Nguyen, Columbia

Lisa Wingate, Ellicott City

tomato basics botany
Tomato basics/botany
  • Member of the Solanum lycopersicum (nightshade) family
  • Other members: peppers, potatoes, tobacco, & eggplants
  • Tomato leaves, stems, & green fruit contain a glycoalkaloid
tomato basics site selection
Tomato basics/site selection

Tomatoes flourish in (1) good, well-drained soil and require a (2) minimum of 8-10 hours of direct sunlight and (3) approximately an inch of water a week or 6 gallons/week.

Tomatoes have vigorous root systems

tip add compost to your garden soil to improve it from year to year
Tip: Add compost to your garden soil to improve it from year to year

“Add compost, compost,

and more compost. I use

leaves, grass clippings,

and kitchen scraps to

make it. I incorporate it

into the garden bed after

it has finished aging

(3 to 6 months).”

Shelley McNeal & Lindy

growing tomatoes in containers
Growing tomatoes in containers

Containers can solve problems, such as bad soil & high-rise living, but requirements for the plants remain the same

*Mention of a brand names is for purpose of illustration and not endorsement

you can make your own containers
You can make your own containers

HGIC Publication 600, Container Vegetable Gardening, contains detailed how-to information, including diagrams for making your own containers from 5-gallon buckets.

Paul Rutter

best time to plant
Best time to plant?
  • When soil temperature reaches 55 to 60 degrees
  • Here, usually mid-May to 1st week of June
  • Can plant earlier if plants are protected
  • If planted early, plants may grow slowly & be subject to insect & disease attacks
  • But choice plant varieties may not be available then at retailers, so buy & hold
transplanting tips
  • Chose small sturdy transplants, 5 to 6 weeks old, no taller than 6 inches
  • Plant on cloudy, wind-free day – or late afternoon
  • Remove leaves except top-2-3 inches
  • Dig shallow trench a little deeper than the root ball, lay tomato on its side turning up the top of the tomato
  • Plastic mulch will warm soil, otherwise do not mulch with organic mulch until soil warms
  • If May is cool, protect with milk jugs, bottom and lid removed
Tip: Stake or cage and mulch your plants to fungl spores from splashing from soil to lower leaves of plants

Barbara White

tomato resources
Tomato Resources
  • Videos
    • Click on Youtube button
    • Search HGIC playlist for tomatoes
  • Publications
    • Click on “Information Library”, “Publications” and “Vegetable, Fruit and Herb Gardening”
    • See HG 56 – IPM Series - Tomatoes
hgic publication 70 recommended vegetable cultivars
HGIC Publication 70Recommended Vegetable Cultivars

TOMATOES (* = hybrid variety)

Red: Better Boy*, Big Beef*, Big Boy*, Celebrity*, Delicious, Early Girl*, Jet Star*, Mortgage Lifter, Park’s Whopper*, Red Pear, Rutgers, Stupice, Supersonic*

Pink/purple: Cherokee Purple, Eva Purple Ball, German Johnson, Giant Belgian, Pink Brandywine, Pruden’s Purple

Yellow: Golden Queen, Lemon Boy, Yellow Pear

Paste: Amish Paste, Roma, San Marzano, San Remo, Super Italian, Viva Italia*

Cherry: Gardener’s Delight, Sun Cherry, Sun Gold, Sweet 100*, Sweet Cherry, Sweet Million

howard county master gardeners suggest these varieties
Howard County Master Gardeners suggest these varieties …

Early: Early Girl* (* = hybrid variety)

Red cherry: Sweet 100*

Orange cherry: Sun Gold*

Small red: Juliet*

Large red: Celebrity*, Better Boy*, & Supersteak*

Heirloom: Brandywine

Paste: San Marzano

Small yellow: Yellow Plum/Pear

Large orange: Kellogg’s Breakfast

key terms determinate and indeterminate varieties sometimes abbreviated d and i
Key terms: Determinate and Indeterminate varieties, sometimes abbreviated (D) and (I)
  • Determinate (or bush or patio) varieties grow to the pre-determined height of the cultivar. Though plants may be short, they can produce fruit all summer. This type is great for containers and small gardens.
  • Indeterminate varieties produce fruit at intervals along their ever-growing stems , with blooms and fruit in all stages of development – until frost kills the plant.
early girl hybrid vff
Early Girl Hybrid VFF

Totally Tomatoes

"Early Girl is dependable, has few disease problems, and is better adapted to varying weather conditions than other early varieties I've tried.  It has very good flavor for an early tomato“ – Barbara White 

Ron Newmister

sweet 100 hybrid vf
Sweet 100 Hybrid VF

Totally Tomatoes

“Sweet 100 has true tomato flavor as well as sweetness. It’s an incredibly vigorous vine growing 6’ tall or more and producing hundreds of tomatoes” – Louisa Rogoff Thompson

August 23

Photo: Paul Kojzar

sun gold hybrid
Sun Gold Hybrid

Totally Tomatoes

“’I put a bowl of those little orange tomatoes on the counter,’” my neighbor said, “’and they were gone in less than an hour’” – Bob Nixon

juliet hybrid
Juliet Hybrid

Totally Tomatoes

“A great munchable – meaty & not too sweet. A great treat to take to the office. Resists cracking. One of the first I pick in early summer, one of the last in the fall” – Bob Nixon

celebrity hybrid
Celebrity Hybrid

Totally Tomatoes

“Celebrity meets all my needs – a long-season fruit, 4-oz. tomatoes small enough to use all of at one meal” – Louisa Rogoff Thompson

better boy hybrid vfn
Better Boy Hybrid VFN

Totally Tomatoes

“Great taste. Fruit to 1 lb. A great slicer with disease resistance. Call this one ‘Old Faithful.’ A great choice for a first-time tomato grower”

– Bob Nixon

supersteak hybrid vfn
Supersteak Hybrid VFN

Totally Tomatoes

“Supersteaks are great for making sandwiches. One slice and your job is done” – Paul Rutter

Paul Rutter


Totally Tomatoes

“Brandywines are big, pink, heirloom tomatoes with a fabulous old-fashioned taste. One slice per BLT! But they don’t do well in the dry, hot summers we’ve been having” – Jane Hayes

Paul Rutter

san marzano
San Marzano

Totally Tomatoes

“San Marzanos are prolific, rich tasting, and their thin skin allows for canning or freezing without peeling” – Jane Hayes

Jane Hayes

yellow plum pear
Yellow Plum/Pear

Totally Tomatoes

“Our family has used Yellow Plums or Yellow Pears for more than 100 years to make tomato preserves. They tend to split after rains, so keep them picked” – Bob Nixon

kellogg s breakfast
Kellogg’s Breakfast

Totally Tomatoes

“Kellogg’s Breakfast is big & delicious. It has a thin skin that tends to split, so keep an eye on it. Mine won the Third Premium ribbon in the Large Tomato category at the 2007 Howard County Fair. It weighed 1¾ pounds” – Diane Brown

Diane Brown

what can go wrong
What can go wrong?

4 common problems:

  • Damping off
  • Blossom-end rot
  • Leaves die, beginning near soil
  • “Bugs” attack

Marianna’s Peace

Most solutions are simple & non-toxic

tip time lime and water generally solve blossom end rot
Tip: Time, lime, and water generally solve blossom-end rot
  • Generally it’s an early-season problem that “naturally goes away”
  • Remove affected fruit as soon as possible
  • Add handful of ground limestone to planting soil
  • Mulch to conserve moisture
  • Drip irrigate deeply 1 to 2 gallons/plant per week
  • Establish pH of 6.3 to 6.8 after soil test*

*Test your garden soil every 3 to 5 years. Call or email the Home & Garden Information Center, and they will tell you how to do it and where to get your soil analyzed.

tip drip irrigate mulch prune select resistant varieties to prevent leaf die back diseases
Tip: Drip irrigate, mulch, prune, select resistant varieties to prevent leaf die-back diseases
  • Mulch and drip irrigate to prevent soil splashing onto leaves
  • Prune lower 12”+ of leaves as plants grow
  • If disease is severe, spray with a fixed copper fungicide to slow or stop disease
  • No cultivars have genetic resistance, though some are more susceptible than others
  • Ignore: Generally late season before plant adversely affected
  • Rotate location of tomato patch
  • Remove all debris after season
tip beneficial insects and simple remedies usually control bad bugs so avoid toxic chemicals
Tip: Beneficial insects and simple remedies usually control “bad bugs” so avoid toxic chemicals
  • Aphids: Predators & parasites, such as lady beetles & small wasps, generally control. Or blast them off with your watering hose.
  • Whiteflies: Predators and parasites usually control. Or use insecticidal soap, pyrethrum, or a combination, as directed on the label.
  • Hornworms: Hand pick and squish underfoot or drown in jar of soapy water. Or use them as fish bait.
  • Warning: Toxic sprays that kill the “bad guys” generally kill the “good guys” too.
how to choose good plants
How to choose good plants
  • Look for short, stocky plants with dark-green leaves
  • Avoid plants that evidence disease (yellow leaves) or damage (lack of water)
  • Check label for resistance to diseases & pests (VFN…)
  • Check label (or catalogs) to see if variety is determinate or indeterminate
  • Shop when new plants have arrived, probably just before the weekend
other resources
Other resources


At libraries using Dewey Decimal Classification, you can find gardening books at this & nearby numbers.

  • Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC)
    • 800-342-2507
  • Grow-It-Eat-It website
  • Master Gardener state website
This program was brought to you by

Maryland Master Gardener Program

Howard County

University of Maryland Extension