Tomato Growing Secrets to Help You Get The Most, Biggest, and Best Homegrown Tomatoes

Basket of yellow, red and green homegrown tomatoes

For almost a decade, I've been focused on getting my tomato growing technique down to a semi-science. 

Of course, I've been growing tomatoes for much longer than that. It's just that about 10 years ago, I wanted to go from gardening simply for pleasure to gardening for purpose and got super analytical about how to get the most tomatoes possible to help reduce our food bill.

Each year that I have grown tomatoes, I've been able to grow more tomatoes and ward off common problems like blossom end rot. 

I can grow a LOT of tomatoes in a fairly small space - literally hundreds of pounds of tomatoes grown in about 100 square feet - because my goal has been to can enough diced tomatoes and tomato sauce to last my family for a full year. 

I've been asked a few times "What's your secret" - and to be honest. There isn't one secret- there are several things I'm doing that contribute to my success. 

I've also got answers to commonly asked questions about growing lots of beautiful, delicious tomatoes at home.

Here are my answer to the most asked questions about how to grow tomatoes followed by my 12 best tomato growing secrets that helped me amp up tomato production for all the varieties I grow - from salad tomatoes, to romas, heirloom tomatoes and more.


Looking for more articles about gardening?

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FAQs about how to grow better tomatoes


Do you have questions about growing better tomatoes? I have answers! If you have a question about growing tomatoes that I don't cover in this article, please ask me in the comments!

What helps tomatoes grow?

The three main things that tomatoes need to thrive are sun, nutrient-dense soil and support. Support comes from a combination of a deep root system (read more about that below in the secrets!) as well as a good support structure that keeps your fruit off the ground and allows lots of air flow.


How do you enrich soil for tomatoes?

My favorite soil enrichments for tomatoes are compost, coffee grounds, eggshells and epsom salt.

My favorite commercially available organic compost is called Bumper Crop (you can order it online if your local nursery doesn't carry it!).

I'm also a huge fan of vermicomposting (using a worm composter like this one, you can make your own worm compost at home!)

Spent coffee grounds can be picked up for free at Starbucks and many other coffee shops. A little goes a long way and you can just scratch them into the topsoil to make your tomatoes happy.

Eggshells and epsom salt added to the soil at planting can make sure your tomato plants have enough calcium as well as magnesium to help prevent blossom end rot.


Should you water tomato plants every day?

I don't water my plants every day unless the temperature gets above 90 degrees or they start to look wilty. 

Instead, I deeply water the soil every 3-4 days (more often when it is warmer, less often if cloudy or cool). This helps encourage deep root growth and makes the plants heartier and more drought resistant.

If the weather starts to creep above 90 or the plant starts to look wilty, I will do a deep water once a day in the morning or evening. Try and avoid watering in the middle of the day. 

You should also water at the base of your plant with a watering wand or soaker hose so avoid getting the leaves wet. Don't use an overhead sprinkler for your tomato plants!


Are coffee grounds good for tomato plants?

Absolutely! I have had great success using coffee grounds on my tomatoes. Coffee grounds are also easy to find. If you need a lot more coffee grounds than you produce at home in your own kitchen, most coffee shops are happy to give you some of theirs.


Are eggshells good for tomato plants?

Tomatoes love eggshells as a soil amendment. I like to work a small sprinkle of crushed eggshells into the soil when planting my tomatoes to be sure there is adequate calcium and to help prevent blossom end rot.

For more information on what supplements are best to add to the soil when planting tomatoes, see the article: How to Plant Tomatoes.


Is epsom salt good for tomatoes?

Unlike table salt, epsom salt is primarily magnesium and sulfur. I like to work one scoop of epsom salt into the soil when planting tomatoes to help support the nutrient content of the soil and help prevent blossom end rot.

If you are growing peppers in your garden, use epsom salt to help make those plants extra happy as well!

If you do this, it is very VERY important that you ONLY use epsom salt as table salt will kill your plants.

Get more information on how to plant tomatoes and what to mix into the soil when you plant tomatoes in this article: How to Plant Tomatoes.

Do tomatoes grow better in pots or in the ground?

Assuming you have loose, nutrient-dense soil in both places, tomatoes are going to be happier in the ground. While you can grow tomatoes in pots, if you are looking for the highest yield or the best-tasting fruit, planting in the ground is the way to go.

If you really want to grow a tomato in a pot, I would use a pot that hold at least  5 gallons of soil - although 10-15 gallons is even better.


What soil is best for tomato plants?

My favorite gardening mix is a loose blend of 2 parts garden soil (in bags or what's already in the garden), 1 part compost and 1 part peat moss. And if you're ever in doubt, add more compost!

I had previously used the "Mel's Mix" recipe for gardening soil, made famous by Square Foot Gardening by the late Mel Bartholemew - which is equal parts compost, peat moss and vermiculite. Unfortunately,the vermiculite supply in the USA is often contaminated with asbestos, so I developed the mix above to supplement established or bagged garden soil instead.


What is causing black bottoms on my tomatoes?

The problem tomatoes can develop with a black, grey or brown bottom is called "blossom end rot" -- named after the rotten spots that appear on the "blossom end" of the tomato (rather than the stem end).

The problem can be caused by a calcium deficiency or inadequate or inconsistent watering.

Once you start to notice spots on the bottoms of tomatoes, pick them and discard them so the plant doesn't spend energy building fruit that is rotten because there is no way to reverse the damage once it shows up on the tomato.

Blossom end rot can be prevented by maintaining nutritionally balanced soil that has plenty of calcium and by watering your tomatoes consistently.


Get easy how to ideas and tips for growing tomatoes for beginners and intermediate gardeners. Whether you are growing tomatoes in pots, in a raised bed or a five gallon bucket, this article will answer all your questions about growing tomatoes vertically without needing to grow them in a greenhouse. These are the best secrets for how to grow the best tomatoes! #creativegreenliving #creativegreengarden #tomatoes #gardening

My Top 12 Secrets to Growing Better Tomatoes


Want to know my secret to getting lots of great tasting tomatoes in your home or allotment garden? 

There isn't one secret- there are several things I'm doing that contribute to my success. Here are my 12 best secrets to growing perfectly plump, bountiful, delicious tomatoes:

Tomato Growing Secret 1: Good soil

You need to have good soil to grow good veggies. 

If the dirt that came in your garden isn't awesome, bolster it with organic compost. Not sure what kind to buy? Get a variety and mix it together. My favorite commercially available organic compost is called Bumper Crop (you can order it online if your local nursery doesn't carry it!).

Don't just lay it on top - mix it in to a depth of at least 6 inches (although 12" is more ideal).


Tomato Growing Secret 2: Pick a sunny spot

Especially in northern parts of the country where sun is less scorching, you will want to plant your tomatoes in the sunniest spot in the garden. 

I have found there is a direct correlation between the amount of sun your plants get and how many tomatoes they will make.


Tomato Growing Secret 3: Start with plants

Plant your tomatoes in your garden as started plants and not seeds. 

Especially in the pacific northwest (I live in Oregon), where the growing season is short, start with organic tomato plants from your local farmer's market or nursery. 

I never plant tomatoes from seed any more. It's absolutely worth the couple dollars the plants cost to have someone do it for me.

Young boy wearing a hat looking at a homegrown tomato in the garden


Tomato Growing Secret 4: Use epsom salt & eggshells

Salt? Really? It might surprise you to learn that epsom salt is not actually salt, but crystalized magnesium. 

DO NOT USE TABLE SALT! 

Eggshells on the other hand provide calcium. The calcium and magnesium together will help prevent blossom end rot from ruining your tomatoes.



Tomato Growing Secret 5: Dig deep

When planting the tomatoes, be sure to dig the hole at least 2 inches (up to 6 inches) deeper than the depth of the pot your starts came in.

When you place the plant in the hole, remove the bottom branches that will be below the soil line or will come within 3 inches of the dirt above the soil line. 


woman digging a hole to plant tomatoes in

Tomato Growing Secret 6: Mulch with coffee grounds

Tomatoes love coffee!

You can walk into most coffee shops and ask if they have used coffee grounds that you can have and they will bag them up for you for free. 

I usually make a loop one day and hit up all the Starbucks on my side of town all at once. I usually hit up Starbucks because "Grounds for Your Garden" is an established program most Starbucks stores are already familiar with - some will have the coffee grounds prepackaged for customers to pick up!

Once you have the used coffee grounds on hand, scatter them on the soil to a depth of 1/4 inch or so and use a hand rake to scratch them into the soil. 

Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen and tomatoes love them. The strength and vigor of my plants has dramatically improved just by implementing this tip by itself.


Tomato Growing Secret 7: Mulch with something else, too

Top dress the soil around your tomato plants with a leaf mulch or compost. 

Adding a mulch layer will help with water retention and make putting your plants on a watering schedule that much easier. 

Read more about using mulch in your garden here: Glorious Mulch: How to Reduce Weeds and Water Less.


Tomato Growing Secret 8: Get on a watering schedule

To help my plants develop a deep root system that helps make them more likely to survive a super hot day, I put them on a watering schedule during the spring and early summer where I water them deeply only once every 3-4 days (assuming it didn't rain). 

Once the weather is consistently above 80 degrees, I water once every other day. 

If it 90 degrees or warmer on a particular day, I will also water on that day. I water either early in the morning or as the sun is going down to help the soil absorb more water before losing it to evaporation. 

If your plants look wilty or sad at any point in this process, it means they need more water. Water them longer on watering days or water more often.

Boxes and bins full of different kinds of tomatoes including small salad tomatoes, roma tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes

Tomato Growing Secret 9: Water down low

Tomatoes will be much happier if you can water them without getting their leaves wet. 

You can do this by hand if you use a watering wand and water at the base of the plant. 

One of the most efficient options, though, is to use a soaker hose or an irrigation system like the DIG drip irrigation system (check out these starter sets at Home Depot and order for in-store or curbside pickup!)

Many soaker hoses contain lead, though, so be sure to look for a soaker hose that specifically advertises that it is lead free like the Soaker Pro hoses at Home Depot.

Regardless of your method, like most plants, it's ideal to water tomatoes in the morning or evening to improve the soil's ability to absorb water and reduce how much water is lost to evaporation.

Tomato Growing Secret 10: Build a good support system

After years of experimenting with different kinds and sizes of tomato cages, home built supports, the "Florida weave" method, and many many failures, I have figured out the best tomato support system ever. 

This is a diagram of the tomato support system I now use. It is AMAZING:
My Top 12 Secrets to Growing Better Tomatoes #creativegreenliving

I used 2 x 2 lumber pieces, and buried them about 18" underground and spaced them about 6-7 feet apart (exact spacing determined by how far another piece would reach for cross-bracing). 

I used extra pieces to make cross braces (bolting them in place). 

Then I added nails about 6 inches apart going up the length of the vertical supports and strung string tightly between them. 

You could alternatively use a cattle panel instead of the string, mounting it to the vertical supports. 

The string is nice because you cut the whole thing down at the end of the season and compost the string and plants all together. 

The cattle panel is nice because it is very sturdy and reusable - although you will have to pull all the dead plants off of it at the end of each season.

Regardless of how you do the string vs a cattle panel, you will plant your tomatoes along the string/wire line and as they grow, you weave them in and out of the string or wires, tying individual branches to the string as needed. 

This method not only works brilliantly, but the support can be used for multiple planting seasons (I can't say the same for tomato cages)

You don't have to use my support technique, but you do need to have a support technique - I just happen to think mine is a combination the most durable and cost-effective way to do it.

Tomato Growing Secret 11: Thin tomato plants aggressively

The first time I asked my stepmom (a champion gardener herself) to come help me thin my tomatoes, she thought I was insane and probably going to kill my plants once she saw how much of the plant I was taking off. 

I tell you that to assure you that this will feel insane when you are doing it, but you just need to trust me.

Once my tomato plants are about 3 feet tall, I thin them by removing any suckers (those thin, diagonal growing stems that pop up between the main stem and the branches) and any leafy branches that do not have either flowers or tomatoes coming off of them. 
image of what a sucker on a tomato plant looks like and the caption pinch off the sucker branches when pruning tomatoes
When you thin this way, you can end up going from a bushy plant to a really sparse looking one pretty quickly - and that's OK!

Your plant will look sad but it is NOT sad. 

Tomato plants do better when they have lots of good air circulation around the branches and fruit. 

Thinning also helps keep the plant more efficient so that nutrients go to boosting tomato production instead of bushy leaves that you can't eat.

After the initial prune, you should plan to either have a once a month aggressive pruning session or just take a little time every week to stay on top of it so it doesn't turn into a huge task.

Tomato Growing Secret 12: Boost again with epsom salt and compost tea during the growing season

Hopefully you used eggshells and epsom salt (remember: not table salt!) when you planted your tomatoes the first time. 

Later in the season - about six weeks after you planted your tomato starts in the ground, go back and sprinkle about 1 Tbsp of epsom salt around the base of each plant, scratching it into the soil and watering well. 

I also water with worm tea that I collected from my vermicomposter at about this time. Don't have a vermicomposter? You can buy worm tea on Amazon (get worm tea on Amazon here), at Home Depot (buy worm tea concentrate at Home Depot here)

I hope these tips and FAQ answers help you on your journey to growing bigger, better, and more tomatoes!

If you have a tomato growing question I didn't answer, please ask me in the comments! I'll do my best to answer and update this article as needed, too!
Secrets for how to grow the best tomatoes! Get easy how to ideas and tips for growing tomatoes for beginners and intermediate gardeners. Whether you are growing tomatoes in pots, in a raised bed or a five gallon bucket, this article will answer all your questions about growing tomatoes vertically without needing to grow them in a greenhouse. #creativegreenliving #creativegreengarden #tomatoes #gardening



Carissa Bonham

About the Author:

Carissa Bonham is a green lifestyle advocate and mom of two creative boys. Her goal is to empower families to make easy projects and healthier choices that are beautiful and

The owner and lead writer at Creative Green Living, she is an award-winning blogger and most recently won the ShiftCon Media "Best Green Lifestyle Blogger" award in 2019.

Her projects have been featured in magazines like Kids Crafts 1-2-3, Capper's Farmer and Urban Farm Magazine. PinterestInstagramTwitter or join the Creative Green Living Tribe.
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2 comments

  1. We always have great plants but few tomatoes. We will try thinning. We are afraid to do it wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for this informative article, Carissa.

    ReplyDelete

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