How to grow tomatoes

It’s easy to grow delicious tomatoes in your garden with our step by step guide

Tomatoes are a great place to start if you’re looking to dip your toe into growing your own fruit and vegetables. They’re one of the easiest plants to start from seed, and you don’t need too much space to get a tasty crop.

Quick facts

Best time to plant: February - April

Flowering season: July - September

Difficulty: Easy, suitable for beginners



There are plenty of types of tomatoes available for you to choose from, depending on how much space you have and what you want to use them for.

Cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes: These are the smallest tomato variety, perfect for salads, snacking on and roasting whole.

Medium tomatoes: These versatile tomatoes are good to have within reach for a whole range of recipes, from salsas to sandwiches.

Beefsteak

Beefsteak: These are the largest variety of tomato, characterised by their juicy, meaty texture. Big enough to be the star of any dinner, try them stuffed, grilled, sliced or barbequed for an easy healthy meal.

Plum: These come in a range of sizes, from small to large, and are oval shaped. Typically, you’d choose them for sauces and soups because they have fewer seeds than other kinds of tomato.

The other important consideration when selecting your tomato seeds is how they grow. The variety you choose will either grow up along a single stalk or vine, known as cordon tomatoes, or spread outwards and grow off of multiple smaller branches, known as bush tomatoes.

Cordon tomatoes

Cordon tomatoes: With one main stem that grows straight up, these can reach heights of up to 2.5m. The fruit will grow either side of the vine, and you’ll need to support it with stakes. Cordon tomatoes will continue to grow throughout the season delivering a slow, steady supply of tomatoes.

Bush tomatoes

Bush tomatoes: These are smaller and more compact than cordons, perfect for pots, containers and hanging baskets.

Bush tomatoes will grow until they fruit and then put their energy into producing a large crop, rather than extending its reach. The tomatoes will all ripen within around two weeks for you to harvest on mass.

Seed selector

The table below will help you decide on what kind of seeds you want to buy. They’re all available in our stores, alongside even more tomato varieties to choose from.

Name Type Growing habit Height & spread Notes
Moneymaker Medium Cordon 200cm x 45cm Popular and reliable even in less than ideal conditions.
Alisa Craig Medium Cordon 200cm x 45cm Rich tasting and juicy, slices well.
Alicante Medium Cordon 200cm x 45cm Popular, easy to grow and resilient to disease.
Marmande Beefsteak Cordon 200cm x 45cm Large and juicy with rich flavour and irregular ribbed shape.
Beefsteak Beefsteak Cordon 200cm x 45cm Large meaty fruit can be eaten while still green.
Maskotka Cherry Bush 45cm x 45cm Produces a large crop, sweet tasting and bite-sized.
Tiny Tim Cherry Bush 45cm x 45cm Sweet tasting and small, grows well on windowsills.
Roma Plum Bush 45cm x 45cm Popular because of their thick flesh and few seeds for making sauces and pastes.
Yellow perfection Medium Cordon 200cm x 45cm Golden golf ball sized fruit with sweet, juicy flavour.
San Marzano 2 Plum Cordon 150cm x 45cm Plum shaped fruit most famous for use in Italian cooking.

Where to plant your tomatoes

A heated greenhouse is the ideal place for your seeds, but not everyone has one.

The next best thing is a propagator, large enough to accommodate one or two seed trays; some come with a heater at the bottom that plugs into mains electricity.

A sunny window sill will also do – but take care to turn pots regularly, or the seedlings will grow towards the light and become weak and spindly.

If the weather is warm enough, a cold frame will provide sufficient protection for seeds to grow outside.


Step 1

Step 1

Fill a seed tray with seed compost and firm the surface gently so it's flat. Very lightly water using a watering can with a fine spray rose head to settle the compost.

Scatter the seeds thinly across the top of the soil. Cover the seeds with 2mm to 3mm of seed compost or vermiculite and water again.

Don't forget to add a plant label to each tray.

Step 2

Place your seed tray somewhere bright and warm, approximately 18°C to 21°C, to allow the tomatoes to germinate.

Step 3

Keep the compost moist while the seeds germinate, which usually takes 7 to 14 days. After germination, remove the smaller, weaker seedlings, leaving just the stronger plants that you want to grow on.

Step 4

Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, it's time to prick them out and pot them on.

First of all, prepare some pots (7cm to 9cm in diameter) with multi-purpose compost. Prepare one pot per plant.

Use a dibber or pencil to help tease the roots out of their original compost and transfer the seedling into a hole in the new compost and firm it in gently with the dibber before watering.

Handle with care

Tomato seedlings have very tender stems that could easily be bruised or damaged by fingers. Always hold the seedlings by a leaf when potting on, not the stem.

 

Step 5

After transferring your tomato seedlings to small pots, allow them to grow on for approximately three weeks until they reach roughly 15cm in height.

Step 6

When the plants are about 15cm high with a stem as thick as a pencil, transfer them to a larger pot, bed or plant three in a grow bag.

Plant them quite deeply so that the stem is buried up to the first side shoot, then water in. The buried part of the stem will grow new roots for a stronger, healthier plant.

Step 7

Unless you’re growing bush tomato plants, once it reaches around 50cm in height, it will require staking to provide the support it needs when it starts to fruit. Without support, the plant will collapse, and the stems will snap due to the weight of the fruit.

Stick a bamboo cane or garden stake into the soil, close to the plant but taking care to avoid any visible roots. Use garden twine to loosely anchor the main stem of the plant to the stake or cane.


Tomato hanging baskets

Smaller bush cherry tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets. They cascade out and down creating a beautiful display of tasty fruit.

A 300mm round basket will give you space for 1 or 2 tomato plants, you can buy a bigger one for more plants but it’s best not to plant more than 4 in a basket as the roots need space to grow.

Simply line your hanging basket with a natural fibre liner, and fill with multipurpose compost. Follow the same instructions as above until step 6, and instead of planting them into the ground you can move your tomatoes to your basket. Plant them around the edge of the basket so they can grow outwards.

Hanging basket kit

Buy everything you need for your tomato hanging basket with our ready-made kit which comes complete with a hanging basket, seeds and compost.


Tomato plants need as much light, warmth and shelter as you can provide, together with regular watering in dry weather and feeding regularly at the flowering stage and beyond.

Whilst your plants are fruiting you’ll need to water them little and often, and you can ease off once the fruit starts to ripen. Try to water your plants at the base and avoid getting their leaves and stems wet as this could lead to rot or blight. Once they start flowering, feed them once a week with a high potassium feed.

Pruning your way to success

As well as being staked, cordon varieties require some simple pruning so that the plant's energy is directed at producing fruit.

This involves pinching out the side shoots, so that you have about six fruit trusses per plant. Once the tomato plant has six flowering trusses, cut off the tip of the main stem. When the tomatoes start to ripen, you can start to clip away some of the leaves to help give the tomatoes more light to ripen. Bush tomatoes don't require any pruning.


Harvesting your tomatoes

Fruits will form quite quickly over the summer but can seem to take a while to ripen especially in dull weather. It's worth waiting for the full colour to develop although a red tomato can be eaten while still pale, the flavour will be much richer, sweeter and juicier if the fruit is left to ripen on the vine before picking.

Ripening times will be longer by September; any mature but unripe tomatoes can be picked at the end of the month to ripen in the warmth indoors, although the flavour won’t be as full.