7 Ways to Grow the Ultimate Tomato Crop

Plant your most fruitful tomato harvest ever with these seven tried-and-tested tips for success.

Tomatoes are the bright red gems of veggie gardens. In a salad or sandwich or on its own, a fresh slice of sweet goes a long way. Up your grow game with these tomato tips from the National Garden Bureau

1. Plant in Direct Sunlight

Set yourself up for success by making sure tomatoes are planted in a space that receives a lot of direct sunlight. “They can get by with six hours of sun but, ideally, eight hours or more is best,” says Diane Blazek, executive director of the National Garden Bureau. “Less than eight hours of sunlight results in fewer and smaller fruits.” Warm weather is important, too. Until nighttime temperatures reach 55 degrees, hold off on planting. (Read more: The Top 10 Best Tomatoes to Grow)

2. Try the Trench Method

Dig a 4-inch hole that’s as long as the plant is high. Pluck lower leaves off the stem, then place the plant in the trench horizontally, filling the trench with soil but keeping the remaining leaves above ground. “Planting horizontally in a trench or simply planting deeper in the soil allows the stem to shoot out new roots, giving the plant a sturdier base,” Diane says. This method is ideal for large indeterminate tomatoes that develop heavy vines and fruits. The technique also promotes speedy, healthy growth, because the plant grows toward the sun and the developing roots are buried shallowly to stay warm. Just make sure to water deeply.

3. Give ’Em Shelter

Tuck tomatoes in at night with a cloche or other cover to protect them from frosty temps. Diane suggests a cold frame (for seedlings), tunnel row covers (once plants are in the ground), water barriers, or an old cloth or plastic tarp. If exposed to 32 degrees, these plants will likely die, so shelter is key!

4. Water Well

As long as the plant continues to fruit, water deeply and thoroughly during dry periods. Once established, tomato plants need at least 1 inch of water a week.

5. Swipe Ripe

Be patient and wait until tomatoes are fully ripened and at their deepest color before harvesting. (Once the fruit is removed, its sugar supply is cut off.) Gently twist the fruit so the stem separates easily from the vine. (Read more: Top 10 Tomato Growing Tips)

6. Skip the Refrigerator

Keep ripe tomatoes cozy instead of cool. Store at room temperature on a kitchen counter for a better-tasting bite. “Never store tomatoes
in the fridge!” Diane says. “Refrigeration changes the taste and texture of tomatoes. Keep them at room temperature and use them as soon as they ripen.”

7. Go Green

Before the first frost pays your garden a visit, pluck any remaining green tomatoes and place them on a windowsill or counter. If the tomato is in a warm spot, the fruit will ripen faster; a cooler location will slow ripening. Although the flavor won’t match vine-ripened, it will stretch your harvest a little more.

Meet the National Garden Bureau

This nonprofit has evolved since its Victory Garden efforts during World War II. Today, it educates and inspires green thumbs to grow their best gardens.

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• Maglia Rosa Italian cherry tomatoes reach their peak flavor when the 3-inch-long fruits are light pink. Grow them in hanging baskets to pop one of these egg-shaped jewels into your mouth whenever you like. Buy It!