The tomato is the edible berry of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The species originated in western South America and Central America. The Mexican Nahuatl word tomatl gave rise to the Spanish word tomate, from which the English word tomato derived.

Tomatoes are a significant source of umami flavor. The tomato is consumed in diverse ways, raw or cooked, in many dishes, sauces, salads, and drinks. While tomatoes are fruits botanically classified as berries and they are commonly used culinarily as a vegetable ingredient or side dish.

Table of Contents


1–3 meters (3–10 ft)


1-4 feet

Approximate pH

5.5 - 7.5

Types of Tomatoes

All tomatoes are either determinate, indeterminate, or semi-determinate.

  • Determinate tomatoes: Also called bush tomatoes, plants grow 1-3 feet tall and produce one big crop.

  • Indeterminate tomatoes: Also called vining tomatoes, plants grow up to 10 feet tall and produce tomatoes throughout the season.

  • Semi-determinate tomatoes: Plants are more compact than indeterminate plants and produce all season.

Heirloom vs Hybrid?

  • Heirloom: Heirloom varieties have been around for hundreds of years, tend to have the best flavor, and grow true from seed.

  • Hybrid: Hybrids are a cross between two or more tomato varieties, bred for particular traits such as disease-resistance and cold hardiness. They tend to be less flavorful than heirlooms.

Common types of tomatoes:

Tomatoes come in different sizes, shapes, and water content, which can help determine what kind to grow and how to use them. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Beefsteak tomato: Among the largest fruits, beefsteaks have a juicy, meaty texture and classic flavor. Round, slightly flattened fruits are superior slicers for sandwiches, salads, and caprese.

  • Campari tomato: Also known as tomatoes on the vine. Golf-ball-sized fruits have low acidity, exceptionally sweet flavor, and juicy texture. Good for snacking, salads, salsa, roasting, and bruschetta.

  • Pear tomato: Small pear-shaped fruits have a sweet mild flavor and juicy texture. Plants are heavy producers over a long time. Good for snacking, salads, and preserves.

  • Plum tomato: Popular plum tomatoes are Roma and San Marzano. The water content is low and texture is firm, making these a good choice for tomato sauce, paste, roasting, drying, and canning. Fruits are mellow tasting, medium sized, and oval shaped.

  • Salad tomato: Rounded fruits, 2-3 inches in diameter, are perfect for slicing on sandwiches or chopped in salads. Somewhat tart and juicy, these have a good balance of acid and sweet.

  • Grape tomato: Similar to plum tomatoes but smaller, the oval-shaped fruits grow in clusters similar to cherry types but have a thicker, meatier texture, and milder flavor. Good for snacking, salads, kebabs, and roasting.

  • Cherry tomato: Bite-sized rounded fruits that grow in clusters are juicy and sweet tasting. Good for snacking, salads, kebabs, roasting, and quick sauces.

Planting Tomatoes

When to plant tomatoes: Tomatoes will fail to thrive unless temperatures are optimal. Nights should be consistently no lower than 55 degrees F, while soil temperature should be at least 60 degrees. Prolonged heat over 90 degrees F will cause fruit and flower production to halt. Planting before it's warm enough can result in stunted plants. Planting too late can result in low yields or unripened fruits.

Where to plant tomatoes: Tomatoes need at least 6-8 hours of full sun, along with plenty of heat to thrive. Rotate the site every year to prevent soil-borne diseases and insect infestations. Tomatoes should not be planted in the same spot where eggplant, peppers, or potatoes have recently been grown. Avoid planting tomatoes near corn or plants in the Brassica and Solanum families. Planting tomato seedlings or young plants: Turn garden soil to a depth of 8 inches and amend with rich organic matter. Tomatoes can develop roots along any part of the stem that is submerged under soil. Burying the lower part of the plant will encourage more roots and sturdier growth. Cut off side branches on the part of the stem that will be submerged. Add a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch (organic matter) around plants to conserve water and control weeds.

Tomato plant spacing: Place larger indeterminate types 3 feet apart. Compact determinate types can be spaced 2 feet apart. Allow 3 feet in between rows.

Starting tomato seeds: Sow tomato seeds 6-8 weeks before the final frost date in your area. Plant seeds 1/4-inch deep in a seed-growing medium. Keep soil moist and indoor air temperature at 70 degrees F or warmer for germination in 7-14 days. Once seedlings emerge, provide ample window light or use fluorescent plant lights for 16 hours a day. When the first set of true leaves develops, fertilize once a week at half strength. Transplant into 3- to 4-inch containers when plants have 3 sets of leaves. Wait until all danger of frost is past to transplant outdoors, gradually acclimating plants to avoid shock.

Many specialty and heirloom varieties are only available from seed. Planting tomatoes in pots: Choose a site on a patio, balcony, or deck that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sun throughout the summer. Use determinate types which will stay smaller. Containers should be at least 5 gallons or larger (12 inches wide and deep) for each plant and have good drainage. Use high-quality potting soil and mix time-release fertilizer into the planting hole.

Containers will need more frequent watering and fertilizing than plants in the ground. Once plants set fruit, fertilize every 1-2 weeks with a balanced liquid organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion.

Season extenders: Warming aids help jump start growth early in the growing season when temperatures are still cool. This is especially helpful for those in short-season climates. Cover the ground area around plants with black plastic sheeting, which will absorb heat and suppress weeds. Other season extenders include row covers, hoop houses, or water walls.

Tomato companion plants: Companion planting refers to the symbiotic relationship of how certain plants can benefit from the close proximity of others. Good companion plants for tomatoes include asparagus, basil, borage, mint, parsley, lettuce, spinach, peas, carrots, celery, beans, garlic, onions, squash, nasturtium, and marigolds. Learn more about companion planting.

Tomato Plant Care

Soil: Tomatoes need rich well-draining soil that stays moist but not soggy. Work compost, aged manure, worm castings, or a combination into existing soil. They prefer a slightly acidic pH between 6.0 and 7.0.

Amendments & fertilizer: Tomatoes are fast growers and heavy feeders, needing regular supplemental fertilizer to produce well. There are many different methods and amendments available.

  • At planting time, add a slow-release fertilizer to the planting hole according to instructions. Use a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer or a blend formulated for tomatoes.

  • Water newly planted seedlings with a starter fertilizer solution to jump-start growth.

  • Once plants begin to set fruit, fertilize every 1-2 weeks with fish emulsion, compost tea, or other water-soluble organic fertilizer.

  • Make sure plants receive adequate calcium to help prevent blossom end rot.

  • Other organic supplements that benefit tomatoes include bone meal, cottonseed meal, lime, egg shells, and used coffee grounds.

Watering: Plants need regular water to grow well. The rule of thumb is to water slowly and deeply to encourage a deep root system.

  • Irrigate in the morning and avoid overhead watering, which will help prevent fungal diseases.

  • Underwatering will stress plants and stunt growth.

  • Overwatering can cause root rot, fungal disease, and loss of fruit quality.

  • Irregular watering can result in problems such as blossom drop, fruit cracking, or blossom end rot.

  • For raised beds and plots, use drip irrigation or a soaker hose to deliver water to the roots most efficiently.

  • For containers, water around the base of the plant with a watering wand. Water twice weekly, or more often during extreme heat spells.

Pruning tomato plants: To direct energy toward producing fruit rather than foliage, tomato plants can be pruned, though it’s not necessary. Pruning can also help ward off pests and diseases by increasing air circulation and light.

  • Pinch out suckers that grow between the main stem and branches; these will produce few if any fruits.

  • Remove the suckers when small (less than pencil width) to prevent plant shock.

  • Trim out lower branches to prevent water splash on the leaves, which can promote fungal diseases.

  • Indeterminate vining types can be pruned down to a single leader so they can be trained up a stake or string trellis.

Support: Tomatoes need support to keep plants and fruits off the ground. Use stakes or tomato cages for small determinate bush types. Larger indeterminate vining types will need heavy duty stakes or cages, ladders, or trellises.

Harvesting: Fruit should be left on the plant plant as long as possible to develop the best flavor. Here are some tips to help you determine if your tomatoes are ready to be picked:

  • Ripe fruit should be fully colored, though some heirlooms can retain some green around the stems.

  • Fruit should be firm but slightly soft, not mushy.

  • Plum and other types with less water content will stay more firm.

  • Cherry tomatoes are susceptible to cracking if left on the vine for too long.

  • Overripe fruits may drop off the plant.

Picked fruit should be kept at room temperature on a counter or windowsill until using. Storing in the refrigerator can result in loss of flavor. Once daytime temperatures fall below 60 degrees F, fruit will cease ripening. When this occurs, pull up the entire plant and hang upside down in a dark space such as the garage or basement to finish ripening. Or, pick and store unripened fruits in a paper bag or cardboard box between layers of newspaper to finish ripening. Use green tomatoes fresh, cooked, or preserved.

Fall cleanup: Dispose of spent plants in municipal trash or yard debris pickup. Don’t bury or compost the plants, as pathogens can remain and be passed on to the following year’s crops.

Pests, Diseases and Problems

There are many pests and diseases that can impact tomato crops, but growing disease-resistant varieties will help ensure that you have a healthy crop of tomato plants.

Pests The most common pests include aphids, cutworm, blister beetle, tomato fruitworm, flea beetle, stinkbug, leafhoppers, spider mites, nematodes, slugs and snails, tomato hornworm, and whiteflies.

Diseases Most diseases are fungal-related and are due to improper watering practices, excess humidity, and poor air circulation. Diseases include early and late blight, gray leaf spot, septoria leaf spot, verticillium wilt, anthracnose, bacterial wilt, leaf mold, fusarium wilt, tobacco mosaic virus, damping-off disease, tomato yellow leaf curl virus, and tomato spotted wilt virus.

Problems Other problems include flower drop, blossom end rot, leaf roll, catfacing, poor fruit set, and fruit cracking.

Benefits of Tomatoes

  • Protects the heart: Rich in antioxidants, tomatoes help to maintain healthy blood vessels. The presence of vitamin C and lycopene, two substances that have an antioxidant action, promote the transport of oxygen in the blood and improve blood flow.

  • Regulates blood pressure: Lycopene, Vitamin C and other antioxidants present help to improve the health of the cardiovascular system. However, potassium also plays a key role, as it is a mineral that helps to regulate blood pressure.

  • Healthy skin: Eating tomatoes frequently, helps to maintain healthy skin, to minimize enlarged pores, treat acne and rashes or treat minor burns.

  • Prevents eye problems: Besides being rich in vitamin A and C, tomato is also rich in beta-carotenes, which are nutrients that help maintain eye health and prevent the risk of developing cataracts.

  • Anti-inflammatory action: Regular consumption of tomato can have an anti-inflammatory action, since it is composed of anti-inflammatory agents such as bioflavonoids and carotenoids, which in turn helps to reduce inflammation and relieve the pain of chronic diseases.

  • Bone Health: The presence of vitamin K and calcium makes tomatoes an ally for bone and dental health, contributing to their protection. Vitamin K also helps prevent osteoporosis.

  • Helps prevent some types of cancer: Since tomatoes are a source of lycopene and vitamins A and C, it helps to reduce the risk of prostate, colorectal and stomach cancer.

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