Tomatoes (Lycopersicum esculentum)
No summer salad is complete without juicy home-grown tomatoes picked at their peak of maturity, fresh from the vine. Tomatoes are our most popular fruit and are pretty easy, if you get your planting time right and look after the plants well.
You can harvest fruit from July through until October – even longer if you start off suitable indoor varieties under cover.
As well as choosing between varieties that are suitable for cultivating outside or indoors under cover, there are three main types of tomatoes to choose from:
- Cordon (or upright) varieties are a single stem that needs support and the side shoots regularly removed.
- Bush varieties are shorter, bushier and need no training, support or stopping.
- Trailing varieties don’t need support or training and are good for tumbling from patio pots and hanging baskets.
You can also choose varieties with different sizes of fruit, from the small cherry tomatoes all the way up to the large beefsteak tomatoes. And, although the vast majority of fruit is red, you can also get varieties with either yellow, orange, purple or even striped fruit!
- Cordon varieties: Gardeners’ Delight (small), Sungold (small/cherry), Cherry Belle (small/cherry), Alicante (medium), Ailsa Craig (medium) and Dombito (large/beefsteak).
- Bush varieties: Glacier (medium), Roma (plum) and Marmande (large).
- Trailing varieties: Garden Pearl (small), Tumbling Tom Red (small) and Tumbling Tom Yellow (small).
You can grow your own plants from seed by sowing indoors in trays or small pots of seed sowing compost.
Alternatively, you can buy young or ready-grown plants from your local garden centre or mail order seed supplier.
Plant out outdoor plants in early June or the end of May if night temperatures are warm enough and no frosts are forecast.
How to care for tomatoes
Tomatoes planted in the ground may need watering during prolonged periods of dry weather to ensure good fruit set and fruit swelling. Tomatoes in containers will need regular and careful watering and feeding – especially if using a compost planter, as these are prone to drying out very quickly when the plants are in full crop.
Regular use of a good quality liquid tomato plant food will provide your plants the nutrients they need to thrive.
Harvest when the fruit is ripe and fully coloured. Don’t leave mature fruit on the plant, as it can quickly soften, go off and split.
Towards the end of the season, you can pick any unripe, green fruit and place it on a sunny windowsill or put in a drawer next to a ripe apple or banana to help it ripen.
At the end of the harvesting season, lift the plants with unripe fruit and either lay them on straw under cloches or hang them in a cool shed to aid ripening. Or use them to make green tomato chutney.
Pests and diseases
|Flowering season(s)||Spring, Summer|
|Foliage season(s)||Spring, Summer, Autumn|
|Soil type||Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy|
|Soil moisture||Moist but well-drained|
|Ultimate height||Up to 1.8m (6ft)|
|Ultimate spread||Up to 60cm (2ft)|
|Time to ultimate height||5 months|