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How to grow tomatoes at home: a beginner's guide

Venture into the world of organic eating and start growing tomatoes at home today.


Tomatoes and tomato sauce on a kitchen table

Key steps

Here’s how to grow tomatoes:

  1. Prepare your soil for optimum growing conditions.

  2. Germinate seeds in a special seedling mix in a warm, sheltered spot indoors.

  3. Plant out when it’s warmer and the last frosts have passed.

  4. Water deeply and regularly, and use wooden stakes to support their growth.

  5. Wait for the tomatoes to ripen before harvesting.

Harvesting your first, freshly grown tomato is incredibly satisfying, but how do you begin growing them in the first place? In this guide on how to grow tomatoes for beginners, we'll explain how to grow tomatoes in pots and how to grow tomatoes vertically. Get ready to savour the smell and flavour of plump, sun-ripened tomatoes at home.

Knowing how to grow tomatoes at home from seed isn’t the only option. You can also grow tomatoes from the cuttings of side shoots. Just place in a small jar of water, wait for the roots to sprout, and then plant out like seedlings.

How to grow tomatoes in South Africa

First things first – as climate can affect what you do – is important to know how to grow tomatoes in South Africa. In frost-free areas, you can grow tomatoes all year round. Otherwise, wait until after the last frost to plant them. When growing tomatoes at home, protect them from heat and dryness until they’re established.

How to grow tomatoes in a pot

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Learning how to grow tomatoes in pots is a great option if it's your first time growing vegetables. Follow these steps:

  1. Preparation. Soil is one of the most important factors in a successful crop. You’ll want to include a generous amount of manure and compost and use a complete fertiliser – as tomatoes flourish in a mix of high phosphorous, moderate potassium, and low nitrogen.

  2. Germinating seeds. Keep the seeds in a special seedling mix for 3-5 weeks. Choose a warm, sheltered spot – a sunny windowsill is ideal – and rotate the pots daily while keeping the mix moist. When the air and soil temperatures rise, plant them out. Use Handy Andy to keep the space clean while they’re indoors.

  3. Planting out. Wait until the plants are 15-20cm tall to prepare the soil outside so that it drains freely. Choose a spot that’s sheltered from the wind but gets several hours of sunlight a day. Plant so that their lower leaves are just above ground level – check the seed packet for exact spacing. Leave paths that are 1.5 metres wide between any rows that you plant.

  4. Caring. Water your plants deeply and regularly, and help the soil retain moisture by mulching with compost, grass clippings, or straw. Use stakes to support the plants as they grow (more on than later).

  5. Harvesting. After about 6-8 weeks a fertilised flower will develop into mature fruit. Ideally, you should let your tomatoes ripen on the plant before picking them.

How to grow tomatoes vertically

Vertical garden systems are on the rise, so another option for growing tomatoes at home is to use wooden stakes to grow them upwards. This is particularly suitable for the indeterminate types – more vine-like than determinate varieties, which are bushier and stop growing after they reach a certain height.

  1. Once your tomato plants are outside, use a mallet to firmly drive a 1.5-metre stake into the ground, about 15cm from your plant. 

  2. Tie strips of cloth onto the stake every 10cm or so, loosely securing them around the stem of the plant as it grows.

With our guide to how to grow tomatoes step-by-step, you can get your gardening gloves on and start looking forward to harvesting your very first crop of juicy red tomatoes!

Originally published