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28 May 2021

How to grow tomatoes

Try growing your own tomatoes for unbeatable flavour this summer. Discover our best tomato varieties and tips for how to grow them.
CT
Ceri Thomas

Tomatoes are easy to grow, both indoors and in the garden. They do well in pots and growing bags so are perfect for patios and balconies too.

How to grow tomatoes: month by month

January February March April May June




SOW SOW PLANT

July August September October November December


HARVEST HARVEST HARVEST



Best tomato varieties

Which? members can log in now to see the full results and which are our Best Buy varieties. If you’re not a member, join Which? to get instant access.

The best cherry tomatoes
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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4.25kg
This was the only one of our previously recommended cherry tomatoes to retain its Best Buy status and there are plenty of reasons for this. The small, shiny, bright-red tomatoes look just how a cherry tomato should. The flavour is full and fresh, sweet, yet slightly acidic, and they’re tender, moist and juicy. We got a good crop of tomatoes from our plants and they were very easy to pick. All in all, this is a great tomato. It also holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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5.42kg
This tomato stands out from the crowd with its rosy-pink skin, speckled with flecks of orange and dark green shoulders. The taste of the fruits was good – quite sweet with an acidic edge – and they were juicy with a slightly chewy skin. The plants were loaded with tomatoes and produced the heaviest crop in our test. The fruits were around 3cm across – the perfect size for a cherry tomato.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.95kg
This baby plum gained joint top marks in our taste test. We thought the flavour was exceptional, being sweet with a good edge of acidity. The fruits were also very juicy and tender, with a bit of bite in the skin. It was one of the first to crop in our tests, and although the overall yield wasn’t huge due to its small fruit, you wouldn’t be disappointed.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.7kg
This is one of the tomatoes bred from ‘Suncherry Premium’. The taste was as good as its parent, being praised as sweet, full-flavoured and slightly acidic. It scored well for texture, too. We liked its yellow outside and pale-red inner colour. The plants got off to a strong start, but didn’t grow as large as other plants, which made them easily manageable. The plants produced lots of tomatoes throughout our test.
The best salad tomatoes
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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5kg
You’d be hard pressed to find a more traditional-looking tomato. It’s round, bright red and about the size of a cricket ball. It was a little later than some to start cropping, but gave us a substantial harvest before the end of the test. It also holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). We like the intense flavour, which is savoury and salty rather than sweet. The texture is firm, verging on crunchy.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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4.3kg
We were impressed by the good health of these plants. They were tall and robust with well-spaced trusses, which meant the fruit was able to ripen well. The fruit’s stripy appearance makes it very attractive to look at. It has a more intense taste than ‘Tigerella’ and a firmer texture. The flavour is quite tangy and acidic, but with a hint of sweetness. However, we found the skin a little thick.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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3.3kg
These bullet-shaped tomatoes were smaller than many in our test, which explains the lower yield in terms of weight. On the upside, there were always at least a handful of tomatoes to pick at every harvest. The plants were very healthy, despite the leaves curling inwards in the heat. It’s by far our favourite tomato to eat, with a robust flavour that has a potent blend of sweetness with acidity, albeit with chewy skins.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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7.6kg
This tomato has been a firm favourite for decades and it holds an RHS AGM. It gave us a huge crop of attractive tomatoes on long, multi-branched trusses. The plants were generally problem-free, although they were among the first to need an extra feed. The tomatoes are a little watery and soft, and although the sharp flavour is pleasant, it isn’t as intense as some of the other Best Buys.
The best beefsteak tomatoes
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.28kg
This hybrid beefsteak was not among the heaviest croppers in our trial and didn’t have the biggest fruit, but it made up for it in taste. The deep blood-red tomatoes were attractive, fleshy and very juicy. They tasted rich and fruity – very sweet, but with a well-balanced acidity and savoury tones.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.78kg
Like an overgrown plum tomato, this is an improved version of an old Italian variety. The tomatoes had firm but tender flesh that varied from pale pink to rose red. Our tasters described them as quite acidic and not very sweet, but with a pronounced savoury flavour.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.4kg
You get a lot of seeds for your money with this Italian heritage variety. It’s not the prettiest beefsteak tomato – small, flattened and heavily ribbed. But it is attractive when cut open, exposing well-defined seed cavities. The flesh was soft, but very juicy, and it tasted good – a balance of sweetness, acidity and savoury flavours. It also holds an RHS AGM.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.73kg
This combined big yield and great flavour. It produced some of the largest fruits, and they weren’t as heavily ribbed as some. The tomatoes were tender, fleshy and very juicy, with a strong savoury and tangy aroma. They weren’t particularly sweet, but had a rich flavour with salty and savoury hints.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.05kg
If you want a cheaper, non-hybrid beefsteak, this is a good choice. It was one of the lowest yielding but best tasting in our trial. Our tasters noted its tangy tomato aroma. The tomatoes tasted sweet, with a balanced acidity and a very rich, savoury flavour. The flesh was tender and very juicy.
The best plum tomato
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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1.4kg
This stood out in our trial, as it was a vigorous, healthy variety that didn’t seem to be as prone to blossom end rot or leaf curl as others. It started fruiting quite early and produced a large yield of blemish-free, medium-sized tomatoes with smooth, bright-red skins. Not only did they look attractive, they tasted good too. Our tasters thought the aroma, texture and flavour of this tomato were all very pleasant and the fruits could also be eaten raw. It also holds an RHS AGM.
The best hanging basket tomatoes
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.3kg
Some of the varieties we grew, including ‘Montello’, had long stems that trailed below the bottom of the basket, pulled downwards by the weight of the fruit. These plants looked attractive, with large trusses of beautifully rounded, red fruit hanging in clusters. They ripened well, with none of the greenback that some varieties had in the hot weather. They also tasted delicious, with well-balanced acidity and sweetness.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.1kg
This relatively new variety was quite compact, with a more naturally trailing shape than many of the others. The plants grew very evenly so were easily manageable and looked attractive. Some of the medium-sized cherry fruits had a little bit of greenback early on in the summer. This is a common problem in heat, but these plants weren’t badly affected compared to others and later fruit ripened more evenly. The tomatoes were soft, juicy and deliciously sweet.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.8kg
Also a Best Buy cherry tomato, this did very well again in this trial. It grew strongly with long, trailing stems festooned with small, bright-red fruit. The crop was the second heaviest in the trial, which is especially impressive when you consider that they’re one of the smaller-fruited varieties. The tomatoes had great flavour, released in a delicious burst when you bit into them.
What it looks like Variety name Yield per plant
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2.7kg
These bushy plants were also naturally trailing in shape. Some of the early-ripening fruit had greenback in the heat of the polytunnel, but the plants grown outside were free of it. The fruit was quite widely spaced out on the trusses but the plants were so dense they still produced the fourth highest yield of medium-sized cherry tomatoes. They were juicy with more acidity than some, but it was well balanced by sweetness.
The best outdoor tomatoes
What it looks like Variety name Yield from three plant
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7.9kg
A cordon variety, this one produced a steady harvest of even-sized, large cherry tomatoes on long trusses between mid-August and the end of September. It showed good blight resistance – even when the variety growing next to it succumbed, it only had mild signs of disease. Flavour-wise, this variety had a strong tomato taste with a fairly strong acidity tang.

What it looks like Variety name Yield from three plants
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18.8g
This semi-determinate variety produced the largest crop by far - a whopping 18.8kg of ripe, large cherry tomatoes throughout September, along with another 8.4kg of unripe green fruits. It remained free from blight for six weeks after the first Blightwatch alert, and was only mildly affected for a further three weeks before blight fully took hold. Although slow to ripen and rather mixed in terms of fruit uniformity, this variety couldn’t be beaten for yield. It wasn’t the tastiest raw, but we think it could make a good cooking tomato.

How we test tomatoes

We grow lots of varieties alongside each other then harvest the tomatoes regularly, and count and weigh the fruit from each variety. We also taste the tomatoes, rating them for taste and texture.

When to sow

Plants to grow indoors

If you sow tomatoes too early the natural light levels will be too low and you'll get tall, leggy plants that won't grow well. Mid-March is perfect for tomatoes that will be grown indoors in a greenhouse or polytunnel.

Sow the seeds in a pot or small tray of a Best Buy compost for sowing seeds. They need a temperature of 15-20C to germinate so put them on a warm windowsill indoors or in a heated propagator. When the seedlings have emerged, they can be moved into individual 7cm pots of a Best Buy compost for raising young plants. Gently hold the leaf - never the delicate stem - and loosen then from the compost by lifting underneath them with a pencil. Then make a hole in the new pot of compost and put the seedling in so that the leaves are just above the the surface of the compost. Keep them in a light place - either on a heating mat in the greenhouse or under grow lights in the house. Two weeks after moving them into their own pots, move them into a slightly bigger pot as they'll be growing quickly. Don't feed your plants at this stage.

Plants for growing outdoors

Tomatoes are killed by the frost so you don't want them to be ready to plant before the danger of frost has passed in mid to late May. Wait until early April before you sow plants for outdoors. Do it in the same way as for plants for indoors (above).

Caring for your plants

Planting

You can either plant in the ground or in large pots or growing bags. If you're using pots, fill them with a mixture of a Best Buy compost for containers and a Best Buy controlled-release fertiliser. There should be 50cm between plants in the ground. Don't plant outdoors until the danger of frost has passed in mid to late May.

To support your plants as they grow, either tie a piece of string to the greenhouse roof and put the end under the tomato plant, or insert a bamboo cane next to the plant. Put the plants in so that the soil or compost comes just below the first pair of leaves. This will encourage the plant to make extra roots so it's more sturdy.

Growing in a hanging basket

There are varieties that have been bred to be compact and bushy, perfect for growing in a hanging basket. Put one plant in a 40cm-diameter basket and put it outdoors once the danger of frost has past in mid- to late May.

Read more about growing tomatoes in a hanging basket.

Training

Most varieties should be grown as cordons ie only on one stem. Bush varieties are sometimes grown outdoors and these can be left to their own devices, with a few short canes to stop them falling over.

Cordon plants need to be tied to their support regularly and the sideshoots that grow between the main stem and the leaf need to be removed as they appear. This will channel the plant's energy into making flowers and fruit rather than extra leafy growth.

Watering

Tomatoes are thirsty plants so you need to water them regularly - twice a day for plants in containers during hot weather. Try not to get water on the leaves or it can cause disease problems.

Feeding

Feeding is important to produce the sweetest tomatoes. The easiest way to feed is to add controlled-release feed to the compost when planting in pots. If you plant in the ground or in growing bags, feed by adding a liquid tomato feed to the water after the first flowers appear. 

Plants grown in pots also benefit from doing this in late summer when the controlled-release feed begins to run out.

Discover our Best Buy tomato feed.

Ripening fruits

To encourage all the fruits to ripen, pinch out the main growing tip of the plant in early to mid-August and remove any new leaves or flowers that appear. This is to channel the plant's energy to ripening the fruit before the colder weather returns in autumn.

How and when to harvest 

Harvest from: August to October

You can choose how ripe you you like your tomatoes: half-coloured for tart, firm fruit or full-coloured for sweeter and softer fruits. 

To pick the fruit, gently lift it upwards with your thumb on the calyx (the star-shaped green bits at the top of the fruit), to keep it on the fruit after it's picked. This will help the fruit keep for longer.

Each time you pick all the fruits on a truss (group of fruits), remove the leaves below to improve air flow around the plant and make it easier to avoid wetting the foliage when watering.

How to ripen green tomatoes

At the end of the season, you're sometimes left with green tomatoes that haven't ripened before the cold weather starts. Remove them from the plants before you pull them up and bring them indoors. You may have heard different techniques recommended for ripening green tomatoes, including putting them with a banana, but when Which? Gardening magazine tested different methods we found that putting them in a dark place indoors, such as a drawer, works best. Tomatoes left with bananas were one of the worst methods for causing the tomatoes to rot.

Storing your harvest

You can freeze whole tomatoes, but it may be easier to make them into dishes, such as tomato sauce or soup, first. You can also slice 6mm strips and put them in a dehydrator machine - these cost about £50.

Common growing problems

Leaf curl

Tomato leaves sometimes curl when the temperature is too hot. The plants will still grow so it's not a problem. Try to cool the greenhouse by opening the door and any vents and windows on hot days.

Read more about leaf curl.

Blight

This fungal disease tends to occur in late summer and needs warm, humid weather - you can sign up to Blightwatch for alerts in your local area. On the stems, the first signs are large, dark-brown spots, which can spread and kill the plant. Similar spots form on the leaves, although they may be lighter or grey in colour. It takes very little time for the leaves to be covered, after which they wither and die. The fruits turn a red/brown marbled colour. Avoid wetting the foliage of greenhouse plants as it needs moisture to spread. Unfortunately there are no treatments for it so infected plants should be removed asap. They can be put in the compost bin as blight needs living plant tissue to survive.

Read more about blight.

Split fruits

The fruits can sometimes spilt open, often in varieties with thinner skins, such as cherry tomatoes. The fruit can still be eaten but it may become mouldy if left. Irregular watering is the cause of this problem so try water every day. Outdoor plants are particularly vulnerable as they may experience a sudden deluge in a rain storm.

Read more about split fruits.

Greenback

Sometimes a ring at the top of the fruit remains green and fails to ripen. It tends to occur during hot weather so improving ventilation by opening the greenhouse door and opening vents and windows will help. The fruit can still be eaten.

Read more about greenback.

Blossom end rot

This produces brown, leathery patches at the bottom of the fruit. You can still eat the unaffected parts. It's caused by lack of calcium, which is caused by erratic watering and hot temperatures. Water your plants regularly and help to reduce temperatures by opening the greenhouse doors and any vents and windows.

Read more about blossom end rot.

Tomato moth

This green caterpillar munches the fruits and leaves. Look out for it in the evening when it's most commonly seen and remove any you find. 

Read more about tomato moth.