Family: Solanaceae

Countries: Americas, Mexico, Peru, South America

Tomatoes, also known by their botanical name of Solanum lycopersicum, are wonderful plants, with a distinctive perfume that envelopes the garden’s air in summertime.  Tomatoes are a member of the Solanaceae family; they are related to potatoes and deadly nightshade and produce fruits in a wide range of sizes, shapes, colours, and flavours.

When growing tomatoes, it’s important to remember that these plants are tender – frost will kill tomato plants.  We need to time our sowings to make the most of our summer months and ensure we allow our plants sufficient time to produce and ripen their fruits before the frosts arrive in autumn.  In the UK, in order to successfully generate a harvest of tomatoes, we need to give our tomato plants a head start and to do this we sow tomato seeds in pots inside polytunnels or greenhouses, porches or conservatories; alternatively, if you don’t have any of these, you can sow tomato seeds on a particularly bright and sunny window sill.  Tomato seeds can be sown undercover in containers of good quality compost from February to April (from early to mid spring).  The seeds need warmth to germinate and plants need heat or protection until the frosts have passed.

Once all risk of frost has passed, which in the UK can be anytime from the end of May to the middle of June (late spring to early summer), tomato plants can be gradually hardened off by moving the plants outside in the daytime and then remembering to bring the tomato plants safely back undercover at night and repeat this every day.  Hardening plants off may seem like an unnecessary hassle or a waste of time, but I promise you it is worth it; as your plants will repay you by more rapidly adjusting to their new environment, thanks to your investment in them.  I’d recommend spending a minimum of two weeks (but ideally four weeks) to harden off your plants and ensure they’re fully acclimatised to their new outdoor space before you make it their permanent residence.

After being hardened off, your tomato plants are ready to be planted outdoors in garden beds and borders, or in containers filled with good quality composts.  Alternatively, the tomato plants can remain where they are, as tomatoes can be grown to full size inside polytunnels or greenhouses – this is often a preferable option for gardeners in colder areas.

Although tomatoes are easy to grow, these plants suffer from quite a number of pests and diseases, so not every plant makes it through to produce ripe tomatoes successfully.  Many advances have been made with tomato growing and breeding – grafted tomato plants are now widely available.  Tomato varieties with varying resistance to Late Blight and other diseases are now available to home gardeners.

The taste and flavour of a tomato is the most important factor for me when growing tomatoes.  To see all of my tomato articles, please click here.

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