Getting Started with Tomatoes
Growing tomatoes is a great way for Floridians to start growing vegetables. No matter which part of the state you live in, you'll benefit from either long or multiple growing seasons for this hearty kitchen staple. Plus, learn how to grow tomatoes from seed or young plants and you'll be armed with knowledge that you can apply to the rest of your garden. Either way, you'll be amazed by how many different varieties there are to choose from, including heirloom, beefsteak, cherry, and paste-style tomatoes.
When to Plant Tomatoes
The "when" of growing tomatoes in Florida is perhaps the trickiest part to master. In North Florida, plants are started in February, after the last frost, so they will produce the most tomatoes before summer heat sets in. In Central Florida, tomatoes can generally be planted in early February for early summer tomatoes and again in September for picking tomatoes in fall and winter. Just remember, in early spring there is always the danger of frost, so be prepared to cover the plants with clear plastic, or start them in containers so you can bring them inside if a frosty night is predicted. In South Florida, tomatoes can be grown from August through March.
Planting Tomatoes from Young Plants
The easiest way to plant tomatoes is to buy already-growing transplants from your local garden center. Look for stocky, dark green plants with stems that are pencil-thick, like the vigorous young plants from Bonnie Plants®. Set plants deeply, burying the bottom 2/3 of the plant (including the root ball).
Be sure to improve the texture and nutrition of your native soil before planting by mixing 3 inches of Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Vegetables & Herbs in with the top 6 inches of existing soil. When planting in raised beds, fill them with Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil to create the ideal growing environment for your tomato roots.
If you're looking to plant your tomatoes from seed, follow the detailed steps in our article "How to Grow Tomatoes from Seeds."
Caring For Your Tomatoes
Tomatoes are thirsty and hungry plants, so be sure to water thoroughly to supplement rainfall. In summer, you'll likely find that your tomato plants need to be watered daily. If you're using containers, water until you see water flowing out of the bottom of the containers. Feed with a tomato plant food. Use either a slow-release variety, such as Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food once every 3 months or a water-soluble variety, like Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Tomato Plant Food, every two weeks. Staking or caging the tomatoes is also a wise idea, as it gives the plants support as they grow upward.
Harvesting Your Tomatoes
Tomatoes should be left on the vine until they have turned fully red (or fully orange, yellow or pink depending on the variety). Tomatoes will be more mouthwateringly delicious if picked when ripened on the plant. That's the beauty of growing tomatoes in your backyard versus buying in the grocery store, where they're picked before they're fully ripened.