Caring for Tomatoes, by Emma Biggs

When I start my seeds in early spring, I’m full of energy and excitement that has built up over winter. At the end of the season, my excitement is replenished by fresh tomatoes. It’s that time in the middle that I find the hardest. The time when you spend most of your effort weeding, watering, training, and pruning‒not harvesting and eating. Here are a few tips to keep your tomato plants healthy to ensure a bountiful harvest.

As an urban grower with a limited amount of garden space, how I choose to train my plants affects how many plants I can squeeze into my garden and how much work I will have to put in. Training my plants also keeps the fruits off the ground so they don’t rot and are farther away from pests like slugs. It helps prevent soil-borne diseases from getting on the leaves. The three main ways to train tomato plants are:


Emma Biggs tomatoes

No, I do not mean the skimpy, three-pronged, knee-high “tomato cages.” For an indeterminate tomato, which will keep on growing and producing until killed by frost or disease, these are nowhere near big enough. Indeterminate plants can get 6-8 feet tall by the end of the season, so if you choose to train your plants with this method, you’ll need to find big cages, or make your own. For dwarf or determinate varieties, which get to about 4-5 feet tall, you can train them up until they reach the top, and then let them cascade over the edge. If that doesn’t appeal to you, look for a cage that is about waist-high.


Emma Biggs tomatoes

This is how commercial greenhouse tomato farmers often train their plants. This is my preferred method because I can fit the most plants into a small space‒about 1 foot apart. Basically, you grow your plants up a piece of dangling twine, and prune your plants so there is 1 main stalk, though sometimes I do 2 or 3. This requires more pruning and care, but lets you grow more intensively.


Emma Biggs tomatoes

I like to think of staking as the middle ground between trellising and caging. You can grow your plants closer together than with cages, but not as close together as trellising, and it’s more work than caging, but not as much as trellising. There are many different types of stakes, from wooden and plastic ones, to bamboo poles.

Additional care

It’s been a dry few weeks in Toronto, so watering has been very important. I know, this is kind of obvious, but it is so important, especially if you are growing in containers! One very important thing to note is to try and avoid getting water on the leaves as it can spread disease. Water in the morning or midday if you can so that any moisture you get on the leaves will evaporate.

Fertilizing helps your plants develop, become stronger, and produce more tomatoes, and is especially important if you’re growing in containers. There are many different types of fertilizers out there, but I’d go for an all-purpose vegetable one. As to how often and how to dispense it, that depends on which one you use, and will be on the label.

To keep your plants happy, I’d recommend inspecting your plants daily. That’s the first thing I do when I go outside. I just walk around and see what’s ready to be picked, check for pests or diseases, and see what needs watering. This is a sure way to always know what is happening in your garden. Happy growing!

Emma Biggs tomatoesEmma Biggs is a 15-year-old Toronto gardener with a passion for growing unusual edibles, and lots of tomatoes. She gardens in straw bales on her driveway, on her garage rooftop, and grows tomatoes under a black walnut tree. Emma shares her love of gardening and hopes to inspire more gardeners in her book, Gardening with Emma, and on the Food Garden Life podcast, which she co-hosts with her dad, Steven Biggs. Check out her website and her Instagram: @emmabiggs_grows

Emma Biggs