How to cheat with tomatoes

Let’s face it pretty much everyone with a garden or an outdoor space wants to grow tomatoes. If you are starting out as a gardener these plants can be a bit of a challenge. There was a time when I didn’t grow tomatoes, but honestly there is such a difference between home grown toms and those insipid red fruits at the garden centre, I have relented. But with a few provisos. Tomatoes are time consuming if you don’t know how to cheat.

When you are starting out in gardening, you don’t always know the short cuts. One of the best things about tomatoes is the HUGE variety available. Even in a lifetime of growing you could barely grow all the different cultivars of this popular plant. That’s a great shame, because there are some really worthy varieties, old and new that are so worth the effort. If you grow from seed the world literally is your tomato. You could choose to grow all sorts of heritage varieties that most people have never heard of. But growing from seed is time consuming and the plants do need some serious TLC.

Growing from seed gives you far more choice
Image: Martin Mulchinock

Buy plants

So the first stage in cheating at tomatoes is to buy ready grown plants, especially if it’s your first time. The trouble with this is that it severely restricts the varieties you can grow. That’s because most places that sell tomato plants grow the bog standard selection of things like Gardeners Delight, Moneymaker, Ailsa Craig and Shirley. But these are tried and tested varieties that have stood the test of time. My vote would go to Gardeners Delight, as it is a cherry type tomato, with a good sweet flavour. But it’s also a cordon variety, which means that the plants are tall and thin, and you need to pinch out the side shoots to keep the plants growing up and producing healthy trusses of fruit.

Buy grafted plants

By far the best way to grow tomatoes if you are new to it is to buy grafted plants. These are a relatively new introduction and are basically a great tomato fruiting variety that has been grafted onto a strong healthy growing rootstock. This gives you the best of both worlds. Strong plants with a great crop of tasty fruits that actually ripen faster and grow bigger and better than conventionally grown plants. You pay more for the privilege, but it’s worth the investment.

Fresh tomatoes straight from the vine taste sweet and delicious
Image: Martin Mulchinock

Choose bush tomatoes

One of the most time consuming part of growing tomatoes is pinching out the side shoots of cordons and tying the plants into a support system. You need space to let the plants grow and growing supports to train them and take the weight of the developing fruit. But not all tomatoes are cordons. Some are called determinate tomatoes and are basically more bush-like and need more room to spread and grow, but don’t grow as tall or need pinching out.

Grow basket tomatoes

For the ultimate in low maintenance tomato plants grow tumbling bush varieties or currant tomatoes in baskets and containers. The tumbling varieties (one to a basket) will fill the basket and tumble out of the top fruiting on the stems hanging down. The currant tomatoes have masses of tiny tomatoes on bushy plants, ideal for containers.


Tomatoes need bumblebees to be successfully pollinated. These little creatures perform a special action to release the pollen called ‘Buzz Pollination’. Unless they get trapped inside or have good access and exit windows, most greenhouses don’t have bumblebees visiting. You can transfer pollen from flower to flower by rolling the centre of the flower between your thumb and forefinger, this releases the pollen and moves it from flower to flower. It is time consuming, but early in the season it ensures your plants are pollinated.

Greenhouse tomatoes may need a helping hand with pollination
Image: Jean Vernon

Feed, feed, feed

If you do one thing for your tomato plants this season, feed them well. They are fast growers and need plenty of food and water to sustain their growth. One plant will quickly deplete even a quality compost of its nutrients and need more, more, more. Choose a quality plant food that is rich in potash and contains micronutrients to keep your tomatoes in good health. You won’t be surprised to learn that here at Richard Jackson’s Garden we recommend Flower Power. But that’s because it’s a professional formula designed to give great results.    

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