10 Tips to Speed Up Tomato Growth

10 Tips to Speed Up Tomato Growth

Nothing beats the taste of a homegrown tomato picked fresh from the vine. But getting those delicious tomatoes to fully ripen can feel like an eternity for impatient gardeners like myself.

When the growing season is short, those lost days waiting for fruits to redden can mean the difference between ripe tomatoes and green tomatoes left on the vine at first frost.

Luckily there are several tricks you can use to speed up the growth and ripening of tomato plants for an earlier harvest. With a little extra care and preparation, you can slash days or even weeks off your normal tomato maturing timeline.

1. Select Early Varieties

One of the easiest ways to get ripe tomatoes sooner is by choosing early-maturing tomato varieties. Look for descriptors like early girl, early season, quick set, or 60 days on seed packets or plant tags.

These early varieties are bred to produce tomatoes up to several weeks faster compared to mid or late-season types. Though yields are sometimes lower, the trade-off is ripe tomatoes earlier.

Some good options for early production are:

  • Early Girl – 50-55 days, great flavor
  • Fourth of July – 49 days, compact determinate type
  • Quick Pick – 57 days, smaller fruits
  • Glacier – 55 days, very early in cooler climates

When selecting tomato varieties, prioritize earliness if your goal is getting ripe tomatoes as soon as possible.

2. Start Seeds Indoors

Starting tomato seeds indoors lets plants get established and grow larger before transplanting outside. This head start often results in earlier harvests by a week or two.

Tomato seeds can be sown indoors 6-8 weeks before the anticipated last spring frost. Use a seed starting mix and place containers in a warm, sunny spot.

Once seedlings have 2-4 true leaves, pot them up into larger containers. Harden off plants for about a week before transplanting into the garden after all danger of frost has passed.

Make sure to use grow lights or a sunny window if starting seeds very early when sunlight levels are still low. A heated propagation mat can also boost germination rates and growth.

3. Transplant into Larger Containers

Typically, gardeners start seedlings in small cells or pots and gradually transplant them into larger containers as plants grow. However, moving seedlings directly into extra-large containers will help accelerate growth.

Containers around 5 gallons give plenty of room for roots to grow unrestricted. More root mass means faster growth above ground and quicker fruit production.

Use containers with drainage holes and well-draining potting mix to prevent overly wet conditions. Fertilize regularly as the larger soil volume requires more nutrients.

If sowing directly into final pots, choose early determinate varieties that will stay more compact. Indeterminate types can become overgrown in extra-large containers.

4. Warm Up Soil Before Planting

Tomato roots and plants grow faster in warm soil. Cool spring soil temperatures will slow growth and fruiting.

Try to plant tomatoes after soils reach 60-65°F or use plastic mulch to warm up planting beds for earlier planting dates.

Black plastic mulch absorbs heat, raising the soil temperature underneath by several degrees. The warmer soil accelerates root development, nutrient uptake, and growth.

For best results, lay plastic a few weeks before your desired planting date. Secure the edges well and cut an X shape for planting through the plastic.

5. Water Deeply & Regularly

Fluctuating soil moisture slows tomato growth as plants respond to drying and rewetting cycles. Consistent deep watering results in faster, uninterrupted expansion.

Tomatoes need around 1-2 inches of water weekly from either rainfall or irrigation. Soak the entire root zone thoroughly when the top few inches become dry.

Deep watering promotes deep root growth allowing plants to take up more nutrients. It also keeps fruits from splitting as they enlarge.

Use drip irrigation or hand water slowly at the soil level to encourage deeper rooting. Mulch also conserves soil moisture between waterings.

6. Use Reflective Plastic Mulch

Plastic mulch speeds growth by warming the soil, conserving moisture, and blocking weeds. But red plastic mulch provides even more benefits.

The red surface reflects more red light onto tomato plants, improving photosynthesis and growth. It also boosts lycopene production, resulting in darker red ripe tomatoes.

For best results, install red plastic mulch just before plants start flowering and fruiting. Switching from black plastic once fruits start coloring improves ripening.

7. Prune Off Lower Leaves & Suckers

Lower leaves and suckers compete for the plant’s energy. Removing them helps focus the plant on proper development and fruit ripening.

Prune off leaves below the first fruit cluster once plants are established. This improves air circulation and light penetration for better growth.

Use pruners to snip off suckers – small shoots growing between stems and branches. This discourages extra foliage and maintains growth on existing fruiting stems.

Light pruning of lower leaves and suckers speeds ripening by reducing competition for resources. But avoid over-pruning, which can stress plants.

8. Stake or Cage Plants

Allowing tomato vines to sprawl makes plants work harder to support long stems and branches. Containing vines results in faster, easier growth.

Use tall stakes for cordon tomatoes, training one main stem vertically. Tie the stem loosely to the stake as it elongates.

For plants with multiple stems, surround them with tomato cages. The woven wires support vines for improved air circulation and growth.

Securing plants increases productivity by preventing energy waste on long meandering stems. Fruits also stay cleaner and are easier to spot for harvesting.

9. Fertilize Regularly

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and need consistent nutrients from planting until harvest ends. Fertilize every 2-3 weeks to fuel plant processes and fruit growth.

Use a water-soluble tomato fertilizer or organic options like fish emulsion, kelp extract, or compost tea. Follow label rates to prevent the buildup of excess salts.

Container plants should be fed more frequently – even daily or weekly with dilute fertilizer solution. Replenish nutrients regularly in potting soils that hold fewer nutrients.

Adequate fertilizer improves growth rate and keeps plants actively expanding and fruiting. Just avoid late-season nitrogen which can delay maturity.

10. Harvest Early & Often

Harvesting green tomatoes signals the plant to ripen up the next batch faster. Frequent picking keeps fruits moving through the pipeline.

Once fruits exceed 2 inches across, harvest any that are mature green. Leave at least a few tomatoes on each plant to redden fully.

Keep picking greens every few days to maintain momentum. The plant will concentrate its energies on maturing the next fruits to harvest size.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I use a heating mat when starting tomato seeds indoors?

A seedling heat mat can help boost tomato growth rates right from the start. The gentle bottom heat encourages faster initial germination and stronger early seedling growth. Use a thermometer to keep mats around 70-75°F. Ramp up the heat slowly and monitor seedlings closely to prevent scorching

Is it better to use single-stem or multi-stem training methods?

Single stem training (staking/caging) results in faster fruit ripening since the plant focuses energy on one main stem. However multi-stem sprawling plants often produce higher total yields. Choose single-stem training if earliness is your priority, or multi-stem if maximizing total yield is more important.

Can I speed up container tomatoes by using a larger pot size?

Shifting tomato transplants into a very large 5-10 gallon container can accelerate growth. The ample root space reduces competition and lets plants grow bigger and faster. Use larger containers with determinate tomatoes or heavily prune indeterminate types. Monitor soil moisture closely and fertilize regularly in extra-large pots.

Wrapping up

The thrill of slicing into a homegrown tomato plucked fresh and ripe from the vine is one of summer’s greatest joys. But watching those green globes slowly turn red can test the patience of even the most seasoned gardener.

Luckily, you don’t have to leave your tomato cravings up to chance. With the right strategies, you can slash days or even weeks off your wait time. Give your plants the inside track using these 10 tips to send tomato growth into overdrive.

Soon, you’ll be enjoying BLT sandwiches and garden salads overflowing with your own secret weapon tomatoes weeks before your neighbors. So get ready to fire up that grill and start reaping the rewards of your tomato-growing labor faster than ever before!

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By Mohsin

Hi, I’m Mohsin, creator of Tomato about website. I have over a two decade of gardening experience and I love helping others growing healthy tomatoes!

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