Growing Tomatoes: Patio Tomatoes – Growing Outdoor Tomatoes

Growing Outdoor Tomatoes

home gardening - growing tomatoes

The tomato is probably the heaviest yielding crop per yard of ground that we have in this country, beating even crops like potatoes and onions. Tomatoes grow easily and well, require the minimum of attention and are sufficiently hardy to withstand the rigours of an average English summer, as anyone who has seen masses of seedlings growing on sewage waste tips will know. There is one trouble with these summer hardy plants and that is that the season isn’t long enough for them to develop fruits unless they start their life indoors.

Planting Tomatoes

This means that they must be raised early in the season and planted out as reasonably well-established plants, but not before the soil warms up, which will probably be early June in most places. In consequence, they have a comparatively short fruiting life. This can be extended by planting tomatoes plants close to a sunny wall which holds and reflects its heat during the night or by arranging some form of glass or plastic covering in the early stages to protect them from cold winds.

Growing Tomatoes

With regard to varieties, practically all those which will grow under glass will grow outdoors. However, there are certain varieties which have been specially bred for outdoor growing which do not do at all well in greenhouses.

Some of the bushy varieties lend themselves very well to cloche culture and require no staking. They include such varieties as Sutton’s French Cross, Pixie and Tiny Tim. I appreciate it is not much use mentioning the varieties to start from seed unless there is some form of artificial heat available for this but plants can be bought.

patio tomatoes The most important thing for growing tomatoes outside, is that they should have been prepared for it by hardening off. Taking plants straight out of the greenhouse, even if unheated, and planting them directly outdoors is a sure way of delaying growth.

If you buy your plants in pots all well and good, but if dug up from a seed box then it is worthwhile potting them up so that they can be kept mobile. In the early part of the year in many areas, days can be warm but nights extremely cold, so it pays for the first few days at least to stand them out in pots in a sheltered place in the sun and then at night put them under cover, even if it means taking them indoors. Standing them outdoors even in hot sun will cause the leaves to harden so that they do not get a check. If you check the growth of a tomato plant it can put it back 10 days or a fortnight and time is precious.

The soil at the base of a wall or fence, not a living hedge, should be prepared and soaked well in advance (I do not advise planting at the base of a hedge because of root competition and drought).  Personally I prefer a raised bed against a wall. This can easily be achieved by using two layers of bricks, a wooden edge or any other device to help contain the raised soil. The existing soil should be thoroughly forked up and any rotted manure or compost available should be incorporated. The top of the box-like containment area should then be filled with soil of the quality of John Innes No. 2 or an equivalent soil less compost. An alternative is to use growing bags.

In more favourable areas of the country, tomatoes are often grown as a field crop. They can be planted across the garden in just the same way as potatoes. I find it best to put in one or two strong posts so that about 3 feet is left out of the ground and stretch a wire across the top. The tomato plants are planted about 18 inches away from the centre line and  trained up canes or strings inclined to the single wire. The advantage of this is that the leaves grow outward to the light but the fruits, by virtue of their own weight, will hang in the centre and are thereby protected by the foliage. It does not matter if you do not see the fruit; this is all to the good. There will be less attraction for blackbirds and thrushes and the protected fruit will have skins almost comparable to those grown under glass. Tomato fruits grown either in the green- house or outdoors will ripen quite happily without benefit of direct sunshine.

One of the usual complaints about growing outdoor tomatoes is that they are ugly and gross in size and are of more use for cooking than for the table. This is often dependent not only on variety but on soil preparation and feeding too.

The plants should be ‘stopped’ at four trusses with one or two leaves beyond the final truss left so that they can send back food. Never leave a truss stuck out on its own either under glass or outdoors as manufactured food travels down a plant not up it. On ordinary garden soil which has carried a reasonable crop the previous year, little or no extra feeding is necessary; applying all sorts of fertiliser only makes for big fruit which is difficult to ripen.


The most important point to remember when growing from seed, however the seedlings are to be raised, is to buy varieties suitable for outdoor growing.


Sow seed any time between February and May, 2 in. apart in boxes of John Innes seed compost or Eclipse No-Soil compost, and cover with a sheet of glass until germination. Then give as much light as possible, and after about 28 days, pot up into 3-in. pots of John Innes potting compost No. l. These plants will need hardening off before planting out. Full instructions are given in The Use of Glass in the Garden.


Sow early in April in 3-in. pots filled with John Innes seed compost or Eclipse No-Soil compost.

Sow three seeds, 1 in. apart and 1/2 in. deep in the centre of each pot and thin the seedlings down to one per pot. Leave in the frame until the end of May, hardening off before planting out.


The time to sow seeds where the plants are to grow is early in May. Sow three seeds 1 in. deep at each station and cover with an inverted 2 lb. glass jam jar. The stations should be 15 in. apart in rows 2-½ ft. apart. Thin down to one plant later if necessary.


A day or two before planting, level the ground and rake in a fish manure with a 10 per cent potash content or a complete fertilizer at the rate of 4 or 5 oz. to the sq. yd. The main planting is done late in May in the south and early in June in the north, when all fear of frosts has passed. It is no use attempting to plant tomatoes if the soil is really wet and cold. Make the rows 2-½ ft. apart and allow 15 in. between the plants. To disturb the roots as little as possible when planting, make a good hole with a trowel and plant the ball of soil containing the roots complete. Plant so that the top of the ball is about 1 in. below the level of the soil. Use the handle of the trowel to firm the soil all round the plant. Immediately after planting, push a strong 4-ft. Bamboo into the ground at the side of the root ball.


Watch out for potato blight disease, which usually occurs in late July in the south and about the second week of August in the north. As a preventive, spray with Bordeaux mixture and spray again a fortnight later.


Use the tomatoes as they ripen. If, at the end of the season, there are trusses of green tomatoes on the plants, cut them off to ripen on a windowsill, or wrap the individual fruits in newspaper to ripen off in a drawer.

Alternatively, if ganwicks or cloches are available, put down a layer of straw or sedge peat on the strips where the plants are growing and, having taken away the bamboos, lay the plants down as they are on the straw or peat and put the cloches or ganwicks over the top. The fruits will continue ripening while the plants are on the ground.


Be sure to buy the seed of varieties which have been specially raised for outdoor growing.

Essex Wonder, excellent quality red fruit. Fine cropper.

Harbinger, medium-sized fruit of good quality. Plants are short-jointed and can carry a heavy crop.

Ibbetts Seedling, fine quality, solid fruit for shape and size.

Open Air Wonder, bears a heavy crop of pear-shaped fruit.

Orange Sunshine, a yellow variety. Round, regular fruit on vigorous plants.


Bush tomatoes do not need staking or pinching. Plant them 15 in. square in double rows. They will grow less than l ft. high and will spread themselves over the ground. If the soil is covered with sedge peat 1 in. deep at planting time, it will help to keep the fruit clean.


Amateur, very early. Small fruits. Dwarf Gem, medium-sized fruits with pale green backs.


This video shows an incredibly quick way of planting tomato plants but is clearly not for the home gardener:


02. August 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Fruit & Veg, Salads | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Growing Tomatoes: Patio Tomatoes – Growing Outdoor Tomatoes


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: