In the captivating journey of tomato growth, these favorite fruits progress through seven distinct stages. Each stage plays a crucial role in their development.
From humble beginnings as seeds to the bountiful harvest, tomatoes undergo a remarkable transformation. Tomato growth stages include seed planting, germination, root and foliage growth, flower blossom, flower pollination, fruit development, and the eagerly anticipated harvest. Understanding each of these stages is vital for successful tomato cultivation.
In this article, we will explore each of the seven tomato growth stages in detail, providing you with a full understanding of the lifecycle of tomatoes.
Tomato Seed Selection
We will start with tomato seed selection, as choosing high-quality tomato seeds is essential for a successful harvest. So, get your seeds from reputable sources.
Tomatoes come in a diverse array of varieties, each with its own color, size, and taste. However, there are two main types of tomato plants that you should know before starting to grow them. These are determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties.
- Determinate Tomatoes: These varieties have a compact, bushy growth habit and reach a set height. They tend to produce fruit over a relatively short period, making them suitable for smaller spaces.
- Indeterminate Tomatoes: These varieties continue to grow and produce fruit until the first frost. They have a vining or sprawling growth habit, requiring sturdy support structures such as stakes or trellises. Indeterminate tomatoes can produce a continuous harvest throughout the growing season.
Now that we have discussed the seed selection, it’s time to move to the 7 tomato growth stages.
7 Tomato Growth Stages
Tomatoes, like their relatives eggplants, peppers, and potatoes, belong to the Solanaceae family.
From seed to harvest, tomatoes typically take 65 to 95 days to mature. Let’s delve into each stage of tomato growth to gain a better understanding of their journey.
In This Article
Stage 1: Seed Sowing
The journey of growing tomatoes begins with the crucial first stage: seed sowing. This stage sets the foundation for successful cultivation, involving key steps such as seed selection, understanding tomato varieties, and determining the appropriate planting depth.
For a head start, you should consider starting your tomato seeds indoors approximately 6-8 weeks before the last frost date in your area. This allows the seedlings to develop and become stronger before transplanting them outdoors.
Place 2 to 4 tomato seeds in each pot or cell approximately 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) deep. Then water them well, ensuring the soil is evenly moist, and place the trays or cells in a warm dark cabinet until seeds emerge from the soil.
Pro Tip: While it is not necessary to place your sown seeds in a dark cabinet, doing so can make it easier to maintain soil moisture since it is shielded from direct sunlight and excessive heat. Alternatively, you can place your sown seeds on a windowsill or under grow lights, but be sure to regularly check the soil moisture levels.
Stage 2: Germination
The second stage of tomato growth is seed germination. Germination marks the beginning of a tomato plant’s life, where a tiny seed awakens and begins its transformation into a thriving seedling. Tomato seeds usually take 7 to 14 days to germinate.
During germination, the seed undergoes a remarkable transformation. It absorbs water, triggering internal mechanisms that activate growth. The nutrients stored within the seed break down, providing the energy needed for the root to emerge.
Soon after, the shoot emerges and starts developing into the visible structure of the plant. You will notice two small seed leaves emerging from the soil, known as “cotyledon” leaves. Around two weeks after germination, the tomato seedlings will develop their first set of true leaves.
Pro Tip 1: If you have overseeded and multiple seedlings have sprouted, thin them out. Remove the weaker seedlings, keeping the strongest ones.
Pro Tip 2: Another option is to carefully transplant the seedlings by gently lifting them from the soil and transferring them to separate pots. This approach gives each seedling a chance to thrive, but be cautious not to damage their delicate roots or stems.
Once the danger of frost has passed and the temperature outside is consistently above 59oF (15oC), it’s time to transplant the tomato seedlings into the outdoor garden.
To encourage robust root and foliage growth, ensure that the tomato plants are planted in an area that receives full sun, providing them with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Also, proper spacing between plants, typically 18 to 30 inches (45 to 75 cm) apart, allows for proper airflow and reduces the risk of crowding, which can lead to disease.
Pro Tip 3: Avoid transplanting your tomatoes outdoors too early, as this can lead to stunted growth and a lengthy recovery period. Similarly, waiting too long may also negatively impact their growth. For more in-depth guidance on the ideal timing for tomato transplanting, check our article “When Is It Too Late to Transplant Tomatoes? Tips for Successful Transplanting.” This resource provides valuable insights about when to transplant your tomato plants.
Stage 3: Root And Foliage Growth
After the seedlings have established themselves, the next stage in tomato growth is focused on root and foliage development. During this stage, the tomato plants prioritize building a strong root system and producing lush foliage.
As the roots expand, they anchor the plants in the soil and absorb essential nutrients and water for optimal growth. Water and nutrient availability are crucial during this stage to support vigorous root development. Regular watering ensuring that the soil is consistently moist but not waterlogged promotes healthy root growth.
Above ground, the tomato plants begin to develop an abundance of leaves. These leaves play a vital role in capturing sunlight, a crucial energy source for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into sugars and other essential compounds for growth.
During root and foliage growth, it is essential to provide support for the tomato plants, especially for indeterminate varieties that have a vining or sprawling growth habit.
Staking, trellising, or using tomato cages can help support the growing plants and prevent them from sprawling on the ground. Supporting the plants also improves air circulation around the foliage, reducing the risk of diseases.
During this stage, regular monitoring of the plants is essential. Watch for signs of nutrient deficiencies, such as yellowing leaves, and adjust fertilization if needed.
Prune the lower leaves that may come into contact with the soil to minimize the risk of diseases. Also, remove the suckers (side shoots) to encourage upright growth and prevent excessive branching.
Stage 4: Flowering Stage
The flowering stage is a significant milestone in the tomato growth journey, as it marks the transition from vegetative growth to reproductive development.
As the tomato plants mature, clusters of flowers begin to emerge. Tomato blossoms have yellow, vibrant colors and delicate petals. It is during this stage that the tomato plants invest their energy in flower production, ensuring a sufficient number of blossoms for pollination.
Pro Tip: Some tomato flowers may naturally drop off. This is a normal occurrence. The plant tends to produce more flowers than it can support as fruits. If only a few flowers drop, there is no cause for concern. The plant is simply ensuring that it can allocate its resources to the optimal fruit development process.
Stage 5: Pollination
After the emergence of blossoms in the flowering stage, the focus now shifts to the transfer of pollen, which is essential for successful fruit development.
Tomatoes have flowers with both male and female reproductive parts. The male parts, known as stamens, produce pollen, while the female part, called the pistil, contains the ovary where the seeds will develop.
Tomatoes are self-pollinating, so they don’t heavily rely on insects for pollination. However, various pollinators, including bees, butterflies, hoverflies, bumblebees, and other insects, still contribute to the important task of pollination.
Among these pollinators, certain bee species, mainly bumblebees, use a fascinating pollination technique called buzz pollination.
As the bumblebee lands on a flower, it rapidly vibrates its flight muscles, creating a distinctive buzzing sound. These vibrations cause the release of pollen, which is then dispersed onto the bee’s body and flowers around it.
As the bumblebee visits other flowers, the pollen grains carried on its body are deposited onto these flowers, leading to cross-pollination.
Pro Tip: Creating a pollinator-friendly environment in your tomato garden can help attract bumblebees and support their important role in buzz pollination. Planting a diverse range of flowers that attract bees, such as borage, lavender, and sunflowers, provides a habitat and food source for these beneficial pollinators.
Stage 6: Fruit Formation
After successful pollination, the tomato flowers begin their transformation into the familiar and delectable fruits we eagerly anticipate.
As the flowers fade away, the fertilized flowers develop into young green fruits. These tiny fruits undergo remarkable series of changes and growth to mature into the vibrant red, yellow, or other colored tomatoes we enjoy.
The tomato plants channel their energy into expanding the developing fruits during this stage. Nutrients from the soil, water absorbed through the roots, and energy captured from sunlight through photosynthesis are all directed toward fruit growth and ripening.
As the fruits mature, they gradually increase in size and undergo color transformation. The green tomatoes transition to their characteristic color, which varies depending on the tomato variety. Alongside color development, the fruits also develop their distinct flavor profiles.
Pro Tip: Support structures such as stakes, cages, or trellises can be beneficial to keep the fruit-laden branches off the ground, preventing them from touching the soil and reducing the risk of rot.
Stage 7: Harvesting
The last stage of the tomato growth journey is the eagerly anticipated culmination of your efforts – the harvesting stage. This is the time when you can finally enjoy the fruits of your labor and savor the flavorful tomatoes you have nurtured from seed to maturity.
The timing of harvest will depend on the tomato variety. Still, there are 2 main factors: Here are some guidelines to help you harvest your tomatoes:
- Color: Pay attention to the tomato’s color, which varies depending on the variety. Homegrown tomatoes should be harvested when they reach their full, vibrant color, such as bright red, deep orange, or golden yellow. Some heirloom varieties may have their own unique coloration.
- Firmness: Gently squeeze the tomato to assess its firmness. It should feel firm but give slightly under gentle pressure. If you find overly soft or mushy tomatoes, throw them in a bin.
To harvest your tomatoes, follow these tips:
- Use sharp pruning shears or scissors to cut the stem just above the fruit, leaving a small portion of the stem attached to the tomato. This helps to prolong the fruit’s shelf life.
- For tomatoes with easily detachable stems, you can simply twist or snap them off at the stem joint.
- Handle the harvested tomatoes gently to avoid bruising or damaging the delicate fruits. Damaged fruits fill not last as long.
Pro Tip: Harvesting green or not fully ripe tomatoes is also possible. By storing these in a dark and warm place, they will gradually ripen. However, the flavor of these tomatoes may not be as rich and developed as fully ripened ones.
After the rewarding experience of harvesting your homegrown tomatoes, proper storage techniques ensure that you can enjoy their fresh flavor for longer.
Proper storage is key if you have an abundance of ripe tomatoes or want to save some green ones for later ripening. Here are some methods to help you store your tomatoes:
Ripe tomatoes are best stored at room temperature. Place them in a single layer in a cool, well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight. Use them within a few days to enjoy their peak flavor and texture.
Unripe or Partially Ripe Tomatoes
If you have green or partially ripe tomatoes that you want to ripen further, you can place them in a paper bag or box along with a ripe banana or apple.
The ethylene gas produced by the ripe fruit will speed up the ripening process of the tomatoes.
Check the bag regularly and remove ripe tomatoes to prevent over-ripening or spoilage. Keep the bag at room temperature and away from direct sunlight until the desired ripeness is achieved. 
While refrigeration is not the best storage for fully ripe tomatoes, it can slow down the ripening process and extend the shelf life of partially ripe tomatoes. Place partially ripe tomatoes in a breathable container and store them in the refrigerator’s vegetable compartment.
Keep them separate from other fruits and vegetables, as tomatoes are sensitive to ethylene gas, which can accelerate their deterioration.
Pickling is an excellent option if you’re looking for an alternative way to preserve your tomatoes. Pickled tomatoes can add a tangy and flavorful twist to your dishes. You can choose to pickle whole cherry tomatoes or slice larger tomatoes.
The pickling recipe will include vinegar, water, salt, and a combination of spices and herbs. Sterilize your jars, pack them with the prepared tomatoes, and pour the pickling liquid over them. Seal the jars and store them in a cool, dark place for a few weeks to allow the flavors to develop.
Pickled tomatoes can be enjoyed as a condiment, added to salads or sandwiches, or used in various culinary creations.
There you have it, a complete guide to understanding the tomato growth stages. From planting the seeds to harvesting the juicy fruits, each stage is essential for a successful tomato garden.
With the tips and insights shared in this guide, you now have the knowledge to grow healthy tomato plants and enjoy a bountiful harvest. So, get ready to get your hands dirty, embrace the joy of growing your own tomatoes, and relish the delicious results. Happy tomato growing!
I hope this article was helpful in explaining tomato growth stages. To learn more about tomatoes, check out our “How to Grow Tomato Plants From Seeds – Easy Step By Step Guide.” Also, check out other similar articles in our Gardening How To section.
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