When planting tomatoes, the location is one of the most important factors for your success. If you choose a spot without enough sun or that has poor soil, you will have poor results regardless of how hard you work.
So, where should you plant tomatoes? Plant tomatoes where they can get lots of sunlight (6 hours of full sun per day) for optimal growth & fruit production. Choose a spot that has well-draining soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Get a soil test before fertilizing, and don’t plant too far from a water source!
Of course, you may not have the perfect spot for gardening to start with. Luckily, you can improve the soil and choose your location carefully to get a better harvest from your tomato plants.
In this article, we’ll talk about where to plant tomatoes to get the best harvest possible. We’ll also go over a few things to look out for when choosing a spot in your garden.
Let’s get started.
Where To Plant Tomatoes
When planting your tomatoes in the garden, there are a few important factors to consider:
- Sunlight (pay attention to the sun’s path and buildings or trees nearby)
- Soil Type (soil that drains well & has plenty of organic material is best)
- Soil pH & Nutrients (a slightly acidic soil pH is best for tomatoes)
- Water (plan for irrigation so you won’t have to travel too far to water)
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors, starting with sunlight.
Sunlight For Tomato Plants
To get the best tomato harvest possible, choose a spot in your garden that gets full sun. Usually, this means at least 6 to 8 hours per day of sun exposure, without shade from buildings or other plants.
Your best bet is to look at the sun exposure in your garden during the summer. This is when the leaves on trees will be at their thickest.
If you must pick a spot before the leaves come back, be careful. If you pick a spot that looks sunny in late winter, you might find that it is shady when the leaves come back in the spring and summer.
Observe the path of the sun as it moves across the sky during the day. Make note of any trees that are in its path, and avoid planting in their shade.
Also, remember that a tomato plant can get sunlight in the morning, midday, or afternoon – this light is not the same!
- Morning sunlight is less intense than sunlight that comes later in the day (afternoon or evening). However, morning sunlight gives plants energy without subjecting them to the harsh midday and afternoon heat.
- Midday sunlight occurs when the sun is high overhead, at its brightest and hottest. You will have to consider the tradeoff between bright sunlight and excessive heat. In extreme cases, you might need to protect your plants from midday sun (such as with shade cloth).
- Afternoon sunlight occurs when the sun has started to set from its overhead position. It is more intense than morning sunlight, but not as strong as midday sunlight.
As long as your tomato plants get 3 to 4 hours of direct sunlight in both the morning and afternoon, they should be able to produce plenty of fruit.
Note that it is possible for tomato plants to get too much sunlight right after transplant if you fail to harden them off properly.
Soil Type For Tomato Plants
Tomato plants like well-drained soil with plenty of organic material. If possible, choose a site that gets enough sunlight and has well-draining soil.
If the sunny spots in your garden have heavy clay soil that does not drain well, you can take a few steps to improve drainage:
- Add organic material – you can use aged compost from grass clippings, leaves, or fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Aged manure from chickens, cows, or horse also works well – just be sure not to use it fresh, or else you might burn your plants!
- Use elevation – planting on hills or mounds, building raised beds, and use containers to raise the soil above the surrounding ground. That way, gravity can help to drain the soil faster.
- Install drainage – if water from your gutters is flooding the garden after a rainstorm, try using pipes to direct the water away from the garden. You can also store the water in barrels to use for irrigation when it is dry, but be sure to cover them to avoid mosquitoes.
You can learn more about how to make soil drain better in my article here.
Soil pH & Nutrients For Tomato Plants
Once you have a sunny spot with the right soil type, it is time to ensure proper nutrition and soil chemistry. Usually, this means getting a soil test.
A soil test will tell you the pH and nutrient levels in the soil where you took the sample. A home test kit will give you some information, but it will not be as accurate as a lab result.
If you want more detail and more accurate results, take a soil sample and send it in for testing at your local agricultural extension office.
Tomato plants prefer soil that is slightly acidic to neutral, with an ideal pH of 6.0 to 7.0. They can certainly grow in soil with a pH outside of this range, but they will do better in soil with the ideal pH.
When soil is too acidic or too basic (alkaline), plants have trouble absorbing certain nutrients. This is because the nutrients become less available with pH changes (as you can see in the chart here).
This paper from PubMed suggests that tomato plants grown in acidic soil have slower growth and less ability to absorb nutrients from soil.
The experiment in this paper compared tomato plants grown in two different soils with a pH of 6.4 and 4.2. From the abstract:
“The growth of tomato plants was seriously affected by the soil acidity and lowering of uptake of elements was observed for the plants cultivated on acidified soil.”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10800716/
This suggests that a soil pH of 4.2 is far too low (too acidic) for tomato plants to grow well. In fact, pH works on an exponential scale, so soil with a pH of 4.2 is about 100 times as acidic as a soil with a pH of 6.2!
If you find out that your soil pH is not in the proper range, you can adjust it as follows:
- Soil too acidic (pH too low): add lime (calcium carbonate) or dolomite lime (calcium magnesium carbonate) to the soil (you can learn about benefits & cautions of using lime for tomato plants here).
- Soil too basic/alkaline (pH too high): add sulfur to the soil. There are other methods you can use as well – you can learn about them here.
Usually, these amendments come in powder or pellet forms, which you mix into the soil and water in. The smaller the pellets or powder, the faster the pH change will occur.
However, it can still take a long time for sulfur to change the soil pH. As such, it might be a good idea to do your soil testing and amendments in the fall, so that you are ready for spring planting.
As far as nutrients go, tomato plants will need plenty of the “big 3” nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
For example, according to the University of New Hampshire Extension, if you give tomato plants too much nitrogen, they tend to grow tall and lush with thick vines & branches and lots of leaves, but fewer flowers or fruit.
Follow the results of your soil test to determine how much fertilizer to add (if you send a sample for testing, tell them what you are growing to get recommendations).
Water For Tomato Plants
When choosing a spot to plant your tomatoes, don’t forget about watering! There is nothing more time-consuming than hauling water over a long distance if your hose won’t reach (you can always buy a longer hose, though).
If you want to use stored rainwater from barrels (or water from a well on your property), plan ahead when you plant your tomatoes. Put them closer to the water source to make it easier to irrigate in the summer when they need it most.
Also, remember that it is possible to over water your plants. So, make sure you have some sort of system (drip irrigation, a timer for your sprinkler, etc.) to prevent this from happening.
Now you know where to plant your tomatoes for optimal growth and the best harvest possible. You also know what to look out for when choosing a spot for them in the garden.
You can use mulch around tomato plants, as long as you choose wisely and apply it correctly – you can learn more in my article here.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.