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Beginner Tips for Growing Sweeter, More Flavorful Heirloom Tomatoes (2023)

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tips for growing heirloom tomatoesYour love for heirloom tomatoes runs deep. You remember the first time you bit into a Cherokee Purple – that sweet, rich flavor bursting in your mouth.

Let’s dive into how you can grow those same luscious, mouthwatering heirlooms in your own garden. With some tips for selecting top varieties, planting techniques, and proper care, you’ll be harvesting buckets of big, beautiful, flavorful heirlooms by summer’s end.

Growing these special tomatoes connects you to generations past while allowing you to savor timeless flavors. Don’t settle for grocery store tomatoes – with a little knowledge and effort, you can fill your kitchen with the iconic taste of heirlooms.

Ready to embark on this tasty journey? Let’s start with choosing which irresistible heirloom varieties to plant this year. You’re on your way to a summer filled with the best tomatoes you’ve ever tasted.

Key Takeaways

  • Amend soil for optimal drainage and pH.
  • Choose heirloom varieties and start seeds weeks before last frost.
  • Provide consistent moisture and fertilize regularly.
  • Harvest at peak ripeness and handle gently for the best flavor.

Selecting Heirloom Varieties

Selecting Heirloom Varieties
You’ll want to consider some of the most popular heirloom varieties like Amish Paste, Cherokee Purple, and Brandywine when choosing which tomatoes to grow. These sought-after heirlooms are prized for their amazing flavors—think rich, complex, and robust compared to grocery store varieties.

Start your heirloom tomato adventure by picking a couple varieties that seem appealing based on their flavor descriptions and unique characteristics.

You’d do well to try growing Amish Paste or Cherokee Purple tomatoes. With over 200 official varieties, heirlooms offer more diversity than the few common grocery store types.

  1. Potato Leaf is an unusual heirloom, with foliage resembling its relative potato plants.
  2. Brandywine produces famously large, deep red, meaty beefsteak tomatoes with superb flavor.
  3. Cherokee Purple is a dusky purple variety known for its rich, smoky taste.
  4. Black Krim is a Russian heirloom that yields plentiful mahogany colored fruit.
  5. Aunt Ruby’s German Green is an eye-catching chartreuse variety with excellent sweet taste.

Heirloom tomatoes connect us to generations past while allowing us to leave a legacy for the future through saving seeds. By growing heirlooms, you help preserve incredible biodiversity that industrial agriculture threatens to erase.

Flavor Profiles

Heirloom tomatoes offer incredibly complex, robust flavors that simply can’t compare to the insipid grocery store varieties. Savor the sweet, acidic juiciness of a vine-ripened Brandywine tomato freshly picked from the plant.

Let the rich umami sweetness linger on your tongue. Bite into a Cherokee Purple and experience its dusky, smoky nuances. Try an array of colorful heirlooms to discover the incredible diversity of flavors – from fruity and floral, to earthy and herbaceous.

Growing Conditions

Growing Conditions
When growing heirloom tomatoes, start by ensuring your planting site gets full sun for at least 6 hours per day. Prepare the soil by mixing in several inches of compost to enrich and lighten the native soil while correcting any pH issues.

Heirlooms need consistently moist, nutrient-rich soil to reach their full flavor potential, so incorporate organic matter and use drip irrigation or diligent watering to maintain ideal moisture levels.

Sun Requirements

Settle them where the sun does shine at least 6 hours daily, lest they wither. Unfiltered sunlight and warmth keep heirlooms happy. Place them in the sunniest, most humidity-free site your plot allows. At minimum give them a southern exposure, shielding harsh afternoon rays if able.

Let those fleshy orbs bask under dawn’s first light. An unobstructed view of the sky ensures ideal fruiting. With ample sunshine those babies will reward your green thumb with bountiful, delicious harvests.

Soil Needs

Coddle those babies in fertile, free-draining soil so their roots thrive.

Give heirlooms rich, loamy native garden soil with a mildly acidic pH of 6.0-6n5. Well-draining soil prevents diseases. Test and amend as needed with compost and fertilizers like fish emulsion.

  1. Test drainage by digging a 12 deep hole and filling with water. If it doesn’t drain in 60 minutes, amend with compost.
  2. Test pH. Adjust to 6.0-6.5 range if needed.
  3. Dig in compost before planting.
  4. Side dress with organic fertilizer monthly.
  5. Mulch to retain moisture and nutrition.

The right soil will keep your heirlooms happy and productive all season long.

Planting Techniques

Planting Techniques
When transplanting your heirloom tomato seedlings, you’ll want to space them between 2-3 feet apart to allow ample room for the plants to grow. Set each plant a little deeper than it was originally growing, burying a portion of the stem to encourage more root growth.

And remember to put up cages, stakes, or trellises right away to support the tall, gangly plants heirlooms tend to become.


Y’all space those luscious heirlooms 2-3 feet apart to allow ample room for them to spread their vines and reach for the sun. Let each plant bask in light and breathe freely, with roots stretching through enriched soil.

Care for the plants with water and nourishment so their fruits can thrive, blossoming lushly with vivid hues and tender skins that burst with tangy juices.


You bury those sweet seeds deep in rich soil, letting their roots stretch toward the earth’s core so they can soak up nutrients to feed the vines that’ll wrap around cages reaching for the sun. Plant each seed at least twice as deep as the seed’s width, following the depth listed on the packet.

This gives those tiny tomatoes a sturdy start, with ample room to send down anchors before thrusting up a vigorous vine that’ll climb skyward on a trellis.


I’m curious, what kind of supports are y’all gonna use to keep them heirloom tomatoes upright?

  • Tall cages
  • Stakes and ties
  • Trellises
  • Tomato rings
  • Soil mounds

With the right combination of support and pruning, those Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomatoes on vigorous vines can reach up and bear gorgeous, delicious open-pollinated fruit in that loamy soil. The key is preventing contact with the ground where disease lurks. Proper spacing and air circulation are vital too.

Caring for Plants

Caring for Plants
You’ll want to provide consistent moisture to your heirloom plants by mulching and watering early in the day. Fertilize every couple of weeks with a water-soluble tomato fertilizer, and prune suckers and excess foliage to allow for better air circulation.

Proper watering, fertilization, and pruning practices will keep your plants healthy and productive through the season.


Consistent watering keeps those heirloom tomatoes moist without wetting the leaves. With indeterminate tomatoes in humid conditions, avoid getting the leaves wet when watering. Instead, use drip irrigation or water at the base in well-drained soil. Overhead watering can spread blight if leaves stay humid.


  1. Use balanced all-purpose fertilizers or make your own organic mix to nourish the plants.
  2. Once fruits start forming, fertilize every 2-3 weeks to keep plants productive.
  3. Spread fertilizer evenly around each plant’s root zone for optimal absorption.
  4. Avoid using too much fertilizer, as this causes rapid but weak growth.

Regular fertilization throughout the season provides heirloom tomatoes with the nutrients they need for healthy soil and robust plants that yield flavorful fruits. Varying the fertilizer formulation and application schedule supports strong, steady growth and continual fruit production.


Y’all prune suckers and side shoots regularly to improve air circulation and prevent disease. Removing excess foliage lets sunlight penetrate to ripen fruits and dry morning dew. Prune to just above a leaf joint, leaving no stub, using sterilized shears. Focus on lower suckers and interior shoots to open plants up.

Regular pruning stresses plants less than occasional drastic pruning. Plan to prune weekly once fruits start ripening.

When What How
Early season Lower suckers Prune to 1-2 main stems
Flowering Interior shoots Open up plant centers
After fruit set Upper suckers Allow 2-3 leaves above fruit
Ripening Leaves shading fruits Increase sunlight exposure
Late season Remaining suckers Prepare plant for winter

Frequent, light pruning keeps heirloom tomato plants healthy and productive. It’s a vital prevention practice for reducing disease issues in humid climates.

Container Growing

Container Growing
When growing heirloom tomatoes in containers, choose a pot at least 5 gallons in size for each plant. Use a quality potting mix with added organic material like compost to provide nutrients and retain moisture.

Pot Size

Use large pots, at least five gallons in size, for your heirloom tomatoes so their roots have ample room to spread out. Hungry plants can quickly become rootbound in tiny containers, so utilize big pots filled with nutrient-rich potting soil to grow robust specimens.

Provide them with at least six hours of direct sunlight daily, and thoroughly water when the top inch of soil becomes dry. When repotting small plants, maintain them at the same level to prevent leaf damage.

Soil Mix

Enrich your earthy autumn-hued essence exceptionally for edible emeralds. Fill fertile potted fields with fortified, free-draining alluvium. Adjust acidity suitably. Cultivate compost into your creation, energizing enrichment endlessly.

Establish efficient hydration at sixty-five percent humidity, emanating effervescent light exceedingly. Monitor moisture meticulously to maximize magnificence. With attentive amendments, awe-inspiring abundant harvests will thrive triumphantly.

Preventing Disease

Preventing Disease
You’ll want to prune your tomato plants vigorously throughout the growing season to promote good air circulation between the leaves and stems. This allows the foliage to dry more quickly after watering or rain showers, reducing the chance of blights developing.

Also, be sure to use drip irrigation or soaker hoses rather than overhead watering, which keeps the leaves dry. Consistent moisture is important for the roots, but wet foliage invites fungal and bacterial problems.

Always inspect the plants frequently so you can identify issues early and take action before disease gets out of hand.

Air Circulation

Pruning vigorously helps circulate air and prevent disease on your heirlooms.

  1. Prune suckers and old growth to open the plant canopy.
  2. Remove low hanging foliage touching the soil.
  3. Clear space between cages or trellises.
  4. Allow 24-30 inches between plants for airflow.

Aerating your tomatoes improves humidity, light, soil temperature and airflow throughout the plant. Good air circulation keeps foliage dry, reducing the chance of blight and other fungal issues.

Watering Practices

You all should water those tomatoes with drip irrigation or soaker hoses to keep the leaves dry. Come harvest time, you will be glad you set up a watering system that delivers moisture right to the roots without getting the foliage wet.

Drip lines and porous hoses allow even water distribution without creating the humid conditions that invite disease. Your tomatoes will thrive with the steady supply of water, fertilizer and light reaching the plant.

Proper irrigation promotes healthy growth and a bountiful tomato crop this season.

Improving Productivity

Improving Productivity
Set up sturdy cages, stakes, or trellises for each plant to support the tall, sprawling vines and keep the fruit off the ground. Lay down black plastic mulch before transplanting to warm the soil, reduce weeds, and conserve moisture.

With proper structural supports and ground preparation, you can maximize tomato yields.


Consider trellising your plants to improve productivity. Growing tomatoes up a trellis, cage, or stakes maximizes available light exposure to the entire plant.

  • More even ripening
  • Easier picking
  • Preventing diseases

Trellising also keeps fruits off the ground so they stay clean. Just be sure to give each plant enough root space and use sturdy supports secured in the ground.


Try mulching your heirloom tomatoes with black plastic. It’ll warm the soil, retain moisture, and prevent weeds like a charm. The black plastic mulch will act like a mini-greenhouse for your tomatoes, warming the heirloom roots while keeping them moist.

With fewer weeds stealing nutrients and water, those plants will thrive. Just be sure your plastic is laid tight with the edges buried – you’ll get maximum benefits for your tomatoes that way. Heirlooms love consistent moisture and light for robust growth, so black plastic mulch helps provide both.

Harvesting Heirlooms

Harvesting Heirlooms
Pick those colorful delights when the ground color starts changing for the juiciest, most flavorful ‘looms around.

Closely monitor your plants as fruits start blushing from green to red, purple, orange. Harvest promptly when tomatoes reach peak eating quality. Gently twist each tomato off the plant, taking care to not damage the vine.

Enjoy heirlooms at their finest immediately after picking, when abundant flavor compounds reach their peak. For improved shelf life, leave stems attached. Store harvested tomatoes at cool room temp, out of direct sun.

With attentive growing and proper harvest timing, you’ll be rewarded with memorable, garden-fresh heirloom tomatoes.

Saving Heirloom Seeds

Saving Heirloom Seeds
You’ll treasure those tasty heirlooms like Grandma’s secret recipe when savin’ seeds from your open-pollinated varieties each season.

Let fruits ripen completely on vine before harvestin’. Scoop seeds into jar, add water, let ferment 3 days. Rinse off pulp, spread out to dry on paper towels. Store thoroughly dried seeds in envelopes in cool, dark spot.

With attentive savin’ and proper storage methods, you’ll preserve your heirloom’s unique genetics. Like a plant breeder, you can nurture favorite flavors and pass treasured seeds down through generations.

Sowin’ saved seeds connects you to the past while securin’ the future. So care for those vintage varieties, and you’ll reap a bountiful harvest of heirloom love.

Storing Heirlooms

Storing Heirlooms
After savin’ those heirloom seeds, don’t forget proper storage for next season’s plantin’. Find a cool, dark spot in the house or root cellar with stable temperatures. Use paper envelopes or glass jars to guard against moisture and pests.

Inspect periodically to ensure no mold or insects infest your precious seeds.

With open pollinated varieties, you’ve got a livin’ seed bank from year to year. But without proper care, you risk losin’ your heirloom’s genetics forever. Control moisture, light, heat and pests for best viability when storin’. Test germination rates annually to ensure healthy seedlings when sowin’ time comes.

With attentive storage methods, you’ll preserve delicious heirlooms for generations, rather than lettin’ your coveted varieties disappear into the dustbin of history. Take pride curatin’ your heirloom seed collection like a museum’s priceless artifacts.

You are the caretaker, savin’ flavors from the past for future foodies to savor.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the best heirloom varieties for my region’s growing zone?

You’ll want heat-tolerant varieties like Cherokee Purple and Black Krim for your warm growing zone. Prioritize disease resistance when choosing varieties. Let ripening time guide spacing and succession planting.

Favorites like Brandywine need more room and time to fruit in your long season. Sample new-to-you heirloom varieties every year to find your perfect match.

How do I know when my heirloom tomatoes are ripe and ready to pick?

Check the color – it should be turning from green to the variety’s ripe shade. Gently squeeze and pick when slightly soft. The bottoms should yield a bit and smell sweet and fragrant. Trust your senses to determine when heirlooms have reached perfection for picking.

Can I grow heirloom tomato plants indoors or in a greenhouse?

Yes, you can grow heirloom tomatoes indoors! Start seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Use a sunny window or grow lights. Once the seedlings develop true leaves, transplant them into 5 gallon containers for support.

Add a tomato cage as well. Maintain even moisture, temperatures above 60°F, and provide supplemental lighting for 12-16 hours daily. Prune the plants for air circulation. Move the plants outdoors after the danger of frost has passed.

What is the average yield I can expect from each heirloom tomato plant?

You can anticipate around 10 to 15 pounds per plant if growing conditions are optimal. With proper spacing, support, pruning, and preventive care, prolific heirloom varieties like Cherokee Purple or Brandywine may yield over 20 juicy, flavorful fruits per plant at maturity.

Maximizing light, fertility, and moisture while minimizing pests and diseases promotes productivity.

How long do harvested heirloom tomatoes last when stored properly?

Picture ripe heirlooms – those juicy, thin-skinned jewels – resting in a basket. If stored properly in the crisper, out of sunlight at 55°F, those beauties will keep for up to two weeks before their flavor fades.

Handle them gently to prevent bruising, keep humidity around 90 percent, and the tomatoes will retain their summer sweetness for a good while.


You can grow amazing heirloom tomatoes with proper care and gardening techniques. Focus on selecting hearty varieties suited to your climate, providing good growing conditions with full sun and enriched soil, and planting properly with support and spacing.

Tend your plants attentively through the season with good watering, fertilizing, and pruning practices. Container-grown plants need extra attention. Be diligent against pests and diseases. With good practices, you’ll be rewarded with bountiful, delicious heirloom tomatoes bursting with old-fashioned flavor.

Continuing to nurture your plants while learning more tips for growing heirloom tomatoes every season will lead to sweeter, more flavorful fruits.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is a published author and software engineer and agriculture expert from the US. To date, he has helped thousands of people make their yards lush and thick.