Avoid These 6 Mistakes When Buying Tomato Plants

Start off by putting down the plant that has tomatoes already on it.

Nicole Burke Kitchen Garden Advanced Fruiting Plants/Tomatoes
Advanced. Photo: Robbie Caponetto

Hooray—springtime means it is finally time to plant tomatoes! But before rushing out of the store with a handful of them, it is important to take a good second to evaluate the batch so you don't accidentally end up with a bad tomato plant that will be wilting before you know it. To get the best ruby juicy fruits this season, steer clear of these six common mistakes when buying your tomato plants. You'll thank me later.

Buying Plants That Already Have Flowers Or Fruit

You don't want 'em. Why? Because you want plants that will put all of their energy during the first weeks after planting into growing roots, stems, and leaves—not flowering or ripening fruit. Defer gratification now and you'll get lots more tomatoes later. As an option, pinch off any flowers or fruit before planting.

Buying Plants Without Checking Them For Hitchhiking Insects

Especially whiteflies. Whiteflies (below) look like little, white triangles and congregate in great masses on the undersides of the leaves, sucking the sap. Infested plants are basically non-salvageable. Lightly brush the foliage of any new plant before you buy. If you see any tiny, white triangles fly off, leave that plant behind and run very fast.

emDo not buy this plant! Photo: ipm.illinois.edu/em.

Planting Them Before Checking Your Area's Frost-Free Date

Frost kills tomato plants. Sure, you can cover them outside to protect against possible frost, if you know when that might happen. How can you find out? Just Google your zip code and "last spring frost."

Not Taking Heed Of The Basic Type Of Tomato Plant

Tomato plants are either determinant or indeterminate. A determinant tomato, like 'Celebrity,' 'Rutgers,' and 'Patio,' grows into a little bush and ripens its fruit all at once. Choose this kind for growing in small spaces or containers. An indeterminate tomato, like 'Better Boy' and 'Beefmaster,' grows nonstop like a vine, needs support to hold it up, and ripens fruit over a long period. Choose this kind for growing in cages where you have more room.

Cherokee Purple
This tomato will get you hooked on heirlooms. Large, dark reddish purple fruit is perfect for slicing. Amazing flavor. Photo: Ralph Anderson,

Assuming Trendier Heirloom Tomatoes Are Easier To Grow

Popular heirloom tomatoes like 'Cherokee Purple' are not easier to grow. They may look cool and taste great, but in general, they're more susceptible to disease and weather than newer hybrids and are typically lower-yielding. However, if you put the time and effort into your heirloom tomatoes, they will yield some tasty crops. Just be sure to look outside of the popular kinds of tomatoes, and try something different like cherry tomatoes.

Buying Tomato Plants That Look A Little Rough

Of course, if you have a green thumb, you can most likely revitalize a sad-looking plant. But don't be fooled into buying the tomato plants on the clearance rack with a bunch of problems, just because you think you can nurse them back to life. When starting your tomato garden, you want plants with a good foundation. Here are a few general things to consider when buying your tomato plant:

  • Make sure the tomato plant you buy has a solid central stem that is not drooping.
  • A bunch of holes in a tomato plant could mean a little worm has been snacking.
  • Run fast if you see a tomato plant with dark spots, as this could indicate a fungus.
  • Opt for full, green foliage and avoid a yellowing plant.
  • Try to avoid a plant whose leaves look scorched by the sun. Sometimes this means the plant has other problems, like over-fertilization.
Cherry tomato plant
Getty Images

Now that you have a good base knowledge of the pitfalls of tomato plant buying, you can shop with ease. After you bring them home, make sure to read our guide on how to avoid some of the common mistakes when growing them so you have a no-fail season. And don't forget to tag us in your tomato plant photos—we love to see some thriving tomatoes!

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles