In recent years, we’ve become more and more self-sufficient, growing most of our fresh produce at home, leaving enough to preserve for winter. The only plant we grow purely for joy (and therefore receive significant gluts of) is tomato.
Planning for the year ahead means knowing how many tomatoes to expect per plant, and the same with courgettes, cucumbers, potatoes, etc. However, tomato yields vary with different varieties, growing methods, and the ever-changing rhythm of the seasons. In this article, we’re going to look at how to grow some of the most popular varieties for higher yields, and what to expect from each.
How many tomatoes per plant?
A common mistake when planning tomatoes is to plan based solely on the growth habit (ie. cordon or bush). Cordon (determinate) and bush (indeterminate) tomatoes of similar varieties will crop at a fairly similar rate, with an average of 10-30 pounds of tomatoes per plant.
For cherry tomatoes, that means a harvest of roughly 100 tomatoes from a single healthy tomato plant, but for beefsteak tomatoes grown as cordon, 30lbs can be as few as 10 tomatoes.
How many tomatoes do you actually need?
Before planning the type of tomato plants you want to grow, think about how you’ll use them, and how many tomatoes you need. A family of four, eating spaghetti bolognese every night of the year will need around 2lb of tomatoes every night (730lb over the year if cooked and preserved). But, that would mean growing somewhere between forty and sixty tomato plants (and probably some serious health implications from the unvaried diet!).
If you just want fresh salads through summer, two or three bush cherry tomato plants in a tomato grow bag is more than enough. For sauces, choose plum tomatoes. They yield less fruit, but larger, and thicker fleshed fruit, which goes further in cooking.
How many pounds does one tomato plant produce?
Based on tomato type
Cherry tomatoes yield around 10 pounds of fruit, but some high-yielding types like Romello can crop up closer to 15lb of zingy red tomatoes.
Salad tomatoes, or slicing tomatoes, are the juicy-centered, thin-skinned types (Tigerella, Money Maker, etc.) and produce huge crops right through summer, and into late fall in warmer regions. They tend to crop for longer, as cordon salad tomatoes will continue fruiting until they die from cold. Generally, this means larger yields, but less useful fruit.
Plum tomatoes are the most useful tomato for cooking, with thicker flesh, and even distribution of flavor. Their skins peel away easily too, making them more practical for sauces and preserves. Plum tomatoes vary a lot in their yields, but the average plum will produce roughly 20lb when planted in good compost and fed regularly through summer.
Beefsteak tomato yields are very affected by pruning. Remove unnecessary branches, and stick to the five truss rule, meaning your plant focuses energy on a few big fruits, rather than many smaller fruits. Beefsteaks are huge tomatoes that work well for sauces, salads, or just grilled, and will have a heavier yield if you focus on fewer fruits. Aim for around ten tomatoes per plant and you can get over 30lb from a really good beefsteak like Azoychka.
Tomato yields, based on variety
The table below gives an overview of average yield for the most popular tomato varieties, including details of whether they should be grown outdoors, or in a greenhouse (indoors), and how to prune them (cordon or bush):
|Tomato variety||Yield||Type||Cordon or Bush||Indoor or Outdoor|
|Indigo Rose||12lb||Salad||Cordon||In / Out|
How to improve your tomato yield
The most important factor to increasing your tomato yield is regularity. Not pruning, fertilizer, or even variety, but regularity. Planting tomatoes at the right time, watering them at regular intervals, and opening and closing greenhouse vents at the same time each day sets a rhythm that plants respond to.
But that doesn’t mean you can forget everything else! Fertilizer, pruning, and variety make a difference, so check out some of our more in-depth articles for tomato care, and a few of our favorite tips below.
How to prune tomatoes for a higher yield
Pruning any tomato to limit the amount of fruit is essentially a choice between lots of small fruit or fewer big fruits. For bush cherry tomatoes, there really isn’t any reason to prune out trusses, as they will develop irregularly throughout the season, giving you a constant harvest through summer. For most cordon-type tomatoes, pruning to four or five trusses will help achieve larger fruit, or longer trusses, with more fruit attached.
How to feed tomatoes for a higher yield
One common mistake with tomato plants is to feed them straight away. Allow your plants to acclimatize to their new conditions. If they are seedlings, they don’t need fertilizer yet. If you’re planting young tomatoes in the ground, or into grow bags, wait a couple of weeks before feeding.
When tomatoes have their first full branches, it’s time to start feeding with a balanced tomato fertilizer, just once a fortnight. When flowers appear, gradually increase feeding to twice a week. Continue this until the last fruit has been picked.
How to water tomatoes for a higher yield
Indoor and greenhouse tomatoes need a regular watering schedule. As young plants develop taller stems and more foliage, watering once a week is generally enough, but twice a week is better in warmer states.
As flowers and fruit begin to develop, increase your watering in line with feeding. Aim to water your tomato plants deeply every two to three days while fruit develops, rather than a sprinkler each day, which puts stress on roots.
How to space tomatoes for a higher yield
There are two schools of thought on tomato spacing for higher yields. One is that wider spacing gives better airflow, better plant health, and more opportunities for extra trusses. The second is to grow intensively as single-stem tomatoes. Both are equally right and wrong, so I prefer to work somewhere in between.
Every tomato has a set limit to the amount of fruit it can produce, so space each plant around 1.5-2ft apart, in rich compost (or nutritiously mulched soil). Prune them judiciously, leaving the healthiest trusses and removing the weakest. This supports larger fruit on healthier plants, in a reasonable, but not completely intensive space.
The five best high-yielding tomato varieties, and how to grow them
Of all the tomato plants we’ve ever grown, there are five that I come back to every year; Roma, Azoychka, Super Mama, Tigerella, and Banana Legs. Each has yields of over 20lb even in a bad year, and they are all versatile tomatoes, which grow in similar conditions.
Roma is the classic Italian plum tomato, with a well-rounded, sweet flavor and a thick pasty flesh that binds other ingredients incredibly well. In a bad year, you can expect to harvest around 20lb of smallish fruit, but in a good year, with decent sun and a warm spring, you can easily exceed 30lb.
The pasty flesh of these golden beefsteaks is delicious sliced, and cooked directly on the grill, but works equally well as a paste tomato. With fluctuating weather over recent years, our yield has been hit and miss with Azoychka, with yields more like 15lb than 25lb.
3. Super Mama
Super Mama is plum the size of a beefsteak. While it doesn’t produce anywhere as many fruits as Roma, its individual fruits can be two or three times the size, making for a significantly higher yield weight.
Tigerella is the easiest salad tomato to grow in the world. They can cope with cold springs and fluctuating summers and will grow happily outdoors. But, for the best tomato yield grow Tigerella indoors or in a greenhouse where you can properly manage their watering and prune them mindfully.
5. Banana Legs
And last but not least are Banana Legs, which are the highest-yielding plum tomato you can grow outdoors in almost every part of the country. These incredibly pasty tomatoes are packed with zesty flavor, and make gorgeous pasta sauce, as well as looking stunning when jarred. Any gardener without a greenhouse, polytunnel, or indoor growing space should consider Banana Legs as it is one of the few truly reliable outdoor varieties for any garden.
Yield isn’t just about size. Tomato yields are a balancing act of water, fertilizer, spacing, light, and pruning, but if you get it right you can grow more than enough tomatoes in a small garden to last you for an entire year.
Perhaps more importantly though is understanding tomato yields per plant, because there are fewer plant families where the yield can fluctuate more dramatically between different varieties. Choose a high-yielding tomato for the biggest harvest, and check back for tomato yield averages at Tiny Garden Habit whenever you need.