Avoid These 9 Tomato-Growing Myths

Arguably the most popular garden plant, tomatoes are rich with juicy flavor but also rife with rumors. Garden expert and former organic farmer Logan Hailey digs into the 9 most common myths about growing tomatoes and the real science for mastering this crop.

Ripe cherry tomatoes dangle from the vine, their glossy skins gleaming in the sunlight amidst verdant foliage. Beyond, terracotta pots create a soft, earthy backdrop, their warm hues blending harmoniously with the natural beauty of the garden.


Tomato, tomoto, tommy boys, toms, little tamats—tomatoes go by many nicknames and come in over 10,000 different varieties. Arguably the most popular garden crop to grow at home, tomatoes are rich with juicy flavor but also rife with rumors and myths. 

Perhaps you’ve heard that you have to tickle the flowers to ensure strong yields or you should never put tomatoes in the refrigerator. You may also think that calcium deficiency causes blossom end rot and that you absolutely have to grow sauce varieties for canning. Are all of these age-old warnings true?

Let’s break down the most pervasive tomato myths and uncover the truth behind growing this famous crop successfully.

9 Tomato-Growing Myths

A cluster of cherry tomatoes, some ripe and some still green, hang delicately from the vine, promising a burst of sweetness. Behind them, green leaves form a lush backdrop, accentuating the vivid colors of the tomatoes.
Incorrect information regarding tomato cultivation practices negatively affects the plants.

Garden myths are commonly passed through generations and friends with mostly good intentions, but they can often do more harm than good for our plants. Irrigating in hot, sunny weather won’t magnify light through water droplets or burn your plants, and coffee grounds won’t acidify your soil

While these misunderstandings are unlikely to cause any major harm, they are often scientifically inaccurate and can lead to absurd growing practices like spreading human hair around your garden to deter pests or spraying aspirin on your plants to deter pests and diseases. The latter was a major media misunderstanding and oversimplification of lab-based science that led many gardeners to kill their tomato plants by spraying them with crushed-up pills.

Clearly, misinformation can spread like wildfire. Translating scientific research to public application is often very slow and nuanced. We’ve done the work for you by sorting through the research and running real-life experiments at the Epic Homestead. Let’s myth-bust 9 of the most common beliefs about tomato growing and find out what to do instead.

Myth: Yellow or Dying Leaves Mean Death

A close-up of tomato vine showcasing its distinctive lobed leaves, with intricate vein patterns. Amidst the greenery, a few leaves stand out in a yellow hue, adding a pop of color to the lush foliage.
Lower leaves naturally yellow or brown as plants prioritize new growth and fruit production.

Just because a leaf is yellowing or dying does not mean your plant is in trouble. Even the healthiest tomato plants will have withering older leaves. It is natural for the lower leaves to turn yellow or brown as the upper parts of the plant develop new foliage, and midsummer ripening pulls a lot of energy away from vegetative reproduction. 

The Truth: Lower Leaves Naturally Turn Yellow or Brown

Dark soil fills a raised bed, providing fertile ground for growth. Tomato plants, carefully spaced, flourish within the bed, their green leaves reaching toward the sunlight, promising future harvests of juicy, red fruit.
Prune off lower leaves below ripening fruit clusters for better airflow and fruit production.

Bottom leaves are the most blocked by the sun and the most susceptible to disease. They are also the oldest part of the plant. There is no need to panic if you have some yellow or brown foliage on your tomatoes, especially if the discoloration is clustered in the bottom leaves. 

The best thing you can do is prune off any leaves that are below the first cluster of ripening fruit. Use sharp, sanitized shears to cut off dead and dying leaves, including their stems. Make a clean cut right near the central stalk. It is OK for the bottom stalk of the plant to look barren; this allows more airflow and signals to the plant that it should focus its energy on upward growth and fruit production.

So don’t stress if you notice yellowing leaves at the bottom of your plants. If the yellowing is all over the plant, that is a different story! You may want to explore common tomato-growing problems to address the root cause.

Myth: You Must Grow Paste Varieties for Tomato Sauce

Glass jar filled with homemade tomato sauce, reflecting light. Various types of tomatoes scattered nearby, showcasing their diverse colors and shapes, hinting at the sauce's rich flavor and the care taken in its creation.
Tomatoes suited for both fresh eating and sauce-making include heirlooms and cherries.

From classic ‘Roma’ to ‘Granberry Plum,’ gardeners often grow special paste tomatoes for their sauce and canning endeavors. Paste tomato varieties are bred to have lower water content, which means they are less liquidy when you cook up a sauce. This is beneficial for dedicated preservers and food processors because you don’t have to reduce the sauce for as long as you would with a more watery tomato. 

However, you are not limited to paste varieties for making tomato sauce. In fact, paste tomatoes often aren’t as great for fresh eating. Some growers prefer more versatile options like heirlooms or cherries that can be used for both fresh consumption and processing. Rest assured, any tomato can be simmered down into saucy deliciousness!

The Truth: You Can Make Sauce With Any Variety

A woman delicately removes the skin from a ripe tomato, revealing its vibrant flesh, and collects the peelings in a translucent bowl. Beside her, a clear container showcases tomatoes suspended in water, a refreshing sight of freshness.
Transform cherry tomatoes into a rich pasta sauce through extra simmering for depth and complexity.

While paste tomatoes are advantageous for their low moisture content, you can make sauce with any tomato. Varieties with higher moisture content will require a longer reduction time to get the right sauce consistency. Exploring different varieties also opens the door for new flavors and colors in your tomato sauce palette. If you’re bored with regular old marinara, you can try a chunky tomato bolognese or a tangy vodka sauce.

Jacques from @jacquesinthegarden uses a special trick to transform his cherry tomatoes into an ultra-flavorful pasta sauce. Cherry tomatoes like ‘Sungold’ may not be as dense as paste varieties, but they usually aren’t as watery as heirlooms or beefsteaks. They require a little extra simmering to reduce the moisture content, but the result is a super rich and complex tomato sauce with flavor notes you may not find in paste tomatoes. 

Another cool thing about making pasta sauce from cherry tomatoes is that it’s faster and easier than other sauces. You don’t need to cut the tomatoes before putting them in the pot, as they are already the perfect size to burst and cook down. The resulting sauce may be a bit more watery than traditional red sauce, but it tastes incredible on a quick summer pasta dish or cold pasta salad.  

YouTube video

Myth: You Must Tickle Tomato Flowers to Get Fruit

A gardener wearing gray overalls and blue gloves gently tends to a tomato plant, delicately touching its leaves. In the blurred background, dark soil contrasts with the vibrant greenery of the plant, creating a serene gardening scene.
Hand-pollination of tomato blossoms is unnecessary for most gardeners.

Stressing about tickling doesn’t make any sense, yet so many gardeners worry that they have to “tickle” their tomato blossoms in order to get fruit. This myth does hold some weight since hand-pollination is a common technique for commercial or greenhouse growers.

However, most gardeners do not need to worry about hand-pollinating their tomatoes because bees and wind are already doing the work for them!

The Truth: Hand-Pollinating is Only Necessary in Closed Greenhouses

A close-up of a hand gently caresses a delicate vine, its fingertips tenderly grazing the small yellow flowers nestled among green leaves. The intricate connection between human touch and nature's beauty is captured in this close-up moment of tactile exploration.
Hand-pollination can increase yields in areas with limited access to natural pollinators like greenhouses.

If you are growing tomatoes outside, you do not need to tickle or touch the flowers. The flowers of tomatoes are self-fertile and perfect, which means they have both male and female parts inside each flower. In normal outdoor growing situations, the male pollen naturally falls onto the female part of the flower in the yellow star-like blossoms.

Tomatoes are pollinated predominantly by wind and bees. The wind can blow pollen from one flower to another, or bees can roll around inside the flower and carry the pollen on their furry bodies to another blossom. 

However, if you really want to increase your yields or you are growing in a greenhouse, there is no harm in tickling your flowers by hand. Hand-pollination is important for areas where wind and pollinators cannot access your tomato plants. Greenhouse growers often roll up the sides of tunnels during the day so wind and pollinators can get inside.

You can also use an electric toothbrush to vibrate at the base of each flower. This laborious process ensures more male pollen is transferred to female pistils inside the plant, leading to floral fertilization and more fruit. 

If you don’t have the time to facilitate pollination, rest assured that your tomatoes are probably receiving sufficient pollination from breezes and bees.

Myth: The Sun Must Hit Tomatoes to Ripen Them

A close-up of a cherry tomato vine basking in the warm sunlight, its leaves casting delicate shadows. Among the lush foliage, ripe cherry tomatoes gleam, their red hues contrasting beautifully with the verdant greenery of the plant.
Tomato fruits can ripen evenly without direct sunlight hitting them.

Many growers (professional farmers included!) mistakenly believe that sunlight must hit tomato fruits in order for them to ripen, but this is not actually true. This misguided belief leads many to remove large amounts of leaves in order to expose fruits to bright, direct rays.

In reality, a tomato that is shielded by leaves will ripen just as quickly and evenly as one exposed to the sun. The light does not need to reach the fruit surface to stimulate ripening.

The Truth: Tomatoes Ripen Under the Protection of Foliage

A close-up of red tomatoes glisten in the sunlight, contrasting against lush green foliage in the background. The play of light and shadow highlights the luscious texture of the tomatoes, enticing the viewer with their fresh, ripe appeal.
The fruits ripen naturally through internal hormonal changes influenced by temperature and ethylene.

If you prune away too much foliage, the sun can actually overheat tomatoes or scald them due to too much direct light. Pruning is beneficial for high yields and reduced disease risk, but you don’t have to go overboard removing a bunch of leaves to ensure sunlight hits the fruits. 

Tomatoes ripen naturally without the need for direct light. The plant photosynthesizes through its leaves, generating carbohydrates to fuel plant growth. When it is time for fruit to mature, a hormonal change in the plant triggers ripening from within the plant. 

Ripening is controlled by temperature and the hormone ethylene. Temperatures between 68 and 77°F (20-25°C) are ideal for tomato ripening, and ultra-hot temperatures on unprotected fruit could actually cause more harm than good. Let your fruits ripen in peace without worrying about removing green leaves. There is no problem with sunlight hitting the fruits, but it is not mandatory.

Myth: You Have to Prune Perfectly for High Yields

Sharp black pruning shears hover above a lush tomato vine, ready to trim. Vibrant green leaves cascade alongside plump, ripening tomatoes, promising a bountiful harvest in the sun-drenched garden.
Pruning tomato plants is helpful for trellising in limited space.

Pruning is a very common and debated topic amongst tomato growers. Should you prune off every sucker? Should you let the tomato grow naturally without pruning? Will a lack of pruning reduce your yields and harm your plants? 

The reality is there is no hard-and-fast rule for pruning. A little bit of all of the above could be useful and functional. Pruning is useful, but you don’t have to do it every week to successfully grow tomatoes. A few suckers or rambling vines are not going to kill your plants or your yields, but regular pruning can make it easier to trellis plants for high yields in small areas.

Whatever you choose, remember that tomato plants are insanely vigorous. There is no need to stress over pruning.

The Truth: Pruning Helps You Grow More in a Small Space, But Isn’t Required

A blue-gloved hand, gripping pruning shears with green handles, delicately trims the base of a tomato vine. The warm embrace of the sun envelops the tranquil garden scene, casting gentle shadows on the verdant foliage below.
Removing suckers in tomato plants directs energy towards fruit production.

Pruned tomato plants are tidy and earlier-yielding, but unpruned plants may grow more fruits overall. However, they need more trellis support, and the fruits ripen later. In other words, pruning away suckers and growing in a trellised single-leader or two-leader vine system can save you a lot of space and ensure earlier harvests. Pruned plants grow in a tidy fashion that is suitable for small space gardens, but unpruned plants can produce more fruits; they simply take up more space and take a bit longer to ripen.

Sucker removal is the most common type of tomato pruning. A sucker is the little sprout between each leaf node and the central stem. Suckers form in the “elbow ditches” of tomato plant branches. Each sucker can grow out into an entirely new stalk and plant, which certainly pulls a lot of energy away from fruit production. Cutting off suckers keeps the plant focused on just one or two vines, channeling its energy into developing fruits. While sucker removal is beneficial, you don’t need to remove every sucker to ensure high yields.

In fact, some growers don’t prune at all, and they still harvest lots of juicy fruits! In our garden experiments, we compared the yields of heavily pruned plants versus tomatoes that were not pruned at all. The un-pruned plants yielded an overall higher quantity of fruit, but it was later in the season. 

Myth: Blossom End Rot is Only Caused by Calcium Deficiency

A close-up of a tomato vine, green leaves sprawling across the frame. Nestled among them, orange tomatoes succumb to decay, their once-luscious forms now marred by the inevitable passage of time.
Inconsistent watering is likely the main cause of blossom end rot in tomatoes.

It is a common belief that you need to add a bunch of calcium to tomatoes to prevent blossom end rot. Blossom end rot is a common disorder that causes brown or blackened rotten “butts” at the end of tomatoes.

While many used to believe that blossom end rot was solely caused by a calcium imbalance, newer evidence shows that inconsistent watering is more likely the problem in most home gardens. Tomatoes cannot use the available calcium in dry conditions.

The Truth: Prevent Blossom End Rot with More Consistent Irrigation

A healthy tomato vine climbs up a sturdy black support, its green tomatoes promising a future harvest. Beneath it, a black drip irrigation system snakes across the ground, ensuring each plant receives nourishing hydration.
Efficient irrigation methods like drip lines or ollas conserve water.

While calcium deficiency is linked to blossom end rot, most garden soils have sufficient calcium. The problem is really that improper moisture makes it difficult for tomatoes to uptake the calcium that is already there. Unless your soil test shows that your beds are very deficient in calcium, there is no need to supplement this mineral. Instead, focus on consistent watering schedules. Try to keep your tomato beds at a medium moisture level without ever letting them get overly dry or overly wet. 

Drip irrigation or ollas are the best options for home gardeners who need to balance their irrigation schedules. Drip lines can run beneath mulch and deliver moisture straight to the root zone while minimizing evaporation and reducing the risk of foliar disease. 

Ollas are clay irrigation pots that can be buried in the soil to supply consistent moisture without underwatering or overwatering. The soil can wick moisture from the clay pot as needed, and the pot won’t release water if the soil is already wet. 

Whatever irrigation method you choose, be sure to check your tomato beds every other day by quickly sticking your finger in the soil. These are very thirsty crops that prefer a nice balance of moisture to ensure they can uptake all the required nutrients. Avoid huge fluctuations from soggy to bone-dry soil.

Myth: Tomatoes Have to Ripen on the Vine for Good Flavor

Ripe red tomatoes neatly arranged in a rustic woven basket, freshly plucked from the vine. In the backdrop, a verdant tangle of vines holds a bounty of tomatoes, promising a delicious harvest.
Tomatoes don’t need to ripen on the vine for optimal flavor.

This is one of the most surprising tomato-growing myths! Everyone thinks that tomatoes must ripen on the vine to have good flavor, but this isn’t necessarily the case. These famous fruits don’t actually have to ripen on the plant to develop their flavors.

Of course, this does not mean you should pick green tomatoes and spray them with ethylene like supermarkets do, but you don’t have to let them get fully ripe out in the garden. It can even be advantageous to harvest a little bit earlier than peak ripeness. 

The Truth: You Can Harvest Tomatoes Slightly Before Peak Ripeness

A person holds a woven basket filled with ripe tomatoes, their vivid colors contrasting against the greenery. With care, they delicately pluck a plump tomato from the lush vine, a scene of harvest and abundance.
Harvesting tomatoes slightly early preserves quality and extends shelf life without sacrificing flavor.

The “breaker” stage is one of the best time to pick your tomatoes. When a fruit is 30-50% ripe on the plant, you can snip it off. The tomato will ripen up perfectly and the flavor will not be compromised in any way. A fruit that ripens halfway on the plant and halfway on your counter will taste just as good as one that is left to reach full ripeness on the vine.

Tomatoes ripen from the center outward and from the bottom upward. The blossom end is technically the oldest part of the fruit, so it naturally ripens first. Once the ripeness has reached almost the middle of the fruit, it has already transitioned all of its plant hormones and sugars to the ripening stage. There is no harm in harvesting a little sooner to preserve the quality of your toms. Harvesting earlier can also ensure a longer shelf life in your kitchen and prevent birds, rats, or other pests from eating the ripe fruits. 

Of course, this does not mean you should pick green tomatoes! Because these fruits are still developing on the plant, their hormones and sugars are not yet concentrated. Green fruits will lose flavor and may fail to ripen evenly if they are picked too early. Unless you’re growing a green tomato, let them ripen more.

Try a comparison yourself. Harvest a 50% ripe fruit and let it ripen indoors, and leave a similar-sized fruit on the vine to ripen. They should have the same flavor, but the earlier harvested one will last longer in your kitchen.

Myth: Refrigerating Tomatoes Will Ruin the Flavor

Red tomatoes nestle in a pristine white plate, contrasting against the cool, empty expanse of the refrigerator. The stark white background highlights the rich hue of the tomatoes, promising freshness and flavor to whoever opens the fridge.
Storing homegrown tomatoes in the refrigerator doesn’t alter their flavor.

This myth is fairly controversial in the culinary world. Chefs and farmers insist that you cannot put your tomatoes in the fridge or they will lose all their flavor! 

Most of us have heard this for years and avoided cooling our favorite summer fruits. Oftentimes, this leads to over-ripe or rotten tomatoes sitting on the countertop for too long, and we miss the perfect window to eat them. The truth is refrigeration won’t compromise the taste of your homegrown cherries or slicers

The Truth: You Can Refrigerate Tomatoes Without Losing Flavor

A well-organized vegetable compartment in a refrigerator filled with fresh produce, including crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and colorful bell peppers. Each item neatly arranged, promising a burst of flavor and nutrition for your next meal preparation.
Refrigerating fully ripe tomatoes preserves their flavor and texture.

As soon as a tomato is fully ripe, it can go in the fridge without any risk of losing flavor. In fact, refrigeration can preserve the flavor because once a tomato hits the ripe point, it goes on a downward spiral. Fruits left out for too long can over-ripen and become acidic or mushy. 

In our own experiments, we compared two cherry tomatoes and two slicers. We put one of each in the refrigerator and did taste trials that revealed both fruits tasted the same! In other taste trials, some people even prefer the refrigerated ripe tomato because of the texture.

The key caveat is: If your tomato is fully ripe and you want to eat it on that day, just go ahead and eat it! But if it is fully ripe and you want to save it to eat tomorrow or a couple days later, put it in the fridge.

If the fruit is fully ripe, refrigerating it will not actually degrade the texture or flavor. However, some people prefer to let refrigerated tomatoes return to room temperature before eating them because the warmth amplifies the flavor. Either way, refrigeration won’t harm ripe tomatoes, and it can even make them more enjoyable because it prevents over-ripening.

Myth: Tomatoes Need a Ton of Water

A green watering can pours water over a tomato plant, nurturing its growth in rich, dark soil. In the background, blurred outlines of thriving tomato plants hint at a flourishing garden ecosystem.
Tomatoes thrive with consistent, moderate watering to encourage deep root growth.

It’s easy to look at a tomato plant full of plump, juicy fruits and imagine that it needs a ton of water to thrive. We discussed the importance of consistent irrigation, but we must also remember that too much water can harm these plants as well

Tomatoes can develop very deep roots that seek out moisture and nutrients in the lower parts of the soil profile. The plants prefer consistent watering (about the moisture of a wrung-out sponge) throughout their root zone. Excessive amounts of water do more harm than good.

The Truth: Overwatering or Excessive Shallow Irrigation Are Common Mistakes

An orange watering can pours a gentle stream of water onto a thriving tomato vine, nourishing tomatoes. In the background, a blurred greenhouse scene hints at lush greenery, creating a serene atmosphere of growth and abundance.
Inconsistent shallow watering leads to surface oversaturation and shallow roots.

Overwatering tomatoes can wash out the flavor, cause mushy fruits, and lead to disease problems like root rot. Too much water is also linked to cracked or burst fruits. If you water very heavily after a long dry period, this can cause fruit to crack because the plant cannot handle an overload of moisture all at once. 

Shallow watering is another common issue. Constantly spraying the top few inches of tomatoes every other day is actually a form of overwatering. The moisture never reaches the lower roots, but the upper soil layers are constantly oversaturated. This can cause shallow roots and disorders like blossom end rot.

To prevent splitting, problems, and loss of flavor, practice consistent, deep watering. Avoid daily watering at shallow levels, and instead stagger your irrigation with long, thorough watering every few days. Stick your finger in the soil to ensure the moisture has gone several inches down deep. 

If you are growing in containers, your plants will need more water. Containers dry out much more quickly than raised beds or in-ground beds. This means you’ll need to check tomato pots once or twice a day. It is normal to water containers once or twice daily in the height of the growing season because the limited amount of soil volume causes container plants to rapidly dehydrate in hot weather.

As a rule of thumb, you can let the upper two inches dry out and then water. Always stick your finger in the soil to check the moisture level before irrigating, especially in pots.  

Final Thoughts

There are millions of ways to grow tomatoes, but you don’t have to believe any of these myths anymore. These vigorous plants are eager to yield in abundance without so much worry about fruit ripening, leaf pruning, flower tickling, refrigerating, and excessive watering. 

Keep the plants in full sunlight, prune as desired, allow fruits to reach 50% ripeness before picking, and maintain consistent moisture with less frequent yet deep irrigation. And don’t forget to enjoy as many fresh toms as possible during the peak summer months!

Tomato grow faster. Cherry tomatoes have slender, vining stems adorned with bright green, serrated leaves. These leaves are medium-sized and alternate along the stems. The small, round fruits, bright red, grow in clusters.


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