The Big Boy tomato is a flavor filled, smooth skinned variety of the tomato plant. A reliable and versatile option, Big Boy tomato plants thrive in most climates. They also share many of the same growing needs and preferences as other types of toms, such as cherry toms.
Large, attractive and full of flavor, if you want to know more about the Big Boy tomato, including how to grow some of your own, this is the guide for you.
The Big Boy tomato is significantly larger than other varieties.
What is a Big Boy Tomato?
One of the first hybrid fruit or vegetable plants to be released on the general market, Burpees Big Boy Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum Big Boy) has been a popular choice for home gardeners since its release in 1949.
Typically grown as annuals, in USDA zones 10 and 11 these plants can be grown as short lived perennials.
Big Boy tomato plants are classed as indeterminate. This means that they continue to grow and set fruit throughout the growing season. Bushier in appearance than other indeterminate types, once established these are prolific plants.
Big boy tomato plants are typically midseason specimens. In favorable growing conditions they start to produce fruit around 78 days after sowing the seeds and continue to flower and fruit until the first frosts fall. Similar in appearance to other toms, after the flowers have been pollinated large fruit begins to develop.
The fruit is typically smooth skinned with a firm flesh and bright red in color. Mature fruit can weigh between 10 and 16 ounces. The fruit is best used as a slicing tom.
Despite their large size, this variety grows and develops in the same way as every other variety.
Now that we’ve discussed what sets the Big Boy tomato apart from other varieties, it is time to discuss how to grow them.
Growing from Seed
Start your seeds undercover, 6 to 8 weeks before last spring frost date. Start seeds either in trays or pots filled with moist seed-starting compost.
Scatter the seeds thinly on the surface. Cover with a light layer of moist compost, no more than a quarter of an inch thick. If you are starting your seeds in pots try to sow no more than two seeds per pot.
Place the pots or trays in a light filled position. You can also place them under grow lights. Seeds germinate best at temperatures between 75 and 85 ℉.
If you are starting the seeds early in the year you may struggle to keep them warm enough to germinate. I find that a heat mat is a good solution, enabling me to maintain the perfect germination conditions for my seeds. Some heat mats, such as the VIVOSUN Seedling Heat Map are not only easy to set up but come with a built in thermostat, which is easy to control. This enables you to keep your seeds at the optimum germination temperature.
Moisten the soil when it begins to dry out. Use a fine spray or plant mister to avoid disturbing delicate seedlings. Germination typically occurs within 7 to 14 days depending on the surrounding conditions.
When watering seedlings, be careful not to disturb or drown the delicate young plants.
Continue to provide lots of light as the seedlings develop. This helps them to develop strong stems that can support their tall growth habit and heavy fruit.
Thin out your seedlings to a spacing of one plant every two inches or one per pot when they produce a few sets of true leaves.
Once seedlings started in trays are a few inches tall, transplant them into individual 3 inch pots. Each pot should be clean and filled with fresh, moist potting soil. Big Boy tomato seedlings produce roots on any part of the stem that is buried. This means that transplanting a little lower than the plants originally were, encourages more roots to grow. This helps the plants to grow and remain upright.
Transplanting into the Final Growing Position
If you are growing outside, wait until the soil and air temperatures have warmed. Slowly harden off your seedlings. Take your time and don’t rush the seedlings through this process. Remember, Big Boy tomato plants are heat loving specimens. Exposure to temperatures that are too cold can stunt growth or, in extreme circumstances, cause plants to fail.
If you are unsure how long to wait before transplanting, a good rule of thumb is not to plant until 2 weeks after your area’s last average frost date. Seedlings should be at least 6 weeks old before transplanting.
When selecting a planting position, remember the rules of crop rotation. Avoid planting in soil that has recently held other toms, peppers or eggplants. Dig and weed the soil over before planting, working in any necessary amendments such as compost.
Plant in a full sun position. For maximum growth and yield the plants should receive at least 6 hours of direct light every day.
Before planting, prepare the soil by working in nutrients such as compost. Aim to dig 2 inches of compost into the top 12 inches of soil.
To plant, dig a hole in the soil large enough to hold the pot currently holding your specimen. Place the pot in the hole as you dig to check the size. Boy Boy tomato plants should be planted deeply. The bottom set of leaves should be just above soil level.
When you are happy with the size of the hole, remove the plant from the pot and position. If you have started your specimens in biodegradable peat pots, such as Delxo Seed Starter Peat Pots, they can simply be placed in the hole, still in their pots. Firm down the soil around the plant and water well.
If you are planting more than one Big Boy tomato, space the plants 30 inches apart. Mature plants have a spread of 24 to 36 inches. Rows should be spaced 3 to 4 ft apart.
Big Boy tomato plants are tall, busy specimens. The vines can reach up to 5 ft in both height and spread, often becoming sprawling in the process. A stake or tomato cage is necessary to help control the spread and support healthy growth. Install one cage or stake per plant. Drive stakes at least 6 inches into ground.
After planting, pinch back any side shoots to encourage growth of one or two main stems. Tie the stems loosely to the stake or surrounding a Tomato Cage.
Planting in Pots
The Big Boy tomato can also be grown in a pot.
Plant one Big Boy tomato per 24 inch wide pot. Fill the pot with good quality potting soil, remember to make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom, and plant as described above. Place the pot in a light, full sun position. After planting water well and install a support.
Remember, these are large plants and require some support to help them maintain an upright growth habit.
Caring for a Big Boy Tomato
The Big Boy tomato may produce larger fruit but its care needs are largely the same as every other variety of tom. Weed the soil around the plants regularly. This is particularly important for growing plants because it helps to prevent them from being overwhelmed by fast growing weeds. This guide to the best weeding tools for a tidy garden can help you to select the best tools for your situation.
Water growing specimens regularly. If you are growing your Big Boy tomato plants in pots you may need to water them every day. Water until water drains out of holes at bottom of pot.
Maintaining a regular watering schedule helps plants to thrive. An inconsistent watering routine can cause fruit to crack.
Aim to keep the top 2 inches of soil consistently moist. Over watering or not watering enough can cause diseases such as blossom end rot or root rot. In most situations you will need to give each plant between 1 and 2 inches of water a week.
Before planting, enrich the soil by working in a 1 to 2 inch layer of compost and a handful of crushed eggshells. This gives the seedlings an immediate boost upon transplanting.
After this, apply a regular dose of specific tomato feed or 10-10-10 fertilizer from mid season or when flowers set, onwards. How much you apply and how frequently depends on the product you are using. Consult the information on the fertilizer label for specific instructions.
Begin to fertilize as soon as flowers start to set.
Pruning Sprawling Plants
As plants develop, remove any unwanted shoots and leaves. Use a sharp garden scissors to cut away suckers or side shoots that emerge at the V point between the branch and main stem. This focuses the plants energy on developing fruit and larger stems. Remember to clean your tools before and after using them.
Cut away any damaged or yellow foliage, or any leaves that contact the ground. This helps to keep plants healthy.
If you are nervous about pruning your plants, this detailed guide takes you through the process.
Common Problems and How to Solve Them
If planted and cared for correctly these are pleasingly reliable, low maintenance plants. A healthy specimen is largely pest and disease resistant.
Many common diseases such as verticillium wilt can be prevented by adopting good growing practices. Adopting a basic crop rotation system, or always growing in fresh soil if you have a container garden, also helps to keep plants healthy.
Regularly check the stems and leaves for signs of infestation. Aphids, a common problem, can be washed away with a blast from a garden hose. Persistent infestations can be treated with an application of neem oil.
Untreated infestations of tomato hornworms can damage plants. These large, green worms are most common in late spring or summer. If allowed to, they chew through the foliage, leaving small, black droppings behind. If you listen closely, you may also hear the distinctive clicking sound that the hornworms make as they eat your plants. The easiest way to treat an infestation is to handpick the pests and drown them in soapy water. Chickens also eat them.
Blossom end rot is another common problem that also affects squash and peppers. Usually caused by a calcium deficiency it can also be caused by either under and over watering your plants. Either of these issues can prevent plants from taking up enough calcium. To boost calcium levels around your plants, work a natural source of calcium such as bone meal or eggshells into the surrounding soil.
When planted in a favorable position these are pleasingly productive and resilient plants.
Better Boy, an improved version is resistant to both fusarium and verticillium wilt. These newer hybrids also tend to produce plants with a dense covering of foliage. This means that fruit is more protected from the heat of the sun.
For more information on common tomato plant diseases, this guide not only outlines the most common issues but also explains how to prevent and cure any issues that do arise.
How to Harvest
This is the easiest part of growing any type of tom. In warm weather and with the right care, fruit may be ready for harvest within 8 weeks of transplanting. In cooler or shadier positions this process may take a little longer.
Ripe fruit should be firm and red. To separate the fruit from the plant, snap or twist it away. The fruit has a natural breaking point. Gently twisting the fruit should separate it easily from the plant. You can also cut the ripe fruit from the plant.
Reliable, easy to grow and full of flavor, it is easy to see why this variety is so popular.
Reliable and easy to care for it is easy to see why the Big Boy tomato has long been a popular choice for home growers. Larger than other types of tom, the flavor and texture of the Big Boy tomato means that if you have the space it is a must grow addition to the garden.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.