Seven Terrific Tomato Tips
Who doesn’t love those ripe, sweet/tart fruits fresh from the vine? A warm, freshly-picked tomato with some basil, fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of olive oil is the perfect food for a hot summer day. Here are seven terrific tips to help you grow your best-ever tomatoes.
1. Plant Late
Tomatoes love heat. Many of us are so eager to get those big, ripe, juicy tomatoes that we tend to plant too early. Although we’re well past the last frost date, it’s not yet the ideal time to plant tomatoes. If you can, wait until Memorial Day – or even until the first week of June. But if you just can’t wait, cover the planting area with black or red plastic a couple of weeks before you intend to plant to warm up the soil.
2. Plant Deep
When planting tomatoes, don’t follow the usual advice of planting at the same depth as the plant comes in the pot. Instead, bury your tomato plants all the way to the top few leaves. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that will grow roots all along the buried stem so the more stem you bury, the more nutrients the plant will be able to absorb and the better the tomatoes will grow.
You can dig a deep hole and drop the plant in. But in my garden that would be just too much work – I dig a trench, lay the tomato on its side in the trench, and cover it up. Don’t worry, the plant will grow upward.
Related to the heat issue is the topic of mulching tomatoes. While mulch does prevent weeds, conserve water, and prevent soil and pathogens from splashing up onto the plants, it also cools the soil and tomatoes don’t like this. Either hold off on mulching until late in June when the soil is quite warm, or use red plastic mulch.
4. Prune Suckers
For indeterminate tomatoes, prune out suckers that develop in the crotch between the stem and branches. Although, technically, you don’t need to do this (and not all gardeners do it), those suckers will just keep growing, causing the plant to get out of control/top-heavy and resulting in smaller fruit. Do it while the suckers are small (2”-4” long) and you should be able to pinch them out with your fingers.
For determinate tomatoes, pinching suckers isn’t necessary. Check the label on the plant to see what kind of tomato it is.
5. Remove Lower Leaves
The lower leaves are usually the first to develop fungus problems and should be removed when the plant is about 3’ tall. Take off all leaves on the bottom 1’ of the stem.
6. Pinch Tips
If you have indeterminate tomatoes, pinch off the tips of the main stems in the early summer. This will encourage the plant to set fruit earlier. Determinate tomatoes set and ripen all of their fruit at once so pinching isn’t necessary.
7. Water Regularly
Without consistent and sufficient watering during development, tomatoes develop blossom end rot and cracking on the fruit. When the tomatoes begin to ripen, reduce watering to encourage the plant to concentrate its sugars in the fruit (but don’t let the plants wilt or they’ll stop blooming and possibly lose their fruit).
More garden centers are starting to carry heirloom tomato seedlings and the number of available varieties for tomatoes of all kinds has increased significantly over the last few years. Still, if you want to grow something specific, or if you’d like to try something unusual, there’s no better option than to grow tomatoes from seed. Here are a few of my favorite online sources for quality tomato seeds.
- Renee’s Garden Seeds – I get many of my seeds here
- Sustainable Seed Company – includes a lot of organic seeds
- Annie’s Heirloom Seeds – a good source for unusual heirloom varieties
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – another good source for heirlooms
Not sure how to grow tomatoes from seed? Check out our resource articles about Growing Plants From Seed.
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