What are some of the secrets for growing great tomatoes, increasing your yields and producing better tasting fruit?
Tomatoes are the number one thing grown in a home vegetable garden. And for good reason. They-are-just-that-good! I mean lot’s of big juicy sweet and tangy wonderful orbs of summer!
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Tomatoes are the most important part of so many of our most favorite foods like Lasagna, Eggplant Parmesan, or marinara sauce that goes with everything. How about a topping for your hamburger, making a tomato sandwich, creamy tomato soup or simply a tossing a salad. I could go on and on.
But sometimes tomatoes can be a bit challenging to grow.
So what are some of the secrets for growing great tomatoes?
To have great tomatoes you need great soil. Your soil needs to be deep with plenty of organic matter and plenty of compost in it.
Tomatoes have a long root system and are heavy feeders. So that means you cannot just amend the top 2″ of soil. You need at least 6 inches of good nutrient rich soil. 12 inches is better.
The soil also needs to be well drained. Standing water will cause disease that will kill your tomato plants. If your soil doesn’t drain well, plant in raised beds.
Your PH should be between 6 and 6.8. If it is too high or too low the nutrients a tomato plant needs will not be available to it even it they are present in the soil. PH is one of the most important factors in growing a successful garden.
Even though a tomato seed can be sown directly in the garden, that is not the best way to grow it.
A tomato plant is one of the few plants that will grow new roots along the stem where it comes into contact with the soil. So if you start your tomato plant in a pot and transplant it into the garden you can plant it deeper than it originally grew causing many new roots to grow. This allows the plant to require less frequent watering and helps it to stand up to summer storms.
How do you do this? Grow your transplant 1′ to 2′ tall. Remove all but the top 4 leaves and dig your hole to cover all but an inch below your leaves. Think of how many new roots your new plant will have!
Before you actually put your plant in the hole, dig down an extra few inches and put in a couple of handfuls of compost (food), some crushed eggshells (calcium – helps ward off blossom end rot), a tablespoon of Epsom salts (magnesium – production of fruit) and a couple of aspirin (helps ward off fungus). Cover with an inch or two of dirt then plant your tomato plant. This is food for your tomato to grow into.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders. They grow quickly so they need a lot of nutrients to grow strong and healthy. Don’t forget to side dress with fertilizer, compost, worm castings or compost tea every two weeks. Add in a tablespoon of epsom salts when you side dress. Tomatoes like magnesium.
Tomatoes need plenty of space to breathe. First because they get quite big, especially the indeterminate varieties. And they need a lot of air circulation. They need to be able to dry quickly when they get wet from rain or dew so fungus and diseases do not grow. They also need all the sun they can get to have the energy to produce their fruit.
You are not only growing great tomatoes, but you are growing great big tomato plants that need support to keep them off the ground.
Planting time is the time to put in your support. Do it now so you don’t damage all those roots later. Whether tomato cages, stakes or a trellis, just make sure it is strong enough to support the size the tomato plant will be when it is full grown.
Most tomato cages can’t make it the distance and the weight of the plant will topple it over and your plant will be on the ground. I know this from experience. I suggest you start stronger than you expect to need. Remember, tomatoes that lay on the ground are more susceptible to rot and disease.
Diseases and pests can overwinter in the planting bed. Fool them by rotating where you plant your tomatoes. Then your precious tomatoes will not be an easy to find host.
This may be controversial, but let me tell you. If you have trouble with diseases this one thing can make all the difference. Rain can splash diseases that are in the dirt up onto your tomato leaves if they are not pruned. As the tomato plant grows, trim all the lower leaves and suckers off the bottom 12-18 inches.
Mulching around the base of your plants does many things. First it keeps the dirt from splashing your tomato leaves. Second it keeps the moisture consistent which helps alleviate tomatoes splitting. Third it helps keep weeds from competing with your tomatoes. And forth, organic mulch like grass clippings or straw composts on the spot and puts nutrients back into the soil.
But don’t forget the option of using plastic (black or red) instead of an organic mulch. This can block all the weeds, keep splash off the tomatoes even better than an organic mulch and help warm the soil so you can plant earlier in the year. So you have options. Evaluate what is best for your garden.
Keep both the plant and the ground around the tomato plant free of dead leaves that could harbor diseases.
While we are on the topic of cleaning up, make sure everything that touches your tomato plant is clean. Clean and sanitize the pruners/scissors you used to trim your leaves. Even keep your hands, shoes and gloves clean. If one plant has a disease you don’t want to spread it to any others.
Watering should be done in the early morning. This gives the tomato plant the moisture it needs to make it through the hot day. It also gives the plant time to dry before night fall, helping to ward off fungus. Besides none of us likes a wet bed.
You also want to ALWAYS water tomatoes at ground level. A soaker hose or drip irrigation is ideal as it puts water right where it is needed and keeps water off the leaves.
But you say, “when it rains, it waters from the top.” Yes, this is true. It is also the time you are most likely to have trouble with fungi and disease.
Water deeply and consistently.
Growing great tomatoes requires watering correctly. You want to water deeply so your roots will grow deeply to have access to more nutrients and have a stronger root system. You want to water consistently so your ground will stay evenly moist. Let only the top 2″ or or so dry out before watering again. If allowed to get very dry, then get very wet again, cracking of the fruit will become a problem. Consistent watering will also make your tomatoes taste better. A water logged tomato will lose a lot of it’s flavor.
Don’t forget, all plants have best friends and enemies. Planting tomatoes near plants they like will make them more productive, ward off pests and even make them taste better. A few of the tomatoes favorite companions are marigolds, basil, borrage, and garlic. Garlic and basil improves the flavor of tomatoes, and borrage is a great bee magnet.
If you have a long enough growing season, keep planting more plants throughout the season. That way you will keep having more tomatoes right up until frost.
That’s it! 16 secrets for growing great tomatoes. And now you are in on the secret!
Here’s to a year of bountiful tomatoes.
Do you have any secrets for growing great tomatoes?
I’d love to hear what your favorite varieties are.
Don’t forget to sign up for the gardening posse and get the inside scoop on plant rotation. This is so important with tomatoes!
Have a ducky day in your garden!