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Mastering the Tomato Garden: Secrets to Growing Your Best Tomatoes Ever

 

Some gardeners get downright scientific about growing the best tomatoes, while others simply plop them in the ground, inside a tomato cage, and hope for the best. The basic steps sound easy: plant your tomatoes, water them religiously, leave plenty of room for big growth (because those tomato plants won’t stay little for long), and provide support so that beautiful fruit won’t weigh your plants down. But if you’d like to know the real secrets to growing your best tomato garden, one that is the envy of your entire neighborhood, we’ve got a few tips and tricks to share!

Soil Temperature Matters

Tomato plants LOVE warm soil! If you put down plastic mulch or sheeting for a few days (or up to two weeks) before you transplant your peppers or tomato plants, they will enjoy the extra warmth and thank you with strong roots and vigorous plants. You can even transplant right through the plastic if you want to!

Mulch will shade the soil during mid-summer and keep it cooler, while deterring weed growth, conserving water, and making your tomato garden look pretty. Mulch also helps to keep soil-borne diseases from splashing onto the plants when they are being watered. It is well worth that little bit of extra effort; the rewards more than paying for the cost. If you are planting a fall crop, the soil is already warm enough, so you can mulch as you plant.

Another option is to use a tomato tray. It is a great tool to prevent weeds from growing right around your plants, with the added bonus of being able to add a fertilizer like Tomato-tone® directly to the roots where your plants can more efficiently use it. Tomato trays are also reuseable, do not have to be regularly replenished like mulch, and will not deteriorate as plastic sheeting will do. Simply use the recommended amount of tomato food and add water to the reservoir to feed. Tomato-tone® will not force rapid growth but will provide the essential nutrients necessary to optimize the production and quality of your tomato plants and the fruit they bear.

Practice Smart Pruning

Once your tomato plants are 2.5 to 3 feet tall, remove the bottom set of leaves using a sharp pair of scissors. Tearing them off leaves a ‘wound’ for diseases or pests to enter. The bottom leaves get the least amount of sun, take energy away from the rest of the plant, and will eventually yellow and die anyway. These lower leaves are also almost always the first to develop fungus.

You may also start to see tiny stems and leaves (called suckers) starting to grow at the joints of the main branches and/or from the bottom of the main stem. Cut these off as well; they will take energy away from the rest of the plant and prevent your tomatoes from growing to their full potential. If, after fruit starts to develop, you notice that your plants are exceptionally bushy, it is also okay to prune a few leaves in order for the sun to reach the fruit. But go easy—the leaves, through the process of photosynthesis, are providing valuable sugars to your tomatoes, helping to impart that wonderful flavor.

Watering Tips: For Gardens and Containers

Water regularly, through all stages of your tomato plants’ growth. This is one of the tricks to having beautiful, blemish-free tomatoes. Irregular watering is a contributing factor to blossom end rotdropped blossoms, and cracked fruit.

Keep the soil around your tomatoes moist, but not wet, during the first 2 to 3 weeks, then start a regular deep-watering regimen. Watering deeply, at the soil level, allows the roots to take better hold, while ensuring there is little moisture for fungus or bacteria to grow on the foliage. How you water also depends upon your soil conditions, whether or not you mulch, and of course, the moisture you receive from Mother Nature. A good rule of thumb in an average year is to thoroughly soak sandy soil every 4 to 5 days, deeply watering heavier soil and clay soil every 7 to 10 days. Your goal is to ensure that the soil around your tomato plants is consistently moist at a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

If you are growing your tomatoes in containers, the watering requirements will be very different. The first requirement when growing tomatoes in containers is to ensure your containers have good drainage. It is still best to water your tomato plants deeply, though the time-span will usually be shorter between waterings. The absolute easiest way to determine the moisture content of your soil at any given time is with a moisture tester. They are inexpensive and you can get one that tests for pH, moisture, fertility and sunlight, or one that tests only for moisture. Many people new to gardening have found these to be an invaluable tool.

It is normal for the leaves on your tomato plants to wilt a little in the hottest part of the day; they will perk up overnight. If they look wilted first thing in the morning, water them right away. Always water early in the day. Tomato plant leaves should not be wet overnight, and watering during the hottest part of the afternoon results in evaporation, a real waste of our natural resources, and most likely will result in a higher water bill.

Protect Your Crop: Pests and Disease

If you make it a practice to check your garden regularly, you will get a quick jump on eliminating tomato horn worms or discovering a fungal infection. Taking an early walk in your garden daily, maybe with your first cup of coffee, can be very relaxing and make you aware right away if something is not right.

Blight, the most common fungal disease for tomatoes, can be prevented with the application of Serenade® Garden Disease Control. Approved and recommended by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), it safely controls many fungal, foliar, and bacterial diseases on your tomatoes and other garden vegetables with no harm being done to you, your family, your pets, livestock, or the environment.

You may also benefit from reading The 10 Most Common Tomato Plant Problems. This article covers the 10 most common problems, how to recognize them, how to treat them, and most importantly, how to prevent them.

 

Growing the Best Tomatoes: Harvest Smarts

Once your tomatoes start to turn from green to yellow, some fruits ripen fast, especially cherry tomatoes or grape tomato varieties. If air temperatures are over 100, you may want to pick the fruit before it is completely ripe. Sometimes extreme heat can cause cracking, and although that doesn’t mean the fruit is no good, it will look much better if you let it ripen on your kitchen counter.

And one more hot tip: don’t refrigerate your tomatoes unless you know you will not be using them in the next few days. Leaving them on your counter or in a cupboard will help them to retain that just-picked sweetness!

Are you thinking about adding to your existing tomato patch, trying something new, or growing tomatoes for the first time? We have a full selection of the very best varieties. Check out our carefully chosen heirloom tomatoes, heat loving tomatoes, and disease-resistant hybrid tomato plants to ensure your best crop ever!

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