Tips for growing tomato plants

One of the most widely grown and popular vegetables, tomatoes (Solanum lycoperiscum) are planted each spring by gardeners everywhere. Some gardeners fastidiously prepare the garden bed prior to planting and others simply dig a hole and plop in the tomato plant. Because they are such vigorous plants, tomatoes have a tendency to grow and produce an acceptable crop even without elaborate cultivation methods. However, you can increase the yield of your tomatoes by following a few simple tips.

Plant When Your Soil is Thoroughly Warm
Wait until the soil is thoroughly warmed up before planting out your tomato transplants. Soil that still retains its winter chill will set them back. They will stop growing and just sit there. When the soil eventually does warm up, they will be slow to start growing again. Ensure the soil is warmed up to at least at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit before transplanting tomatoes into your garden.

Check out this site for more ideas on when the best times to plant are.

Mulch the Soil
Many diseases that affect tomatoes are known as “soil-borne” diseases, which simply means that they live in the soil. Drops of water falling on the soil can splash these disease organisms onto the lower leaves of the tomato plants, thereby infecting them. A mulch placed around tomato plants prevents soil from splashing up onto the leaves and reduces the possibility of these diseases taking hold.

Studies have shown that a red mulch can increase the vigor and productivity of tomato plants. Non-toxic, reusable red mulch that lasts for several seasons is available from catalog and nursery companies.

Prune Out Suckers
Tomatoes are branching vines and produce clusters of fruit on these branches. However,  vigorously growing, non-fruiting “suckers” spring up from the crotch between the main stem and a side branch. These suckers should be removed; they sap energy from the plant and reduce the number of tomatoes that it produces. You can tell a sucker is a sucker by its vertical, upright growth habit. Fruiting, lateral side branches grow more horizontally off the main stem.

Feed Them Well
Feed your tomato plants properly and they will reward you with pounds and pounds of fruit. Give them granulated, all-purpose fertilizer, like 10-10-10, when you transplant them, following the label instructions. Feed them again with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 0-15-10, every four to six weeks until late summer. The high levels of phosphorus and potassium will encourage flowers and fruit to form and develop.

Spray the foliage of your tomatoes every two to three weeks with a water soluble fertilizer to give them a boost. This will encourage them to grow more leaves and strong stems.

Use half-decomposed compost as a mulch around the base of your tomato plants. It will give them an extra dose of nourishment as it slowly breaks down throughout the growing season.

The ABC has a great resource on tomato gardening: http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s4113798.htm

Water Often and Thoroughly
Tomato plants require a lot of water, and they will wilt if their soil is allowed to dry out too much. Give them the equivalent of 1 1/2 to 2 inches of rainfall per week. When you water them, use a soaker hose or drip irrigation that applies the water at soil level. This will keep the foliage dry and help reduce the possibility of fungal diseases taking hold. To further help stave off fungi, plant your tomatoes far enough apart so that air can circulate around them on all sides. Plant them at least 24 inches apart in humid areas.

Harvest Ripe Fruit Promptly
When your tomato plants start to bear fruit, check them daily and pick the ripe ones. The plants will then put their energy into producing more fruit and ripening the immature fruits already developed.

Pinch the Terminal Growing Tip in Early Autumn
About four to six weeks before the average date of your first fall frost, pinch the growing tip of your tomato plants. This way, it will put all of its energy into ripening the green fruits already on the plant and no energy into growing new flowers or leaves.

Best of  luck growing your tomatoes. Leave a comment if you have any questions or just want to share your tomato-growing success stories.