Believe it or not, tomato harvesting time isn’t far away. Before long, you’ll be enjoying plenty of juicy tomatoes in bountiful amounts if you follow some key growing tips. Here are a few of our favorite ways to make sure you get the most out of this year’s tomato crop.
1. Water is crucial.
Your tomatoes need at least 1 inch of water each week, either by rain or by other measures. Take care not to let your tomato plants get too dry and wilt. Dehydration is one of the top killers of tomato plants. Even plants that seem to “rebound” after a water shortage tend to suffer shock that can lead to smaller tomato harvests. They also seem to be more susceptible to diseases and other problems, too.
Your best bet is to water your plants early in the morning and when you water, try to water at the base of the plant. Water on the foliage (other than rain water) can potentially cause diseases, fungus, and other problems. Soaker hoses are a great investment for your tomato bed for this reason.
However, don’t overdo it – take care not to overwater your plants. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other diseases. Check the soil. If you insert your finger into the soil a few inches and it is dry, water. If it is moist, let it go another day or so.
2. Prune those little stems…
As your tomato plants grow, you’ll want to prune away the little stems at the base of the plant. Measure the bottom 6-8 inches at the main stock of the plant. Any little stems you see appear, gently pull them or prune them off. These branches are often called “suckers” because they will suck nutrients away from the fruits and the main producing areas of the tomato plant. Pruning them away will allow your tomato plant to put its resources into the fruit and aids in the ripening process. Pruning sucker stems will also help reduce the chance of disease, fungus, and bug infestation, so it’s a win-win!
3. Give ’em support!
Big or small, your tomato plants need a strong support system to thrive. Choose whatever method you like best: Stake, trellis, cage, fencing, lattice, or get creative and make your own out of repurposed materials lying around. (I actually like to use tomato cages turned upside down. They seem to work better that way!)
Your tomatoes will thank you for the added support by giving you bigger and better harvests. Tomatoes become weak very easily and can crack when they aren’t given the support they need to grow tall and strong. Allowing your tomato plants to sprawl along the ground is an open invitation to bug infestation, mold, mildew, and disease problems.
4. Feed and fertilize…
How to fertilize your tomatoes is quite a gardener’s controversy these days. Special tomato fertilizing “formulas” as well as old wives tales abound. No matter what you think or use, one thing is for certain: Tomatoes are very heavy feeders in the garden. They suck up a lot of nutrients from the soil and to have abundant and healthy harvests, usually require some sort of feeding and fertilizing regimen.
I recommend using an all-natural fertilizer, like ProtoGrow for optimum results. (It’s also what I use in my own tomato beds.) Apply ProtoGrow at the time of transplanting and then again after 2-3 weeks. Use it once again when you notice growth begins to accelerate and again when fruits begin to set. I also use SeaMazing each year on my tomato beds to remineralize my soil.
A note on wives-tale fertilizers: There are some gardeners who swear by feeding their tomato plants with coffee grounds and crushed eggshells. (As well as other things like salt and baby aspirin.) I have personally tried a few of them with mixed results. I say go for it and try it if you’d like … but do it in moderation. Dumping large amounts of anything, even helpful things, on your soil can have consequences.
5. Don’t forget the mulch.
Mulching around your tomato plants is a good idea for several reasons. It will encourage water retention, and will help keep diseases out. It also regulates root temperature and adds to the overall health of your soil as nutrients break down over time. Use organic mulch for best results. Choose compost, untreated grass clippings, straw (do not use hay), or shredded leaves.
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