Tips for Healthy Tomatoes
Tomatoes are not difficult plants, and they don’t require much special treatment to produce an impressive crop of juicy, delicious fruit. Spend a few minutes each day tending to your plants and you will be greatly rewarded at harvest.
Plant tomatoes in full sun so that they will receive 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. The best locations have good airflow but are protected from strong winds.
Try to avoid growing tomatoes, peppers and potatoes in the same location each year. These crops are susceptible to the same soil-borne blight and wilt diseases. Unfortunately, the average home garden usually doesn’t have enough space to keep these crops on the recommended 3 year rotation. If blight and wilt are a problem, choose resistant varieties and consider planting tomatoes in a large container, then bury the container in the ground. Use fresh potting soil in the container.
Plant Them Deep
The knobby nodes on the stem will become roots. Pinch off the lowest leaves and bury the stem deep. If your plants are very tall and leggy, a good 6″ might be underground. That’s a good thing!
You don’t have to prune tomatoes, but you can choose to remove suckers and a few branches. It just depends on whether you have room for a large, sprawling plant, or if you need to control the size of the plant for containers or crowding. A little pruning is okay, but tomatoes need plenty of foliage to shade the fruit from sunscald.
Fertilize on a schedule, following the directions of the fertilizer you choose. Tomatoes in decent soil shouldn’t need an obscene amount of fertilizer to perform, but they do need balanced nutrition and trace minerals. Tomatoes in containers will need to be fertilized more often than in-ground tomatoes. The lowest, oldest leaves will yellow when they stop getting sunlight, but that’s not an indication to fertilize. It’s just the plant directing energy towards fruit production instead of foliage production. Stick to a schedule and your tomatoes will have all the nutrients they need.
Caging or staking your tomato plants will keep vines and fruit off the ground, while also making it easier to harvest. Put the cages over the plant while it is still small. It is quite a wrestling match trying to cage a large plant, and often damage is sustained in the process.
Water deeply and infrequently, soaking the entire root ball each time you water. Infrequently means watering every 4-5 days, always checking the soil for moisture with your hands first. Your soil, location and other factors play into how often you need to water, so it’s best to physically check the soil. Too much moisture will lead to disease problems.
When the temperature reaches above 90 degrees, you may see your tomato plants begin to wilt mid-day. When it’s too hot, the plant will “shut down” in order to conserve moisture. Don't worry, this is completely normal and your plant is not dying! Often when people see this, they water their plants thinking they are dehydrated and in need of moisture. However, wilting does not always indicate that the plant needs water!! Check the soil for moisture before watering. A light mist with the hose can help cool them down, or you can use shade cloth to protect the plants during the hottest hours of the day.
As the season progresses, tomato plants start to look rough. Over-watering will not make them look better. They look ragged because the energy is being directed to fruit production, so stick to the plan and water when the soil needs it, not because you feel bad for the plant! This will only make it harder on the plant in the end.
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