Tomatoes are one of the most rewarding plants to grow in your garden. A freshly picked tomato has little resemblance to the store bought fruit. Fresh tomatoes are juicy, flavorful and fantastic on a sandwich or in a salad. With over 25,000 varieties in several colors, tomatoes are easy to plant and grow. Typically, the varieties that grow best in your area will be sold in your area. You can always consult a garden book, website, or seed catalog for more information on various varieties of tomatoes.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Karen Thurber adds, "Before choosing your tomato plants, it's important to know about determinate and indeterminate plants. Determinate plants set fruit all around the same time over a 2 week period, making them useful for preserving. Indeterminate plants continue to flower and fruit over the entire season. They are best for picking and eating fresh. Tomato plants are available as either determinate or indeterminate. Knowing the difference will help you choose the most appropriate plant for your garden."
Step 1 - Purchase Your Plants
After the potential danger of frost in your area has passed, purchase your tomato plants. If you are growing your plants from seed, start at least 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost is expected.
Step 2 - Acclimate the Tomatoes
Acclimate your tomato plants to the outdoors before planting them. Place them outside during the day once the weather warms up and the temperature consistently reaches 50 degrees F. Once the nighttime temperatures consistently reach 50°F, place the plants outside for the entire day and night.
Step 3 - Find the Right Location
Tomatoes need lots of sun. Therefore, you need to select an area that receives full sun. Ideally, the soil should have a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. The best way to know your soil is to have it tested. You can have your soil tested by your local extension service, usually affiliated with your County or State University. The soil test will give you the pH of the soil and recommend amendments if required.
Prepare the soil by adding fertilizer or compost. Tomatoes prefer soil that is rich in organic matter. Any amendment that is added should be incorporated in to the soil, either by mixing with the shovel or with a rototiller.
Step 5 - Space and Plant the Tomatoes
Once the plants are 8-10 inches tall, they are ready to be planted in the outside plot. Dig a hole for the plant. The hole should be about the size of a full size soccer ball. Plants should be spaced about 3 to 4 feet from each other, if you plan to use cages for support. If you have limited space, they can be planted closer and trellised. Keep in mind it requires a bit more maintenance when you trellis. Check the information that came with your plants or seed packet to determine the exact spacing required for your variety of tomato.
Place the tomato plant in the hole and gently fill the remaining area with a mixture of soil and compost or fertilizer. Firm the soil around the base of the plant. Be sure to plant the tomato plant deeply, this encourages the growth of new roots. It is okay to cover the branches of your plant, as long as you allow the top 4 branches to remain above the surface of the ground. Don't forget to water well after planting.
TIP: Karen suggests, "Tomatoes like regular even watering. Mulching the soil around the plants helps keep the soil evenly moist.
Letting tomatoes get too dry, then heavily watering will lead to cracking of the fruit and possibly blossom end rot."
Step 6 - Protect, Support and Maintain Your Plants
Precautionary measures can be taken to protect your plant. Place a cardboard collar at the base of each tomato plant to deter cutworms. Cardboard collars can be made from paper towel rolls. Aluminum foil can also be used.
Place a tomato cage, or small trellis next to each plant. As the tomato plant grows, secure it loosely with soft twine. Check the ties periodically as the plant grows and adjust them accordingly. If the tie becomes too restrictive, loosen it. Water your plants on a regular basis. Pick the fruits as they ripen. Enjoy!
TIP: Karen says, "Most gardeners who grow tomatoes will see some tomatoes with Blossom End Rot. Blossom End Rot is caused by environmental conditions and is not spread from plant to plant. It is usually seen when rapidly growing plants, suffer a drought and the plant can not move enough water and calcium to the developing fruit. It may also be seen in tomatoes that have been planted into cool soils and the plants will quickly grow out of it as the soil warms. Remove fruit with Blossom End Rot, as secondary diseases can set in due to the damage."
Read on for more tips on Growing Great Tomatoes. >