Many people start gardening with a tomato plant in a pot, and before long, they’re growing everything they can fit into their space. But nothing replaces the memory and pride of eating that first-ever tomato that ripened on your first plant. Tomatoes often become a beloved garden essential for many gardeners.
Tomatoes generally produce quite reliably and are relatively easy to grow, but if you want an even more abundant harvest of flavor-packed fruit, there are some things you can do to help your tomato plants out.
Tomatoes need lots of sunshine to produce lots of tasty fruit. Plenty of sun means a minimum of 6 hours per day, but 7 or 8 is even better. Luckily we get our fair share of sunny days in Allentown. Plant your tomatoes in the brightest part of your yard. If you start your tomatoes from seed indoors, they’ll need to sit under grow lights until you can transplant them outside.
Improving the Soil
Tomatoes like well-draining, slightly acidic soil (around pH 6.5 to 6.8) with lots of organic matter. Pick up a soil testing kit to determine the pH of your soil and what nutrients it may be lacking. Depending on the balance of nutrients, you may want to amend your soil. Whatever your soil levels are at, adding a rich mix of compost will help provide your tomatoes with essential nutrients.
To grow healthy, strong, and productive, tomatoes need a ton of nutrients. They’ll deplete the nutrients in the soil fast, so for the best results, fertilize your tomato plants. If you’ve done a soil test, choose your fertilizer based on what nutrients your soil is lacking, if you haven’t done a test, use a tomato fertilizer once a week. Use a transplant fertilizer when you plant them outside.
Tomatoes are thirsty, and being in the hot sun all day means they drink a lot of water. Watering needs to be really consistent, or tomatoes may split or end up with blossom end rot. The best way to ensure even moisture is to use a soaker hose, or drip irrigation system, and apply a layer of mulch underneath your plants to retain soil moisture.
Indeterminate tomatoes produce suckers. These suckers waste energy and weaken the plants, so make sure to remove them as soon as you see them. They’ll appear as 1 or 2 tiny leaves sprouting up where a branch joins the main stem of the plant.
Tomatoes of all kinds need supports. Determinate or bush tomatoes usually do ok with standard tomato cages, but indeterminate varieties need more significant support. If they’re outside, you’ll need to use some tall stakes and soft ties to keep them stable. If you have them in a greenhouse, you can use ropes, secured on a ceiling beam, and then staked into the ground at the bottom of the plant.
Plant Tomatoes Deeply
Tomatoes can get spindly, but luckily they’ll also grow roots from their central stem. So, when you transplant them into the ground or pot, take off the bottom set of leaves and plant them deep enough that the next set of leaves is just above the soil.
If your tomatoes are outdoors, you’ll have the help of pollinator bugs like bees, but it never hurts to help out with pollination yourself. If your tomatoes are in a greenhouse, this is essential. All you need is a clean toothbrush. Hold the brush end against the bottom or side of each tomato flower and tap it for a second or two. Do this whenever you see new flowers open.
Improving Air Circulation
Tomatoes need lots of air circulation to help them grow strong and healthy. Outdoors they’ll get good air circulation, but inside you may need to help out. A fan in your greenhouse, or near your seedlings, helps keep the air moving.
Cleanup Old Leaves
Once your tomato plants are about 3 feet tall, you’ll want to look for and remove old leaves that are starting to yellow from the base of the plant. These leaves are the most likely to develop fungus, which can move up the plant. Removing the leaves from the bottom foot of the plant will help prevent diseases.
With some dedicated TLC and lots of sunshine, your tomatoes will be star producers this year. Whatever you need, from starter plants to fertilizer, soaker hoses to tomato cages, we’ve got it. Stop by our garden center to stock up for your best tomato harvest yet.