Anyone can grow really delicious tomatoes by following these garden suggestions!
Tomatoes need sun, all day. Pick a sunny area where water does not stand after a heavy rain and trees do not cast shadows. Start your seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last spring frost. Use sterile seed-starting mixture for best results. Provide 12-18 hours of light daily from fluorescent fixtures 6-8 in. above the plants. Turn the lights off at night. Raise the lights as seedlings grow.
Use a fertilizer dissolved in the water, at about half strength, each time you water, starting when seedlings have 2 pairs of leaves. Thin plants as suggested on seed packet. When frost is past, take your seedlings outdoors during the day, shading them from direct sun. Bring seedlings in each evening. After a week or so, the plants have "hardened off" and you can plant them into the garden.
Outdoor planting time varies. In Zone 9-10 (far south), plant outdoors March-May. Zones 7-8, March-May. Zones 5-6, April-June. Zones 2-4, May-June.
Plant seedlings a little deeper than they were in the pots. Provide stakes about 6 in. from plants, and tie plants up as they grow.
You can prune the suckers (branches) off your plants of you wish. On large-fruits varieties like Top Sirloin, this will give you bigger, though fewer, fruits. For BIG tomatoes: Tomato flowers form in a cluster. Once you have a sure fruit forming, pinch off any subsequent fruits which start to form in that cluster (leaving one tomato per cluster).
If your tomatoes are very large, you may want to provide little hammocks for each fruit. Pantyhose works great for this; just sling it underneath the fruits and tie to a stake. Keep your tomato plants evenly moist all through the growing season, and fertilize regularly with a formula low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potassium. Enjoy!
Common Tomato Growing Questions
SHOULD I STAKE/CAGE MY TOMATO PLANTS?
YES, support your tomato plants for larger, cleaner fruit and to make it easier to see and pick. If not staked, use black plastic mulch around plants.
- WHAT FERTILIZER SHOULD I USE? WHEN?
Add balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) to soil as you prepare it, then plant. Or scatter a little balanced fertilizer around the plants after you’ve planted them; water in. Do not get dry fertilizer on the plants -- it may "burn" them. Repeat one more time, before July 1 (in most areas).
- MY TOMATO PLANTS WILTED OVERNIGHT!
Common problem--bacterial wilt (Fusarium or Verticillium). Sudden wilting when plant is loaded with fruits. Plant may continue to ripen its fruit (which are fine to eat). Soil disease -- no cure once the disease begins.
- Plant tomato varieties which have tolerance or resistance (indicated by "VF" after their name).
- Move your tomato plantings around each year. Don’t plant tomatoes where any tomato, pepper or eggplants have grown the last 3 years (called rotating crops).
- Build raised beds or grow in large tubs filled with sterilized soil mixture
- MY PLANTS HAVE MOTTLED LEAVES (MOSAIC)
Tobacco mosaic virus spreads from tobacco -- don’t handle cigarettes or smoke in the garden. Use varieties tolerant/resistant ("TMV" after their name).
- MY SMALL PLANTS ARE ALL CUT OFF AND FALLEN OVER!
(Cutworms) It happens overnight! Nothing you can do but replant! Next time, prevent cutworm damage! Use a paper, cardboard or Styrofoam collar (a coffee cup with the bottom removed works wonderfully) around the base of each newly-planted tomato. Leave in place for a month.
- WHAT ARE THESE HUGE GREEN WORMS ON MY TOMATOES?
Tomato hornworms eat a lot quickly. Pick off by hand. Take to show and tell!
- WHAT'S CHEWING MY TOMATOES?
Raccoons and squirrels chew. Pheasants peck the fruits. Use repellents, fake snakes, owls and scary "eyes", or try fencing with chicken wire.
- WHY AREN'T MY TOMATOES RIPENING?
Long periods of cloudy/cool puts ripening mechanism on "hold". There’s just no substitute for hot sun. Be patient. Maturity/days to harvest given on seed packets is approximate from setting plants out, under ideal conditions.
- WHY ARE MY TOMATOES SPLITTING?
After a lot of rain following drought, fruits absorb moisture quickly and the skin splits (but OK to eat). Mulch plants, keep even soil moisture through growing season.
- WHAT ARE THE BIG BLACK SUNKEN AREAS AT THE FLOWER END OF THE FRUIT?
Called Blossom End Rot. It could reflect a calcium deficiency. Add lime in the fall for the next year's plants.
Products Available at TSC for Growing Tomatoes:
- Tomato Stake
- Chicken Wire