Provide MulchMulching around your tomato plants is key for several reasons. Adding mulch will help to conserve moisture in the soil, suppress weeds and help to warm the soil quicker in spring. This is a good way to get your tomato transplants growing quickly in slightly cooler weather. Another advantage to adding mulch is it helps to keep soil from splashing up on the plant during storms or heavy rain. This can be a key element for preventing soil-born diseases, such as blight.
Provide SupportYou can buy some pom-poms and do a cheer for your tomato plants, they might enjoy it, but that's not what I really mean. What I'm getting at is to provide stakes or a tomato cage for your tomatoes. Tomato plants are really considered a vine, and vines needs something to keep them off the ground. By supporting your tomatoes with a stake or cage, they will live longer and produce much better. Tomatoes that are left on the ground will usually rot before they become ripe, and no one wants to pick up a gorgeous tomato just to find it rotten on the bottom.
Prune Suckers and Bottom LeavesWhile the tomato plant is still young and growing, prune any suckers you may find. Suckers are those little branches that form in the "Y" of the main stem and a limb. You can simply use your thumb and forefinger to pinch these off. Pruning the suckers forces the tomato plant to concentrate more of its energy towards developing a stronger root system, which is better for long term production and growth. I also like to snip off the very bottom set of limbs from the plant, especially if they are touching the mulch/soil. These limbs will typically turn yellow once the plant matures and are usually the first to get disease, such as blight. Much of this is due to its contact with the soil or mulch. Once the tomato plants begin maturing you can stop pruning suckers to avoid sunscald.
Pinch Any Early BloomsPinch off any blooms you may find until the plant reaches at least 30 to 36 inches tall. You may think you are in tomato heaven when you see blooms on a 16 inch tall tomato plant, but if you allow the tomato to continue the plant could suffer in the long run. You want the tomato plant to concentrate on developing a strong root system before it begins setting fruit. Setting fruit early may cause lower production throughout the overall season.
Watch For WiltingWilting is typically associated with a lack of water, which could very well be the case. Make sure you water new transplants well the first week after transplanting into the garden. Wilting could also be due to very high temperatures. If you have crazy Spring times like I do, a few 90°F days in early Spring is very likely. During times of high temperatures, you may need to provide the new tomato transplants some shade during the hottest times of the day - generally from noon to about 3 P.M.
Watch For Leaf RollLeaves that look like they are curling, or rolling up, are a sign of stress. Stress can be from a lack of water, too much water, or from recently being transplanted. Monitor the tomato plants for leaf roll and adjust watering levels, if possible. Transplant shock can be helped by providing the correct amounts of water and by adding phosphorus to the soil. Phosphorus will help to strengthen the root system and get the tomato plant out of its funk.
Avoid Over-fertilizingIt is tempting to add a bunch of fertilizer in order to cause your tomato plants to grow bigger, faster. Fertilizing tomatoes too much is going to do the opposite. The plant can only absorb so many nutrients so hold off on the fertilizers. Tomatoes should really only be fertilized three times per year at the most - when it is transplanted into the garden, when it begins to bloom, and finally when it begins to set fruit. If you are unsure about fertilizing it is actually better to not fertilizer the tomato plant.
Add A Watering BottleA simple way to easily water your tomato plants is by adding a watering bottle. The watering bottle will reduce the need for overhead watering, thus reducing the chances for certain diseases. The watering bottle gives the plant water where it needs it most - the roots.
Use Compost TeaCompost tea is an absolute must for healthy, vibrant and productive tomato plants in my book. Give the tomato a nice drink of compost tea at least once a week. This is the one time I will say to use overhead watering. By watering the entire plant with compost tea, it can drastically reduce the chances of insect pests and diseases. Using these nine tips on caring for tomatoes will ensure you have great looking and fantastic tasting tomatoes through the whole summer.
Grow Fantastic Tomatoes
Discuss in our forums