Growing tomatoes has become a popular past time and infatuation for many vegetable gardeners. Tomatoes are arguably the most popularly grown vegetable (although they are technically a fruit) in the U.S. for the home gardener. With so many different and interesting varieties, it’s no wonder tomatoes are so popular! It’s hard to imagine that at one time Europeans believed the tomato to be poisonous!
Growing tomatoes is not very difficult, but there are a few simple steps to follow in order to grow terrific tomatoes in your vegetable garden. If you are interested in joining the thousands who love growing tomatoes in their vegetable garden, here are some basics for growing fantastic tomatoes.
Choose A Proper Location for Growing Tomatoes
In order to grow the best tomatoes possible you need to choose a location to suit their growing habits. Tomatoes need an area that receives full sunlight, at least six to eight hours per day.
Try to plant in an area that offers some protection against high winds during those evening summer thunderstorms. Planting near a building such as the home, shed or privacy fence can offer such protection.
Make sure the tomato plants have enough room to spread out. Many indeterminate tomatoes can reach heights of seven feet or higher and can get two to three feet wide.
You don’t need to get super picky about where to plant your tomatoes. As long as they receive good amounts of sunlight they will be just fine.
Soil Requirements For Growing Tomatoes
Luckily, tomatoes are not too concerned with having optimum soil. They can grow in just about any type of soil, but for growing the best tomatoes there are a couple soil needs.
The soil should have a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 and have good drainage. You don’t want your tomato plants to be sitting in a pool of water after a thunderstorm.
Once you have found an area to grow your tomatoes that receives adequate light, you need to work the soil by loosening it up using a garden fork or cultivator. This will help the tomato plant establish a strong root system. Adding copious amounts of compost will keep your tomato plants happy all season long. I typically add about two to three inches of compost to the soil and work it in really well with the garden fork.
Tomato transplants can be planted in the vegetable garden after the threat of frost has passed for your area, or when the soil has reached a temperature of about 55°F. Tomatoes can be planted a bit sooner but you may need to use floating row covers to protect the seedlings at night.
Once the soil is ready for planting, dig the planting holes about 1-1/2 feet deep and one foot wide if planting transplants. You want to plant the tomatoes deep, at a depth equaling about two-thirds of the tomato plant height, or just have the top two sets of leaves above ground.
This will help the tomato develop a strong root system resulting in a healthier more productive tomato plant. Fill in the hole with a mixture of soil and compost, then water the tomato plant well with compost tea. If the soil settles after watering, just add more compost and soil around the plant.
If you are sowing tomato seeds directly in the garden, follow the planting instructions on the seed packet for proper planting depths.
Tomatoes really do not require much fertilization as long as you start out with healthy soil. In fact, over fertilizing tomatoes is a typical problem many gardeners may face.
Generally, tomatoes should only be fertilized no more than three times per season.
You can give tomatoes a little organic fertilizer when transplanting the plants into the garden. The best way to do this is to add a handful of granule organic fertilizer to the bottom of the planting hole. Mix the fertilizer into the soil well with your hand or a hand shovel.
Sprinkle another handful of the granular organic fertilizer again about three weeks after transplanting the tomato plant. Simply sprinkle the fertilizer around the tomato in a three to five inch diameter circle around the stem of the tomato. Avoid letting the fertilizer touch them stem of the tomato plant.
Give the tomato plant one last feeding of the organic fertilizer when it begins setting fruit. Sprinkle a handful of the fertilizer around the tomato plant in a five to eight inch diameter circle. Again, avoid getting any fertilizer on the stem or leaves of the plant.
Water the tomato plants once per week with compost tea or fish emulsion diluted in water to provide organic material and beneficial microorganisms to the soil.
Caring For Tomato Plants
Tomatoes require very little maintenance really. One of the most important things to provide tomatoes is support. No, I don’t mean become a cheerleader!
What I mean is to provide your tomatoes with either stakes, cages, or some type of tomato trellis. Most tomatoes will need something to help support their weight, especially once they begin bearing fruit.
Many tomato growers may want to prune their tomato plants as it grows and matures. This is entirely up to the tomato gardener – you don’t have to prune, but you can if you if you prefer a neater looking plant.
There are a couple rules I always tell tomato growers about pruning:
- Once the tomato plant has reached a height of three feet, prune off the leaves on the very bottom of the plant, and any leaves that are touching the soil. These leaves usually get the least amount of sunlight and turn yellow and sometimes brown. The most important factor in doing this is these leaves are the first to normally catch a disease.Many diseases such as blight are carried through the soil, so if the leaves are touching the soil they could easily be infected by the disease.
- Avoid any pruning once the fruit begin maturing. Removing too much of the foliage on the tomato plant can expose the fruit to direct sunlight. This can cause the fruit to develop sunscald. Think of sunscald as a sunburned tomato.It is best to allow the tomatoes to have a bit of shade by leaving the foliage of the tomato plant intact while the fruit develops to decrease the chances for sunscald.
Watering Tomato Plants
Tomatoes need about one to two inches of water per week for optimum growth. A good rule for watering tomatoes is to stick your finger one inch into the soil near the tomato plant. If the soil is dry one inch down, the tomato plants should be watered. If the soil is moist one inch down, no watering is needed.
Over watering tomato plants can lead to problems such as root rot, and watered down, bland tasting fruit. Not watering enough can lead to problems with blossom end rot, leaf roll, the fruit splitting at the top, wilting plants, and worst of all dead plants.
It is best to water tomatoes deep at the soil and avoid getting water on the leaves of the plant. You want to supply water where it is needed most, at the roots. Allowing the leaves to remain damp can cause powdery mildew and other diseases to possibly form.
Water tomatoes in the morning so the tomato plants receive a good drink before the hot summer sun comes up. If growing tomatoes in containers, you may need to water twice per day because the soil in containers typically dry out much faster than in a raised bed or garden soil.
The best way to water tomato plants is to soak the soil around the tomato in a twelve to twenty-four inch diameter circle around the plant. A great way to easily accomplish this is using a soaker hose or drip irrigation system. Soaker hoses supply a steady drip of water to the soil and will not get the rest of the plant wet.
Harvesting tomatoes is the fun part of growing tomatoes! For best flavor it is best to harvest tomatoes when they are fully ripened on the vine. When the tomato begins to go from being firm to a more softer feel, it is nearing the time to harvest. Tomatoes can also be harvested when it is not entirely ripened, then allowed to finished ripening in a window sill.
Once you find a tomato that is ready to harvest, firmly grasp the tomato in your hand and give it a quick twist and it should pop right off the vine. Another way of harvesting tomatoes is to use a pair of garden shears and cut the fruit from the vine.
Growing Tomatoes Is Easy
Now you should be off to growing great tomatoes in your vegetable garden. Growing tomatoes is very easy as long as you follow these simple steps. With thousands of different varieties to choose from, not to mention fantastic flavors, it is no wonder tomato gardening is so addictive!