A big bowl of La Roma tomatoes picked from last year's garden
With a few easy steps, you can help your plants to grow an abundant supply of fresh tomatoes this season.

Your tomatoes are planted, they are starting to grow and you can’t wait to taste those first amazing globes of garden goodness!

Lately, we have been getting an abundance of emails and comments about how we grow and maintain our tomatoes once planted.  Besides making sure they have at least 1″ of water each week (via rain or watering) – here are some steps we take to make sure we get the most out of our tomato crop.

PRUNING:

Pruning up 6 to 8" under each plant helps with air flow, watering, and leads to more productive plants
Pruning up 6 to 8″ under each plant helps with air flow, watering, and leads to more productive plants

Yes, pruning can be an important part of keeping your tomatoes healthy, and can also create larger and sweeter fruits on the vine.  Just a little work now can pay off huge in a month or so when harvest time begins.

As each tomato plant starts to grow strong – we like to prune off the bottom 6 to 8″ of stems from the main stock of the plant for several helpful reasons.  For one – it allows for good air flow and easy watering of the plant – both of which help the plant to grow stronger and speed along the ripening process later.  Second, and maybe even of more importance – it will help to reduce the chances for disease and bug infestation.  By clearing out the area around the bottom of each plant – you are reducing the ability for plant feeding insects to find their way up onto the plants, and the improved circulation helps cut down on the chance for fungus to develop on the plants.  Last but not least – by trimming off the bottom area – you allow the nutrients to go to building stronger stems and larger tomatoes on top.

There are those that prune even more aggressively by thinning out some of the top growth – but we’ve had great success in just making sure the bottom of our plants are pruned.  It takes only a few seconds per plant – and makes a big difference.

SUPPORT:

Give good support for your tomatoes - we use our home made stake a cage's - a blend of a stake and a cage all in one.
Give good support for your tomatoes – we use our home made stake a cage’s – a blend of a stake and a cage all in one.

No matter if you use a stake, a cage, panel fencing or whatever – give those tomatoes some support! Tomatoes can easily become weak and more prone to disease when you allowing them to just sprawl around the ground.  It’s also an open invitation to pests and bugs to climb aboard and go to town.  The close contact to the ground also is an invitation for damaging mildew, mold and fungus to develop on the leaves.  So give them some support!  (See: How To Make Your Own Stake-A-Cages Cheap!)

As for what to tie them up with  – use materials that will hold up but still provide some elasticity for the plants to grow. Old t-shirts cut up into strips and old pantyhose work well.  We use a big spool of thick cotton yarn to tie ours up – buying a few old rolls in the bargain bin each year.

FERTILIZING:

You can make your own organic fertilizer "compost tea" - simply by steeping water in fresh compost!
We use a few applications of compost tea to get our plants off to a strong start.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders – and even with the best of soil – they can certainly benefit from a little added nutrition.  We use an application of our compost tea liquid fertilizer (See: How To Make Compost Tea) to give a good feeding to the plants.  We apply our first application after the plants have been in the ground a couple of weeks, and then about every 10 days for a total of 3 applications.  That seems to be the perfect amount for our plants – boosting their growth in the beginning to get them off to a good start. Remember, if you apply too much of any fertilizer, your tomatoes will spend all of their energy on growing foliage – and not fruit.

MULCH:

Egg shells and coffee grounds...perfect for the compost bin - and your tomato plants!
Egg shells and coffee grounds…perfect for the compost bin – and your tomato plants!

Finally, mulch the area around your tomatoes to help keep in the moisture and keep the soil at a moderate temperature.  We like to use our compost to mulch about a 6″ diameter around each stalk – this also provides nutrients for the plant as the compost breaks down and is watered into the soil.  You can also use grass clippings, straw or shredded leaves.

Here is an extra little secret we use: Add a little coffee grounds and crushed egg shells to the mulching area right around each plant.  Crush up about 3 to 4 shells per plant – and sprinkle the coffee grounds (about 1 filters worth) into the mulch you have around each plant. The added nutrients really help your tomatoes take off – and the crushed egg shells can help to prevent black rot.  (We add a few to each planting hole when we plant as well).

DON’T COMPACT YOUR ROOTS:

cajun bellesFinally – be careful as you work around your tomatoes and their root zones.  One of the reasons we really prefer raised beds or raised row beds are they keep foot traffic around plants to a minimum.   But even if you use a traditional flat garden – make sure to stay off the area directly around plants.

The root zone of your tomato plants that lie just below the soil’s surface are the life blood of the plants above ground.  Those roots are responsible for sucking up the water and nutrients the plants need to grow strong and produce healthy and abundant fruit.  Loose, uncompacted soil is a key component to their growth – and the more you step in and around them – the more compacted the soil becomes and the less root growth will develop.  We try hard to never ever step within 12″ of the ground right around each plant – and it pays off in good root structure.  When we pull our plants at the end of each year – it is amazing to see the 12 to 18″ of deep roots that each plant has developed by being allowed to grow freely without compaction.

So there you have it – how we care for our tomatoes through the summer months.  It’s hard to believe in about another 45 days – fresh tomatoes and canning season will be here!

Happy Gardening!

Mary and Jim

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25 thoughts on “Tomatoes..How To Get The Most From Your Plants In The Garden!

  • June 1, 2014 at 3:49 pm
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    I follow you on face book every day .Lots of helpful information. Thank you. I would like to know the best way to fertilize asparagus. We have well composted horse manure, but we have been told to fertilize with course salt instead & it will also cut down on weeding. We are also pestered with Japanese beatles & they eat everything in sight. They totally destroyed two fruit trees last year . Very discouraging. Any suggestions?

  • February 5, 2014 at 2:18 pm
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    Hi! Love your ‘page’! We have stinkers too -and beetles. I just get up at dawn and mick off the critters while their still sluggish.

  • June 26, 2013 at 9:25 am
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    I am having a terrible time with the stink bugs this year. Any suggestions? I’ve tried spraying them with Lavender water or just hosing them off but they have all but destroyed my plants.

    • June 26, 2013 at 9:32 am
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      The more I hear form people about stink bugs – the more fortunate I feel that we do not have them here yet at the farm! Have you tried hot pepper spray with garlic? I know that has been effective for some.

      Jim

  • June 26, 2013 at 9:13 am
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    We just made 16 stake-a-cages. Could you post a closeup of your tying technique? Your pictures are too far away to get a good look 🙂

    • June 26, 2013 at 9:32 am
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      If you send me a quick email to thefarm@owgarden – I can send you back some close up pictures 🙂

      • June 27, 2013 at 9:16 am
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        Thank you, I’ll send one out.

  • June 26, 2013 at 8:46 am
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    Can you still prune bottom leaves after plants have been in ground a while, 4 ft tall more or less?

    • June 26, 2013 at 9:33 am
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      You sure can – they are more than fine to prune anytime.

      Jim

  • June 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm
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    thank you for your comment on the tomatoes i will try it here in central fl. here is another question how do you know what branches to cut off also what do you use to cut them ? i have heard not to use any metal to trim with is that the truth?? how far down from the top do you cut the tops out.

  • June 10, 2013 at 11:20 am
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    We have big, beautiful plants with tons of flowers, but no tomatoes. Any hints for us? What are we doing wrong?

    • June 10, 2013 at 11:24 am
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      Toni – How long have the blooms been on the plants? It can take a little while to get them pollinated and going.

  • June 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm
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    Great advice thank you. How early do you start trimming stems from the bottom? My plantshave been in the soil ~ 2 weeks now but are still under or around 1 ft high. is it too early?

    • June 10, 2013 at 11:23 am
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      No, as long as they have been in the ground 10 days or so they are becoming established and you can start to prune off the lower stems. Good luck with your crop!

  • June 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm
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    Thank you for your tips! Last year was our first year growing tomatoes, and we had terrible luck with blossom end rot! I’ll have to try the egg shells and coffee grinds!

    • June 10, 2013 at 11:22 am
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      No problem Missy! Good luck with your crop this year!

  • June 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm
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    Yay! Thanks for the tips – I’ve never pruned from the bottom, but it makes so much sense.

    • June 10, 2013 at 11:25 am
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      It really does do wonders for the plants! Good luck with your crop this year!

  • June 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm
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    awesome article! Thanks for the ideas, I’m hoping for a great crop this year

  • June 4, 2013 at 9:16 am
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    Fantastic article! full of great advice. I think this will really help those looking to grow their own tomatoes.

  • June 4, 2013 at 9:07 am
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    I have container tomato plants along with strawberries, cucumber, and pepper – insects are liking some of the leaves. Do you have a suggestion for insect control which is not loaded with chemicals? Thank you.

    ________________________________

    • June 9, 2013 at 12:11 am
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      Have you tried NEEM Oil? You can purchase it at Home Depot. It is not an instant killer, but when you use it consistently it will keep pests away. I also planted Nasturtiums and Marigolds all around my garden and they seem to be helping also.

    • June 10, 2013 at 11:27 am
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      As long as the damage is not too bad – I always err on the side of letting it go. If not – you can usually find some organic sprays or oils that can be applied to leaves to help deter the pests.

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