When it comes to growing tomatoes, or more importantly, an incredible crop of tomatoes, a few tips and hints can help pave the way to sweet success.
We love growing tomatoes on our little farm. In fact, they dominate nearly a quarter of our entire garden space every year.
And through the years, we have learned a few secrets about growing a healthy, vibrant crop. In fact, 7 of them to be exact – and they make a huge difference for sure!
Here is a look at our seven top tips to ensure a banner harvest of tomatoes from your garden year after year.
7 Simple Secrets To Growing Great Tomatoes
#1 Always Plant In A New Space
Growing tomatoes in the same space year after year is a recipe for disaster.
Tomatoes are extremely susceptible to disease. Especially ones found in the soil. For instance, tomato blight and blossom rot are both caused from issues in the soil.
But by rotating the crop to a new space each season, you reduce the risk of both greatly. In addition, tomatoes are also heavy feeders of the soil. That means moving them to a new location also assures them of fresh nutrients as well.
As a good rule of thumb, tomato plants should never be planted in the same location for at least 3 years. And if you grow in pots or containers, be sure to change out the soil every season.
#2 Provide Support Before Planting
Whether you use cages, stakes, or trellises like our DIY stake-a-cage, plants need support! See : How To Make Our DIY Stake-A-Cage Tomato Support
When it comes to growing great tomatoes, supporting the crop is a big key to keeping it healthy. Unsupported vines are easily damaged in storms or by foot traffic. Plants are also more susceptible to disease and pests when allowed to sprawl on the ground.
And all of that tangled mess prevents good air circulation and sunlight from hitting plants too. Both of which are big factors in helping tomatoes to ripen quickly.
But here is the biggest key of all when it comes to tomato supports – install your support before or as you plant, not weeks later!
Not only is it easier for the gardener, but it keeps you from trampling the soil and roots around the tomatoes as they grow. That trampling not only compresses roots and stops them from growing, but staking later can easily damage roots as posts are driven in near plants.
#3 Plant Deep In The Soil
Tomatoes need to be planted deep in the soil. The practice of deep planting accomplishes two key things for tomato plants.
For one, it helps protect them from the perils of Mother Nature. A deep root structure dries out less quickly. It also provides more support for plants to handle wind and storms.
But even more, planting deep allows for additional roots to grow off of the stem. Roots that are vital in helping find nutrients and water for the plant as it grows.
How deep? We plant our tomato transplants to a depth of 6 to 8 inches in the soil. And no need to worry if you bury a few of the lower leaves in the process. New roots will grow from there as well, and it will not hurt the plant.
To plant, use a post hole digger to create a perfect planting hole. It makes wide, deep holes quickly, and with little bending! Product Link : Post Hole Digger
#4 Feed Tomatoes When You Plant
One of the biggest secrets of all to tomato growing success is to feed your plants at planting time.
As we plant each tomato, we put a huge energy boost into each hole.
We start by digging our holes with the post hole digger to about 10″ in depth. And as we plant, we fill the hole back in with a mix of soil, compost, a few crushed egg shells, a couple teaspoons of coffee grounds, and a quarter cup of worm castings.
The compost, coffee grounds and worm castings provide amazing nutrients. And best of all, they release them back slowly as the plants grow.
The crushed eggs shells give a boost of calcium as they break down. This helps to prevent black rot and blossom-end rot. The cocktail of nutrients gets plants off to a great start in their first few weeks. Product Link : Pure Worm Castings
#5 Why Mulch Helps Grow Great Tomatoes
The number 5 secret is mulch. Mulching is a huge key to success! Mulch plays a major role in the health and production level of tomato plants.
Mulching aids in regulating soil temperature. It also helps keep soil and nutrients from eroding during strong rains. But most importantly, it keeps competing weeds out of the picture. Weeds that rob plants of the vital nutrients they need to grow strong.
We double-mulch our plants. First, we place a 1 to 2 inch thick layer of compost 6 to 8 inches in diameter around each plant. We then sprinkle on a quarter cup of worm castings on top of the compost ring.
Together, they create a slow-release fertilizing circle around each stalk. Every time it rains, or you water, those nutrients soak to the roots below.
Finally, we finish with a 4 to 6″ thick layer of straw on top at least 12″ around each plant.
One last note on mulching : If the season and soil are still a little cool, hold off. Tomatoes love warm soil. And mulching while it’s cool can actually keep the soil from warming.
#6 Keep Foot Traffic Off Of The Root Zone Areas Of Plants
As tomatoes grow in the garden, it is vital to keep heavy foot traffic away from the soil right around plants.
Stepping on and around a plant’s root zone compacts the soil. And this can play a huge role in keeping roots from developing to maximum capacity.
When roots become compressed, they can inhibit the flow of nutrients to tomato plants as they grow. Less roots below = less tomatoes up top!
#7 Prune Plants As They Grow
Last but not least, prune your tomato plants as they grow. Especially at the bottom of each plant. Why? Because pruning these low branches away from the plant allows all-important air and light to circulate through the plants and rows.
At minimum, clear 8 to 10 inches away from the bottom as your tomato plants grow. More if the plants are a large variety. We prune all of our heirlooms 12 to 16 inches off the ground by the time they are fully mature.
Pruning also makes it harder for garden bugs and pests to find their way on your plants as well. And it even makes it easier to water too! See : Pruning Tomatoes
There you have it, our 7 simple secrets to growing tomatoes! Get out there this year and grow your best crop of tomatoes ever! Happy Gardening! Jim and Mary.
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