Need some tips for growing tomatoes? I’ve got you (and your garden) covered!
Chances are if you’ve ever grown a garden, whether a traditional in-ground row garden, raised garden bed, or patio garden then you have tried to grow tomatoes. They seem to be a garden staple and for good reason. What other fruit can give you a juicy, red, plump tasty fruits in the span of one summer? Many kinds of fruit trees take years to produce, but the humble tomato, which is a staple in our summer kitchen for thick sliced tomato sandwiches with Duke’s Mayonnaise, are easy to grow in a span of months. But they can also be one of the biggest heartaches of the summer garden.
Tips for Growing Tomatoes
So, to save you from the fate of having beautiful plants and no fruit, or a lackluster plant with some fruit, here are my suggestions for how to get the best bang-for-your-buck when it comes to tomatoes. I have grown numerous varieties over the years, and tomatoes were a recent topic of discussion in my master gardener class. There have been great successes and great failures by all, so know that this these tips I’m about to share with you have been tested and tried by not only myself but other die-hard tomato gardeners like myself. Now, on to the tips.
Tip 1: Variety is Key
Choose your variety well. In plain English this means if you can start your tomatoes from seeds you choose yourself, then do it. The varieties of tomato you are able to purchase at your local hardware store or big-box store are going to be severely limited. There’s a chance you may be able to snag some quality varieties if you go to your local Cooperative Extension plant sale. However, choosing your own seeds and beginning them at home from a reputable seed company such as Baker Creek seed or Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will be your best bet for getting exactly the kind of tomato that works well for your garden.
Last year I discovered my tomato plants twisting and wilting. After some research I discovered that my plans were infected with fusarium wilt. As devastating as this may sound, I also learned at the same time that there are certain varieties of tomato seed I can purchase that are resistant to this particular disease. So guess what I’ll be buying this year?
Purchasing your own seed gives you the ability to choose the type of tomato you want. This isn’t just for disease resistance but also size, shape, and color. If you have super aggressive squirrels that love your big beefsteak tomatoes, then maybe you’re better off growing something smaller that you can harvest sooner and beat the squirrels to them. Maybe you’re interested in having a determinate tomato, which grows for a set number of weeks and then it’s done. This is perfect if you like to take vacation in the summer and aren’t home to water your plants. A determinate tomato grown when you know you’ll be home is perfect for you. And determinate varieities can be quite hard to find at the hardware store, so ordering your own seed is a great way to get exactly the type of tomatoes that you need.
Tip 2: Plant Them Well
This means planting tomatoes in rich soil and also planting them with the roots to the side. Be sure your soil has compost and is well draining. My DIY potting soil is perfect for containers or raised beds of tomatoes. As far as roots pointing to the side, this was something that my dad always did in his garden. I continued to do it because that’s the way I had been taught. I had no idea why. But it turns out turning the roots to the side when you place your tomato in the soil is logical. Tomatoes are a vine, and if grown in the wild, they would trail along the ground, not grow straight up as we have trained them to do. They can also be planted quite deep, only an inch or two below the lowest set of leaves. So plant tomatoes well for a good start to the rest of the growing season. (See my video snippet below. This was before I knew the science behind planting with roots to the side.)
Tip 3: Prune Your Tomatoes
Pruning your tomato plants initially allows them to focus on fruit production instead of getting bigger and bushier. I have a whole tutorial on how to prune your tomato plants. For determinate type tomatoes, you only need to prune the lower limbs, and then you can leave the plant alone to produce fruit. For indeterminate tomatoes, continually prune all season long, taking off suckers (rooting them for new plants), and trying to keep their size in check. Pruning these larger indeterminate types also helps for air flow to your plants and makes it easier to check for pests. Nobody has time for pests in the tomato bush. And be sure to use a good set of pruning shears or a sharp knife for pruning.
Tip 4: Water Consistently
If you have an irrigation system setup in your garden, then you’re probably good to go. But if you’re like me with no irrigation system and a reliance on hand-watering and good old mother nature, then there are a few rules you need to abide by. First is when you water your tomatoes, don’t wet the leaves. Water right down at the base of the plant so the water can get to those roots and not sit on the leaves of your tomato plant. You also want to avoid giving your plants excessive amounts of water and then letting them try out completely. This will contribute to your tomatoes splitting. Splitting tomatoes not only look unpleasant, but they can leave your tomatoes susceptible to pests. So be consistent in your watering and keep it contained to the bottom of the plant. Clearly the exception is rain… mother nature sends water where she wants, and that includes the leaves of your tomato plants.
Tip 5: Stake ‘Em
At your home and garden centers, you’ll see tomato cages in abundance. However, if you’re growing indeterminate-type tomatoes, then you may quickly discover that your tomatoes outgrow these cages quickly. For the past five or six seasons, I’ve been using long, 8-foot poles to support my tomato plants. These poles are driven into the ground near the plant. As it grows, the main trunk line of the tomato plant is then gently tied to the pole.
This serves two purposes. The first is you’re forced to prune your tomato plants so that there is only one trunk line, which is a good idea. Secondly, your plant has more room to grow up on this pole than a cage can provide. Remember that tomatoes are vines, so they will get tall (unless they’re determinate). It is possible to grow tomato plants that are 10-15 feet tall, and if you have the space and a ladder, great. But once your tomato plants reach the top of your pole, you can allow them to gently bend and start growing down toward the ground. A pole simply gives you more vertical space to grow your juicy tomatoes.
So as you embark upon your tomato growing season, I wish you all the luck and success! Whether you’re growing cherry tomatoes perfect for salads and/or large fruits for all those tomato sandwiches, with Duke’s Mayonnaise of course, these tips will help you be fruitful (pun intended). As for what I’ll be growing this year, I’ll be sticking with Jelly Bean tomatoes which have performed well for me over the last three or four years. I’ll also be picking up some Marglobe determinate tomatoes to see how they perform in pots on my patio. And I’m also using a Homestead which should be perfect for those tomato sandwiches. Let me know what you’ll be growing in the comments below! Happy Gardening!