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Tips for Planting Tomatoes

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Fresh tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits grown in the spring and summer garden. And they can also bring the most disappointment if they fail to produce.

Who wants to anticipate fresh ripe tomatoes, only to end up with a weak (or sometimes bushy) plant that produces nothing? Get your tomato plants off on the right tracks with a few tomato planting tips!

tomato planting tips

How to Plant Tomatoes

To have those healthy tomato plants that will produce the largest and juiciest tomatoes, you need to know few gardening tips and tricks. These valuable tomato planting tips will work for any tomato variety and will help you have a bumper crop of fresh, homegrown tomatoes this summer.

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Plant Tomatoes When the Weather is Right

Tomatoes should be planted in once temps are consistently warm, and summer is on the way. If you have started tomato seedlings indoors or have purchased seedlings from a greenhouse, you’ll want to go through the process of hardening off before moving them into the garden.

Hardening off tomato plants will help them slowly adjust to the environment of the outdoors and give them a better chance of surviving and thriving. If you’re not sure how to harden off seedings, check out my full post on How to Harden Off Seedlings to help you be successful.

If you’re starting tomatoes from seed, you can plant them directly in the garden, or use soil blocks or seed starting trays. Protect those young seedlings outdoors from pests as they can be susceptible.

Tomato Roots to the Side

Since tomatoes are naturally a vining plant, my family has always used the method of bending the roots to the side when planting them.

This means once the hole for the plant is dug, I gently bend the roots to the side, but keep the plant upright. While the roots are laid out to the side and the stem is gently bent up, fill in with soil all around and gently pat around the stem.

This is an old technique that my parents and grandparents have always used when planting tomatoes, and it works for us!

Wash hands before touching tomato plants

I should have mentioned this one first, but tomato plants are highly susceptible to disease, so washing hands before touching tomato plants prevents the transfer of any disease-causing bacteria. Washing hands prior to gardening is vital if you’re a tobacco user.

The Tobacco Mosaic Virus (ToMV) is spread via humans or insects which have come into contact with a tobacco product, then touched any part of a tomato plant. If tomatoes develop black spots or if it’s misshapen, remove it from the plant and discard to prevent disease spread.

You also don’t want the plant to expend any more energy in producing a diseased or injured tomato since it could use that energy in producing other healthy tomatoes.

To piggyback on the tip to wash hands before planting, you should also keep any pruners that you use on tomato plants clean, so you’re not spreading disease from one plant to another.

Feed tomato plants after planting

Tomato plants like consistent feeding and watering. (Don’t we all?) Once a seedling has been planted and given a chance to adjust to its new surrounding, use a water soluble fertilizer mixed at half the recommended rate and feed them twice as often as recommended.

A water soluble fertilize allows a gardener to provide a consistent source of food and water in one step. (Think Miracle-Gro if that’s what you like, but I prefer Espoma Organic.) Avoid applying any fertilizer on the leaves and instead focus on the soil around the plant.

Remember that once your plant starts producing fruit, you want to switch up your fertilizer to one with less nitrogen to focus on fruit production. See my full post on How to Fertilize Tomato Plants.

You can also put a dressing of fresh compost around tomato plants, and this can be your compost from home or good compost from the store. (Want to learn to compost? Check out my post here!)

How to Prevent Blossom End Rot

Blossom end rot occurs when the soil moisture is not kept constant and/or when there is a lack calcium in the garden soil, and working on preventing this starts at planting. (While soil tests won’t give you great calcium info, having your soil tested before the growing season is always a great idea. See your local cooperative extension for free soil testing kits!)

Over-watering or under-watering can result in blossom end rot. Deep, weekly watering with one-half the recommended rate of water soluble fertilize and a layer of mulch will help to keep the garden soil moisture even.

A dose of Epsom Salt will add magnesium to the garden soil, which some claim helps to free up calcium in the soil for the plant. This may prevent blossom end rot and promote plant root growth. Once a month, feed plants a dose of Epsom salt by mixing one cup of Epsom salt into five gallons of water.

Stir to dissolve and water each plant with ½ gallon of the mixture. If the disease has already struck, remove the affected tomatoes and mix ½ cup of Epsom salt into a gallon of water and pour around plant roots.

I know there’s a wide variety of opinions about other ways to add calcium to soil, such as tums in the soil when planting or crushed egg shells. I can’t attest to any of these methods, but I say, if something is working for you, just go with it.

How to stake and tie tomatoes

Though you may not need this tip when first planting your tomatoes, tomato plants will be healthier and stronger if they are staked and tied in an upright position. Use a wooden or metal stake that is at least three feet long (we use 8ft stakes) and drive it securely into the soil.

Use one-inch strips of soft, flexible cloth to loosely tie plants to the stakes. You want to give the plants, especially indeterminate tomato varieties, plenty of room to grow.

tomato plants

Suckering and pruning tomatoes

Suckers are side shoots that develop on plants that will rob plants of energy and may produce inferior tomatoes. The suckers grow in the ‘V’ formation between the main stalk and the branch. Pinch off all suckers that develop below the first blossoms.

Those tomato suckers can also be rooted in water and grow into more tomato plants!

Pruning back some of the growth on tomato plants will also benefit by providing air flow and more energy sent into fruit production. Prune tomato plants by pinching off the top of the main stem to halt the top growth. See my tutorial here for How to Prune Tomato Plants.

tomato suckers
source: montana.edu

Put these tomato planting tips to use and you’ll be on your way to a successful tomato harvest this year!

We love our jellybean tomatoes here, and I’m trying out a new Lincoln tomato variety this year also. I’d love to know what type of tomatoes you’re going to plant in the garden. Have a great week and happy gardening!

Cliff Yehle

Saturday 31st of July 2021

Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate not calcium.

Courtney

Monday 2nd of August 2021

Goodness! So sorry for the typo. I'll fix it; thank you!