This article was originally published by Mike and Dorothy McKenney on www.dengarden.com
Starting with soil preparation and ending with harvesting techniques, I intend to cover everything you need to know to become a master tomato gardener. So if you want to become an expert, this is a great place to start.
Let me begin by saying that you must have suitable soil, sun, and water conditions when growing tomatoes to get optimal results. That being said, let’s get started!
Choose the Right Variety of Tomato
Did you know that tomatoes are 95% water and a versatile crop that can be grown in many different climates? When choosing the type of tomato you want to grow, always consider the environment in which you live and the type of soil you have.
There are wide tomato varieties suited for different regions, so research before selecting the ones you want.
These are some of the most popular varieties available:
- Bush tomatoes (determinate or compact): These do well in warm climates with plenty of sunshine. They produce more fruit than other types of tomatoes and require less water.
- Indeterminate tomatoes: These tomatoes will typically not require staking and will continue to grow even after maturity. They may take up more space than bush types but tend to yield larger crops, so I think it’s worth it! Some common indeterminate varieties include heirloom cherry, grape, and beefsteak.
Tomatoes Need Companion Plants
Before I became a Master Gardener, I never knew that tomato plants needed companion plants to help them thrive. Companion planting is one of the most reliable ways to ensure your tomatoes get nutrients.
These are some of the best companion plants for tomatoes:
- Basil: It adds freshness and a lemony flavor to your tomatoes.
- Cilantro: This will boost nutrients, vitamins A and C, and antioxidants in the soil.
- Lettuce: This veggie will help keep pests at bay by maintaining moisture in the soil and giving your tomato plants the needed stability.
- Melons: Almost any melon will provide a sweet fruitiness that complements tomatoes well.
Nothing is more empowering than growing a garden and harvesting food in your yard. For more helpful information, check out this guide on how to make a year-round self-sustaining garden.
Some Essential Tips
There are three types of tomatoes to which gardeners tend to gravitate: heirloom, open-pollinated (or “trait”), and commercial cultivars.
- The heirloom varieties, which typically have older genes than modern-day varieties, can be drier but produce larger fruit, usually red or yellow. As a result, they are usually better suited for warm climates.
- Trait tomatoes are explicitly bred for size, shape, and flavor, so you will find a more diverse selection, including yellow and green tomatoes.
- On the other hand, commercial cultivars are explicitly bred for yield (of course) and can either be hybrids or open-pollinated. They are usually less flavorful than heirloom varieties but tend to be somewhat larger with a longer shelf life. As a result, commercial cultivars are better suited in areas with colder winters.
My mother grew delicious tomatoes but they always looked like these. Now I know it’s because she didn’t allow the soil to dry out in between waterings. Too much moisture will crack the skin!
Tips for Healthy Tomatoes
The most important tip I can offer is to choose a variety that will grow well in your soil and climate. I can’t stress that enough!
Here are some additional tips:
- Tomatoes that are grown in warm climates should be varieties that can withstand high temperatures, while those in cooler climates should be varieties that are cold hardy. Tomatoes grown in sandy soils must be planted in raised beds to avoid erosion.
- Always plant tomatoes in well-draining soil with good drainage to avoid waterlogging and diseases. If you have clay soil, add some organic matter before planting to improve drainage.
- Space your plants evenly. They need about 18 inches between plants. If you have a small growing area, you might try growing them in a container.
- Mulch around the plants to keep them cool and moist.
- Tomatoes grown in the full sun must be mulched to keep them cool and prevent the fruit from being scorched. Straw works well as a mulch for tomatoes.
- Diseased plants need to be removed to prevent the spreading of the disease to other plants.
Sclerotinia stem rot
Blossom end rot
Possible Problems and Solutions
Two diseases commonly cause problems in tomato plants: blossom end rot and sclerotinia stem rot.
Blossom end rot is a fungal disease resulting in lesions on the fruit-bearing ends of the plant. On the other hand, sclerotinia stem rot is a bacterial disease that causes lesions on the stems near the ground.
To avoid these problems, practice good garden hygiene (keep weeds controlled and plants adequately watered). Pruning techniques can also maximize tomato health while producing larger, tastier tomatoes.
- One common pruning technique involves removing the flowers and fruit clusters as they form. Doing so will promote more vigorous plants less likely to suffer from the previously mentioned diseases.
- Another pruning technique involves removing damaged or diseased branches. By pruning this way, you can help prevent the spread of the disease and reduce the chances of the branch breaking and falling onto other plants, damaging them.
Creating the Ideal Soil Conditions
If you want a good crop of tomatoes, you must do your best to create the perfect conditions in your soil. Healthy tomatoes require the right mix of organic matter, nutrients, and water.
These are some tips that will help you create that perfect soil:
- Add organic matter: To improve the soil texture and its ability to hold water and nutrients, you need to add organic matter. Before planting, add a mixture of compost, manure, or leaves.
- Add nutrients: Add a balanced fertilizer before planting. READ THE LABEL. Some contain harmful chemicals that can damage your plants.
- Water well: It is essential to water your tomatoes well during the growing season, making sure to water deeply when you water. However, it would be best always to allow the soil to dry out between watering. Over-watering can cause root rot and other problems for you and your tomatoes.
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