Technically a fruit, tomatoes are considered a vegetable by most people. They are the most commonly grown fruit producing plants in gardens in the United States today. Fresh vine ripened tomatoes are a delicious addition to any summer meal. By following these growing tips for tomato plants, your garden will produce a beautiful, flavorful bounty of tomatoes.
Tomato plant seeds sprout best in ¼ inch deep commercial seed starting mix or potting soil mixed with peat moss, perlite or vermiculite. You can sprout tomato seeds in egg cartons or plastic yogurt cups. Make sure to punch holes in the bottom of each container for drainage.
Keep the containers covered and in a warm place. This will help them germinate. Again, on top of your refrigerator is a good place. As soon as you notice they have sprouted remove their covers and move them to a sunny area.
About three weeks after sprouting, begin to fertilize once a week with a weak solution of fertilizer and water. Make sure the plants have room to grow. Do not let them become overcrowded.
Before transplanting the seedlings, expose them to sunlight and wind gradually by setting them outside in starter pots. Place the pots in partial sun at first to let them adjust and then place them in full sun. This will prevent the shock of going from indoors to outdoors.If you are in a colder climate, you can get a jump on the warm spring weather by keeping the seedlings in a cold frame.
Tomatoes love hot soil. Cover the area with plastic before planting them to warm up the soil. This should raise the soil temperature by a few degrees and tomato plants love the heat.
When planting, bury the stem leaving only the top two leaves exposed. Tomatoes grow roots from their stem and will set up a strong root system this way. Don’t mulch until the ground has thoroughly warmed up.
Plant in the sunniest part of the garden. Tomatoes require quite a bit of direct sun. As much sun as possible is best. The more sun a tomato receives the sweeter the fruit will be.
Tomatoes come in two types determinate and indeterminate. Determinates grow to a predetermined height and tend to be bushy and shrub like. They produce one large yield per year, which makes them an excellent choice for canning. Indeterminate vines continue to grow and need more support. They produce tomatoes longer, spreading out their yield over time.
Tomatoes can be grown along a fence, using nylon to attach the vines to the fence. Stakes, trellis’ and wire cage supports are also effective. Again, using nylon, as in nylon hosiery, works very well for the purpose of securing the vine to the support.
Tomatoes do very well in planters. The planter should hold at least 15 gallons of soil. You will need some type of support, a tomato cage or trellis.
Care and Maintenance
Allow the top few inches of the soil to dry completely in between watering. Water thoroughly and uniformly. The key to producing lovely, robust fruit is in the watering. Once the fruit begins to ripen, cut back on watering. This will cause the plant to produce more concentrated sugars and increase the sweetness of the fruit.
Don’t cut back water so much that the leaves begin to dry and fall off. Give them enough to prevent wilting. The best time to water tomato plants is in the early hours, this gives the plant enough time for the leaves to dry throughout the day.
Tomato plants only require light pruning. As photosynthesis occurs in the leaves, the production of sugars is dependent on having enough green leaves left on the plant. It would benefit your plants to do just enough pruning in order to allow for the circulation of sunlight and air throughout the plant and aid in the ability of the plants healthy green leaves to dry comfortably after each watering.
Remove the bottom leaves from your tomato plants. These are the ones most likely to develop fungus problems. Pinch and prune back growth that occurs in the crotch of two branches. They will not produce any fruit and removing them will permit more energy to be used by other areas of fruit producing branches. You may lightly prune leaves that are preventing sunlight from reaching the ripening fruit, but don’t prune too much.
See Also: Tomato Aphids
Photo by hermanturnip, Creative Commons Attribution License