Tomato planting season is almost here for Middle Tennessee so I thought now would be the perfect time to share some things you need to know about growing a great tomato! Tomatoes have always been my favorite crop from the garden. I like tomatoes fresh, cooked, preserved – it doesn’t matter how – I like a GREAT Tomato! There are some tricks that will help you grow a great tomato and a few things to watch out for like pests and diseases. Please enjoy today’s Friday Five – all about tomatoes!
5 Things You Need to Know About Growing a Great Tomato!
- Let’s start with the soil. Good well drained and moisture retentive soil is important for tomatoes. Water logged soil will result in fungal diseases and poor growth. I highly recommend adding compost as it will improve drainage and moisture retention. It also has beneficial bacterias that will aid the health of your plants! One of the benefits to gardening in raised beds is the ability to improve your soil easily – or really to start with the good stuff! If you garden in the ground tilling in or layering compost will improve your soil over time.
- Tomatoes like to be planted with as much of the stem under the soil as possible. Tomatoes grow roots along the stem when planted this way which improves their water uptake ability! Trust me, dry summers make this essential! Just remove all the leaves except for the top 2 and plant the tomato plant either horizontally in a trench or (my favorite way) in a hole just deep enough for the stem and roots.
- Tomato vines need something to grow on, lean against, or hold it up! They get heavy – especially so when the tomatoes themselves start to come. Keeping tomatoes upright on a trellis or heavy gauge wire frame improves the airflow around the plant which will lower the risk of diseases. Heavy gauge cattle fence panels in an “A” frame work excellent for growing tomato vines. Don’t use the small “tomato cages” from the stores as these are usually insufficient to hold up the plants. I’ve used wooden tomato stakes that work OK for holding up the plants but require the gardener to tie up the tomato plants frequently as they grow.
Tomatoes have several common enemies like hornworms, stink bugs, white flies, nematodes, and lots of other insects. Companion planting is one way to prevent them from showing up unannounced on your tomato plants! Basil works great for repelling the hornworm and flies while marigolds prevent nematodes that grow in the soil. The list of potential tomato pests is long and frequent monitoring of tomato plants is essential in getting the edge on them!
Tomatoes suffer from a few diseases that can be prevented. If you find a tomato with a blacked and rotting end where the blossom was originally formed you have blossom end rot. Blossom end rot is very common and nothing to worry about. It’s caused by a calcium deficiency in the fruit that doesn’t allow the cell walls to form properly. The calcium deficiency can be cause by a water problem or a lack of calcium in the soil. Often during planting gardeners will add a small amount of lime to the planting hole to help prevent blossom end rot. Adding lime to the soil after the blossom end rot can help too. Blight is the other major issue that gardeners run into on tomatoes. Blight is caused by a fungus. To prevent it water from below and make sure you have a good air flow around your plants. A fungicidal soap may help once you have it to beat it back enough to still get some good tomatoes. When the plant is done for get rid of the plant material – do not compost it in your compost bin as it can remain in your compost! Plant your tomato plants in a different location next year to reduce the risk of re-contamination. A good crop rotation plan is very beneficial!
I hope these tomato tips help you grow a delicious crop of juicy tomatoes this year! I can’t wait until that first one ripens up. The ideal planting date for tomatoes here in Middle Tennessee is the first week of May so tomato planting time is coming soon! (I know, some of you already planted this year with the warm temperatures, just remember that this year was unusual and every year is different!)