You hear the horror stories of tomatoes – black spots, wilting leaves, bugs and fruitless plants. Tomatoes can be one of the most infuriating plants, but with some helpful tips you can harvest some tasty fruit throughout the growing season.
Traditionally, Mother's Day is the "official" tomato-planting day. If you've grown from seed, then you have most likely seen the fruits of your labor by now with some ready-to-plant seedlings about 5-6 inches tall.
If you are getting starters – my chosen method – then make sure to check them out well before buying. You wouldn't want to purchase ones already with some deficiency, like weak roots or yellowing leaves.
But getting down to the nitty gritty, don't psych yourself out. You can grow some awesome tomatoes, and following these tips will definitely help you out.
1. Make sure your plants are going to be in the spotlight. Plant in a warm, sunny area where they can get at least 8-10 hours of sunlight and lots of room to breathe.
2. If you are planting in the same bed or pot you used last growing season, plant in a different spot, or remix the potting soil to ensure less likelihood of soil-borne diseases – such as blight, or bacterial spot.
3. Make sure to bury your plant deep, roots and stem in the dirt, up to the first true leaves. You aren't suffocating your plants. New roots will quickly sprout where you've buried the stem. The more roots you have, the more fruit you'll harvest.
4. Get rid of the freeloaders. Pinch off the leaves and non-fruiting branches that are taking away from getting food and water to your tomatoes.
5. Water, water, water. BUT water deeply, not often. You'll want to water long and deep every five days or so.
6. Water the soil, not the leaves. Watering the leaves can encourage bacterial blight.
7. Stake and cage plants high enough for them to grow. Vine tomatoes need the room to grow tall, so make sure to give them the support they need, like tall stakes or fencing. For bush tomatoes – like Roma tomatoes – cages work well, giving them support and allowing stability to withstand a heavy harvest.
8. Keep planting. That's right, plant more tomatoes about 3-4 weeks after you've started the first batch. This will keep you harvesting longer and produce better tomatoes.
9. Use compost and straw around the stem when tomatoes begin to ripen for healthier growth.
10. Make sure to harvest before the tomatoes are too ripe. Over-ripe tomatoes can be mealy – especially Heirlooms – and can suck nutrients out of fruit that is not ready to harvest.
A few questions:
What are these black spots on my tomatoes?
Small, dimpled spots on tomatoes, which can grow to be the size of a dime, are known as Bacterial Speck. This happens when water splashes onto the fruit and leaves. To avoid this, make sure to water the roots, not the actual plants. Try to shake water from your plants after a rain, as well.
My tomatoes are cracking up! What's going on?
Cracking in tomatoes happens when your plants receive irregular watering. The insides begin to grow faster than the outsides, causing the skins to burst. Although these tomatoes are still edible, cracking lowers the life of the fruit.
A great gift idea, too:
Pre-planted, potted tomato plants make a great Mother's Day gift. Give your mom a head start on her own little garden.
Twinkle VanWinkle has more than 20 years of professional cooking under her apron strings, feeding thousands of friends, family and other folks. She baked apple pies for the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and has appeared on Food Network's "The Best Of..." Along with producing dynamic lifestyle content for LIN Media, she is a mother, urban gardener, chef, musician and social media fanatic.
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