It’s hard to imagine summer without homegrown tomatoes. Even if you don’t actually grow the luscious fruit in your own yard, you’ve likely searched local markets for tasty, summer fresh tomatoes – you look for signs that say “home-grown,” “heirloom varieties” and “vine-ripened.”
Well, I’m here to tell you that yes, you can find pretty good local tomatoes if you know where to look (answer at the bottom of this article), but you can also grow tomatoes that you’ll be proud to serve and share with friends.
5 Tips for Growing Tomatoes
- First of all, if you’re reading this on or about Memorial Day weekend, it’s not too late to plant tomatoes. In the past month, daytime temperatures shifted from Confirmed Sweater Weather to Tank Tops and Sunscreen Recommended, but you still have time to get tomatoes in the ground. When you shop for tomato plants, look for seedlings that have flowers or fruit already on them, so you’ll harvest sooner. Look for patio-ready containers with mature tomato plants ready to grow fresh fruit at your house.
- When shopping for tomato seedlings, read plant labels. You’ll learn important information like growth habit, days to maturity and disease resistance. Determinate tomato varieties are compact and fruit for a short time. Indeterminate tomatoes will fruit for a longer period and will require staking. If you plant indeterminate varieties, it’s best to cage or stake the seedlings when you plant.
Plant in Full Sun
- Tomatoes are nightshade plants, but not shade plants. Your tomato plants will need at least six hours of sun each day, and they would like more, if they can get it. More sun equals more fruit. Walk around your garden space during the day and look for the most consistently sunny spot.
- Tomatoes like rich soil with a slightly acidic pH around 6.5 to 6.8. Build up your soil with organic compost to improve drainage and nourish your plants.
- Plant tomatoes deeply. In your rich garden soil, dig a trench 4 to 6 inches deep. Take the tomato seedling and pinch off the lower leaves, then lay plant sideways in the trench and bend the stem gently upward before covering with soil. The extra root growth will anchor the plant and encourage more growth.
5 More Tomato Growing Tips
- Plant flowers with your tomatoes. Marigolds are a natural companion for tomato plants. They repel some bad insects, and their bright colors attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. Zinnias are another pollinator favorite to grow with your tomatoes.
- Plant a pizza garden with your tomatoes. Just bring in basil, oregano and bell peppers for the complete experience.
- Tomatoes are thirsty plants. For this reason, water early in the day so you won’t lose moisture to evaporation. It’s better to water deeply less often than to continually offer brief drinks.
- A blanket of mulch will help suppress weeds and slow moisture evaporation. Choose an organic, untreated mulch in your edible garden.
- Tomatoes need fertilizer for the most production during the summer. When you plant tomatoes in healthy, organic soil amended with compost, you give them the best start. Choose organic fertilizers like fish emulsion for application throughout the season.
This story first appeared in my local newspaper’s Ask a Master Gardener column. I’m a certified Master Gardener Extension Volunteer in Douglas County, Georgia.
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