Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in home gardens. There are so many varieties of tomatoes that it's hard to choose which ones to grow. You can grow yellow, green, red or even pink tomatoes. There are large, extra large, medium, cherry and grape sizes. There are plants and vines, determinate and indeterminate, but whatever you choose, there are steps you can take to make them be the best tomatoes on the block. Tomato plants can be started with seeds or purchased as seedlings at the local garden store.
Prepare the soil from three months to three weeks ahead of when you plan to plant. Plants should not be put out until all danger of frost is gone and the soil is starting to warm. Take a soil test or have the county extension center test it for pH. Tomatoes prefer the soil pH to be between 6.2 and 6.5.
Apply dolomite limestone to the soil if the pH is too high. The amount to apply will depend on the test results so follow manufacturer's directions.
Mix one part compost to one part well rotted manure to cover at a rate of 100 pounds per 100 square feet. Place a layer of the mixture over the soil and till so the lime and amendments get mixed into the soil well. Allow the soil to sit until planting time and remove all weeds that may have grown in the interim.
Set 6-foot stakes for each plant if they are the type that need staking. You can find that information on the label that came with the seedlings. By setting the stakes first, there is no chance of damaging the roots when they are set.
Dig holes slightly larger than the container the plants are in. Most seedlings are grown in peat pots and they do not need to be removed. Plant the tomatoes in the afternoon, evening or right after a rain. Set the plants in the planting holes slightly deeper than they are in the container, or peat pots slightly deeper than ground level.
Fill in around the plants with soil and hand-tamp down to firm them into the ground. Mix 2 tbsp of 4-8-8 fertilizer into a gallon of water. Pour a pint of the water around the base of each plant.
Place a 2-inch layer of straw around the plants. This will help to retain moisture and keep the weeds from growing around the plants. Hand-pick any weeds that make it through the straw.
Water the plants every other day for two weeks to get them established. Then water for a long period of time once a week. This is much better for the plants than short periods of watering more often. Extra watering may be needed in very hot, dry weather.
Tie the plants to the stakes just below the fruit cluster as they grow. You may have to tie up to six times as the plants get taller. Do not tie too tight and damage the stem.