Properly cared-for tomato plants produce large, juicy fruit that is free from diseases and pests. Growing good tomatoes is simply a matter of giving the plants everything they need to thrive. Tomato plants require frequent, even watering, fertilizer treatments and pruning to reward gardeners with healthy fruit. They also need a carefully prepared garden bed packed full of nutrient-rich soil and kept free of weeds and other pests that can choke out the plants.
Choose a spot for planting that receives full sunshine at least eight hours a day and has well-drained soil. For best results, keep plants away from trees, buildings and other tall objects that could potentially block the light.
Prepare the garden bed by aerating the top six to eight inches of soil with a hand tiller, removing debris such as rocks and loose roots. Spread about a 1-inch layer of compost on the loosened soil and mix it in with the tiller.
Add about one pound of a complete garden fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. Though a variety of fertilizers will do, some of the best types for tomatoes are 8-32-16 and 6-24-24.
Add about 1 cup of water-soluble fertilizer solution to the bottom of each hole after placing the seedlings. A standard fertilizer mixture for this is 2 tbsp. of fertilizer concentrate per gallon of water.
Cage or stake the tomato seedling immediately after planting it. This will give the plant the support it needs to grow tall and strong.
Cover the garden bed with a several-inches-thick layer of hay or straw. This mulching process will lock in moisture, keep the plants' roots warm and prevent weeds from growing around the base of the plants.
Prune the plants with garden shears as soon as their first flowers develop. Trim off all of the branches on the stem below the first flower cluster. After that, cut off all of the suckers (or sideshoots) that develop between the main stem and the fruit-bearing branches of the plant.
Water the plants every day, in the morning if possible. Tomato plants need about two quarts of water per day until the first harvest, and two to four quarts of water per day after that.
Apply side-dressing treatments to tomato plants when the first green fruits appear. Dig a shallow circular trench around each plant and sprinkle a bit of calcium nitrate in each hole. Fill the trenches with dirt. Generally, you'll need about three and-a-half pounds pounds of calcium nitrate for 100 square feet of garden. Apply a second side-dressing treatment about two weeks after the first harvest. Apply a third round a month after the second round.