Tomatoes are a popular choice in the home garden because they are such a forgiving crop. They do not require a large amount of space, and they usually produce a high volume of fruit. Tomato plants are fairly low maintenance, but there are several things you must do in order to ensure they do not sicken and die.
Prepare the planting area. Select the area about two weeks before the projected date of the final frost. Find a spot that gets direct sunlight a minimum of eight to 10 hours per day. Use a hand tiller to work the top 6 to 8 inches of soil, removing debris from the dirt. Sprinkle a 1-inch-thick layer of compost and 2 1/2 to 3 pounds of complete garden fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. Mix the compost and fertilizer in with the tiller.
Watch the weather. Wait until the temperature is steadily about 60 degrees F before planting the tomato seedlings. Cooler temperatures can damage the delicate young plants.
Dig holes that are about twice the depth and width of the seedlings' root balls. Place each seedling in a hole. Make a mixture of 2 tbsp. water-soluble fertilizer and 1 gallon of water. Pour about a cup of solution into each hole before filling them in with dirt.
Stake or cage the seedlings. Do this immediately after planting, if you plan to do it at all. Giving the plants a bit of support can promote healthy fruit production. However, attempting to insert stakes or cages after the seedlings have been established can damage their roots.
Caring for Tomatoes
Water the tomatoes. Preferably, water them in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. Tomato plants that have not yet produced mature fruit need about 2 quarts of water per day. After the first harvest, increase each plant's water rations to 2 to 4 quarts per day. Tomato plants require a strict watering schedule or they will develop blossom end rot.
Spread a layer of clean straw around the base of the established plants that is 2 to 3 inches thick. Mulching locks in moisture and keeps weeds from choking out the tomato plants.
Side-dress the plants. Using calcium nitrate, side-dress green tomatoes when they reach about 1/3 of their mature size. Dig a shallow trench around the base of each plant, then sprinkle in a handful of calcium nitrate and fill the trench in with dirt. Repeat the treatment about two weeks after the first harvest, then a month after that. You'll need about 3 1/2 pounds of calcium nitrate per 100 square feet of planting area.
About this Author
Katie Leigh is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. A Loyola University New Orleans graduate with a Bachelor's degree in communications, Leigh has worked as a copy editor, page designer and reporter for several daily newspapers and specialty publications since 2005.