How to Feed and Care for Tomato Plants


If you have an area of garden that receives six hours or more of sunlight each day, proper care and feeding of your tomatoes can yield solid results. Tomatoes, the most popular home garden crop in the United States, can yield 8 to 10 lbs. of fruit per plant, according to the University of Iowa Extension. Pay special attention to watering and feeding these hungry, solar-powered sugar factories correctly.

Step 1

Prepare the soil by adding dolomitic limestone at a rate of 3 to 5 lbs. per 100 square feet if the pH is less than 6.0, as revealed by a home soil testing kit. If adding chicken manure or compost, broadcast and mix into the soil two to three weeks prior to planting, recommends the University of Florida Extension.

Step 2

Apply black plastic mulch to the row of soil prepared for the tomatoes, and slit openings in it to accept the young plants. Rainfall will seep into the root zone between the row middles and through the slits.

Step 3

Set young plants into the soil deeply, to a level up to their first true leaves, at least 2 feet apart, digging a hole for them with a hand trowel. Pinch off the lower leaves of spindly transplants and lay them sideways, so the upper part of the plant is exposed and the lower part will develop roots.

Step 4

Apply starter fertilizer, such as 1 to 2 tbsp. of 6-8-6, 4-8-8, 6-6-6 or similar fertilizer per 1 gallon of water, to help the plants get started, pouring 1 pint around the base of each plant. Or, add compost and well-rotted, aged manure in the transplant hole mixed with soil when transplanting.

Step 5

Water plants in the field regularly during dry periods. The plants need 1 to 2 inches of water per week. Heavy soakings once a week are better than many light sprinklings. Water tomatoes in containers daily or more frequently. Even moisture levels will prevent blossom-end rot, a small black spot on the bottom of the tomato that ruins the fruit.

Step 6

Apply 1 tbsp. of nitrogen fertilizer per plant after the first tomatoes have grown to the size of golf balls, recommends the University of Illinois Extension. Use 10-10-10 fertilizer if ammonium nitrate is not available. Add more fertilizer at seven- to 10-day intervals. Side-dress the fertilizer, which means dig it into the soil around the plant, but not too deeply.

Step 7

Train the plants by tying them to stakes or trellises or enclosing them in cages. Choose sturdy metal cages, ideally made out of concrete reinforcing wire, to hold indeterminate tomatoes, which can grow to 5 feet or higher, as they grow steadily until the first frost.

Step 8

Repeat fertilizer applications three and six weeks later.

Step 9

Weed by using a hand cultivator or hoe, if weeds poke through the mulch.

Tips and Warnings

  • Keep fertilizer off the leaves of the plants. Do not let tomato plants wilt due to lack of water, or yields will be severely affected, notes Texas A&M.

Things You'll Need

  • Dolomitic limetone
  • Soil-testing kit
  • Chicken manure
  • Compost
  • Plastic mulch
  • Scissors
  • Hand trowel
  • Fertilizer
  • Watering hose
  • Stakes
  • Trellises
  • Cages
  • Hand cultivator
  • Hoe


  • University of Illinois Extension: Tomato
  • University of Florida: Tomatoes In The Florida Garden
  • Tomato Care & Fertilizing
  • Iowa State University Extension: Tomatoes
  • University of Arizona College of Agriculture : Tomatoes

Who Can Help

  • Virginia Cooperative Extension: Tomatoes
  • Texas A&G Agrilife: Tomatoes
  • USDA: Red Plastic Could Bloom in Gardens This Year
Keywords: feeding tomato plants, tomato care tips, mulching tomatoes, transplanting tomatoes

About this Author

Rogue Parrish has written two travel books and edited at the "The Baltimore Sun," "The Washington Post" and the Alaska Newspapers company. She began writing professionally in 1975. Parrish holds a summa cum laude Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.