Caring for tomatoes in your outdoor garden requires preparation, plant nutrition, water, and vigilance. The reward of fresh tomatoes for salads, sauces, or snacks makes your efforts worthwhile. Tomatoes are a favorite crop of home gardeners. Whether you live in northern latitudes that allow you to grow 2-lb. beefsteak tomatoes or in the South where tomatoes are smaller, homegrown tomatoes provide a treat beyond compare.
Select a planting site that receives eight hours of full sunlight and offers fertile soil, preferably with a slightly acidic pH.
Prepare the soil a week to 10 days before planting. Clear materials and debris from the site and turn over the top 2 to 3 inches of soil with a rake or tiller. Add 2 inches of compost and mix with the topsoil.
Purchase tomato plants adapted to your region.
Plant tomatoes in the early morning or late afternoon. With a wide trowel, dig a rectangular hole half as deep as the tomato seedling in its container and about 3 inches long. Break off the lower leaves of the seedling and lay the plant horizontally in the hole, leaving 3 inches of the stem and leaves above ground. Cover the remainder of the stem and roots with soil.
Firm the soil around the plant to remove air pockets and water thoroughly.
Add 2 inches of mulch in a circle 2 inches away from the base of the plant. Do not allow the mulch to touch the plant's stem.
Stake or cage the tomato plant to provide support as fruit develops.
Side dress the tomato plants with fertilizer when fruit is about the size of golf balls and every three weeks after that during production. Use a balanced 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 fertilizer unless a soil test suggests a different allocation of nitrogen, phosphorous or potassium.
Water tomatoes when the leaves are wilted in the morning or the soil is dry down 1 inch. Check the tomato plants for disease or insect damage every two days. Treat problems immediately, following guidelines such as those from Texas A&M University.