Bush tomatoes are determinate tomatoes that grow to a specific height and cease growing. These tomato plants are ideal for containers or raised beds where space is limited, as they typically reach heights of no more than 2 feet. Not only do they maintain a small size, determinate tomato plants bloom and set fruit all at one time, producing an abundance of plump, ripe tomatoes that ripen within a week or two of each other. Large, sprawling indeterminate tomato plants bloom and set fruit throughout the summer and tomatoes ripen gradually over several weeks to months.
Prepare the soil for bush tomatoes by tilling to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Break up clods of soil with a hoe or garden rake. Remove debris, such as rocks and roots, from the soil and rake smooth with a garden rake.
Test the soil for its nutrient makeup and pH, if you are gardening in a new area or if you are unsure of the condition of your soil. The University of Maine Extension recommends testing your soil every three years to assess its condition. An inexpensive soil test kit from the hardware store or garden supply center produces a quick analysis of the soil, but your extension service provides a more in-depth assessment, if needed.
Follow the recommendations accompanying your soil test kit, or those outlined in your soil test summary from the extension office, to adjust the pH of your soil to 6.2 to 6.8.
Mark rows, spaced 24 to 36 inches apart, with the edge of the blade on the hoe. Mark the position for tomato plants 12 to 18 inches apart in the row.
Dig a hole for each plant about 8 to 12 inches in diameter. Set the soil aside. You will need this soil to fill in around the seedlings.
Add about a quart of well-rotted manure or compost to the bottom of the hole and work it in with the existing soil. Pour 1 gallon of water into the hole and allow it to drain into the soil.
Gently remove the seedlings from the flats or pots, using care not to damage roots or stems. Lay the seedling down in the hole and gently curve the top 4 inches upward so that it will rest above the soil. Position the seedling so the upward stem is centered. Roots form along the underground stem creating a strong support system for your plants.
Fill in around the stem and root ball with soil. Firm down with your hands to secure the plant and remove air pockets. Water thoroughly to moisten the soil to the root level.
Trace a circle on the soil around the base of the plant approximately 6 inches from the tomato plant. Sprinkle 2 to 4 tsp. of balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, around the tomato plant and work into the top 2 to 3 inches of soil with a hoe or garden claw.
Water bush tomatoes deeply once a week to saturate the soil to the root level. In warm weather or under drought conditions, tomatoes may require more frequent watering, as they are heavy feeders and prefer moist soil. Check the soil frequently to establish a watering routine appropriate for your garden.
Apply liquid foliage feeder designed for tomatoes every 10 to 14 days throughout the summer. This provides balanced nutrients that tomatoes need to thrive.
Pull or cut weeds as soon as they appear to keep the soil weed free and to prevent weeds from stealing valuable nutrients and moisture from your tomato plants. Keep weeds under control by mulching with black or red plastic, if preferred.