Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables grown in home gardens and are easy to grow if you select a variety that fits your growing season and environment. Incorporating tips and tricks from longtime tomato gardeners can result in thriving tomato plants with an abundant, summer long yield of ripe, plump, flavorful fruit.
The soil you grow your tomato plants in can be the difference between an average crop and a bountiful crop of big, flavorful tomatoes. Tomatoes thrive in sunny locations with rich, organic supplemented soil that drains well and is slightly acidic, or low pH. Before you plant your tomatoes, use a shovel to dig up the soil at least 12 inches deep, 18 inches if you have heavy clay or compacted soil. Spread about 3 to 4 inches of well rotted manure, or compost, over the dug up soil, then, with a shovel, begin mixing the manure or compost into the loose soil. Besides adding needed nutrients to the soil, by digging and mixing you are loosing the soil which will allow better moisture retention, drainage and stronger root development on your tomato plants.
When you plant your tomato plants, dig the hole deep, deep enough so the root ball and all of the stem, except the top set of leaves, will be planted in soil. By planting the tomato stem in soil, you will create more roots for your tomato plant because the hair like stem of a tomato will grow additional roots. More roots on your tomato plants means a stronger above ground plant, and your tomato plant has the ability to take up more water and nutrients from the soil. An alternative to a deep planting hole is to dig a horizontal hole several inches deep, then lay your tomato horizontally in the hole and covering it with soil, leaving the top leaves exposed.
Before you place your tomato plant into the planting hole, put a shove full of rotted manure and a handful of bone meal into the bottom of the hole. Add 1 to 2 inches of soil, then put your tomato plant in the planting hole. The bone meal will add a bit of calcium which helps your tomato plant roots take up water and nutrients easier.
As your tomato plants begin to grow, be sure to either add a sturdy tomato cage or three to four stakes around your plant for support and to keep the plant and fruit off the ground. Tomato plants that are allowed to grow sprawled on the ground will not produce as much fruit and are more susceptible to pests and diseases. Tomato plants that are caged or staked will have their fruit ripen sooner and produce more tomatoes.
Add 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch, shredded black or red plastic, or cover the soil surrounding your tomato plants with red or black plastic. The mulch or plastic will keep weeds down, but most importantly, it will help keep the soil moist and the soil warm. Tomatoes thrive when they are grown in soil that is warm and moist. It is important that you water frequently and deeply so all the roots can receive water. Keeping the soil warm, particularly if you live in an area that has a wide discrepancy of temperatures between day and night. The mulch or plastic will help keep the soil temperature warm overnight and warm the soil quickly during the day.