Gardeners prize juicy, tender, homegrown tomatoes. Store-bought tomatoes can't compare with fresh tomatoes regardless of type: common slicing, plum, cherry or grape. Grow tomatoes in the ground along with other garden fruits and vegetables, or grow them in containers. Consider a few cultivation tips and produce flavorful, healthy tomatoes.
You can grow tomatoes successfully in a wide range of soil types, but they prefer a rich, organic, well-drained soil. The soil pH should range from 5.5 to 7. Consult your county extension office for instructions on having garden soil tested for pH and other characteristics. Consult the seed packet or transplant tag for appropriate spacing, which depends on variety. When planting transplants, set them an inch or two deeper than they were growing in the pot.
Tomato plants grow best with uniform moisture levels. Water whenever the soil is dry to the depth of 1 inch, especially while fruit is forming. Tomato plants grown in containers may need daily watering or more, especially in very hot or windy conditions during the summer. Uniform watering helps reduce fruit cracking of developing tomatoes. Conserve moisture by mulching around tomato plants.
Stake or contain tomatoes in wire cages or with other supports, especially indeterminate, sprawling varieties. These send up new shoots and produce new fruit until killed by frost. Pinch new shoots of indeterminate varieties after staking when they are about 2 inches long to encourage energy to go into ripening existing fruit.
Feed developing tomatoes monthly with a nitrogen fertilizer. Scratch in a tablespoon of fertilizer around the base of the plant. Carry fertilizer to the root system by watering thoroughly. Apply again three and six weeks later, according to the University of Illinois Extension. Alternatively, use a slow-release commercial fertilizer during the growing season or use a soluble commercial formula every couple of weeks.
Choose Disease-Resistant Varieties
Choose tomato types that can mature during the time length of your particular growing climate, but also choose those that have a VF designation, or a high level of resistance to wilt diseases, a major problem of tomatoes. Some varieties have a VFNT designation, which denotes resistance to verticillium and fusarium (both wilts), nematodes and tomato mosaic virus. Check the seed packet or transplant tag for disease resistance information before purchase.
Remove tomato hornworms--large, green caterpillars that feed on leaves and fruit--by handpicking. Commercial biological insecticides are another option, but read labels carefully and choose a formula best suited to your gardening ideals. Keep a close eye on the garden to deal with pests quickly, before infestations occur.