Tomatoes are common in home gardens and as such, there's a lot of free advice floating around about their care. Care of tomato plants may have subtle changes depending on the part of the country you live in, the variety of tomato being grown or the soil conditions you have to work with. Still, there are some basic bits of wisdom all tomato growers can benefit from.
A successful tomato gardener knows there are many types of tomatoes, and choosing the right ones is the key to that success. Some produce early, in 60 or fewer days, while others can take closer to 80. Some are determinate, meaning the plant stops growing once the flowers bloom at the terminal ends while others called indeterminates keep on growing. Some are small, and some are best for eating fresh while others work well canned and in sauces. Knowing what you want from your tomato will help you choose the right variety.
Whether you start your tomato plants from seed indoors or purchase seedlings, you need to know the frost dates for your area. An online search will locate frost date advisors. These dates indicate when the last date for frost is expected in a given area. Tomatoes should never be moved outside before this date as they have little tolerance for cold, and a frost will kill them.
Fertilizing and Weed Control
When transplanting young plants, add starter fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizer applications should be given at the rate of 1 lb. per 100 feet of row space for established plants. A layer of mulch on top of a few sheets of newspaper goes a long way toward preventing weeds. Another method of controlling weeds is to cultivate or hoe between the plants and the rows.
During fruit production, tomatoes need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water each week. If rainfall does not provide this, provide supplemental watering. Mulch around the base of the plants also helps hold in moisture. Avoid watering late in the day as this can lead to fungus disease problems. The optimal time to water is early in the morning so the soil can soak up most of the moisture, and any water that remains on the leaves and fruit has time to evaporate.
Stakes and Support
Some varieties do not require staking, particularly small tomatoes like cherry, grape and roma tomatoes. Larger, heavier varieties benefit from some form of staking. Tomato cages made of wire or wood are common types of stakes, as are simple wooden stakes that plants are tied to. Each serves well. Newer trellis weave systems provide better support and foliage cover for the tomatoes and can be made at home. Trellis weaves involve stakes between every two to three plants with strings woven between the stakes for the plants to rest on. Harvest is much simpler this way too.