Tomatoes are a wonderful summer treat for many people because the taste far surpasses what is available in the grocery store. However, tomatoes often get a reputation for being finicky and hard to grow. Yet with a little know-how, Michigan home gardeners should be able to get at least a modest tomato crop each summer as long as the tomatoes are not planted outdoors until soil temperatures are between 55 degrees and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In Michigan, it may be mid to late May before the earth reaches this temperature.
Place the tomato plants outdoors in a shady location during the day and then bring them back inside at night. Do this for a week to 10 days before planting them outdoors to help prepare them for the new climate.
Add compost to the soil where you will be planting. Using your hands or a trowel, work in a layer at least 1 to 2 inches thick and mix it well with the existing soil.
Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the seedling's roots and most of its stem. In Michigan and other northern areas, tomatoes must be planted deeply to help protect them from the cool air. Dig a hole deep enough to fit the entire root structure and stem to the height of the first set of leaves.
Fill in the hole with the surrounding soil, using your hands or a trowel to pack it down firmly to remove any pockets of air.
Repeat steps 4 and 5 with remaining seedlings. Tomato plants should be spaced 1 1/2 feet to 2 feet apart. Rows of plants should be spaced 3 feet to 4 feet apart.
Thoroughly water all the newly planted seedlings immediately after planting to ensure they begin to establish their roots. Tomato plants will need deep waterings at least twice a week while they are growing and continuing to produce fruit.
Place stakes or tomato cages around the plants. Stakes should be placed in the ground immediately after planting. Drive them about 1 foot into the ground and placed about 3 inches to 5 inches from the plant. Cages can be placed around the plants as soon as they start to grow.
Fertilize the plants with a complete plant fertilizer such as an 8-8-8 or a 10-10-10 once they begin to produce fruit. Use between 2 and 3 tablespoons of fertilizer per plant and apply it between 4 inches and 6 inches from the stem to prevent damage.