Growing tomato plants in the South can be challenging because of numerous fungal diseases and insects that attack them. Also, the window of opportunity for growing tomatoes is smaller in the South because tomato plants have trouble producing fruit after daytime temperatures remain over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. For best tomato production, take a soil sample to find out what amendments you need to add to your soil to grow tomatoes.Your county's extension office can assist you with information about soil testing.
Add to soil with amendments recommended for tomato production by a soil test. Work the amendments into the top 4 inches of soil and clear soil of all weeds and garden debris using a shovel and rake.
Plant tomato transplants that you started or purchased from a plant nursery after all danger of frost has passed. Planting seed directly into the Southern garden is not recommended because of numerous pests that eat young tomato plants. Set transplants in the ground at an angle so that 80 percent of the tomato plant is buried under the top 6 inches of soil. This is so the plant will grow a sturdy and deep root system. Space plants 36 inches apart so they will receive good air circulation. Good air circulation helps prevent fungal and mildew problems that are prevalent in the Southern U.S. because of high humidity levels.
Place tomato cages on all tomato plants, including bush or determinate tomatoes, because of unpredictable wind patterns and the potential for heavy spring rain that can decimate tomato plants. Also, fruit contacting the soil will rot if the plant is left to sprawl on the ground. Tomato cages are available at plant nurseries.Buy the largest size tomato cages you can afford because tomato plants can get large in the South.
Prune the tomato plants by removing all limbs and leaf growth below the first set of blooms. This directs the plants energy into the part of the plant that produces tomatoes. Also, it removes the lower leaves that are often used as a "ladder" by garden pests, such as spider mites and fungal diseases, that splash onto the lower leaves from the soil. Prune when leaves are dry because fungal diseases spread more easily when leaves or wet.
Water the tomato plants often because they need an even level of moisture throughout the growing season. Don't let water contact the leaves or the fruit and don't allow irrigation water to splash on the plants from the soil. This helps prevent fungal and mildew diseases that spread on damp leaves.