It's hard to beat the taste of a homegrown tomato, so it's no surprise that tomatoes top the list of vegetables grown by gardeners around the country. Proper planning, soil preparation, fertilizing and basic maintenance will result in a bountiful crop of fresh, succulent tomatoes. It's important to note that the proper amount and type of fertilizer you should use will vary depending on your location and soil condition.
Select a location for planting tomatoes that provides full sunshine and offers well-draining soil. Provide 2 to 3 feet of space between each plant and 3 to 4 feet between rows.
Clear the area of all foliage when the soil is dry and the chance of frost has passed. Add several inches of compost and organic matter to the site.
Work the compost deep into the soil with a rototiller or hand tools. Level the area with a rake.
Dig a hole deep enough to bury your transplants up to their top set of leaves. Remove the branches below the top section.
Place the tomato transplant in the hole. Fill the hole with the removed soil.
Apply a starter fertilizer around each newly planted tomato. Spread the fertilizer out, keeping it at least 6 inches away from the plant stem.
Cover the area with a layer of mulch to prevent weeds and retain moisture in the soil. Keep the mulch away from the stem of the tomato plant.
Use one 6-foot stake or tomato cage per plant for support. Place the stakes 1 foot deep, 3 to 5 inches from the tomato plant, and tie the plant to it. Or place the cage deep in the soil around the plant.
Water the tomato plants thoroughly. Provide the plants with 2 quarts of water per day (per plant) and up to 4 quarts per day when fruiting. Or thoroughly soak the soil to at least 6 inches per week.
Add fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, to the plants when tomatoes appear. Reapply every month throughout the growing season.
Prune away any side shoots appearing around the newly planted tomatoes. Prune plants as needed to control growth, if desired. Most tomato plants grown in cages will not require much pruning.
Keep an eye on the plants for any signs of pest or disease. Look for color changes, growths or other markings on all parts of the plant.
Contact your region's extension office or a local garden center to help identify any problem and find out how to treat or control it properly.
Allow tomatoes to ripen on the vine, if temperatures remain around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Pick the tomatoes off the vine early, if temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for a long period. Keep harvested tomatoes at room temperature to continue the ripening process.