In many areas, the ability to grow luscious red tomatoes reflects your skill as a gardener. Friends and neighbors often view prolific tomato production as a characteristic of proficient gardeners and a sign of success in home gardening. Whether your desires are to earn a little respect from your gardening community, or simply to reap the benefits of abundant fruit production to feed your family, the key to success in growing tomatoes is to provide them with suitable soil, adequate nutrients and sufficient water.
Contact your local extension office for a soil test kit and follow their instructions for testing soil. Typically, soil must be gathered at several locations over the garden bed to provide an accurate analysis of the condition of your soil.
Amend the soil following the recommendations included in the soil summary report. Making alterations to soil in the fall allows time for nutrients to break down into usable form by spring. Organic amendments such as compost and well-rotted manure contain microorganisms beneficial to soil, and work best if allowed time.
Till the area in the spring to distribute the soil amendments added in the fall and loosen soil. Remove any rocks or debris that have surfaced with freezing and thawing during the winter. Rake the area smooth and mark your rows 36 to 48 inches apart. Rows running north to south allow light to reach all plants without concerns about shading.
Dig a hole at least 12 inches in diameter and 10 inches deep. Plant seedlings on their sides, gently guiding the top 3 to 4 inches of the tomato plant above the surface of the soil. Roots form along the horizontal stem, creating a vigorous roots system to provide nutrients and water to the growing plants. Firm the soil with your hands to secure the plant and remove air pockets. Space plants 24 to 36 inches apart. Water thoroughly to saturate the roots.
Mulch with black plastic to raise the temperature of the soil, control weeds and conserve water. Puncture the plastic at 6 to 8 inch intervals to allow water to reach the soil. Secure edges with boards or stones to prevent the wind from blowing the plastic and damaging plants.
Stake plants with towers or cages and secure the cages to the soil. Insert spikes deeply in the soil or use garden spikes, wooden stakes or U shaped metal to anchor the cages so they will support the weight of mature plants and fruit.
Water deeply once a week to saturate the roots and apply foliar feeder designed for tomatoes every 10 to 14 days until fall.
Prune plants to maintain shape and to remove suckers (shoots that appear between the main stem and side branches) to channel energy to the main plant. Keep foliage pruned to allow air circulation, but use care to leave enough foliage to shade growing fruit from the scalding effects of the sun.