The most popular and widely grown vegetable in home gardens is the tomato. It has been extensively hybridized and literally hundreds of varieties are available. Gardeners have been saving the seeds of open-pollinated heirloom types for centuries. Dozens, if not hundreds, of these heirloom varieties are available for sale or trade as well. Tomatoes are vigorous plants and often produce an adequate crop with only minimal care. They also respond quite well to horticultural "coddling" and will produce an outstanding crop when pampered by the home gardener.
Tomatoes are hot-weather-loving vegetables. If transplanted outdoors before daytime temperatures stay reliably above 70 degrees F, they will simply sit in the ground and not grow. They also require soil temperatures above 60 degrees to grow. Conversely, hot summer temperatures above 95 degrees will cause tomatoes to stop flowering, which halts fruit production. Tomatoes need temperatures between 68 and 95 degrees to grow leaves and stems, produce flowers and set fruit.
Room to Grow
Give your tomato plants enough room to grow. Most varieties should be spaced at least 24 to 36 inches apart. Tomatoes quickly grow to form a multi-branched plant that soon becomes heavy with ripening fruit. They need room to spread their branches, whether they are sprawling along the ground or trained in "tomato cages." Tomatoes produce the heaviest crops when the greatest number of their leaves receive unshaded sunlight. Space between the plants allows air to circulate around them, reducing the possibility of fungal and other tomato diseases.
Water and Fertilizer
Tomatoes contain a large amount of water and require copious amounts of it to produce an outstanding crop of fruit. They are heavy feeders and should be fertilized regularly throughout the growing season. Apply granular fertilizer to the soil when setting out the transplants and spray their foliage with a water-soluble, high-nitrogen fertilizer weekly. Supplement rainfall with irrigation, if necessary, so that your tomato plants receive 1-1/2 to 2 inches of water per week. A 2- to 4-inch mulch applied to the growing bed will help keep the soil moist, increasing the plants' vigor and fruit production.