Freshly picked tomatoes truly capture the essence of summertime, and as any gardener will tell you, picking homegrown tomatoes right from the vine and enjoying them with family and friends is the ultimate reward. Of course, before the harvest there is work to be done, but fortunately raising and caring for tomato plants is an enjoyable and satisfying process.
Care of a Tomato Plant
Place tomato seedlings in a bright, sunny location that receives at least seven or eight hours of sunlight per day. Tomato plants rely on extensive sunlight in order to flower and provide ample fruit. Healthy, well-drained and mildly acidic soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8 is important and will help to ensure that your tomatoes are healthy and prolific. Inexpensive soil testing kits can be found at any plant nursery and allow you to test your soil quality and pH at home and make any suggested changes or amendments to the soil.
Provide your tomato plants with wire cages or stakes for support. Not only will this help to prevent unsightly sprawl, but it can assist in preventing your tomato plants from toppling and severe breakage during wind and rain storms. More importantly, the plants have a framework to help hold heavy branches laden with fruit in place. Add a commercially available organic fertilizer high in phosphorous to the soil to promote strong roots and fruit production. Finish by adding a layer of layer of mulch, compost or straw to help to retain moisture and add additional rich and healthy matter to the soil.
Water tomato plants often using either a watering can or a garden hose with a sprayer nozzle. The soil should be kept moist but not allowed to get soaking wet. Frequent watering is imperative, as insufficient water can lead to a bevy of problems, including cracked fruit and blossom end rot. It is good practice to check your plants daily to determine whether they need to be watered.
Protect your tomato patch from pests. Permanent or temporary fences are ideal for keeping hungry deer, rabbits and other furry critters out of your garden. Keep an eye out for signs of insect damage on your plants. Hornworms, whiteflies, aphids and cutworms are just some a few examples of insects that can wreck havoc on your tomato plants and cause extensive damage. Check with your local agricultural extension office to see what type of destructive garden pests are common in your area and the best solutions to deal with them.
Practice crop rotation. If possible, try to place your tomato plants in a different location every year. It is also good practice to rotate peppers, eggplant and potatoes, as they are also in the solanace family of plants and repeatedly growing them in the same locale can make plants susceptible to diseases and pests.