Hands down, tomatoes are the most popular home-grown vegetables. Maybe it is because no store-bought tomato has ever come close to the flavor and texture of one fresh off the vine. They are so popular that some people don't even bother growing anything else. Knowing a few tomato growing secrets and tips from veteran gardeners can help you grow healthier, more productive plants.
When transplanting tomato seedlings, prune off all branches but the top fork and set the plant in a deep hole so that only the top 1/3 will be above ground. The reason for this is that tomatoes perform better with a deep, strong root system. Burying 2/3 of the stem will encourage more roots to branch out. More roots means that the plant will be able to take in more nutrients, and more nutrients mean a bigger, stronger, healthier plant.
Prune Off Suckers
Suckers are small, thin branches that grow out of the crook between the main branches and stem. If left alone, they won't hurt your plant. They will continue to grow and eventually produce fruits. Pruning off some of these suckers, however, will keep the plant focusing its energy and nutrients. Ultimately, this practice will result in growing superior tomatoes.
Use Low Nitrogen Fertilizer
Tomatoes are heavy feeders, but nitrogen is counter-productive to obtaining a high yield. Nitrogen is key in producing healthy foliage. Too much nitrogen encourages your tomatoes to grow tall and leafy, but it doesn't encourage blossoms or fruit. When choosing a fertilizer for your tomatoes, look for one in which the first number on the package is lower than the second number, such as 5-10-10. The second number represents phosphorous, which promotes flowering and fruiting.
Many novice gardeners underestimate the importance of water control with tomato plants. Tomatoes are very sensitive to moisture fluctuations. A plant that has become stressed from a drought may never recover. Plants that are kept too wet are susceptible to root rot and fungus, and too much water prevents the plant from getting oxygen. Going from one extreme to the other can cause problems like cracking and blossom end rot. Water your tomatoes deeply, once or twice each week, or as often as needed to keep the top inch of the soil moist.
Keep Away from Potatoes
If you or any of your neighbors grow potatoes, keep your tomato plants as far from them as possible in your garden. Never plant tomatoes into a garden plot that has been used for potatoes within the last 2 or 3 years. Potatoes and tomatoes are actually related, so these cousin plants are susceptible to the same diseases. Potatoes can easily pass blight, a fungus, on to your tomato plants. Blight can destroy the leaves and make fruits inedible. If your garden is too small to put your tomatoes and potatoes more than a few yards away from each other. You might want to consider planting your tomatoes in containers and placing them on the other side of the house.
Various herbs can keep away pests that love to attack tomato plants. By planting certain herbs into your tomato crops, you can reduce your pest problems, thus reducing your need for pest control measures. For example, if white flies are a problem in your area, plant basil with your tomatoes. Basil is a natural repellent of white flies. If you have a problem with tomato hornworms, plant fennel near it. Fennel attracts parasitic wasps, and their larvae feed on hornworms. You don't even need to plant the herb into the ground. You can simply keep smaller potted herbs near the tomato plants to reap the benefits.