Nothing says summer like the taste of a home-grown tomato. The vines are easy to grow, are prolific producers and come in all sorts of wonderful varieties from giant Big Boys to tiny grape varieties. But a gardener still has to be vigilant and protect tomatoes against a number of potential problems.
Protection from Cold
The first step in protecting tomatoes from the cold is to resist planting until the right time. This time varies depending on the climate in your specific area. The best way to find out when to plant is to check with the nursery folks where you buy your plants. Keep your eye on the weather after planting and if there is any chance of a frost, cover your plants during the night with plastic or an overturned pot.
Protecting the soil around the tomatoes after planting is also important; colored mulches will increase soil temperatures after planting, which will result in faster growth, earlier flowering, and earlier fruit production.
Protection from Rot
Abundant rain or fruit lying on the ground can cause the fruit or leaves to rot. The best solution to fruit sitting on the ground is to grow tomatoes in wire cylindrical cages which will support all the vines and heavy fruit. Poke growing vines back into the cage as the plant grows. Simply reach into the cages to pick fruit.
In areas with lots of rain, protect plants by stretching a plastic cover tied to stakes above the tomatoes during rainy periods. Be sure to remove the cover after the rain.
Protection from Pests
Unfortunately, tomatoes, like many garden vegetables, can be infected by many different pests throughout the growing season. Aphids, spider mites, and caterpillars are just a few pests that you might see. The best method to protect tomatoes from pests is to inspect your tomato regularly and hand-pick caterpillars or other bugs. You can also buy an all-purpose vegetable dust or spray from your local garden center and apply it according to the directions on the label.
Protection from Disease
If your plant shrivels and dies, it may have a common tomato disease called fusarium wilt. In this case, pull the plant and clean up any leaves left on the soil. The disease may remain in the soil, so change the location for planting in subsequent summers.
Keep your plants healthy by deep watering early in the season and tapering off on watering after fruits begin to ripen. Fertilize tomatoes every two weeks from the time when they first blossom until the end of the season to keep them strong.
Protection from Heat
Heat will only be a problem when temperatures rise above 100 degrees and can cause cracked or damaged fruit. A good way to protect the plants is to encourage healthy growth by watering and fertilizing in the same way you would to protect the plant from disease so that the plant produces lots of leaves in addition to fruit.
Never prune the leaves, as they offer natural protection in really hot climates. When the temperature does exceed 100 degrees, provide shade for your plants by stretching shade netting over stakes positioned around the plants.