Tips for Growing Better Tomatoes

In addition to being one of the most delicious parts of summer, tomatoes are good for your health. According to WebMD, tomatoes are a super food because they contain all four of the major carotenoids: lutein, lycopene, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. This fact is important because each carotenoid provides individual health benefits such as antioxidants, but they also work together to prevent cancer.

Unfortunately, the cost of tomatoes has risen in recent years. And if you buy organic, the cost is even higher. Growing your own tomatoes only makes sense. Not only will you have fresh produce during the summer months, you can also freeze or jar extra yield to enjoy during cooler months.

Growing tomatoes is pretty simple. Start with good potting soil, plant your favorite variety and water daily. However, there are a few tricks you can follow that will give you bigger, better tomato plants with a more substantial yield. Your tomatoes will also burst with flavor, making them much better than any store-bought variety.

Prepare Plants before Planting

Whether you grow your own tomatoes from heirloom seeds or you purchase plants from your local nursery, they have likely been kept in different conditions than the great outdoors. When the danger of frost has passed and you’re ready to plant tomatoes, get them accustomed the new outdoor conditions first. This means a gradual introduction to both sun and evening chills.

Consider the following tips for preparing plants:

  • Place outside in the shade during daylight hours.

  • Bring inside at night or cover to keep plants warm.

  • Repeat for 7 to 10 days.

  • Plant in containers or the ground.

Prep the Soil

Prepping the soil is just as important as prepping the plants. Make sure you start with a good mix that is formulated for vegetables. If using last season’s soil, turn it over and then add nutrients with manure or compost. Here are two tips for soil prep:

  • Moisten soil so you aren’t placing tomatoes into dried out dirt.

  • Place a black tarp over the soil so that it can begin to warm in preparation for the seedlings. This is especially important if you’re planting early in the season.

Time Your Planting

Did you know that placing a plant that isn’t used to it in direct sunlight can result in a sort of plant sunburn? You’ve probably noticed this in the past as wilted, yellowed leaves. You can avoid this by planting your tomato seedlings on a day that is a bit overcast. By not placing the plants in direct, bright sunlight you’ll let them adjust gradually to the sun.

Pinch Off First Blooms

If your plant tries to bloom shortly after you’ve planted it, you should pinch off these initial blooms. Growing fruit takes a lot of resources from the stem of the plant and can weaken the plant overall. By allowing the plant to really take root in the soil, you’ll allow it to grow stronger and better. Don’t worry, there will be plenty more blooms and tomatoes throughout the growing season.

Offer Plants the Right Support

If you’ve ever tried to grow a tomato plant without support, you know that it doesn’t work. The plant falls over, it might break and the fruit may rot on the ground. However, a tomato cage, while effective, can reduce the size and number of your tomatoes. Instead, use the right stake for better results. Here are a few tips:

  • Most master gardeners recommend that stakes should be 1 to 2 inches thick and at least 6 inches above the ground.

  • Push the stake about 6 to 12 inches into the ground so that it’s stable. Place one a few inches in front of the plant and one a few inches behind.

  • Use twine to add additional support by running it across the front row of stakes and repeating in the back.

Avoid Fungus

Once your plants are several feet tall, pinch off the leaves around the base of the plant. These are older leaves, and they tend to get drenched in water and then have a hard time drying off again. This is where a fungus might develop or disease might start. By pinching off these leaves, you accomplish several things:

  • Reduce risk of fungus.

  • Make it easier to see low lying fruit.

  • Keep plants healthier and resources focused on growth.

Following just a few quick tips can result in healthier plants and a better crop. Growing your own tomatoes is very fulfilling and a fairly easy endeavor.

All images from Kaboompics: tomatoyoung tomatoes, tomato plants

  • Published on May 12, 2015
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