It is no wonder that tomatoes are the number one vegetable that every gardener makes room for in their vegetable garden! Tomatoes can be cultivated in different soil types and grown in many areas. The wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes of tomatoes make it easy for gardeners to select their favorite variety based on taste. Today on the Sunshine Gardening Podcast, I am sharing 10 top tomato tips to give you better tasting tomatoes this season.
- Know your tomato type. Determinate type tomatoes, also called bush tomatoes, grow to a certain height and then stop. Generally they range in size from 2-3 feet in height. The fruits of determinate tomatoes also ripen all about the same time. For this reason, these tomatoes are ideal for gardeners who wish to can and preserve their tomatoes from the season. Determinate tomatoes work best for small gardens or even container gardens. These do not require support system or structure. Some examples of determinate type tomatoes include Mountain Spring, Mountain Pride, Patio, and Sunmaster. Indeterminate type tomatoes. This tomato type is also referred to as vining tomatoes. Vining type tomatoes keep growing and growing until they are killed by frost. Their mature heights can reach anywhere from 3 to 6+ feet. With that said, indeterminate tomatoes will require sturdy support system through caging, staking, or trellising. The fruit is also staggered throughout the growing season. Common examples of indeterminate tomatoes include Better Boy, Early Girl, Sungold, and Super Sweet 100. Semi-determinate plants. Plants are intermediate in size between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. These varieties produce fewer suckers than indeterminate varieties and reach a height of 3 to 5 feet. An example of a semi-determinate tomato variety is Celebrity. Dwarf indeterminate. This type is a new tomato classification where the tomatoes produce very short, bushy plants that are similar to determinate types, but keep flowering and producing fruit continuously like indeterminate tomato varieties. Some examples of dwarf indeterminate tomatoes are Husky Red Cherry and Husky Gold.
- Plant tomatoes in succession. It is easy to get carried away and plant all the tomatoes in the garden at once. Instead, stagger tomato plantings to help lengthen the season. Select an early maturing tomato for canning and preserving and then plant a mid-season tomato. The late maturing varieties are good to capture the last remaining harvests before fall frosts set in.
- Plant them deep and provide plenty of space. Set tomato transplants in the garden a little deeper than when it was growing in the container. The stems will form roots compared to other vegetables. If plants appear leggy, place the leggy tomato stem in a trench and place soil on top where the top part is pointed up. It is best to give plants plenty of space to grow and develop. For determinate type tomatoes, space them 24 to 36 inches between plants and 3 feet apart in rows. For indeterminate type tomatoes, space plants 36 inches apart with 4 to 5 feet in rows.
- Utilize a support system. Tomatoes will benefit from the use of a support system such as a cage, stakes, or even a trellis system. Using these support systems keeps fruit off the ground, which prevents fruit rotting and other harmful diseases. Staking tomatoes makes the job easier to care for them and helps aid in reducing fruit rots. Caging tomatoes gives the benefit of showing fewer cracks and sunburn on fruit. It also helps them ripen more uniformly and produces fewer cull fruits. Whatever the preferred method, gardeners need to implement the support system shortly after planting to avoid damaging the root system.
- Give them water. The best thing that you can do for tomatoes is to make sure to water them and water them consistently. I recommend watering early in the morning rather than later in the evening. A morning watering routine will allow plants to dry off during the day. If you water in the evening, plants stay moist and that can bring on more tomato diseases. When you water plants, target the stream of water directly at the root system so the root system can take up the water and transfer up the stem to the plant. Avoid hitting the foliage when watering to also help in decreasing tomato diseases. Deep, infrequent watering is strongly encouraged over light, frequent watering. This tip allows help promote a deeper root system for the plant.
- Mulch them. Apply 2 to 4 inches of mulch around tomato plants. Mulch conserves soil moisture, protects low growing tomatoes, and prevents water from splashing onto the foliage which spreads disease such as blight. It also helps to deter weeds from growing and it is also very attractive in the garden. Selecting an organic mulch such as leaves, straw, grass clippings, and even newspaper will return nutrients to the ground and help the soil structure after it decomposes. Lastly, mulch will also assist in reducing blossom end rot from occurring later in the season.
- Prune suckers. Indeterminate tomato varieties like cherry type tomatoes will benefit from removing suckers that grow below the first flower cluster. The sucker is a small plant that is located in the axil of each leaf of the tomato plant. It robs energy and nutrients from the tomato plant, so it is best to pinch it before it becomes too large.
- Side-dress them. Tomato plants benefit from additional fertilizer after the fruit has set. When first fruits reach golf ball size, scatter 1 TBS ammonium nitrate in a 6 to 10 inch circle around each plant. Water thoroughly and repeat every two weeks.
- Scout plants daily and perform health checks. Different insects and diseases can affect tomato plants throughout the growing season. Scout plants daily to determine if there are any plant pests. Look on the undersides of leaves for any aphid damage, watch for water soaked areas to form on the fruit from blossom end rot, and keep an eye on foliage for early signs of tomato blight. Blight starts at the bottom of the plant and eventually works its way up to the new growth of the plant. For questions on tomato pests, contact your local Extension Office in your area. They can help pinpoint the problem and help you come up with a solution.
- Enjoy the tastes of tomatoes! Tomato growers are often rewarded with more than enough tomatoes when they reach the harvest stage. Share the bounty with family, friends, and neighbors. I find that it is fun to try different tomatoes varieties to compare and explore their tastes. You can easily see which tomatoes that you want to add to your garden for next year!
Well, there you have it, Kristin’s top 10 tomato growing tips. With all these tips, I guarantee that you will be harvesting tomatoes quicker than you can say “BLT”! I hope that you enjoyed this episode of the Sunshine Gardening Podcast. If you would like additional information on growing tomatoes for the Kentucky garden, make sure to see the show notes for episode 6. I have posted the link to the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service publication for Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky. This is the gardening bible to help you learn more about gardening in Kentucky. To can find more information on tomatoes, turn to pages 42 and 43 in this publication. To view the show notes, visit the blog at Warren County Agriculture, https://warrencountyagriculture.com/. Feel free to leave any questions that you might have on the blog or make additional comments.
Make sure to tune in with me for more gardening information each week right here on the Sunshine Gardening Podcast! Each week, I plan to share seasonal gardening tips and tricks to help gardeners reach their gardening goals and to help the sun shine a little brighter over their Kentucky garden. To stay up to date on all the latest episodes, hit the subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts.
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Gardeners, keep digging into gardening and remember to add a little sunshine!
Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky, ID-128- http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf