Memorial Day weekend is the typical start to the summer gardening season. After the long winter in many parts of the country, gardeners are excited to shop at their local nurseries and purchase their summer faves. Tomatoes are the still the best selling vegetable so we’re sharing some tips and tricks to get them off to a good start.
1. Gently snip or pinch the 4 bottom sets of leaves from your tomato plant before you place it in the soil. If your plant is smaller than that, snip off enough so you are left with at least 2 layers of “true” leaves. Plant the stem deep enough so that the soil is just an inch below the leaves you left on the plant. Some gardeners swear by trench planting, where you lay the stem sideways in a shallow trench about 3 inches deep. This encourages stronger root growth. Either way, roots will develop where you snipped off the sets of leaves.
2. We all know that tomatoes need a lot of water to grow. Staying a step ahead of a dried out garden is going to benefit your plants. If you give your plants just a little water when the soil is dry, you’ll end up with wilted, stunted plants. That will stress your tomatoes out. Water deeply! Soaker hoses are a great way to get the job done. The hoses have tiny holes where water slowly trickles out. Just lay them in between rows and the hoses can “drip” for an extended amount of time. This will provide deep watering and you won’t be wasting a lot of water. If you don’t have soaker hoses, water the soil, not the plants, until puddles start to appear on the surface. That’ll tell you your garden can’t absorb any more water for the day. Morning is the best time to water before the hot overhead sun arrives.
3. There were many times in my early gardening days that I didn’t cage or stake my tomatoes right after planting. I thought I’ll do it tomorrow or the next day. Big mistake! By the time I got to it, there was no way the plant’s stems were going to fit inside the cage without breaking. Once your plants develop strong branches and heavy tomatoes, they’re going to need some support, so cage them the day you plant. I like the round metal cages but I’ve seen a lot of home-made cages that do the trick.
4. Here’s a tip that might surprise you. Don’t fertilize. Fertilizing makes your plant grow faster and “forces” the plant to produce fruit faster. This results in less nutritious tomatoes because they didn’t have time to produce nutritional flavonoids. I tested this a few years ago in my garden. I planted two identical plants at opposite ends of the garden. I fertilized one and not the other. I filled one planting hole with organic compost and the other without any fertilizer. The fertilized plant definitely had more branches but not as much fruit. The un-fertilized plant took longer to grow tomatoes, but they were bigger, juicier and meatier. The flavor was also better. Try it this year and let us know your results. If you started your garden with a good airy loose organic dirt, that’s enough to grow great tomatoes. You can add some organic fertilizer in late summer to give them a little boost if the leaves start to turn yellow or you want a late season push of fruit. Be sure to cut the recommended dose in half.
5. Never let the leaves of any branches touch the soil. This is one of the main reasons the plants get diseased. Just pinch them off at the main stem.
Those are just a few ideas you can use to grow great tomatoes. If you didn’t start your plants from seeds and still want a great variety to choose from, get to your local garden center as soon as possible this coming weekend. Tomatoes will be the first to go. Please share any of your tips or secrets that have worked in your garden.