Growing the Best Tomatoes

“The most popular garden vegetable is the tomato. Varieties are available in a wide range of sizes, colors and shapes. Each having its own flavor and use.

Tomatoes can be propagated by seeds or clippings. They will germinate between 60F and 95F with optimum conditions between 75F and 90F. At 75F they will generally sprout in about 1 week. If you don’t grow your own seedlings and must buy transplants make sure you choose sturdy plants. The greener and shorter the plant the better, as they will grow best when transplanted. You should avoid plants that are tall and leggy, and those that have flowers on them already. If you do grow your own seedlings a grow lamp for supplemental light is a good idea. Even if you have a window that faces to the south the light the plants receive is not sufficient. Seedlings should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before transplanting them outside. The seeds should be planted 1/8 inch deep in a sterile seed starting mix in either cells or flats. After germination the seedlings grow best at 70F.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to transplant you seedlings outdoors if the soil or weather is cold as the temperature can shock the plants. Hot caps and other protection can help the plants early in the season. All covers must be removed if the temperatures exceed 85F. Tomatoes do better if they are planted deeper than the original containers they were started in. They should be set in the ground just below the lowest leaf, allowing the plant to obtain a stronger root system. Tomatoes need a constant supply of moisture, and if you don’t receive at least one inch of rain per week, supplemental watering is necessary. Mulching will also help retain water, and drip irrigation is a good way to supple water without wasting it.

If you plan on staking your tomatoes do it right after you transplant your seedlings. If you wait too long the plant will have developed a mature root system, and the stakes may damage them. Tomato cages are an alternative to tomato stakes, but as these have short spikes as well it is best to set these up as early as possible. The advantage of a tomato cage is the fact that you don’t have to constantly tie up your growing plant to the stake.

Once the plants begin to grow they need to be pruned. Snap off “suckers” so that there are one or two vigorous stems. This should be done when they are about 2 to 3 inches long. If you are staking your tomatoes you should tie the stems to the stake with soft string. Form a figure-8 with the stake in one loop and the stem in the other. This will give the stem room to grow and prevent constriction. You should start tying about 10 to 12 inches above the ground and continue as the plant grows.

Avoid fertilizing your tomatoes with too much Nitrogen as this will lead to excessive foliage growth and not enough fruit production. Heavy rainfall or inconsistent temperatures also lead to poor fruit growth. Unfortunately we cannot control mother nature. For most soils, you can side dress a 5-10-5 fertilizer and work it into the top inch of soil. You should start fertilizing when the fruits are about 1 inch in diameter and repeat fertilizing again when the harvest begins.”

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2 Responses

  1. […] Growing the Best Tomatoes | Master Gardener Girls’ Gardening Blog – “The most popular garden vegetable is the tomato. Varieties are available in a wide range of sizes, colors and shapes. Each having its own flavor and use. […]

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