36June 16, 2016

If you grow just one type of vegetable, it is probably a tomato. Polls have shown that America’s favorite home-grown vegetable is the tomato. I know that many people come into the store to buy tomato plants and some tell me that they are very successful at growing tomatoes and others…well not so much. Let me take some time and tell you what you need to know in order to grow a successful crop of tomatoes.

When you first buy a tomato plant, it is such a relatively small plant. If you look at the tag that comes with the plant, it usually will say to plant tomatoes 3 feet apart in rows 3 feet apart. The reason for this is that this type of spacing allows your tomato plant to reach its potential height of 5 to 6 feet or more.

Any plant that can get that big has a massive root system underground. A plant that big will need a lot of water and also a lot of fertilizer to keep the plant healthy and producing tomatoes that will eventually ripen. If you are planting your tomatoes in a garden or a raised bed, you will get more tomatoes from one properly spaced plant than you will get off of 3 plants that are only spaced 1 foot apart.

If you are growing your tomato plants in containers, you need a large container for growing a good tomato plant. I recommend that you use a container that is at least 18 inches in diameter. A bigger container is even better. For my Mother’s birthday, I always pot up a tomato plant in a 24-inch pot. The plant looks odd in that size pot in the beginning, but by the time the tomatoes are ready to ripen, the plant is 6 feet tall and giving her one or two ripe tomatoes per day.

If you want a lot of tomatoes, please put only one tomato plant in each container. You may get away with 2 plants in a 48-inch diameter pot, but who is using a pot that big? If you are planting your tomato plants in containers, always use a good quality potting soil to fill the pots. Never use some type of filler material to partially fill the container. The roots of that tomato plant are going to need all that space in good soil to spread out their roots. Cutting back on the good soil is equal to planting in a smaller container. Use a big container with good quality soil and only one plant per container.

Food and water are your tomato plants best friends. As the plant grows, it will need more water and more fertilizer to grow properly. This is critically important if you are growing your tomato plants in containers.

The amount of water your plants will need is based on many factors. The strength of the wind, the amount of sun the plant receives and the temperature can all affect the amount of water a plant will need. If you have a hot, sunny and windy day in July, you may need to water your container grown plants 2 or 3 times per day to get the plant the water it needs to survive. On the other hand a cloudy and cool day in July with no wind may mean you only need to water once – or maybe not at all.

Remember that water makes up the bulk of a tomato. If the plant doesn’t get enough water, it can’t properly form tomatoes. Consistent water is critical at the time the blossoms form on your plant. If the soil goes from wet to dry when the bees are pollinating the blossoms, your tomatoes will form blossom end rot. This is a black patch that rots the bottom of the tomato as the tomatoes begin to ripen. Once this happens on the tomato, there is no way to fix it. The prevention is consistent moisture in the soil. You have to keep up with adequate water for your plants whether in the garden or in containers.

Fertilizer is also important in the formation of a strong plant and lots of tomatoes. You need to follow the directions on the fertilizer container. If you use a powder that you dissolve in water, you will need to feed, initially, your tomato plants every 2 to 3 weeks. As the tomato plants grow, you will need to fertilize them every 10 to 14 days. Once the plants have formed tomatoes, you may need to fertilize every 7 to 10 days.

If you are growing your tomatoes in containers, your plants will pull the fertilizer out of the soil very fast so keeping up with fertilizing the plants is even more critical. If you find that the plant has a lot of green tomatoes in August but few are ripening, it may be that you have a late maturing variety or you may not have enough potassium in the soil. In order to ripen tomatoes, your plants will use a lot of potassium. If you buy a tomato food, you will find that the fertilizer contains a lot of potassium. This is another reason why you need to keep up with fertilizing your plants. After all, you grow tomatoes for nice red tomatoes, not nice green tomatoes that never ripen.

A tomato plant that is full grown and loaded with tomatoes can weigh up to 50 pounds! Tomato plants need some type of heavy-duty support system to hold up your plants. You can use large heavy-duty tomato cages or you can use thick wooden stakes to tie your tomato plants onto the stake. Just be sure to use a 6 foot or larger stake. You will need to put about 1 foot of the stake in the ground to help in holding up that plant.

Well that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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