Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick……
Do you hear that ticking sound? Think 60 Minutes - that is the clock counting down the last few minutes (or days) that you have left to get those tomatoes planted! Or maybe you were inspired by the 80 degree weather a few weeks ago and already have them in the ground. Either way, here are some tomato tips for a successful growing season.
Tomato Plant Selection
Find a plant that best suits your space, your taste & your energy level.
Consider a few of these factors when choosing your plants.
Growing Style: determinate or indeterminate.
Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain size (usually 3-4 feet) then they stop and set all their fruit at once. They tend to be smaller in size and require less pruning and are a great choice for container gardening.
Indeterminate tomatoes will grow all season long up until the frost hits. They set fruit throughout the growing season. They will require more staking and pruning to keep them under control but provide an ongoing harvest.
Categories: Tomatoes can also be classified by shape and size – which do you like?
Cherry or grape tomatoes are those small and round, typically sweet tomatoes. Sometimes can be confused with “candy” (said no child ever…. but adults might think so)
Roma or Plum tomatoes are medium sized and have a lower water content and less seeds which make them perfect for canning or sauces. Most of these plants are determinate plants, which makes sense given their growing pattern. If you are making sauce, you want all the fruit to come in at around the same time which follows with the way determinate plants produce.
Slicing or Beefsteak tomatoes range in size, shape, and color and are used in all types of cooking and eating - from sandwiches, salads, or just straight out of the garden with a little salt. These are the tomatoes we dream about when looking at those sorry excuse for a tomato we see in the grocery store in the wintertime.
Tomatoes need a lot of sunshine for production so pick your sunniest spot! Prepare the planting area (garden or container) with a mix of soil/compost and add a well balanced fertilizer to the hole. Strip off the bottom leaves of the plant before you put it in the ground as these will become new root shoot to provide the plant with a vigorous base. Keeping the lower part of the stem leaf-free also decreases the chance of leaves hanging onto the ground where they are more susceptible to pests and diseases. I like to lay my plants on their side to increase the surface area of the root stock (I never said I was an artist)
For those of you who already have those plants in the ground with good cages and supports it may be time to prune - that is IF you have an indeterminate tomato plant. If that is the case you want to start now to train the plant down to 2-3 main stems. Remove smaller stems from the first few inches of the plant and look for the larger stems to become those main branches. Remove any “suckers” that grow from the “crotches” where the stems split into a “Y”. (Nice language I know….). Remove any blossoms for the first 1-2 weeks after you plant to allow focus on growing strong foliage and stems. By doing this you’ll focus the plants energy on getting a good foundation and ultimately provide more fruit. You want to prune every few weeks to keep the side shoots and suckers under control as well as remove any yellow leaves to keep the plants energy focused on making perfect tomatoes!
Watering Keep the base of the plants well- watered (every few days if it does not rain) and be sure to have a plan for watering if you are going away for an extended time in the hot weather. I have had great success with watering clay stakes or by burying small pot or bottle with holes in it to act as a slow release watering system.
Since you added some fertilizer in with the plant when you put it in the ground you should only need to fertilize once or twice over the next six weeks to ensure good green growth. When you notice that the plant is starting to set fruit you want to give it another boost of nutrients at that time. I really like using liquid fish or seaweed extract. A small concentrated amount of these products can be added to a gallon of water and sprinkled around the base of the plant or sprayed onto the leaves as a foliar fertilizer.
Tomatoes are a long season crop that will be in your garden from now until our first frosts in late October so pick your location wisely and get your tomatoes in so you have time to reap what you sow! It is also last chance time for planting winter squash, pole beans and other long season summer crops