Tomatoes are a favorite in the home garden. With a wide variety of shapes, flavors, colors, and textures to choose from, there’s always something new to try. Tomatoes are heat-loving plants, and grow well in either a bed or container, as long as they have enough sunlight and room for the roots to grow. Check plant tag or seed packet for days to harvest and plan accordingly.
Types of Tomatoes
Heirloom – Varieties that have existed for at least 50 years, i.e. passed down from generation to generation. Seeds produce plants that are the same variety.
Hybrid – Varieties that are a cross between two or more different varieties. Seeds do not produce the same variety. Hybrids are often bred for higher yields or resistance to specific diseases.
Determinate – Grows to a determined size and produces fruit over a limited period of time, ripening at the same time. Generally shorter and more bushy than indeterminate, and don’t require staking or caging. Fruit tends to ripen sooner than indeterminate.
Indeterminate – Grows continuously and produces fruit for a longer period of time, until temperatures are too cool. Require staking or caging.
Tomatoes prefer fertile, well-drained soil. In the garden, till the soil 6-12 inches deep and incorporate compost. Use a quality potting mix in containers.
All tomatoes require at least 6 hours of sun per day.
Tomatoes prefer high heat and are very sensitive to cold. Wait to plant until there is no danger of frost. Typically it’s safe to plant around Memorial Day. If there is a chance of frost, cover tomatoes with something like a floating row cover, Gardman Fleece Grow Tunnel, upside down plant pot, bucket, or trimmed milk jug, etc.
Mulch soil around tomato plants to conserve water and suppress weeds. Apply a layer 2-3 inches thick of light organic mulch such as straw, marsh hay, or leaves, and leave a space free of mulch 2-3 inches around the stem to allow air flow.
Plant deep enough so some of the stem is under the soil line, up to the first set of leaves at most, to help it become strong and sturdy. Spacing depends on the variety (check the tag), and whether plants are staked or caged, but try to give enough space for proper air circulation to help prevent disease. Water thoroughly after planting.
When planting in a container, usually you’ll want to plant one plant in a minimum 12” pot in order to have enough room for the roots.
Water well while plants become established. Once established, tomato plants generally need 1” of water per week and depending on the weather, extra water is usually necessary during periods of drought or high heat. Try to maintain even moisture to help prevent blossom end rot. To prevent disease, keep moisture off the leaves by watering the soil, and if possible, water in the morning.
Tomato plants in containers will need more water than in the garden and should be checked daily. Water until draining out of the bottom of the pot and avoid getting water on the leaves.
Fertilize at time of planting by incorporating Espoma Tomato-tone, Espoma Plant-tone, or Espoma Garden-tone into the soil before planting. These Espoma products are organic, natural, and slow-release.
Water-soluble fertilizers, such as Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food or Miracle-Gro Shake ‘n Feed Tomato, Fruit, and Vegetable Plant Food, can be used instead, but need to be applied once every 4 weeks in the garden or once a week for containers.
Tomatoes can develop a variety of diseases including early blight, late blight, Septoria leaf spot, Anthracnose, and Fusarium and Verticillium wilt. Many of these diseases are caused by moisture on the foliage, soil touching the foliage, poor air circulation, or infected diseased plant material left in the garden beds. The best defense against these diseases is prevention, but there are also some things you can do once disease is present.
- Water the soil and avoid getting moisture on the leaves, especially avoiding splashes off the soil.
- Water early in the day so that any moisture that does get on the leaves can dry more quickly.
- Keep leaves from touching the soil through staking, caging, and/or mulching.
- Rotate tomato plants by planting in a different area at least every two years. Once a disease is present, avoid planting in that bed for 2-3 years.
- Remove all dead and diseased plant material throughout the growing season and at the end of the season. Dispose of diseased material and do not place in compost pile.
- Weed around plants to promote air circulation.
- Remove diseased leaves and dead plant material.
- Spray with Bonide Copper Fungicide or Bonide Tomato and Vegetable 3 in 1 depending on the disease present.
Blossom End Rot
Blossom End Rot is a disorder that occurs on the fruit, creating a brown spot at the blossom end. The spot enlarges to cover the bottom portion of the tomato, where the tissue shrinks and becomes tough. It’s usually caused by uneven watering, a calcium deficiency, or too much nitrogen through over-fertilizing, so be careful not to fertilize too much or too often.
Oftentimes, maintaining even soil moisture through proper watering and mulching is enough to prevent or remedy the issue. You can also add calcium by applying Espoma Tomato-tone, or by adding ground up eggshells to the soil before planting. Calcium can also be applied with a spray solution called Bonide Rot-Stop, which can also be used on other vegetables that sometimes have the same issue.