Planting Tomatoes: Make your tomatoes thrive
Check these tips to make your tomatoes thrive, not just survive.
Preparing your tomato patch
- Get your garden site ready. Get a soil test and add amendments, if needed. Your planting site should be in full sun, 8-10 hours is best.
- Check the soil temperature. Warm soil allows plant roots to grow into the bed quickly. For tomatoes this is 60° to 65° F. If the soil temperature is not right transplants just sit there, biding their time until it warms up. This affects root development and can stunt growth throughout the growing season. Cool temperatures can also invite rot. Cornell has a daily soil temperature report online. http://newa.cornell.edu/index.php?page=soil-temperature-map
- Put stakes in first to keep from disturbing the roots. Many tomatoes, especially ones with large fruit, may need both stakes and tomato cages. Use flexible material to tie the stems to the stake. Don’t use wire as it can cut into the stem and kill the plant.
Planting your seedlings
Wait until your seedlings are ready to plant before putting them in the garden. They should be sturdy and short, not leggy, with thick stems. They should be hardened off by placing for several days in a sheltered outdoor area for several hours a day during mild weather. Bring them inside at night to an area away from gas and exhaust. Gradually increase the number of hours over the course of a week or two.
Plant your transplants by stripping off the bottom leaves and laying the stem horizontally in a wide hole or trench. Tomatoes will grow additional roots along the buried stem giving it better stability and access to soil nutrients. Pinch off any blossoms to promote vigorous growth. Space out the plants considering the size of tomato cages and walking space.
Don’t put fertilizer directly in the hole. Finely ground eggshells (See Eggshells for Tomatoes) can be added here as a calcium supplement.
Once planted, water deeply and mulch to block weeds and conserve water. Tomatoes need a consistent supply of water to avoid blossom end rot. Provide 1-1½ inches of water per week. Poke your finger into the soil and if it is dry at 2 inches deep, provide water. Water the soil, not the leaves. Water in the morning so that the leaves dry quickly.
Here’s a tip for the end of the season:
In Franklin County, PA, our estimated date of last frost is the second week in October. Since it takes about six weeks for a tomato to go from flower blossom to ripe fruit, prune back your tomato plants in mid-September (cutting the growing tip off all the vines and any new blossoms to redirect the plant’s energy toward ripening up the existing fruit).
Oops! You were enjoying the weather and forgot to prune? There’s always green tomatoes.
Carol Kagan is a master gardener and author who has been active in herbal organizations for over 35 years. She has designed and maintained herb gardens and provided docent services at historic properties. She is the author of Herb Sampler. The book is a great resource for beginners who love herbs but aren’t quite sure how to get started; or have been unsuccessful in establishing a herb garden.