Tomatoes are fickle. After a year of great tomato yield followed by a frustrating year of just average yield, I’ve developed 10 techniques, which have improved the success rate in my garden.
Most of my tomatoes are heirlooms with the occasional hybrid. Here’s what I am growing this season in climate zone 9b: Ace, Cherry Red, Green Zebra, La Roma, Legend, Pineapple, Pink Berekley Tie Dye, San Marzano, Sweet 100, Stupice, Sweetie Seedless and Vorlon. They range from cherry to large beefsteak varieties and early to late maturity. So, I will have tomatoes to harvest throughout the growing season.
A quick word about determinate vs. indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes will all come ripe at once. Great if you had planned on canning gallons of tomato sauce over the weekend. But, not so great if you wanted fresh tomatoes from the garden all season. Indeterminate tomatoes will come ripe throughout the growing season. Choose your varieties wisely.
10 secrets for growing better tomatoes.
1. Plant labels are important.
Choose varieties that are right for your climate zone. Mix early, midseason and late tomatoes and enjoy fresh tomatoes throughout the season. The “days to maturity” on the plant label or seed packet is important. If planting from seedlings, choose plants with sturdy stems and bright green leaves.
2. Select a sunny spot for tomatoes.
They want sun and heat, at least 6 hours of full sun is the minimum. 8 hours of sun is better. In extremely hot areas, it may be necessary to shade the plants during the afternoon for better results.
3. Go organic.
Apply an organic fertilizer and liberal amounts of soil amendments. Better soil makes better tomatoes. Layer nutrients across the top of the soil. Aggressive tilling can disturb microorganisms in garden soil. Combine planting mix and potting soil if planting tomatoes in containers. My favorites for fertilizer and amendments are Dr. Earth and E.B. Stone Organics.
4. Bury all but 3 inches.
Tomatoes like deep root systems. Dig deep and plant deep for seedlings. Snip off the lowest leaves and bury part of the stem. Leave only the top 3-4 inches of the plant above the surface. I know this sounds brutal, but roots will sprout along the entire buried stem. I add 1-2 tablespoons of E. B. Stone Sure Start in the bottom of the seedling hole. Again; better roots mean better tomatoes.
5. Water deeply.
Soak the root ball, every 3 or 4 days for the first few weeks. Once the seedling tomatoes are established and begin growing, water deeply less frequently. As tomatoes grow, the plant will inevitably yellow in places. Additional water won’t fix yellowing and too much water can dilute taste.
6. Fertilize wisely.
Follow fertilizer directions and feed around the roots after planting, and again once the plants begin to flower. That’s all it should need unless the soil is desperately lacking in nutrients.
7. Tomatoes need water.
During the hottest part of the season tomatoes in containers may need water every day. Soak the pot each time. Tomatoes in containers need to be fed more often – every ten to fourteen days.
8. Tomatoes need support.
Support your tomatoes with cages, bamboo stakes or support of your choice. Supports don’t have to be pretty but they are necessary.
9. Be vigilant.
Watch tomato plants each day for changes that might signal a problem. Prune or pinch side growth if needed to limit the spread of the plants.
10. Employ patience.
Harvest tomatoes when they are truly ripe. A red tomato doesn’t mean it is at the peak of flavor. Wait. Look for a deep color and some softness before devouring the harvest and get the most out of the season.