With summer fast approaching and our summer plant distribution coming up later this week I thought a tomato planting primer was in order. In the years I’ve been growing food these are some of my favorite tips for getting good tomato plants in the ground.
Hardening Off Tomato Starts
If your tomato plant starts were grown inside or in a closed greenhouse it is best to harden them off so they are not shocked by the elements. Begin by bringing your tomato plants outside for a couple of hours a day in full sun. Slowly build up the amount of time they are spending outside until you are bringing them out in the morning and putting them in at night. After a couple of days fully outside they can stay out overnight until you are ready to get them in the ground.
When planting tomatoes it is important to dig a deep hole so the plants can establish roots deep in the soil. Before planting tomatoes I snap off the bottom leaves leaving only the top cluster of leaves. Just as a tomato plant can send out suckers, the plant can send out new roots below the ground if planted deep. This helps the plant send out deep, strong roots, which increases their drought tolerability. Once your hole is dug deep and any bottom leaves are snapped off you can put your tomato plant in and bury it up to the top cluster of leaves. Give it a good pat to give the roots nice contact and a good drink of water. If my tomato plants already have buds on them I will snap those off during transplanting as well to signal to the plant it should put energy into root growth and plant growth but not fruit growth yet.
Feeding Your Tomato Plants
Tomatoes are moderate feeders and will appreciate supplemental nutrition throughout the growing season. Usually when planting I’ll toss a small handful of Harmony fertilizer into the hole. Depending on your soil (if you’ve tested and know) it could be good to add a bit of bone meal as well to increase the calcium available in the soil. Making sure your tomato plants have enough available calcium will help decrease the chance your tomatoes get blossom end rot.
If you, like many other backyard gardeners, are fighting for a taste of your crop with the likes of groundhogs, raccoons and squirrels you may consider an earlier harvest. Once tomatoes have a hint of color they can be harvested to ripen off the vine. Harvesting them this young gives the advantage of betting large pests to the party, while still yielding a delicious tomato. If harvesting before totally ripe, leave the tomatoes to sit somewhere warm until they fully ripen.
Pruning and Trellising Tomatoes
For information on how to best prune tomato plants for better growth and disease prevention check out this video from ARC&D: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnnO5CGwsWo
For information on how to trellis your tomatoes using the Florida Weave method watch ARC&D’s own Lexy Close walk you through it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFCKN3Jdcns