Tomato Planting Made Easy
Even folks who aren’t gardeners love to plant tomatoes! Seeds and seedlings are readily available. Tomatoes are easy to grow in large and small backyard plots, or in a pot on a balcony. Perhaps it’s because tomatoes appeal to almost everyone…in a fresh salad, in spaghetti sauce or just atop a cheeseburger.
So, here are some basics
Tomato plants can send out roots all along their stems. Strong roots are a good thing, so you should plant seedlings deeper than normal; as high up as the top set of leaves. These extra roots will help the plant grow quickly.
Dig a hole deep enough to bury most of the plant. Some gardeners even dig a tunnel or trench and lay the plant sideways leaving only the top leaves exposed. In a few days it will right itself and grow upright. Firm the soil down, so the plant is settled.
Where to plant
Tomato plants love the sun and need at least 8 hours of sunlight a day in order to thrive. Place your plants in a nice warm area with full sun exposure.
Staking tomato plants
Tomatoes are actually vines and cannot support themselves enough to grow upright, especially when laden with fruit so it’s best to use sturdy stakes and cages. Tomato plants grown upright will get tall and heavy so don’t skimp on your support system. Stake when you plant, so you won’t damage the roots later on.
Attach plants to cages and stakes with soft cloth, never wire or string, so you don’t damage stem growth. You can also attach plants to supports with garden-grade thick, natural jute twine or sturdy stretch tape that is designed to be soft and flexible in order to move with the plant as it grows. Some support systems can actually wrap around tomatoes to provide support even after they’ve been growing awhile.
Make sure your plants get steady water. Water towards the base of the plant trying to keep the leaves dry. Never use an overhead sprinkler. When it rains there’s not much you can do, but don’t get them wet unnecessarily. Water regularly allowing the soil to dry a bit between waterings. Your plants need a regular available water source but should not be soggy.
Water according to your plants’ needs. If your days exceed 100 degrees you may need to water every morning, but if you’re in an area that stays fairly cool during the day, then you may need to water only every 2 or 3 days. Here’s a tip, if you lessen the water a bit once the fruit begins to ripen, it will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars (making them sweeter). Don’t allow the plants to wilt or they could lose their fruit.
Pinching and pruning
If you’re growing indeterminate tomato plants, you’ll want to prune them. As an indeterminate tomato plant grows, you’ll see side shoots, known as suckers, forming. Suckers drain nutrients from the fruit. By pinching, you can remove suckers that develop in the crotch joint of two branches. These weaker shoots drain vigor from your plant’s growth and affect the size of your tomatoes. At 3 feet tall or so, remove the leaves from the bottom one foot of the stem. Don’t over prune the rest of the plant. Thin out leaves only if that will allow more sun to reach ripening fruit.
The majority of tomato varieties are indeterminate tomatoes and continue to grow throughout the season. Beefsteak, Big Boy, Brandywine and most cherry types are popular choices. Indeterminates can grow very large, from 6-10 feet, and require sturdy stakes and cages.
Determinate tomatoes need no pruning other than removing all suckers below the first flower cluster to strengthen the main stem. Pruning won’t positively benefit the fruit size or health of the plant because determinate tomato plants mature and ripen all their fruit in a short time (usually about 2 weeks).
You shouldn’t prune determinate tomato plants above the first flower cluster; you’ll just be throwing away potential fruit. Grow determinates if you want a large yield all at one time, like when making sauce or canning. Cages or stakes are recommended; the plants grow to 4 or 5 feet tall. Consider Celebrity and Rutgers of this variety.
If possible, tomatoes should ripen to fullness on the vine; that’s when they taste best and have the most flavor. When ripe, you can pluck a tomato from the vine with a slight tug. When possible, pick from top to bottom. Store tomatoes at room temperature.
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