Growing healthy tomatoes in your garden can be a breeze with these tips!
There’s nothing like a big, beautiful tomato that you grew yourself in the garden. Harvesting baskets of tomatoes and making a batch of salsa or tomato sauce from your own, homegrown tomatoes is priceless.
However, growing heirloom tomatoes can be a tremendous challenge. They often struggle with issues of disease or pests. Every year we can’t help but plant them once again, because their flavor is unmatched.
This article will share a few tips for helping you keep those little tomato starts strong and healthy as they grow through the season. Keeping them that way starts before there is any sign of trouble to begin with.
Planting Tomato Plants
All tomatoes are not created equal and can have drastically different needs for spacing.
Determinate tomato varieties will grow to a certain point and produce all its tomatoes at once. Those plants are often smaller than other tomato varieties, and do great for container gardening.
Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow all season long and put out tomatoes all through their growing season. These often need much more garden space than the determinate varieties.
Read your plant information and be sure to give them the space they need, or even a little more than you think they need. Crowding tomato plants leads to excess moisture being trapped within the foliage, and that leads to disease.
It is also an invitation to slugs, who love your tomatoes as much as you do. Additionally, using a trellis will help keep the plants up and maintain air flow to prevent too much moisture in the plants.
If in prior seasons, you found yourself dealing with blight or disease, you don’t want to plant your tomatoes in the same bed or area. The spores from disease live in the soil and planting the same things in the same spot year after year increases the odds of your having to battle the same problems, because you started in a “contaminated” area.
Allow that area a couple years to rest before trying tomatoes there again.
Watering Tomato Plants
Tomatoes are very touchy when it comes to watering. They have a lower need for water than most people think. Watering tomatoes should never be done with a sprinkler, for two reasons.
First, when the entire plant gets wet, it increases the ability for disease and fungus to grow. You can’t help it raining, but you can make sure that when you do the watering, it is done at ground level with drip irrigation, a soaker hose, or a hand-held wand.
Secondly, using an overhead sprinkler (or rain) causes dirt to splatter up onto the lower branches of the tomato plant. That is an invitation to the beginnings of disease on your plants.
Be careful not to over water. Once the fruit starts to form, you should only water them if the leaves look limp during the heat of the day, or the top 3 inches of soil are dry.
While tomatoes don’t need a ton of water, they do need soil with a consistent moisture level.
How often have you had a gorgeous tomato, almost ripe, just suddenly split right open? It happens when a gush of water suddenly hits the plant which causes the tomato to swell faster than the skin, and “pop!”
Mulching around your plants is a great way to maintain that even moisture level. It keeps the roots cool and moist and helps lower the risk of splitting. But again, fungal spores overwinter in the soil. So mulching your garden is an excellent way to prevent the soil from splashing up onto your plants when it rains, and thus minimizing the risk for that as well.
Water your plants in the morning, and let them absorb all the water they need before the heat of the day arrives. Once the sun comes up overhead, the warmth will help any excess moisture on the foliage quickly evaporate.
Prune Your Tomato Plants
Trim out excess foliage from your plant to help with air flow. If you see any leaves that have spots or deformities, remove them immediately. This may help save the plant from further infection. When you discard those leaves, do not compost them. If you do, you’re just contaminating your future compost with disease. I place diseased leaves or plants in a burn bin and dispose of them that way.
If you prune off any disease, it is a good idea to disinfect your tools with a mist of rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution. That way you don’t transfer disease from sick plants to the healthy ones.
Control Insects on Tomato Plants (and the Rest of Your Garden)
Tomato plants don’t often get completely destroyed from pests, but you do want to stop them as soon as you see signs. Small insects like aphids can be taken care of with insecticidal soap.
Larger insects like hornworms, stink bugs or squash bugs can be plucked from the plant and tossed into a jar of soapy water.
Inspect your plants daily for signs of insects. If you see any leaves covered in eggs – make sure to check the bottoms of the leaves – dispose of them.
READ: How to Make Homemade Bug Killer for the Garden (3 Versions!)
These are a few ideas to help you grow big, juicy tomatoes in your garden. Have a great season and grow your own tomatoes!
This article was printed in part, in Hartselle Living Magazine, in the May/June 2019 edition.