While my parents both carry the title of Master Gardener from the local agriculture exchange, I cannot claim such wisdom. Having grown up on 10 acres with parents who planted a garden every year, I did learn a thing or two through osmosis. But honestly, I never realized it until this year. Late last summer, we had new neighbors move into the home behind us. It happened to be around the tail end of tomato harvest and I was more than happy sharing the bounty with my new friends. As do all the other neighbors I share with, she raved about how wonderful the fresh tomatoes were and how much she (and her family) enjoyed them. Fast forward to a couple months ago and she began asking me questions about what she would need to do to plant tomatoes on her own. She was starting from seed and was hoping they would be successful. Needless to say, a couple weeks ago she was ready to start planting her young tomato plants, all the questions started coming… and I was confident in being able to answer them! Thought I might share some of the gardening tips I gave to her.
5 Beginner Tips to Caring for Tomato Plants
Where to Plant
If you haven’t planted already this year, make sure you select a variety that has a shorter time to maturity. You’ll find this information on the name card that is in each plant when you purchase it at the store. Tomato plants like the sun and it’s important to plant them in a part of your yard that is going to provide that. You will likely want to plant them near the fence line of your yard to minimize the disruption to the rest of the yard being able to be used. Be mindful of the shading provided by the fence when deciding on a location. If you’re trying to decide between planting directly in the ground or in a raised bed, it all depends on how many you want to plant and outside influences such as pets. When we first started our garden, we had dogs so we opted for raised beds to discourage the dogs from watering the plants for us.
Cages vs Stakes
Both cages and stakes are viable options, but given a choice, I would say cages do the best job with the least amount of breakage late in the season. There are two main reasons to cage your tomato plants: weight and rot. Have you ever seen tomatoes on the vine at the grocery store? Imagine all those together still attached to the plant. It’s heavy and puts a lot of strain on the vine. By caging the tomatoes, you provide them with a place to lean when all that weight becomes too much to bear. Aside from that, being elevated has the additional benefit of providing them a cleaner place to ripen. While stakes do an okay job, it puts an awful lot of strain on the vines when the tomatoes start to become plentiful. As I explained to the neighbor, some plants such as melons, cucumbers and squash are fine growing along the ground, but tomatoes tend to rot quicker as well as invite bugs when they are ripening directly on the dirt.
While a cage isn’t needed at first, the sooner you can surround the plant with it the better. As soon as the tomato plants start to grow, you’ll want to make sure you feed the plants into the center of the cage. Daily I head to the garden to raise any leaves over the top of the next tier of the cage. The more mature the plant gets, the more difficult it becomes to bend them back into the center. Being diligent about this in the early days is key to maximizing the effectiveness of the cage.
In addition to having healthy soil to start with, adding a little extra vitamins isn’t going to hurt. I sprinkle Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food pellets on around the plants as soon as I plant them then about midway through the season to revitalize the soil. One container of Miracle Grow can last several seasons if you only have a small garden. It’s important to read the instructions on how, when and where to apply to make sure you are helping the plants and not harming them.
Just like us, being in the sun can make us thirsty. The difference, however, is that while we like to run through a sprinkler as the sun beats down on us, tomato plants do not. Make sure you water the ground around the plant and not the leaves. Wet leaves that are getting blasted by a strong sun can burn. I prefer to water in the early morning or later in the afternoon or evening. I’ll usually saturate the ground immediately surrounding the plant, but also extend beyond that as well to help provide an additional moisture barrier These were some of the key tips I offered the neighbor and as I peeked over the wall the other day to talk to them, I was happy to see the neighbor’s plants are doing well and should provide her with a nice harvest as the summer progresses. Have you ever planted tomatoes?