Tomatoes are a summer garden favorite. With a little bit of extra care, you can increase the health and productivity of your tomato plants. Just follow these five simple tips, and you'll be on your way to growing your best tomatoes ever.
1. Pinch off suckers.
Suckers are the new shoots of the tomato plant that grow between the main stem and the leafy "branches." By pinching off the suckers, you will be directing energy to the fruit instead of encouraging excess foliage. A word of warning: Suckers can quickly get out of control. Check in with your plants often.
2. Remove lower leaves if they touch the ground.
When lower leaves touch the ground, they are more susceptible to both insect damage and disease. Quickly snap off leaves (snap down) with your fingers or use a pair of scissors. Don't forget to clear the debris from your garden as plant debris encourages disease and pests as well.
3. Stake or trellis your plants.
Number three is related to number two. In order to reduce pests and be sure plants have enough air circulation, stake or trellis your tomato plants. In addition, don't overcrowd your tomatoes. If you've planted them too close together, consider removing a few and transplanting them elsewhere.
Also, if you are tying your tomatoes to stakes, you have to keep up with their fast growth. Be prepared to check in each week to tie unruly growth to the stake.
4. If your tomatoes aren't growing enough, feed them.
Tomatoes love rich soil with lots of organic matter. In other words, when you plant your tomatoes, it's a good idea to add some compost to the soil and even put a scoop into each hole. If you notice your tomatoes looking a little tired, even in mid-season, don't hesitate to add a little bit of compost around each plant or either treat roots or leaves with a liquid fertilizer or a compost tea.
5. Be sure your tomatoes don't dry out.
When tomatoes set fruit, they need consistent levels of water. If you let your tomatoes dry out too much and then try to play catch-up by giving them tons of water, they may end up with blossom-end rot, a condition where the bottom of the tomato has large black spots, or the fruit may simply crack. One way to control moisture is to mulch your plants with straw or grass clippings. The mulch will help the soil retain water in times of drought, and your tomatoes will be much happier.
Remember to be vigilant and look for signs of late blight, which has already been reported in many eastern states.
What's your best tip for growing tomatoes?
Image via Shari Altman