Tomatoes are considered tender warm-seasoned crops that thrive in the sun and cannot tolerate frost. Furthermore, it’s crucial not to put tomato plants in the ground too early. You can elevate their growth by considering some companion plants to grow around them like basil. Planning to grow superfoods in your garden? What can be a better option than growing red and juicy tomatoes in your garden space.The soil isn’t considered isn’t warm enough to plant tomatoes outdoors until late spring or early summer in most regions except for zone 10, where they are a fall and winter crop. Depending on the variety, tomatoes can take from 60 days to more than 100 days to harvest. As a result of their relatively long growing season requirements (and late planting date), many gardeners plant small “starter plants” or transplants opposed to seeds after the weather has warmed up in the spring. While many gardeners purchase their transplants at a garden center or nursery, you can grow your own from seed indoors. When purchasing transplants, choose young tomato plants from a reputable nursery. Strong starter plants are short and stocky with a dark green color and straight, sturdy stems about the size of a pencil or thicker. They should not have yellowing leaves, spots, or stress damage, or have flowers or fruits already in progress.
Planting and Growing Information:
Be sure to select a site with full sun. 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight are preferred in northern regions. In southern regions, light afternoon shade (natural or applied; e.g., row covers) will help tomatoes survive and thrive. Be sure to select a space where tomatoes (and members of their family, especially eggplants, peppers, and potatoes) have not grown in the previous couple of years. Since tomatoes are long-season, heat-loving plants that can’t bear frost, be sure to wait until the weather has warmed up in the spring before starting them. If you’re starting tomatoes from seed, sow indoors 6 weeks before the last expected spring frost date in your area. Sow seeds ½ inch deep in small trays. Plant seedlings outdoors about 2 weeks after that date or when temperatures stay in the mid-50s both day and night. Should you have a long enough growing season, it’s viable to direct-seed tomatoes in the garden soil (½ inch deep), but not before the soil is at least 55°F. The soil should have a slightly acidic to neutral pH.
If you’re purchasing or growing the start plants, you need to “harden off” the seedlings for a week before transplanting them in the ground. For a few hours on the first day, set them outdoors in the shade; gradually increase this time each day to include some direct sunlight. Transplant your seedlings (or your nursery-grown plants) into the ground outdoors after all danger of frost has passed and soil is at least 60°F. At planting, place tomato stakes or cages in the soil. By staking and caging, it will keep fruit that’s developing off the ground (to avoid disease and pests), as well as help the plant to stay upright.
When planting seedlings, pinch off a few of the lower leaves. There are 2 ways to set seedlings in the soil. The first way is to place each root ball deep enough so that the bottom leaves are just above the soil’s surface. Roots will grow all along the plant’s stem underground. Plant seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart as plants that are crowded won’t receive adequate song and may result in the fruit not ripening. The second way is to lay long, leggy transplants on their sides in trenches 3 to 4 inches deep. Bury the stems up to the first set of true leaves; roots will develop in the buried stem. If you choose this method of planting, think about placing four tomato plants in compass-point placements (north, south, east, west). You can fertilize and water the middle plants thanks to this arrangement. Make sure you are giving the plants adequate room to spread out. To prevent shock to the roots, make sure to water well.
Water plants in the morning so that they have enough moisture to survive a hot day. When planting tomato seedlings or transplants, water them liberally during the first few days. Then, during the growing season, water with roughly 2 inches (or 1.2 gallons) per square foot every week. A robust root system is encouraged by deep watering. Be sure to avoid overhead watering and afternoon watering. To minimize water splashing on the leaves of a plant, water at the plant’s base or soil level (which invites disease). 5 weeks after transplanting, add a layer of mulch to maintain moisture, prevent soil splashing on lower leaves, and manage weeds. Apply an organic mulch of 2 to 4 inches, such as bark chips, straw, or hay. Locate several flat rocks and set one next to each tomato plant to help it survive dry spells. Water cannot evaporate from the soil because of the rocks.
Pinch off suckers when growing tomatoes on vines (new, tiny stems and leaves between branches and the main stem). This promotes air flow and lets more sunlight reach the center of the plant. Use soft string, twine, rags, nylon stockings, or twine to gently attach the stems to the posts. Trim the lower leaves from the stem’s bottom 12 inches as the plant grows.
Dig soil to about 1 foot deep and mix in aged manure and/or compost. Give it 2 weeks to break down before planting. When transplanting, you should add some bonemeal to the planting hole. Side-dress plants, applying liquid seaweed or fish emulsion or an organic fertilizer every 2 weeks, beginning when tomatoes are about 1 inch in diameter. Should you be using an organic granular formula, pull mulch back a few inches and scratch 2 to 3 tablespoons of fertilizer around the drip line of the plant. Water in and replace frequently. Continue to fertilize tomatoes about 3 to 4 weeks until frost. Make sure to avoid fast-release fertilizers and high-nitrogen fertilizers as too much nitrogen will create lush foliage but few flowers or little or no fruit.
Be sure to leave garden tomatoes on the vine for as long as possible. Regardless of size, harvest tomatoes when they are firm and very red, with perhaps some yellow remaining around the stem. Harvest tomatoes of other colors (orange, purple, yellow, and another rainbow shade) once they turn the correct color. In the event the temperatures begin to drop and your tomatoes aren’t ripening, you can do one of two methods. The first method is to pull up the entire plant, brush off dirt, remove foliage, and hang the plant upside down in a basement or garage. The second method is to place mature, pale green tomatoes stem up in a paper bag and loosely seal it, or wrap them in newspaper and place in a cardboard box. Continue by storing in a cool (55°F to 70°F) dark place. While cooler temperatures slow ripening, warmth speeds it. Be sure to check weekly and remove diseased, soft, spotted, or ripe fruit. It’s crucial to never place tomatoes on a sunny windowsill to ripen because they may rot before they’re ripe.