Tomatoes are an integral part of summer in the south. There’s nothing like picking a ripe tomato off the vine. Whether you make a delicious tomato sandwich, tomato pie, or toss them in a garden salad, tomatoes are a sure sign that summer is here.
Growing your own tomatoes can save you a lot of money and the taste is of a fresh homegrown tomato is well worth the effort. Here are some of our best tips to enhance your tomato harvest.
Like all plants, tomato plants need consistent soil moisture; keep the soil wet enough to prevent wilting of the tomatoes but not so wet that the roots develop soggy feet. Garden tomatoes generally require 1-2 inches of water per week, but that can change depending on weather conditions, such as excessive drought, and the size of the plant. When the plants are young, drip irrigation is preferred in order to avoid strong streams of water that erode the soil. As the tomato plants mature, water more slowly and deeply. The roots of a tomato plant can grow 2-3 feet deep in loose soil, so the plant needs to be watered around 18″ deep. This is especially important in the summer heat. Remember, irregular moisture swings and dry soil can lead to problems such as blossom end rot and fruit splitting.
First, a quick lesson on the two types of tomatoes: Determinate and Indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes grow to about 3 feet in height and begin to set flowers for fruit. Determinate tomatoes can be easily well-managed in a home garden and containers. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow and produce both new leaves and new flowers and should be staked or started in tomato cages. Unless damaged by disease or insects, indeterminate tomato plants will continue to grow and produce fruit all summer and into early fall. Know your tomato type before you put them in a container or the ground and make allowances for their growth pattern. If plants are spaced too closely, either in a pot or ground bed, the plants will crowd each other, restricting airflow, sunlight, and water supply.
Too Much Fertilizer
It is advisable to provide additional nitrogen and nutrients to tomatoes after transplanting and once tomatoes begin to produce fruit. Adding too much nitrogen, however, can result in the rapid growth of lush, carbohydrate-loaded leaves that attract insect infestation, and slowed or reduced yields. Reduce or discontinue fertilizing with nitrogen after early summer to avoid growth spurts and an overly leafy plant that will wilt during the summer heat.
You do not need to prune determinate tomatoes; doing so may reduce the harvest. Prune indeterminate varieties to improve airflow; this keeps air and sunshine flowing freely in and around the plants and helps in preventing disease. Pruning also increases more yield per plant as well as helps with producing larger fruit. Pinch indeterminate varieties back when about 8 inches tall. This will help to encourage lateral growth of the plant or spreading of the plant.
Not Mulching Properly
One reason Southerners love tomato plants is that tomatoes do so well in the heat. You need to keep the soil around the plants moist and cool, however. Dry soil can lead to dry and diseased plants. Layer mulch 2 – 4 inches deep around the plant and pull it back about 2 inches from the stem itself. Form a small “moat” with the mulch, which will allow for water to get deep into the roots. Mulching not only holds in moisture but helps to control weeds and prevent the spread of disease.
Article sourced from SouthernLiving.com