The Q&A Archives: Tomatoes--watering tips

Question: In our area we have periodic weather extremes; April-June-nitetime temperatures go from 45-50; daytime can vary from 70-98; I know about covering them, for extreme cold; but watering, I have been told from every other day to every 5 or 6 days. I have 3 thriving cherry tomatoe plants, but my regular tomatoes-3 plants, I only have from 2 to 7 tomatoes, also we get exactly 6 hours sunlite. They were real bushy and I pruned them. We had blossoms fall and I used the blossom set. I use the miracle grow plant fertilizer about every 18-20 days.

Answer: Tomatoes are America's favorite garden vegetable. Tomatoes come in determinate and indeterminate types. The vines of determinate, or bush, tomatoes grow 1'-3' long, and the main stem and suckers produce about three flower clusters each. Once flowers form at the vine tips, the plant stops growing. This means determinate types set fruit once and then stop. Determinate type tomatoes rarely need staking. Indeterminate tomatoes have sprawling vines that grow 6'-20' long. They produce flower clusters at every second leaf. They keep growing and producing unless stopped by frost or disease, giving you fresh tomatoes all season long.

Tomatoes require an even supply of water throughout the season; an irregular water supply will cause your tomatoes to develop problems. Tomatoes need at lease one inch of rain or irrigation water per week for steady growth. In hot, dry areas, their needs go up to two inches of water per week. Water thoroughly and deeply to encourage the tomato roots to develop deep, extensive root systems. Water only when needed; soil that's constantly saturated will not supply air to the roots. If the soil is sandy, plan to water every 4-5 days. If it's heavy, water thoroughly every 7-10 days.

Here are some general tomato growing guidelines: Begin by finding the sunniest spot in your garden and amending the soil in preparation to planting tomatoes. Amend the soil with plenty of organic matter. Then sow seeds or plant transplants, adding two stakes to each planting hole, or placing a wire cage over the plant. Mulch the top of the soil to help suppress weeds and retain moisture. As the plants grow, gently tie them to the stakes, or pull the stems through the wire cages. It's not necessary to prune the plants, just keep the vines off the ground by tying them to the supports. A weekly dose of liquid seaweed will increase fruit production. When plants flower, side-dress with compost and when small fruits appear, feed with manure tea.

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