The Q&A Archives: Growing tomatoes

Question: How do you grow tomato plants?

Answer: Tomatoes are warm-season plants and should be planted only after danger of frost has passed. Temperature is an important factor in the production of tomatoes, which are particularly sensitive to low night temperatures. Blossom drop can occur in early spring when daytime temperatures are warm, but night temperatures fall below 55 degrees F as well as in summer, when days are above 90 degrees F and nights above 76 degrees F.

Tomatoes can be grown on many different soil types, but a deep, loamy soil, well-drained and supplied with organic matter and nutrients is most suitable. As with most garden vegetables, tomatoes grow best in a slightly acid soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8.

Tomatoes respond well to fertilizer applications, especially phosphorus. Excess nitrogen fertilizer can result in plants with extremely vigorous vine growth but little fruit production. Apply 2-1/2 to 3 pounds of a complete fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, 5-20-20, or 8-16-16 per 100 square feet of garden area. Work the fertilizer into the soil about 2 weeks before planting. An additional sidedressing of a nitrogen fertilizer may be desirable after the first cluster of flowers have set fruit.

Once the tomato plants are established, apply a mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth. If weeds do appear, they may be pulled by hand or removed by shallow cultivation. An even moisture supply is important, especially once the tomato fruits begin to develop. If the soil becomes too dry, blossom-end rot can be a problem. If too much water is applied at one time, ripening fruit may split.
Staked plants are usually pruned to a single or double stem and periodically tied loosely to the stake with soft twine. Pruning is accomplished by removing all the branches or "suckers" that grow from the leaf axils, leaving only the main stem or the main stem and one additional branch near the base. Unsupported and caged tomatoes may be left to branch normally. Staked and pruned tomatoes produce fewer but larger fruit than caged or unsupported plants.

Hope you have a great harvest!

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