The Q&A Archives: how to protect tomato plants

Question: first time doing tomatoes on own. what is best to put on them

Answer: Healthy tomatoes will be resistant to disease problems and you won't need to put anything on them. Tomato plants need at least 1 1/2 feet between plants, preferably 2 feet, and that's for plants that are grown upright on stakes or cages. If no support is given and they are allowed to sprawl on the ground, tomato plants need twice as much room. Plants spaced too closely will produce few fruit and have more disease problems as the foliage stays wet. Plant according to how big they will get, not on the size of the transplants.

Tomato plants, like any plant that produces fruit, need at least seven hours of direct sun. If you have less, you will have fantastic foliage but very few fruit. There is nothing-repeat, nothing-that can overcome this light requirement. Fruit production takes a tremendous amount of energy, and tomato plants, like all plants, get that energy from the sun.

Feed the plants, but not too much -Tomatoes like a balanced fertilizer, with similar amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Avoid using fertilizers that are intended for lawns. The high nitrogen will push the leaves at the expense of fruit. Look for fertilizers designed for tomatoes and follow the label directions. Or better yet, throw a shovel full of compost around the plants every other week.

Keep the plants well watered - When the soil around tomato plants dries out, a serious problem results. Calcium, one of the handful of minerals needed by all plants to grow, is absorbed by the plant's roots along with water. If water is limited, so is calcium. The result is blossom-end rot, a brown, dry, leathery spot found on the bottom of fruit. Don't be fooled by magic remedies that promise to fix this. Special fertilizers, egg shells or a Tums tablet placed next to the plant won't make a difference. Only water will make the difference. So make sure your soils don't dry out and use mulch to help conserve moisture.

Follow these guidelines and you'll have a terrific harvest.

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