Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
March, 2001
Regional Report

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'Tangerine Beauty' crossvine is well adapted to growing on a fence or arbor. It's coral-orange blooms burst forth for a stunning mid-spring show.

Growing Terrific Tomatoes

When it comes to growing vegetables, tomatoes are definitely queen of the garden. They rank number one in the hearts of gardeners, and I'm no exception. No gardening season is complete without a host of new tomato varieties and some friendly growing tips to help get the most from the tomato patch - even if the patch is a terra cotta pot on the back patio.

Skip's Tomatoes

I have grown tomatoes for over 35 years now and have learned (and relearned) some basics that produce a successful harvest of luscious, vine-ripe fruit. While there are definitely many ways to grow tomatoes, some basic techniques and rules of the game are non-negotiable. My 10 tips for terrific tomatoes may seem simple, but they will help you obtain a great crop of tantalizing tomatoes this spring.

10 Tomato Tips

1. Don't plant in the shade. Tomato plants need a minimum of 6 hours of sun to produce large, tasty fruit. Plants grown in shade tend to produce skinny, straggly vines and fewer, less tasty fruits.

2. Prepare the planting site by mixing in organic matter such as compost and fertilizer. Most soils in our area are too low in organic matter and fertility to produce a bountiful tomato crop.

3. Plant in raised beds. Raised beds warm up the soil earlier in the spring. Also, sometimes it rains too much, and tomatoes can't swim! Raised beds shed water better and keep roots from getting waterlogged.

4. Select locally proven varieties with VFN (verticillium, fusarium wilt, and nematode resistant) after their name. Plenty of diseases and insects would love to have a shot at your tomatoes. By selecting a VFN variety you are two diseases and one case of nematodes ahead of the game. Plant two or three different varieties to hedge your bets. I've yet to find the "perfect" variety.

5. Use a starter fertilizer solution when you transplant to get plants off to a good start. The solution could be either a synthetic liquid fertilizer or an organic product such as compost or manure tea, or fish emulsion. Pour a cup of diluted solution into the planting hole and then water plants in with the same solution after planting.

6. Mulch the soil with grass clippings or straw a few weeks after planting to control weeds, hold in moisture, and reduce some disease problems. If you mulch too early, the soil will not warm as fast, and growth and fruiting will be delayed.

7. Stake or cage plants to keep fruit off the ground. If you cage plants without pruning the suckers, you'll get more, but smaller and later, fruit. Staking plants and removing suckers produce fewer, but larger and earlier, fruit.

8. Feed plants weekly with a balanced fertilizer beginning after the first fruit set. Growing, productive plants get hungry. Once the first fruits set, you really need to help plants along with good nutrition.

9. Water regularly when the weather begins to heat up. Deep, infrequent soakings are best.

10. Inspect plants regularly for signs of insect and disease damage. Early control is important.

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