Growing Tomatoes

Sungold cherry tomatoesThe tomato is Ohio State University Extension’s Plant of the Week, and the profile below was sent to me via Sandy Farber of the University of the District of Columbia’s Cooperative Extension Service. This is good background info about growing tomatoes–if you want to dig deeper, the University of Maryland Extension office has more growing details, including videos. Keep your tomatoes happy so you can enter them in this year’s Tastiest Tomato Contest!

The tomato is probably the most widely grown vegetable by the home gardener because it is usually easy to grow and a few plants provide an abundant harvest for most families. Tomatoes are a warm-season crop that should be planted only after danger of frost has passed. Tomatoes are particularly sensitive to low night temperatures and extremely high temperatures. Blossom drop can occur in early spring when daytime temperatures are warm, but night temperatures fall below 55F. This phenomenon will also occur during the summer when daytime temperatures are above 90F and night temperatures are above 75F.

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes that are available for home gardeners. They range widely in size, shape, color, plant type, disease resistance and maturity. Tomato plants fall into one of two types that affect ultimate plant height and cultural requirements. Determinate tomato plants grow to a certain height and then stop. They also flower and set all their fruits within a relatively short period of time. Indeterminate tomato plants grow, flower, and set fruit over the entire growing season. Some of the indeterminate cultivars can easily grow to 8′ tall.

Tomatoes can be grown in many different soil types, but a deep, loamy, well-drained soil supplied with organic matter and nutrients is most suitable. If you have heavy clay soil in your garden, one option is to add organic matter, such as peat moss or compost, to improve soil structure and drainage. Tomato plants require full sun, at least 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Starting seeds indoors early or buying transplants gets tomatoes off to a good start in the garden when warm weather arrives and it will save several weeks in growing time. Proper spacing and plant support are essential for plant health and good fruit production.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and respond well to fertilizer applications. Having your soil tested is the best way to know exactly how much and what type of fertilizers you need to apply. Either too little or too much fertilizer is not good for tomato plants. Applying a starter fertilizer when transplanting will help tomato plants grow faster and flower sooner. Tomato plants need about 1-1.5″ of water per week. Water plants in the morning for the best success. An even moisture supply is important, especially once tomato fruits begin to develop. Once the tomato plants are established, apply an organic mulch (weed free straw or bark chips) to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth.

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