How to successfully grow tomatoes

Have you planted your tomato plants and crossed your fingers for a good crop? There are several things you can do besides wishing and hoping. Some gardeners use their success in growing tomatoes as a standard in judging themselves. Let's see what you can do to produce a good crop.

There are so many variables in growing tomatoes I will highlight just a few.

Location

Tomatoes grow best in a level area, with loose, well-drained soil, and at least six to eight hours of sun. Avoid windy locations, but if you can't, build a windbreak. Locate near an easily accessible source of water. Choose a spot near your home so you can work in it when you have a few minutes. Avoid planting near trees and shrubs. It may cause too much shade and competition for nutrients and water.

Try not to plant tomatoes in the same location in the garden more often than once every three years. Rotation prevents the buildup of insects and disease.

You can not change the location at this time, but here are a few things you can do to produce a bumper crop.

Watering

Run the hose at the base of the plants. Do not water tomatoes with an overhead sprinkler. Water thoroughly when you water, then hold off a while for several days. Be aware of weather conditions, like wind and intense heat, and don't let the plants lack water. That may stunt the plants and the uneven water supply can result in blossom end-rot or cracking of tomatoes.

Adequate soil moisture is essential for good crop growth. A healthy plant is 75 percent to 90 percent water, which is used for the plant's vital functions, such as photosynthesis, support, and transportation of nutrients and sugars to various parts of the plant.

Overwatering can be a common problem for tomato growers. One to two inches of water per week is usually enough. Soil should be wetted to a depth of 12 inches each time you water and not watered again until the top few inches begin to dry out.

Feeding

Tomatoes are heavy feeders. Use a starter solution for transplants. Sidedress one to two weeks before the first tomato ripens with 1 ½ ounces of 33-0-0 per 10 foot row. Sidedress again two weeks after the first ripe tomato with a balanced fertilizer such as 5-10-5; repeat one month later.

Pollination

The wind does a good job of spreading the tomato pollen. If the plants are not flowering or not fruiting, it is a good practice to lightly shake or tap the plants.

Cultivation

Be careful when you pull weeds or cultivate around tomato plants. Most plants are shallow rooted, and you could disturb surface feeder roots.

Staking

Staking or caging have unique advantages. Staking requires more initial work, but it makes caring for tomatoes easier. Since they are off the ground, fruit rots are reduced and harvesting is much easier. Staking should be done soon after transplanting.

Growing tomatoes in cages allows the tomato plant to grow in its natural manner, but keeps the fruit and leaves off the ground, providing the same advantages as staking. Using wire cages requires an initial expense and a storage area later.

You may allow the plants to grow without any support. It looks a little messy, but does not affect plant production.

Pruning

To remove some foliage is a good idea. It allows for better air circulation. However, the leaves provide shade for the flowers and fruit, which are sensitive to the hot sun. In order for the fruit to ripen without sun scalding, abundant foliage should be present.