Tomato Talk : May 30

Tomato Talk

A Full Season of Tomato-Growing Information

Tomato varieties

Plant a variety of tomatoes and reap the rewards.

It's time to plant.

Remember these essentials:

1. Tomatoes need root development. Here are two ways to plant for maximum root development: either dig a “trench” for each tomato plant, laying it on its side and covering the entire stem with soil, or prune off the plant’s bottom pair of leaves, then bury it deeply in the ground, right up to the remaining leaves. Either way, rootlets will grow along the stem, increasing the plant’s ability to draw nutrients and water from the soil.

2. Tomatoes need space. They’re small at first, and it’s tempting to crowd them. But remember: some tomatoes grow 6+ feet tall. Plant them 2 to 3 feet apart to ensure the air circulation they need to prevent disease.

3. Tomatoes need support. Indeterminate tomatoes (those that grow and set fruit all season) need sturdy cages (2 x 2 x 6 feet) or stakes (4 to 8 feet tall) to keep their branches and fruit off the ground. Save small wire cages for determinate (18- to 24-inch) plants.

4. Tomatoes need water—but in the right place. Water tomatoes at the base of the plants—soaker hoses are great for this—to keep leaves from being splattered by soil (which can harbor fungus and bacteria). Water early in the morning so leaves dry out quickly; wet leaves can create disease conditions, too. Mulch the ground around the plants with a few inches of straw or lightweight material to conserve precious moisture. Tomato plants can react to wild swings of moisture by cracking, scarring, and other spoiling effects. They love even moisture—the opposite of woody plants and turf, which appreciate a bit of drought between deep infrequent soakings.

Try this next year: Starting Seed Indoors

Did you start your seedlings under lights this year? Here are a few tips to try for more robust transplants next year:

When starting tomatoes under lights, keep the lights between 2 and 4 inches above the seedlings. This encourages plants to put energy into building a good stem, instead of reaching toward the light, which may produce more sparse, spindly seedlings. How much light is enough? Between 12 and 16 hours. Some people have success with a combination of natural sunlight and plant grow lights.

Use a heating pad at low temperature (70 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit) underneath your seedling trays to keep soil warm to speed germination and prevent "damping off." When your seedling starts out looking great, but then suddenly develops a fluffy, white, cobweb-like growth—and then abruptly dies off, that's "damping off." Usually, Fusarium spores living in the soil are the culprit. Damping off typically occurs when soil is too moist and cool.

Pinching out the center leaves on the growing tips of tomatoes forces new growth to appear along the stem of the seedling. This can create more dense foliage and a heartier stem for your future transplant. When to pinch? Wait for your seedling to be around 6 inches tall before you pinch.