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Tweaking Your Tomatoes

Tips for keeping your tomato plants on track.

You've got them in the ground — your favorite varieties and maybe some trial balloons. They're in a spot where they'll get at least six hours of sun a day. And, of course, you planted them well — deep, preferably — in a loamy, well-enriched soil. What can you do now?

  • Give your tomatoes a regular supply of moisture — about 1-1/2 inches of water per week when they're fruiting. When first planted, a tomato transplant — depending on your climate, humidity and type of soil — will need to be watered every couple of days. After it settles in, water less often. Tomatoes in containers may have to be watered every day or two. Inconsistent watering can lead to such problems as blossom end rot. The best advice is usually to water less often but deeply. Certain growing systems help offset the difficulties of perfect-tomato growing by regulating the plant's supply of water.

  • Feed lightly with a low-nitrogen fertilizer when the plant starts to flower; top dressing of compost and/or a hit of compost tea is great too.

  • Regularly pinch off the new growth in the angle of the main stem and side branches; this keeps the plant open.

  • Stake the plant to keep the foliage and fruit off the ground. You'll absolutely have to stake the indeterminate types (the types that keep growing), but even determinate types benefit from staking.

  • Keeping your plants healthy will help minimize disease. Know what to look for: Tomato troubles and what to do about them.

  • Root a few cuttings of a healthy plant in water, pot up in a container for a week or so, then move into the garden to extend your harvest.

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