Raising Healthy Tomato Plants

These seven to-dos will help you grow the best tomatoes ever.

  • Ingredients for a Good Harvest

    America's favorite home-garden vegetable requires full sun, good soil, regular nutrition and sufficient moisture. And that's easier than it sounds. If your soil is poor, amend the planting site with liberal quantities of compost and high-quality bagged garden soil. For containers — you can grow a very respectable crop in a simple 5-gallon plastic bucket with holes drilled in the bottom — use a good potting soil with moisture-retentive properties.

  • tomato plants

    Keep the Fruit Off the Ground

    Tomato plants need support; their stems are too weak for the heavy fruit. An age-old method is to insert a wooden stake near the base of the plant (do this when you plant), and as the plant grows, use wire ties or soft cloth to affix major stems to the stake.

  • Option 2: Cages

    If you use cages instead of stakes, install the device while the plant is still small and the stems are relatively short and supple. As the plant grows, you'll occasionally need to help a stem find the right support.

  • Water the Roots, Not the Leaves

    Tomato plants need a steady of supply of moisture — about an inch of water per week — throughout the growing season. To reduce the likelihood of foliar diseases, avoid wetting the leaves, especially if you're watering in the evening.

  • Blossom End Rot

    Usually the result of a calcium deficiency brought on by drought stress, this common condition results in a sunken, decayed spot on the bottom of the tomato. In addition to the inch of water per week, mulch to conserve moisture. Also, adjust your soil's pH to about 6.5 and avoid using ammonia fertilizers.

  • Mega Plant Muncher

    The tomato hornworm, so named for its horn-like rear end, is usually an easily managed pest. Keep on the lookout for large caterpillars (up to 4 inches long) on the foliage; they're sometimes hard to spot because they blend in so well with the leaves. Hand picking works fine.

  • Look Out for Whiteflies

    If you spot tiny white insects flying about your plants, take a closer look. Like aphids, whiteflies suck the juices from a plant and can seriously eat into your tomato harvest. A few whiteflies are no problem, but hundreds are. The best control sounds yucky, but it's easy: squish the egg casings on the underside of the leaf or spray the foliage with the hose (during the day only, not in the evenings). Some insecticidal soaps work too, but test the product on a small area first as some soaps burn the leaves. The good news about chemical-free gardening is that Mother Nature usually steps in with her own control; in this case, many wasps parasitize whiteflies and will solve the problem for you.

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