12 Tomato Tricks and Tips

Separate fact from fiction with tried-and-true tomato growing tips.

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Photo By: Image courtesy of Burpee.com

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo By: Image courtesy of Gardeners.com

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

‘Mortgage Lifter’ Heirloom Tomato

A fantastic tomato harvest starts with proper planting and care. When it comes to growing tomatoes, it seems that everyone has a go-to trick for yielding the biggest and tastiest tomatoes. Learn the truth behind some of the most popular tomato tips and finesse your growing techniques.

Bury Eggshells

Does this trick work? Yes. It’s best to break up eggshells as you toss them into the hole. Use three or four crushed eggshells per plant. You can also soak eggshells in water for several days and use that water to water plants. This works well with potted tomatoes. What do eggshells supply? Calcium, which helps defeat blossom end rot. Some gardeners bury a piece of chalk in planting holes to supply calcium. You can also sprinkle crushed eggshells around tomato seedlings to keep slugs, pillbugs and earwigs at bay.

Give Plants an Asprin

Does this trick work? Yes. Some gardeners dissolve one 325-mg aspirin per gallon of water and spray seedlings a few days prior to planting. Other gardeners toss two aspirin in the planting hole. Both methods jump-start a plant’s immune system. Why? Tomato plants produce salicylic acid (found in aspirin) in response to microbe attacks. Giving aspirin to plants prior to planting and/or at planting time kicks the plant’s immune system into high gear, which helps it to fend off early attacks. Use the cheapest aspirin you can find—uncoated tablets dissolve easiest.

Red Mulch for Tomatoes

Does this trick work? Yes. Red mulch increases tomato harvest by up to 20 percent. The red color reflects far-red light wavelengths up into tomato leaves, which causes plants to produce a protein that speeds up growth and development. The result is faster-growing plants, faster-yielding plants and more, tastier fruit. Red mulch also works with red peppers, melons and strawberries.

Bury Your Compost

Does this trick work? Yes. With garden-planted tomatoes, start burying compostable materials in the tomato patch four to six weeks before planting. Focus on kitchen waste, including egg shells, coffee grinds and produce parts. The first time you bury items, dig a deep hole—two shovel blades deep. With subsequent burials, dig more shallowly. The composting process breaks down these items to enrich soil. This technique works best in raised beds where soil has warmed.

Use Epsom Salts

Does this trick work? It depends on who you ask. The scientific community says it only works in magnesium-deficient soils. Your neighborhood tomato expert may swear by Epsom salts (a tablespoon or two per planting hole) to keep blossom end rot at bay. Science supports Epsom salt use for intense cropping situations (think commercial farms) and even then only in soils that lack magnesium. Save your Epsom salts for soaking muscles sore from gardening.

Remove Lower Leaves

Does this trick work? Yes, but you can also bury leaves. Some gardeners pinch off lower leaves to create a bare expanse of stem. The idea is that you then bury the lower stem section so it will generate roots. Other gardeners accomplish the same thing by simply burying the lower stem—leaves and all. Either method works.

Add Sugar for Sweet Fruit

Does this trick work? No. Some old-timers recommend adding from a tablespoon to a handful of sugar to each planting hole to help ensure sweet fruit. The sweetness of a tomato is determined by its genetics. Save the sugar for making green tomato jam.

Remove Suckers

Does this trick work? It depends. The adage goes that removing suckers improves the harvest. In reality, removing suckers yields fewer, larger fruit. If that's your goal, pinch away. Other gardeners don’t remove suckers because tomatoes form on the suckers. They say that removing suckers reduces overall harvest. A middle of the road approach works well, especially in regions with shorter growing seasons. Allow a few older suckers low on the plant to mature, and keep ones highest on the plant removed. Removing suckers is a good idea with tomatoes in pots.

Dig Deep

Does this trick work? Yes. The idea is that you want to bury as much of the tomato stem as possible so it roots. When you plant, dig a hole that’s two shovel blades deep or use a post-hole digger. Or, instead of digging down, dig a trench about 12 inches long. With trench planting, lay the tomato in the trench, gently bending the growing tip so it will stand above soil when the trench is filled in. Trench planting works well with raised beds where soil isn’t too deep.

Add Bone Meal to Soil

Does this trick work? Yes. Bone meal supplies phosphorus, a necessary nutrient for tomatoes to blossom well and produce lots of fruit. Bone meal also helps make calcium more available to tomato roots, which helps address blossom end rot. Add a handful to the bottom of each planting hole, stirring it into soil at the base of the hole.

Bury Tomato Stems

Does this trick work? Yes. At planting time, don’t worry if tomato seedlings have developed a lean look or are too tall and leggy. Tomato stems generate roots with ease. A buried tomato stem produces roots—the start of an extensive root system that can support a tomato plant full of fruit.

Fish Head Fertilizer

Adding fish heads, tails or other parts to planting holes is a tried and true way of supplying plants with a variety of nutrients: nitrogen, calcium and other minerals. Where to get fish parts? Check with local restaurants or fresh meat markets. You can also use fish meal if you can’t get an actual fish. Or try any form of seafood—crustaceans provide a nice supply of calcium, which helps defeat blossom end rot.