Tomatoes are easy to love and easy to grow. Here are a few tips for planting them, getting you on your way to this summer’s bumper crop.
Tomato Harvest Here You Come
- Choose healthy starts. Grow your own from seed or pick them up at your neighborhood nursery. You may even find your nursery grows their own starts or at least buys locally. If so, this is a huge bonus. It means these particular plants are likely to be better adapted to your distinct climate.
- Know where you’re going to plant and prep the soil, area, or container.
Pruning & Planting Tomatoes
- Pinch off the lower branches and leaf points near the base of the plant as shown above. When buried, roots will grow from these points increasing overall root development. The healthier the root system the healthier and more robust the plant — improving your chances for a long, bountiful harvest. *Note: this technique is unique to tomatoes.
- When using a container, I like to add drain rock to the bottom inch or so to improve drainage. Tomatoes don’t like what gardeners call “wet feet”. They need regular, consistent watering and soil that drains well.
- I use an organic soil, compost mixture that is light, crumbly and rich but not too rich. Soil too high in nitrogen will produce a plant with loads of leaves and fewer flowers and therefore less fruit. Also, if adding fertilizer this your chance to sprinkle some in near root zone. Choose an organic fertilizer designed for tomatoes and other veggies with an NPK ratio like a 5-7-4 or 5-10-10 (the three numbers typically shown on fertilizer packaging). Or simply amend with worm castings.
- Release your start from its container once your soil is ready and tease loose the roots if it’s root bound. This will tell it, “Hey, you’re free to grow.”
- Place your start so that the newly pruned stem and leaf scars are covered in soil, burying your plant by about 1/4 to 1/2 its original height (depending on how much of the bottom growth you removed).
- Tuck your plant in with soil and press gently around the base so it’s anchored and sturdy.
- Next, prune your tomato by pinching off the leaves growing from the axillary branching points as seen above. These leaves will eventually form into branches with more leaves, taking energy away from flowering and fruiting branches. Pruning also helps keep your plants open and airy, improving circulation and allowing sunlight to do its work. Continue to prune plants as they grow.
- Finally, water and stake tomatoes. Use cages, ladders, or a trellis system to give them the support they need.
That’s it for now. You’re ready to go! Water consistently until the dry farming stage, prune and feed your plant occasionally as it grows.
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This article was originally published in May of 2014.