Don’t Be Afraid-O of the Tomat-O
- At least 8 hours of sun per day
- Protection from wind gusts
- Easy access to water
Do you want cherry tomatoes for snacks and salads? Sweet 100s may be the ticket. How about a big, flavorful heirloom, like the Cherokee Purple? Or, do you just want a more traditional tomato for slicing, dicing, cooking and canning? Try Celebrities or Early Girls. If you’re feeling adventurous, grow different types! When picking your plants, keep a few things in mind:
- Indeterminate tomatoes have wandering vines that produce fruit throughout the season, and determinate tomatoes (or “bush tomatoes”) stay a fixed size and tend to produce all their fruit close to the same time. Check the plant marker in the seedling container to find out which plant is which.
- Try and get disease-resistant hybrids, indicated with initials V/F/T/N on the plant marker (V-Verticillium wilt, F- Fusarium wilt, T- Tobacco mosaic virus, N- Nematodes, you can learn about these diseases and their effects on tomatoes here)
- Choose healthy looking transplants that are about as wide as they are tall. Stems should be sturdy–at least as thick as a pencil– and the foliage should be thick and dark green.
Ready the soil for transplanting; it’s a tomato’s best friend:
- Tomatoes like rich, well-draining soil that is dark in color and light in texture. If the plants are going into the garden, make sure the soil is tilled and amended with compost and something like vermiculite or peat moss to aerate and prevent compaction.
- If you’re going with containers, pick a good potting soil–which will already be balanced, amended and ready to go. The pots (typically one pot per plant) should be big enough to hold at least 3 gallons of soil, and the bigger the better! Remember, the more roots can expand, the more tomatoes they will be able to support!
Move the seedlings from their nursery or seed containers into their larger growing station:
- When the danger of frost* has passed, transplant seedlings into the ground or into their pots. Make a hole big enough in the soil not just for the root ball, but to bury the plant except for the top 3-4 tiers of branches. A tomato can grow roots along the entire length of its stem, so covering part of it promotes a strong, dense root system under the soil.
- Gently pinch off any flowers or fruits starting to form on the branches– you don’t want the plant spending any energy on those yet!
- Firm the soil around the base of the plant and water evenly.
- It’s a good idea to stake in tomato cages or other supports when plants are still small, so they’ll be supported as they grow.
- Mulching on top of the soil around the base of the plant with several inches of straw, bark, commercial plastic, fabric, or dried grass clippings will also help to retain moisture, block weeds and keep low-forming fruit clean from soil-born ailments.
*In Colorado, the last frost date can be tricky. Usually, but not always, it’s after Memorial Day. It’s best to keep an eye on weather reports and make preparations (like moving plants inside) if temperatures dip much below 45 degrees. For worry-free spring tomato plantings, consider a season-extender, like a Wall-O-Water or frost fabric.
- Tomatoes like to be watered evenly and slowly at regular intervals, and how often really depends on the location, type of soil (and perhaps size of pot) they are growing in. Try and notice how long it takes for the soil to dry out– don’t let it get bone dry– before giving it a deep, slow drink. Also try and focus the water toward the soil instead of the leaves to avoid favorable conditions for pests and diseases.
- Feed plants once a week with a water-soluble fertilizer, such as fish emulsion/seaweed. During the first stages of growing, use a formula that is higher in nitrogen (the first number in the N-P-K sequence) to supply growth to branches, stems and leaves. Later in the season, when the plant is taller and flowers start to appear, switch to a fertilizer formula that focuses more phosphorus (the middle number), so the plant’s energy is focused on the formation and health of fruits.
- Support the plants as they grow, securing their branches to the cage or stake with string, ties or clips.
Quite simply, love those plants of yours.
and admire the fruits of your dedication.