If there is one thing that every gardener should realise when they set out on their horticultural adventure, it’s that every gardener has an opinion on the best way for growing tomatoes – and which is the best tomato to grow. With so much dogmatic contention floating about the newbie gardener could be excused for thinking that these were the hardest plants to grow. Well, here’s a newsflash….they’re not!
Quite the opposite really, growing tomatoes is possibly the easiest and most successful producing plants a gardener could have in their veggie patch. And providing you haven’t opted for the F1 hybrids you should see them self-seed after their first year in the ground.
So, what are the 3 easy steps to successful tomato growing? Are you sitting down? Right, here we go…
- Plant a tomato seedling
- Stake it, and
- Water it
Did you miss them? Shall I go over them again?
I can hear you asking, “Surely it’s not that easy?” Darned tootin’ it is, but I will give you some helpful gardening tips for making them even more successful.
Plant a tomato seedling
The obvious starting point is “Which tomato?” and it all depends on your preferences. For me, I like Romas and I will always grow these as the staple crop. I like to play as well so I will usually plant a novelty crop or one that I haven’t tried before. Obviously your choices are going to be different to mine but it doesn’t really matter which tomato seedlings you end up growing. You could even start them out from seeds that you kept from last season.
Once you’ve established which variety(ies) you are going to grow then comes the next most important decision – where to grow them? The most likely option is in some well-draining, rich, loamy soil in your veggie patch but don’t let tradition cloud your planting choices. These days many gardeners are opting for upside-down tomato planters (aff.), growing them in plastic shopping bags or as container plants on their patios or balconies.
It really doesn’t matter where you plant them provided they have access to 6-8 hours of sunlight per day and can be kept moist. Keeping them out of heavy winds is also a must.
Unless you’re using an upside-down tomato planter (which relies on gravity to keep the plant growing) or have trellised your tomato plants you will do well to stake it the moment you plant it. The reason for this, while it may seem ridiculous tying a seedling to a 6″ stake if you were to wait until the plant needed it the chances of damaging the plant’s root systems is inherently greater. Therefore, stake it up from day one.
As the plant grows continue tying the tomato bush to the stake so that gravity won’t end up breaking the branches. In the wild, tomato bushes will naturally flop over because their stems are inadequate to hold the weight of the fruit. However, while this may be the natural way it doesn’t normally produce copious amounts of tomato fruit and their chances of disease are far greater.
While your tomato bush is growing remove the bottom leaves to reduce fungus problems caused by the high amount of moisture these plants need and the diminishing rate of sunlight the bottom of the plants will enjoy. Also, pick out the side shoots that will try to grow between the stem and the main laterals. These are non-producing branches and will only suck the tomato plants energy from it.
The best way to tie a tomato plant to a stake is by using strips of nylon pantyhose looped in a figure-eight setting. This protects the bush from rubbing against the stake and still gives the plant a small amount of movement so that it doesn’t snap in gusty winds.
The final “easy” step is watering your tomato plants. While this may seem the most logical it is often the cause for most backyard gardeners angst. Watering, for growing tomatoes effectively, needs to be done on a regular basis and in the hotter months may need to be performed at least every day and possibly twice per day.
Mulch can be applied around your tomato plants – keeping away from the stems – once they have been established and have grown at least a foot. Applying this too early can diminish the soil heating up directly from the sun and can cause a raft of fungus problems. So while mulch will aid in keeping the moisture in, timing is an important aspect when applying it.
When is the best time to water tomato plants? My view is that is doesn’t matter whether you water in the morning or the evening but there are some gardeners who will fiercely contest that mornings are better. However, watering tomato plants in the middle of the day is definitely a NO-NO. Your plants will most likely struggle under the extra weight of the water and they don’t need any more disadvantages during the heat of the day.
So there you have it. Growing tomatoes couldn’t be easier. I know I haven’t discussed Fertilisers or Pest Control but if you grow tomato plants as prescribed above the mulch should be an effective fertiliser and hopefully the soil is already full of humus. As for Pest Control, they shouldn’t be an issue but if they become a real problem then plant marigolds alongside them or use an organic foliar spray to keep them away.
Your only issue will be what to do with all those tomatoes?