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Tomatoes aren’t difficult to grow. No matter how little care I give my plants, I always get some fruit. However, with a little extra care, tomato plants will reward you with a more bountiful — and tastier — crop. To max out your tomato production, avoid making these mistakes:
1. Not rotating crops
Tomatoes are heavy feeders and deplete soil as they draw up nutrients to send to their fruit. It’s best to rotate tomato plants annually, so that they have lots of nutrients in the new spot while the old spot is given time to replenish.
2. Not enough sun
Make sure the new spot is in a sunny location that’s warm but not hot. Like many garden vegetables, tomatoes can make do with six hours of sunlight daily, but the more sun they have, the better they produce. Sunlight gives plants energy, and tomatoes use extra energy to create extra fruit.
3. Too much heat
Although they’re sun worshippers, tomatoes don’t like extreme heat. If you live in a zone where temperatures regularly soar over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to pick a spot where your plants will be shaded in the afternoon. Morning sun is important since it dries dew — and dry leaves keep disease at bay. But extreme heat destroys the pollen on tomato flowers, which means they won’t produce fruit. Try to pick a spot that will be shaded only during the hottest hours of the day.
4. Crowding the plants
Tomatoes — especially indeterminate varieties–are big plants. Popular varieties like Beefsteak, Super Fantastic, Early Girl and Lemon Boy are all indeterminate, and as such can grow up to six-feet tall or in some cases, even taller. Determinate varieties (bush tomatoes) are smaller, but still can reach heights of 3-4 feet.
Make sure you give your plants sufficient space to grow. Consider whether you’re planting in rows, beds or square-foot plots, as well as whether the plant is determinate or indeterminate.
5. Not planting deeply enough
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Tomato seedlings should be planted deep. In fact, it’s recommended to bury a full two-thirds of a seedling in soil. It is perfectly OK to cover existing leaves. The stem that’s buried will develop roots, too. The more roots your plant has, the more nutrients it can soak up and send to the fruit, which makes for more flavorful tomatoes.
6. Not pruning
Pruning? Tomatoes? You betcha. While it’s not essential, pruning your tomato plants — especially the big indeterminate varieties — has a few notable benefits:
- Fewer leaves will increase the amount of sun and air that reach existing leaves and fruit. Wet leaves will dry more quickly, reducing the chance of pest or disease infestations. Diseases that flourish in wet conditions include:
- Powdery mildew
- Fusarium wilt
- Verticillium wilt
- Leaf spot
- Bacterial spot
- Bacterial canker
- Since your plant has fewer leaves to support, it will use its energy to produce more and bigger fruit instead.
- Fewer leaves to support also means that more of your plant’s energy can be directed toward ripening fruit, giving you an earlier harvest.
Before it’s time to prune leaves, however, you may need to pinch off flowers. Plants should be at least 12-18 inches tall before flowers are allowed to set. Otherwise, the plant may not be strong enough, with a strong healthy root system in place, to support heavy fruit and provide them with nutrients.
Determinate and indeterminate varieties must be pruned differently. With determinate varieties, only prune the bottom branches that touch the soil. Those branches may contribute to the spread of disease if left. However, removing other stems and/or leaves on determinate varieties may reduce your harvest.
On indeterminate varieties, prune off suckers as they appear. Suckers are the smaller branches that start growing right in the groove where an existing branch meets the main stem.
7. Not humoring the picky feeders
Tomatoes are heavy feeders and should be fertilized during the growing season, BUT they have specific feeding needs. Fertilizing weekly with a natural compost or fertilizer is the best option.
8. Watering frequently
Deep, strong roots are key to growing great tomatoes. In addition to planting seedlings deeply, you can encourage strong root growth by watering plants heavily about every 5-7 days. With this type of watering, plants will develop long, strong roots to seek water. With shallow watering, the roots will remain stunted near the surface to access the water there; with more frequent watering, plants have no reason to create stronger roots.
Watering too infrequently, so that the soil severely dries out, can cause problems like blossom end rot. Tomato roots need water to soak up calcium from the soil; without water — and ergo without calcium — tomato fruit are susceptible to disease.
Watering tomato plants at their base will help keep leaves dry, and again, dry leaves are the key to reducing pest and disease issues. For best results, install drip lines or hand water.
After reading through this, you may think that tomatoes are the most difficult vegetables in the world to grow. Nothing is further from the truth. However, correcting at least some of these mistakes will result in a bigger harvest of heavier, more flavorful fruit that ripens quickly.
What tomato-growing mistakes would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:
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