Gardening Tips

Tomato Care

Your tomatoes need a proper "balance" of nutrients. Packaged fertilizer should include on its label the Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium ratio of 5-10-10 or 10-10-10. For best results, stay with these numbers; since, a change from the stated numerical format like 20-5-5 [too much nitrogen] will create tall, very green, leafy tomato plants with little or no tomatoes.
If you are using a dried, rotted manure... mix it with bone meal to obtain a proper nutrient balance. Many organic tomato growers like this combination of nutrients to grow good tasting, champion tomatoes.
To fertilize... Sprinkle the fertilizer mix approximately one foot from the base of the tomato plant. Make sure you encircle the entire plant. Cover the mix with 2" of top soil and then place a light covering of grass cuttings or hay over the fertilizer mix and soil. Then soak the area! The objective is to always keep the soil moist! Your cut grass or hay covering will do this.
Fertilize every 15 to 21 days, depending on package instructions and repeat the above "how to" procedure. What will happen is that you will create a "layering" process where you will have a nice "hill" build-up of soil, mulch and nutrients encircling your plant.
Avoid making direct contact with any part of the tomato plant with your fertilizer... this could burn your plant or create other problems.

Soil Preparation

The first step in growing tomatoes is to prepare the soil. It needs to be fairly fine, but not dust. The soil should be turned in time to allow any undecayed plant residue to decay fully before planting. In warm temperatures, this may require four to six weeks for full decay. When the tomato growing area has been tilled, apply fertilizer and work into the soil before planting. A good rate to apply in lieu of a soil test is two to three pounds of a common fertilizer, such as 6-12-12, per 100 square feet of space. The soil pH should be 6.1 or above with adequate calcium levels to prevent blossom end rot.


Blossom-end-rot is a leather-like decay of the blossom end of the fruit. It is reduced by maintaining adequate lime (calcium) and moisture levels and by avoiding excessive application of fertilizer.


Good yields are possible only when a grower starts with high quality plants. Tomato plants must have a well developed root system that has been kept moist. Normally, tomatoes that have been grown in containers grow better after they have been set in the garden than bare-root plants. Container grown plants will usually produce earlier yields than bare root plants. They have usually been grown with root systems that have had less stress, and their livability is normally higher than with bare-root plants.


It is best not to plant tomatoes in the same location in the garden two consecutive years. If possible, rotate plants around the garden so they are not planted in the same location more than once every three years. This does not eliminate, but will help prevent, diseases from building up so rapidly in the soil.


Organic mulches, such as straw, leaves, grass clippings or compost, can be applied after plants are set. Mulches vide weed control, uniform moisture levels, reduce certain disease problems and improve fruit quality. Organic mulches should not be applied until the soil temperature has warmed up.

Black plastic can be used to maintain uniform moisture, control weeds, enhance earliness and improve fruit quality. If plastic is used, lay 4-foot wide strips in the row area and seal the edges with about 6 inches of soil about two weeks before the planned transplanting date. Arrange to place plants prior to planting by making slits in the plastic at the desired places.

Nitrogen Side Dressing

Side dressings applied at the right time and at the correct rate can greatly enhance the production of tomatoes. Side dressings are applications of fertilizer along the plants at some stage of growth. They are started when fruit on the first cluster is about the size of a half-dollar and repeated every four weeks through harvest. If they are applied prior to this time, it is very likely that blooms will be blasted and fruit set will be eliminated or reduced. Ammonium nitrate is the most common nitrogen source. Apply one tablespoon in a circle around the plant at each side dressing about 12 inches from the plant.


For best tomato growth, keep the soil in the root zone moist enough to prevent wilting of tomatoes. This is best done by applying 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water twice a week to the root zone during periods of dry weather. If possible, use trickle irrigation; less foliage diseases occur with trickle than sprinkler irrigation. If sprinkler irrigation is used, apply as late in the afternoon as possible but early enough to allow foliage to dry before nightfall.

A Little Tomato History: The tomato is native to the Americas. It was initially cultivated by Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 A.D. Europeans first saw the tomato when the Conquistadors reached Mexico and Central America in the 16th century. Tomato seeds were taken back to Europe where they quickly found favor in the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Portugal and Italy.

As the tomato traveled north, it was veiled in mystery. The French called it "The Apple of Love," the Germans "The Apple of Paradise;" but the British, while admiring its brilliant red color, disclaimed the tomato as a food--they believed it was poisonous. This same fear persisted among colonists in the United States until the early 19th century; but in 1812, the Creoles in New Orleans put their cooking on the map with their tomato-enhanced gumbos and jambalayas. The people of Maine quickly followed suit, combining fresh tomatoes with local seafood.

By 1850, the tomato was an important produce item in every American city. People were planting tomatoes in their home gardens, while farmers commercially produced fresh tomatoes throughout the year. When cold weather halted local production, consumers relied on areas with temperate climates to furnish their supply of tomatoes.