Now that summer is winding down, most of you have enjoyed the fruits of your gardening labor. Or, if you’re like me and got a late start, then you’re still waiting. It’s never too early to be thinking about next year’s garden and things you can do differently, especially if you want the earliest and sweetest tomato plants on the block. Start early with some growing tips to ensure your bragging rights for next year.
Seedlings need room to branch out, so if you are starting tomatoes from seed, you need to give them plenty of room to grow and to be sure not to crowd them. Tomato plants should be transplanted as soon as they receive their first leaves; after about two weeks, they should be moved into 4” pots. Doing so will make for a happy, healthy plant.
Tomatoes thrive in sunlight. Tomato seedlings need strong, direct sunlight for proper growth, or they need 14-18 hours under grow lights. If you are growing your plants inside, you will need a window with access to bright light, but if you don’t have a bright window, you will need a high density plant light or some kind of florescent light. Be careful to place the pots only a couple of inches from florescent lights, as it may burn them. If you are planting outside, plant your tomatoes in the sunniest part of your garden.
It seems tomato plants need to move and sway with the wind, as this helps develop strong stems. After all the hard work that goes into these plants, you wouldn’t want a strong wind to destroy them. A simple way to help the stem become strong is to provide a breeze by turning a fan on them for 5-10 minutes twice a day. Can’t you just see your plants smiling now?
Tomatoes love warmth, so by adding warmth to your soil before planting, you can have earlier tomatoes. You can do this by covering your soil with a black or red plastic a couple of weeks before you intend to plant. The plastic, which absorbs sunlight, will add extra degrees to the soil, which means earlier tomatoes for you and your family to enjoy.
Tomato plants should be buried deeper than they are in the pot. Tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems, so they can even be buried as deeply as covering a few of the bottom leaves. You can either dig a deeper hole or simply dig a shallow tunnel and lay the plant sideways. It will straighten up and grow toward the sun. I personally think that’s a pretty neat way. That’s why it is important to plant them in a very sunny spot. Be careful not to drive your shovel into the stem, as this may cause damage or death to the plant.
A good way to conserve water for your tomato plants is by mulching. Mulching reduces the amount of water you have to use and prevents soil, as well as soil diseases, from splashing up on the plants. However, if you put down mulch too early, it will also shade and therefore cool the soil. Try using plastic mulch; it is also good at keeping in heat. And by this point we all know, they love the sunshine.
Pinch and remove suckers or brown spots that may develop in the joint of two branches. If this happens, your plant won’t bear fruit and will take energy away from the rest of the plant. But go easy on pruning the rest of the plant as it will be weak or brittle. Thinning leaves allows the sun to reach the ripening fruit, but leaves also photosynthesize, which creates sugars that give your tomatoes flavor. And what a sweet taste we end up with!
Water your plants deeply and regularly while they are developing. Irregular watering can have negative results; for example, missing a week and trying to make up for it can lead to root rot, and not watering regularly can cause cracking. Once the fruit begins to ripen, you can lessen the amount of water, which encourages the plant to concentrate its sugars—for the ending flavor we love so. Don’t withhold water so much that the plants wilt and become stressed or they will drop their blossoms and possibly their fruit. From experience I can say that is very true, and the plant did not bare any tomatoes.
So sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor! I think a tomato sandwich sounds very good for lunch today.