Tomatoes are one of the most popular plants grown in a southern garden, especially in Alabama. To get the most productivity from tomato plants requires gardeners do more planning and work than any other garden crop.
Hunter McBrayer, an urban regional agent with Alabama Extension, recommends planting the garden close to home.
“Gardens take a lot of work and the further away from the house, the less likely the gardener is to scout for problems and take good care of it,” McBrayer said. “Also, make sure it is in a spot that is okay to be seen. While a beautiful vegetable garden can be a great asset to the landscape, many feel it isn’t as beautiful in late summer when plants are fizzling out.”
Tomatoes grow best in areas with at least six hours of full sun per day during the growing season. Production is reduced based on the number of hours the plant spends in the shade.
While tomatoes produce well on a wide range of soils, the best yields are usually seen on deep, fertile loams and sandy loam soils.
McBrayer said the soil is very important for continued plant growth.
“Find a location that has good well-grained soil full of organic material,” he said. “If there is an area that has all of the requirements, but lacks soil fertility, start with a soil test and amend soil with compost and other additives to improve the growing area.”
Most soils can be modified through the use of organic matter, lime and fertilizer depending on what results soil tests yield. It is best to avoid planting tomatoes in extremely sandy or heavy clay soils that are difficult to manage when dry.
When selecting a variety to plant, pay close attention to the label. While there are dozens of good variety choices, try choosing a variety recommended for your area. Look for varieties that are resistant to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, and Root-knot nematodes. Resistance will be indicated by the letters “V,F&N” following the variety name.
Covering the garden area with four to six inches of old hay, straw, sawdust or shavings prior to planting will provide weed control and conserve soil moisture. The mulch can also help provide protection from Early blight, blossom end rot and cracking and fruit loss.
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