AUBURN, Ala.—Tomato plants are a staple in any backyard or container garden. Some growers prefer smaller, early ripening varieties, while others prefer bigger tomatoes—ready later in the season.
Regardless of personal preference, Marcus Garner, Alabama Cooperative Extension urban regional agent said the most important tomato-growing consideration is the temperature and weather.
“Often times we are so preoccupied with getting our plants in the ground and making sure they look beautiful, we don’t consider the chances of late frost damage,” Garner said. “Frost can really damage the tender growth of a plant.”
Garner said the old saying “timing is everything” is true with almost all plants, but especially tomatoes. If the weather cooperates, plant in late March or mid-April when severe threat of frost subsides.
Tomato Plants Need Sunlight and Water
Planting in an area with ample sunlight is important for the growth of tomato plants. The sun provides a free energy supply, readily available to help that plant grow and produce the fruit that is desired.
“Remember, tomato plants are warm season plants that require full sun,” Garner said. “Every garden or container garden must have six to eight hours of full sun. It would be wise to pay attention to the area where you are planting simply because the plant may become susceptible to insects and diseases without the proper amount of sun.”
In the early morning, watch the direction of the sun rise and set. If there are trees, branches, buildings or objects preventing the plant from receiving full sun, consider moving the planting location or trimming trees and bushes to open up the shady spots.
Garner said it is important to consider the threat of sunburn to new transplants. Gradually exposing the plants to sun in the early morning will help ease the plant into full sunlight. Check the amount of moisture in the soil visually or using the finger test. Either method may help keep the plant from drying out, or prevent lack of moisture in the roots. He said the availability of water and sunlight are equally important.
Fertilize Tomato Plants Before and During Growing Season
“There are a number of reasons people add fertilizer to tomato plants,” he said. “Growers want to maximize growth and production, but they may also suspect nutrient deficiencies or choose to fertilize because it is something they’ve done for years.”
When considering a fertilizer, Garner said there must be a reason for application. Performing a soil test to assess the soil condition is a way to save money and resources. Determining the correct fertilizer type and amount is one way to maintain a healthy tomato plant with enough phosphorous and potassium to ensure the plant roots are active in the soil.
Over fertilizing can harm the plant, or cause growth in the wrong places if used incorrectly. For more detailed information on tomato plant fertilization visit with your local Extension office or agent.
Recommendations for First Time Growers
“It is very important to read the label to determine recommendations for growing your tomato plant of choice in your area,” Garner said. “Learning the basics of growing plants is only the beginning of having a great and productive season.”
- Prepare the garden with organic material to encourage roots to be as active and healthy as possible.
- Create access to water supply for days without rain.
- Use wooden stakes or tomato baskets to separate the fruit from touching each other when they are growing.
- Pull or cut any suckers off the tomato plants. (Tomato suckers are small shoots growing out of the joint where a branch on the tomato plant meets a stem)
- Keep out any weeds that compete with space and nutrients in the garden.
For more information on growing tomatoes visit www.aces.edu or contact your local Extension agent.
Featured photos by shutterstock.com/stevemart and shutterstock.com/AHMAD FAIZAL YAHYA.