Growing Great Tomatoes

— Written By and last updated by Nancie Mandeville

With the last days of frost around the corner many people are getting ready to plant summer gardens and on the list of plants to grow tomatoes are usually at the top. Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables grown in North Carolina but often times growers run into trouble with these garden favorites. However, there is hope for getting a bounty of tasty tomatoes without dealing with the frustrations of poor quality plants and fruit. Start this gardening season out with some of these tomato growing basics and set your garden up for success this year.

Start by selecting a site that receives at least 8 hours of direct sunlight during the day. Tomatoes will grow fine with less sunlight but flowering will be reduced which means fewer tomatoes to harvest. Also, rotate your tomatoes every year to a different spot in the garden. If tomatoes are planted in the same spot every year disease issues can become a problem and severely affect the growth and performance of your plants.

Send off a soil sample if you haven’t had your soil tested in the past two or three years. Tomatoes like a pH of 6.5 to 6.7. If lime needs to be applied it takes months to have an effect on the soil so start early. Soil tests also give you accurate information about nutrient levels in your soil and fertilizer recommendations for your crop. Don’t over fertilize, over fertilization can lead to increased leaf and stem growth but lower fruit loads. If no soil test has been taken, apply 34 cup of lime and 12 cup of 8-8-8 fertilizer for each plant. Once the plants start to set fruit to apply 2 to 3 ounces of 10-10-10 around each plant and then apply that amount again every 4 to 6 weeks until the end of the season. Keep the fertilizer 4 to 6 inches away from the base of the plant to prevent fertilizer burn.

Once you plant your tomatoes apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch around your plants. Ground up leaves or straw are a good option to mulch within the garden. Mulch retains moisture in the soil, cuts down on weed pressure and prevents soil from splashing up on your plants in rain events and overhead irrigation applications. This reduces the chance of disease spreading to your plants and fruit.

When watering your tomatoes use a soaker hose or drip tape. Drip irrigation keeps the foliage and fruit on the plants dry, this also reduces disease and rot. Tomatoes need about 1 to 1½ inches of water a week. Make sure your soil doesn’t dry out or problems such as fruit cracking and blossom end rot can occur.

The last thing is to make sure to trellis your tomatoes. This can be done in many different ways but some of the most popular methods are tomato cages or Florida weave. Trellising keeps your tomatoes off the ground which reduces rot and makes for easier picking.

There are many more tomato growing practices out there to give you the best crop possible but if you start with these basics you will be on your way to more productive tomato plants in your garden.