We all love growing tomatoes.  They are a staple in the garden most gardeners can’t be without.  However, tomatoes are known to be a little high maintenance compared to other veggies.  

Tomatoes start strong and healthy.  You start to see the fruit forming and excitement sets in. You begin looking forward to that fresh juicy tomato when trouble hits, and diseases and pests appear.  Here are a few tips for managing your tomatoes throughout the garden season.  It is well worth the extra effort needed to ward off those damaging bugs and diseases.

SUPPORT

Tomatoes require some type of support.  Regardless of the tomato is determinate or indeterminate, the fruit can be heavy on the plant and its branches.  Indeterminate plants climb and need longer-term support as they continue to grow until the fruit appears or you are tomatoed out.    

Supporting the plant also allows you to keep the foliage off the ground which lessens the risk of disease and pests.  Keeping the plants growing vertical also allows for more space in the garden (hint, maybe another heirloom tomato).

Option for supporting tomatoes are:

  • Tomato cage (recommend making your own with livestock panels and avoiding the store-bought ones)
  • Stakes are another option.  You can stake them and secure the plant to the stakes. Personally, mine grow up to 6 feet tall and it’s not enough support, however, if you have dwarf plants or a small one in a pot it may work just fine. 
  • Trellising is a great option for indeterminate tomatoes.  You can get creative with arching cattle panels, fancy trellises, obelisk trellises, or create an alley with two cattle panels to support your row of tomatoes. 

PRUNING  

Tomato pruning is a topic that has a lot of debate and schools of thought. Even within my household! It comes down to personal preference, goals, and straight-up experimenting.  I was very confused about the sucker debate for a long time, but according to Joe Gardener, it’s a myth, and I tend to agree with him.

Evaluating your space is key.  A sucker grows out of the area the stem of leaves joins the main stem.  I like to look for the growth in corner of the elbow. Suckers will double the plant’s fruit so it’s a decision you should make when evaluating your garden goals and growing space.  Pruning helps keep the plant tidy and can help in managing the disease.  Depending on how you are growing and how much fruit you want pruning can be very helpful and necessary.  

I keep the bottom of my tomato plants trimmed up, especially the ones planted directly in the ground.  We have a blight issue so to manage and protect the plant as long as possible we keep them trimmed up.  Another tip:  Do not prune a plant when it is wet and always sanitize your shears with rubbing alcohol after pruning.  It is very easy to spread disease.  If anything you pruned shows signs of disease, discard away from the garden and do not compost.

WATER

Tomatoes love consistent water and when mother nature doesn’t deliver,  it’s important to be diligent with your watering schedule in conjunction with the rainfall.  Truly the best option is a soaker hose or drip irrigation.  That’s not an option for many, including myself, so here are a few things to keep in mind.  

A rain gauge may be a good investment so you have a true idea of the water you are getting naturally.  The soil around the tomato should be moist.  Always water around the base of the plant and avoid hitting the foliage.  The mornings are best but not always an option for everyone and avoid overhead sprinklers. 

FEEDING

Tomatoes are hungry and that’s that! They are searching for nutrients in your soil and growing faster than most plants in your garden. Take notice of all the fruit and flowers a tomato plant has on it.  They are high energy burners and even though I care for my soil, I also give my tomatoes additional support throughout the growing season.  There are many schools of thought on calcium deficiency leading to blossom rot, which we have experienced in our garden. So, I tend to switch up my types of “food” I feed them and aim to be more consistent with our watering schedule.  Gardening is forever learning and I love that it keeps me on my toes!

PAY CLOSE ATTENTION

Monitoring your garden and tomatoes is key.  Tomatoes are at higher risk for disease but it’s a good practice to keep those eyes peeled.  Look low and watch those bottom leaves for any signs.  Hence why I try to keep mine trimmed up as much as possible.  Early blight  (yellowing leaves with brown spots) gets us every year. It becomes a mindset of managing the problem and setting that expectation for myself every year.  Plants don’t have immune systems and it is not curable.  We have blight every year.  We manage as best as possible and support the plants the best we can.   

There are other diseases you should keep an eye out for such as leaf curl, the hornworm could make an appearance or other forms of fungus and viruses.  

ACTION

I’ve learned to accept that perfection doesn’t exist in the garden, regardless of the vegetable.  Every year there are different issues but we learn to manage.  There are years where I never use any organic applications and the garden life is great.  Then the next year rolls around,  and we are humbled.  The pretty white butterflies everyone thinks are beautiful bouncing around my garden are actually the cabbage moth wreaking havoc in the cabbage family aisles. The moral of this is that patience pays off and embrace the experiences.  Remember, document your garden every year, experiment, fail, succeed, and enjoy the ride.