My passion for good food is no secret.
Neither is the fact that I plant a large garden each year; which provides most of that good food.
Whenever anyone visits my garden, the one thing they always remark on are the tomato plants. The plants can easily reach 5 ft. tall, and are loaded with healthy fruit. This always leads to questions about how I grow tomato plants that look like that. Most of the time people assume that because we live on a farm and Mr. Awesome is in agriculture, that we have access to some special “fertilizer” that “regular people” can’t get. Yes, I have been asked that, and uhm…no. It’s all in the preparation. Really. Today I’m sharing my 5 tips for growing your healthiest tomato plants ever!
1. Prepare the soil – add compost
Before you go to your local nursery and breath in that warm, moist, earthy-smelling air, – you know the air that makes you get all plant crazy – take a little time to get your vegetable bed in order. This part isn’t glamorous, but this is where your plants are going to live. If you skimp here, your plants will pay the price later in the season.
Dig deeply where you want to plant your tomato; at least 14 inches wide, and 18 inches deep. Incorporate compost (NOT potting soil) with the existing soil. Blend it together with the existing soil until it’s a uniform consistency.
- If this is a new vegetable bed, add enough compost to make a blend of 50% compost to 50% existing soil.
- If you have very heavy or clay soil, this may need to be a 75/25 mix.
- If you want to add a little slow-release fertilizer, this is the time. Mix it in well with the soil you just prepared. You want the nutrients to be available in the root zone you just created, but you don’t want the fertilizer in direct contact with the roots.
2. Select strong healthy plants
Now it’s okay to go to the nursery and breath in all those heady plant smells! *sigh*
This part may seem like a no-brainer, but every year I see folks at the nursery select yellowed, and wilted plants because they’re bigger (read taller), over the green, sturdy plants that are smaller. Go for the healthy green and sturdy plants. The vitality of a good plant will have it outgrowing a weaker, larger plant, within a few weeks. And that healthier plant will outproduce a weaker plant all summer long!
3. It’s all in how you plant it
Gently slide your plant out of its little plastic pot. If the plant is in a peat container, gently peel away the peat (you can throw that peat into the planting hole). If the roots are completely wound around inside the pot (root bound), and you see more roots than soil, return the plant for another.
This plant looks perfect. Beautiful white roots, with plenty of soil visible and no wrapping around inside the pot. Gently pull apart the roots at the base, so that they will spread out when planted.
This next part is hard. We’re gonna take that beautiful new plant you we brought home, and start yanking a bunch of the stems and leaves off. It seems counterintuitive – plus it’s just hard (for me at least) to destroy any part of a health plant – but I promise, it will be worth it.
See all those little leaves and stems along the bottom few inches of the plant? Just pinch them off. It’s okay. Honest.
Tomatoes will throw out new roots all along the stem of the plant. Bigger, healthier root system = bigger, healthier plants.*
Place your plant into the hole you’ve prepared for it. Gently spread out the roots, and hold the plant upright as you slowly backfill the planting hole with soil.
The stem that you stripped of leaves should be below soil level, and just the top few inches of leaves will be visible.
*You can’t do this with most plants. If you plant them deeper than the soil level of the container they were in, they will rot and die. Tomatoes are special 😉
4. Direct the water where it needs to go
When it’s watering time, it’s easy for the water to run of the top of the soil and not get to where it’s needed most; the root system. Take a few minutes after you’ve planted your beautiful little tomato, and create a moat around your plant. This creates a dam for the water, and will help direct it down into the root zone.
Now water your new plant. Make sure to give it a good soaking.
5. Protect and support your plant
Finally, give your plant the support and protection it needs. If you are in an area where the temperatures dip down at night, a water wall can help keep the plant warm and cozy during the chilly nights. Just remember to not leave the water walls on during high daytime temperatures, or you will damage (or kill) the plant you were protecting.
Give your plant enough support. Select a sturdy plant support. A good quality tomato cage or support will last not only this season, but many more.
These wonderful plant supports have ben with me for the last five years, and are about to begin year six in the garden!
Just in case you need a little reassurance, this photo was taken only a month after planting. You can see the tomatoes (the plants closest) are plenty big!
Follow these simple tips, and enjoy the healthiest, most productive tomato plants ever!
p.s. please recycle your plastic plant containers after planting. Most facilities now accept nursery pots 😉
keep the green side up,