Tomato tips

Rob Zimmer

Tomatoes are, without a doubt, the number one backyard edible crop enjoyed by gardeners. For some, growing tomatoes is simple and easy, while others struggle each year with ongoing tomato difficulties. 

This week, some tips to help grow better tomatoes at home. 

Tomatoes are the number one edible garden plant in Wisconsin. Here are some tips to help you grow the best you can grow.

Have a soil test done

The most important gardening step, and, unfortunately, the one that most gardeners neglect, is to perform a professional soil test every three to five years. A soil test leaves no room for doubt and questions. The information provided back to you is vital to the health and productivity of your garden.

Any soil amendments or fertilizers needed to improve soil health and structure for growing tomatoes will be specified on your results form, provided you indicate that you are growing tomatoes with your soil sample.

Far too many gardeners over fertilize, incorrectly fertilize and see poor results because of a lack of knowledge of their soil chemistry, structure and make up. A proper soil test, available at your local UW extension office, removes all doubt and leaves no question. 

Don't plant in the same place twice

Enjoy healthier tomatoes each season by rotating your crop and not planting tomato plants in the same location multiple, consecutive years.  

This will help prevent common tomato ailments and diseases, many of which are soil borne.

Cherry tomatoes and other miniatures are popular tomatoes for containers and small spaces.

Follow spacing recommendations

One of the biggest mistakes tomato gardeners, especially, make is planting far too many plants for what they need, and ignoring spacing requirements for their plants. Most families will enjoy plentiful fruit on just a few properly spaced plants. 

Plant multiple types 

For best results, include several different varieties of tomatoes in your patch. This ensures plentiful fruit, as well as healthier plants overall.

Select varieties that are both determinate and indeterminate for a longer harvest. This is normally identified on the plant label if purchased from a garden center. Determinate tomatoes flower and fruit once they reach a certain size. Indeterminate tomatoes flower and fruit throughout the season. 

Use companion plants

Many gardeners use companion plants for their tomatoes for the benefits they provide in terms of pest and disease resistance in the garden. Common companions in the garden include chives, garlic, basil, marigolds, calendula add borage. 

Use companion plants, like these gem marigolds, to help ward off potential insect and rodent pests.

Plant in full sun

Tomato should be planted in full sun for maximum flowering and production. This means at least eight hours of full sun throughout the day.

Plant deep and sideways 

For stronger, healthier plants, resist the urge to simply plant directly from the starter pot at soil level. Instead, dig a trench and lay the plant on its side, angled upward, and plant rather deeply. Remove the lower few sets of leaves and plant this bear stem beneath the soil. This encourages new roots to form along the lower part of the plant stem that will strengthen as it grows. 

Epsom salts

Many gardeners swear by adding Epsom salts to the soil around tomatoes, as well as misting with a water and Epsom salt spray. 

Grow heirlooms 

Instead of sticking with the same few varieties of tomato each year, try one of hundreds of varieties of colorful, flavorful and interesting heirloom tomatoes.

You'll find tomatoes in every color of the rainbow, as well as interesting shapes, sizes and flavors. From tiny cherry, pear and blueberry tomatoes to massive, sprawling 15 foot climbing varieties, you'll find an amazing selection by researching heirloom tomatoes for Wisconsin. 

Support or cage immediately

Don't wait until it's too late to insert tomato cages and supports. You'll only damage the plant and delay or reduce production. Set your support and cages in place immediately upon planting to avoid disturbance.