Growing Tomatoes: Step 4 (Maintaining)
We already discussed adding compost to your soil see Step:3 (Planting Outdoors), but it is also very beneficial to add a protective layer of mulch to your tomato plants. This layer can help retain moisture in the soil, suppress weeds and keep the soil cool. Organic mulches will help improve the soil’s fertility as well. Mulching is best done after soil temperatures have had an opportunity to warm up.
Some types of mulch that are used in flower gardens are not appropriate for vegetables. Grass clippings tend to become slimy as they decompose and bark mulches make digging difficult. The most popular ground cover for tomatoes is straw or salt hay. Some have used shredded newspaper or leaves as well.
Once your tomatoes are about 3 feet tall, you should remove the leaves from the bottom foot of the stem. These leaves are susceptible to developing fungus because they get the least amount of sun and soil-born pathogens can be splashed on them. Spraying weekly with compost tea also helps ward off fungal diseases.
If you are growing indeterminate tomatoes (determine types do not require pruning to control growth), you should consider pruning. As tomato plants grow, they develop “suckers,” which are the beginnings of new stem growth that start as side shoots in the crotch between the stem and a branch. These secondary branches are considered “suckers,” because they can suck out nutrients that were originally absorbed by your main branches. The general recommendation is to leave 2 or 3 suckers on a plant to help improve yield.
NOTE: Though it is not required practice to prune tomatoes, many believe this step is beneficial to fruit production and controlling a plant’s growth.
Watering your tomatoes is the most important step to maintaining healthy plants. Usually plants should be watered very deeply at least once a week (depending on rain and sun). You should monitor weather conditions, and water your plants accordingly. Hot sun and dry soil conditions may require you to water every few days.
Improper watering (such as forgetting to water or watering too frequently or shallowly) will cause serious problems such as end rot or cracking. If this occurs, the fruits will need to be disposed of.
You should fertilize with compost, composted manure, or a store bought fertilizer right after planting, and again when plants begin to blossom heavily to form fruits. Fertilize carefully because over-fertilizing can actually prevent fruits from developing.
Blossom drop occurs when the blossoms that formed on your tomatoes, “drop” off before fruits begin to develop. This can occur if temperatures are too high or low, humidity is too high, or they are over fertilized. It also occurs if they are not being properly watered, or pollinated.