It’s no surprise that tomatoes are one of the most popular crops for budding gardeners.
Contrary to popular belief, tomatoes are not a fruit, but a berry, and a home-grown tomato tastes so much better than those you’ve bought at the store.
They are bound to be juicer, sweeter or sharper, depending on your variety, and are the perfect addition to any dish.
Each spring, many people pop tomato seeds into pots and watch them shoot. Yet, they’re not altogether simple to grow and need particular conditions to thrive.
They’re certainly not a crop you can leave to get on with their business. Although, at least with tomatoes, they’ll soon tell you if they’re unhappy, and you can start to work out what you have or haven’t done.
1. Inconsistent Watering
Tomatoes are thirsty, and whether you plant them in pots or the ground will need regular drinks of water to keep them in top form. With tomatoes, however, it’s essential to avoid bouts of overwatering and underwatering.
From germination, your tomato will want to be moist but not too wet and not too dry.
Where you plant will impact how much you give the vine exactly. For example, tomatoes planted in pots or grow bags will need more than those produced in the ground. You’ll also need to take into account recent rainfall.
But whatever you do, keep it consistent.
Improper watering opens your plants up to a host of problems. Overwatering will cause the roots to rot and produce a weak plant.
Other issues with inconsistent watering include blossom end rot caused by a lack of calcium, blight-mentioned further down, and tomato fruits that crack open.
Another great tip to help with watering is to use mulch. Woodchip is perfect, and you need to cover the base of the plant. Adding mulch will help to lock in moisture and avoid dramatic changes in the water levels.
Creating a watering schedule is perfect for keeping track. You’ll find a routine and be more likely to do it at a similar time each day.
Early morning is always best before the sun has warmed the ground and will give your plant water for the day ahead. If this isn’t possible, give them a drink at the end of the day as the sun sets.
2. Hasty Planting
Tomatoes are pretty fickle little creatures, and it doesn’t take too much to upset them. One of those things is planting them out when the spring air hasn’t warmed the ground enough.
You can start tomatoes off in a greenhouse reasonably early on in the growing season.
Greenhouses soon warm up and maintain temperatures enough to support germination and early growth. When you’ve had consistently warm inside temperatures for around three weeks and can be sure, the soil is warm enough.
If you plan to transfer them outside, you’ll need to make sure any late spring frost has passed and the ground is warm enough, but be slow to introduce them to the sun as this may cause another set of problems-their little leaves burning.
Introduce your plants outside slowly. This will give them time to adjust and is called hardening.
Begin by popping your tomato shoots into the shady open air for an hour at a time. Over the following week, increase this to two hours, then move them into the sun for an hour, then two.
3. Planting in the Shade
Once you have hardened your tomato plants, choose where you plant them for the growing season.
Tomatoes are sun worshippers. They need at least 8 hours of full sun a day to make the energy they need to produce their round red treasures.
You have options if you don’t have an area with this much sun. You can move and track the sun by planting in pots, although this is quite laborious and ties you to move them daily.
Alternatively, you can grow tomatoes under artificial light that you can control.
Tomatoes also need a sheltered growing site, free from high winds. You will always need support, such as stakes, to keep them growing upward, but they are still fragile.
Leaving them exposed to strong winds could cause their vines to snap.
4. Shallow Planting
Plant your tomatoes deep to ensure you give them the best chance of robust growth.
Ideally, you’d go down so that as much as two-thirds of the shoot is underground. This means they can create a thriving root system for a healthier plant. It also means your tomatoes are anchored firmly into the soil and less likely to topple over.
Consider using deep pots if you have a smaller garden or a courtyard without the space to plant straight into the soil.
The other alternative is a growing bag. These will only allow a shallow root system but can still give you a lovely crop; however, you will need to provide extra stability to keep them upright.
5. Avoiding Fertilizer
Tomatoes are hungry little fellows and will need specific nutrition for an abundant crop.
Most home- and shop-bought composts contain nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Each plays a particular part in giving your tomatoes a healthy and strong start in life.
Be ready to top up the fertilizer with a liquid solution every 1-2 weeks to keep them tip-top and robust.
The only thing to watch out for is giving the plant too much nitrogen when your plant is ready to bear fruit. You’ll end up with gorgeously green foliage but very little fruit.
However, store-bought tomato feed is perfect!
It’s almost impossible for a new gardener to conceive how tiny tomato seeds can grow into such enormous vines. But they will, and that’s outwards as well as upwards!
Although it may seem as though cramming more plants into your designated space will give you more fruit, leaving this much area allows oxygen to circulate, encouraging a healthier plant and, thus, more fruit.
In contrast, the leaves and fruits on overcrowded vines will soon start to wilt.
7. Leaving Suckers to Grow
If you’re unsure, suckers are the side shoots of a tomato plant that grow between the stem and the branches. Although there is nothing wrong with suckers, they do not serve a particular or functional purpose, so pinching them off is not a problem.
Leaving suckers will mean your plant puts valuable energy into growing new shoots. This energy could otherwise be going into your precious fruits.
Plus, leaving them on will overcrowd your plant and invite more nasties, which could cause problems.
Most avid gardeners have different trade tricks, but removing all suckers and leaves below the first fruit-bearing branches is a standard routine.
This way, there is enough space between the soil and growth, and your tomato plant should remain beautifully healthy.
8. Ignoring Signs of Blight
Blight is a nasty fungal infection that will soon take over your tomato plants if left unnoticed, and unless you’re vigilant and spot the early signs, it can leave your entire crop useless.
Blight spreads incredibly quickly and easily through the wind and splashing water. Spores are also easily carried and spread by birds and mammals.
The first thing you’ll notice if blight has taken hold of your plant is the lower leaves turning brown and drooping. Once the leaves have turned brown, the next stage is a discolored stem, followed by fruit that has sunken brown patches.
If you can remove these in time, you may be able to save your plant, but the infections will continue to spread quickly.
Unfortunately, at this point, there is nothing left to do but remove it carefully, to avoid the spores spreading further around your garden, then destroy the crop with fire.
Make sure you don’t put any infected tomato plants in your home compost because that’ll be tainted too!
To minimize the spores from infecting the next plant, water the base of your tomato plant instead of over the top and spread your plants out.
Each year, aim to plant your seedlings in different areas of your garden to avoid blight returning and causing havoc the following season.
The pesky spores can stick around for 3-4 years, so it’s best to avoid using the same soil for tomatoes until that time has passed.