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Tips for Growing Tomaotes

Fresh sun-ripened tomatoes are an essential ingredient in many garden-inspired recipes: pico de gallo, caprese salad and salsa. In these dishes, a store-purchased tomato simply will not do. These tomatoes have been chilled, thawed, stored, handled and potentially sprayed with chemicals. For this reason, most of you have not only opted to grow tomatoes but make them the star of the garden.

A trend in the gardening world is heirloom tomatoes. Many homeowners are opting for the better-tasting heirlooms. However, these have less disease resistance. Regardless of heirlooms like 'Cherokee Purple' or a modern-day variety like 'Better Boy,' here are tips from a fellow tomato enthusiast:

Disease prevention

Tomatoes (heirlooms and modern varieties) suffer from disease problems, especially when the humidity stays high. Diseases usually start off as random spots on the leaves and get worse, causing dieback and major fruit loss. These steps can help prevent diseases:

  • Alternating spots where tomatoes are grown.
  • Spacing plants 2 to 3 feet.
  • Using mulch or straw.
  • Never work in wet garden.
  • Using soaker hoses instead of sprinklers.
  • Watering in the morning to prevent leaf wetness during night hours.

Caging tomatoes

Staking tomato plants helps get them off the ground, which puts the leaves up in the sunlight, allows for good air flow (disease prevention), and prevents insect infestations. It is best to cage early in season with cages that are reinforced by garden posts or rebar. The tomato stakes bought in garden centers are usually too small and not able to withstand the weight. Homeowners can make their own cages out of rolled wire fencing and stake branches with plastic plant tines. Indeterminate tomatoes produce all season long and need five-foot-tall cages. Determinate tomatoes produce all at once and need three-foot cages.

Pruning tomatoes

Pruning suckering shoots allows energy to be channeled into producing larger, earlier fruit rather than foliage. Suckering shoots are located at the nodes. A node is where the branch attaches to the main stem. Suckers will try to produce two branches from one node. Remove suckering shoots when they are small with your fingers by bending and snapping. Early in the growing season, identify the main stem and up to four to five flowering branches and remove all other suckers as they grow. The Extension's local food system educator, Bill Davison, said he typically prunes around 60 percent of the suckering growth.