Nothing says summer like fresh, homegrown tomatoes. And nothing can be more disappointing than seeing your tomatoes split and devoured by pests.
While there’s no 100% guarantee that plants will grow perfectly all the time, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of having healthy veggies. And there are also some things you definitely want to avoid.
Here are a few mistakes that might leave you feeling disappointed with your tomato yield this summer.
Mistake #1: Not providing them with enough sun.
At minimum, tomatoes need 6 to 7 hours of direct sunlight for proper growth. The more sunlight the healthier the plants; if they are in shade they will be more prone to disease and pests. So, make sure you find the right spot. If you don’t have an in-ground full sun spot, use containers instead, just remember that tomatoes grow deeply and use only one container per plant.
Mistake #2: Not doing anything to your soil.
Gardeners are kind of funny and are quick to point out there is a difference between dirt and soil. Dirt is just dirt, but “soil” is everything to plants. Good soil feeds your plants; it allows it to drain properly, is well aerated and promotes healthy growth. And, the best tasting tomatoes are those grown in rich, healthy, well-amended soil, preferably with an organic soil amendment, the best of which is your own compost.
Mistake #3: Inconsistent or incorrect watering.
One of the things that can really stress out a plant is irregular watering as they are developing. For example, watering it a lot at first, then forgetting about it and not watering it for a week or so. This can lead to blossom end rot and cracking tomatoes. Another mistake is watering the wrong part of the plant. You want to water the root system of your tomato plants, not the leaves. Since tomato roots grow deeply, that means you need to water them deeply. That doesn’t mean water them every day, just slowly and deeply so the water reaches the roots. Soak your tomato bed once a week or in the dog days of summer, every 4-5 days.
Mistake #4: Underestimating tomato plant size and planting too close together.
While those little tomato plants are cute and compact, if you do your part and feed them good soil and water, they will soon grow to a full and healthy size. Pay attention to the information on that plant tag or seed packet about the size that each plant will get, and how much space needs to be between them. If you crowd them, they will be competing for everything: sun, nutrients, water and air. Lack of air circulation leaves them vulnerable to pests and diseases. It’s also helpful to support your large plant with tomato cages.
Mistake #5: Not rotating your veggies.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders and completely deplete your soil’s nutrients. They do best, and are healthier, if you plant them in a completely different spot each year — this is true for almost all veggies. You also want to avoid planting things from the same veggie family in the same spot. Planting the same thing in the same location, season after season, makes it too inviting of an area for pests and diseases that wait for their favorite plants to keep coming back. If you don’t have the space to rotate, then plant in containers or make sure to completely redo that area of the garden each year.
Image credit (cherry tomatoes): Dave Stokes via Flickr