Q. Do you have any hints about growing tomatoes?
Tomatoes can be grown successfully in this region, although ideally they like a longer and warmer growing season than we have in the Northeast. Following a few simple rules can help to overcome this problem. It is important to choose varieties of tomatoes that are suitable for your climate. They can either be grown from seeds or purchased as plants in May.
Growing tomatoes from seeds
If you have a sunny window or grow lights (or ideally a greenhouse), you can start tomatoes from seed. You will then have better control of planting times and the health and size of the plants for transplanting.
Six or seven weeks before the expected transplanting date, sow seeds ½ inch deep and 1 inches apart, in flats or pots. Use a soilless starting mix, not garden soil. Keep the containers warm (70-90°F) and the soil moist but not wet. Once the seedlings have germinated, transfer them to a sunny location. About 10 days after germination, transfer to 2-inch pots. It helps to remove the lower leaves and plant the seedling deeper. After about 2 more weeks, transplant to 4-inch pots and continue to grow. At least 2 weeks before the plants go into the garden, begin to harden them by moving outside into dappled shade for a short period each day. Gradually increase their time outside and move into a sunny location.
Transplanting tomato plants
Warm soil is important for growing tomatoes. Growing tomatoes in raised beds is helpful, as is covering the beds with plastic sheets for a few weeks before planting. This will help to warm up the soil. Work organic matter, such as rotted manure or compost, into the soil before planting. Choose a sunny location--tomatoes need 6 to 8 hours of sunlight to produce well. The soil pH should be 6.0-6.8.
Tomatoes should be transplanted outdoors after the last expected frost-free date. If you are purchasing plants, buy the 4-inch pot size. Plants should not be too old; 6- or 8-week-old plants are ideal. They should not be pot-bound. Dig a hole about 6 in. deep and deep enough so that only about 4 inches of the plant is above the soil level. Remove any leaves that would be buried. Spacing will depend on the type of tomato being planted. Water well.
Plants can be supported with mesh cages (5 feet tall) or with individual stakes and twine.
It is important to keep tomatoes well watered. Also, tomatoes need plenty of nutrients to keep them growing well and produce lots of fruit. Feed them every two or three weeks with compost tea, fish emulsion, or another natural fertilizer. Do not use fertilizers that are high in nitrogen as this will encourage leaf growth at the expense of flowers and fruit. Plants can be mulched to conserve water, but do so only when the ground has warmed up. Some gardeners use red plastic mulch, which helps to warm up the soil and is said to increase yield.
Pruning out some of the side stems will result in larger fruit but is not necessary. “Determinate” tomatoes grow as bushes and will stop growing when they start to fruit. “Indeterminate” tomatoes grow continually and may need to be pruned to control their height. Dwarf varieties that produce small or cherry tomatoes are also available.
Unfortunately, tomatoes are susceptible to many diseases. In seed catalogs the resistance of a particular variety is often indicated with a letter code (F for fusarium wilt, V for verticillium wilt and N for nematodes). Cultivars that are relatively resistant to various diseases can also be purchased as plants. Good growing conditions are important in reducing problems from diseases.
A large variety of different tomato cultivars is available on the market. The precise variety that you grow will depend on the climate in your garden, the amount of space available, and your culinary needs. To see which one is best-suited to you climate and needs, try growing a number of different varieties. Consider growing early, mid-season, and late varieties. For varieties to grow in the Northeast and their disease resistance consult Cornell's Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners.
For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides.
- Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service