15 Secrets To Growing Killer Tomatoes This Season

Tomatoes are frequently the most prized crop in our gardens each year. And it’s no wonder: the taste of a fresh homegrown tomato or sauce made from a paste tomato is one of the most delicious things to look forward to each summer.

Grocery store produce pales in comparison with its tasteless industrial hybrids, bred to withstand shipping and storage at the expense of flavor, aroma, and nutrition. Biting into a grocery tomato is depressing, especially once you’ve grown your own.

You’re not alone if you’ve struggled with spotty yields or other tomato issues. This article breaks down the targeted tips. tricks, and secrets that can help you cultivate your best tomatoes ever. We’ll explore soil preparation, watering techniques, and pest management to help you achieve that ideal harvest. Whether filling your kitchen with the fresh aroma of slicing tomatoes for sandwiches or stocking up for canning, these insights are designed to guide you to success.

Start Them Off Right From The Start

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Maybe this is obvious, but it bears repeating: getting your tomato seedlings off to a strong start is crucial for a robust harvest.

Using artificial lights is essential because natural light is often insufficient for young plants indoors. Keep the lights about 2-3 inches above the seedlings to promote sturdy, not leggy, growth. As the plants grow, adjust the height of the lights to maintain the proper distance.

Also, transferring your seedlings to larger pots before they transition outdoors is important. This step ensures they have enough room to develop strong roots, setting the stage for healthier, more productive plants once planted in your garden.

Compost: The Secret to Feeding Hungry Tomatoes

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Tomatoes are heavy feeders, requiring nutrient-rich soil to thrive. Incorporating compost into your garden is one of the best ways to meet their nutritional demands.

For the best results, add 1-2 inches of compost to your soil in the fall. This will allow it to enrich the earth over the winter and keep the soil microbes fed and happy. If you missed this time, adding compost in the spring is still beneficial.

When planting your tomatoes, don’t forget to add a handful of compost directly into each planting hole. This direct enrichment feeds the roots where they need it most, giving your tomatoes a strong start and supporting vigorous growth throughout the season.

If you grow in a no-till garden as we do, where finished compost from mixed sources is the soil’s primary (or only) ingredient in your garden beds, this may be the only fertilizer you need for the whole season.

Nitrogen Boost: The Power of Manure

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Related to the previous point, but deserving of its own section — manure.

Adding high-nitrogen manure directly to your garden beds or even into the planting holes can provide this essential nutrient in abundance.

Use well-rotted manure in the planting holes to avoid burning the plants—this is crucial as fresh manure can be too harsh. This natural fertilizer supports vigorous leaf and stem growth, setting a strong foundation for the plants before they start setting fruit.

If you have chickens and use the deep-litter system (and you should) for coop management, apply their composted bedding directly to the top of the soil in your tomato garden beds as a form of super-nutritious mulch. The tomatoes will love it. Chicken manure has especially high amounts of nitrogen.

Read More: All About The Deep Litter Method For Chicken Coop Health

Deep Planting for Strong Roots

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Tomatoes possess a unique ability to develop roots along their stems, making deep or sideways planting an excellent strategy for establishing a robust root system.

Consider burying your tomato seedlings up to the first set of true leaves when planting them. This technique encourages the buried portion of the stem to sprout additional roots, greatly enhancing the plant’s stability and access to nutrients and requiring less watering.

If space allows, planting the seedling sideways in a shallow trench and gently bending it upright can also be effective. This method allows even more of the stem to be in contact with the soil, promoting a stronger, more extensive root network.

Such planting techniques are particularly beneficial in building a resilient plant capable of supporting a heavy fruit load later in the season.

Fish Guts for Fertility

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Burying fish guts and heads in the garden soil is a practice with deep roots, historically used by Native American tribes to fertilize their crops, most famously in the cultivation of maize. This method is also highly beneficial for tomato plants. Fish remains are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients that tomatoes crave. By digging a hole and placing fish scraps at the base before planting tomatoes, you provide a slow-release fertilizer that enriches the soil as it decomposes.

This age-old technique boosts plant growth and fruit production and enhances soil health by adding organic matter and stimulating microbial activity. The key is to bury the fish material deep enough to prevent attracting wildlife or pets. This natural and sustainable approach to fertilization can significantly improve tomato yield and overall plant vigor.

Smart Watering Strategies

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The key is consistent, deep watering that encourages roots to grow downward, strengthening the plant. This approach helps tomatoes withstand periods of drought and reduces the risk of diseases associated with uneven moisture levels, such as blossom end rot.

For the best results, aim to water the plant base to keep the foliage dry, minimizing the risk of fungal diseases that thrive in moist conditions. Using a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system is ideal because these methods deliver water directly to the soil, reducing evaporation and water waste.

It’s also important to monitor the soil moisture regularly. Tomatoes need about 1 to 2 inches of water per week, depending on soil type and weather conditions. Watering in the early morning is most effective, as it allows water to soak deeply into the soil and the plant to dry off before the cooler evening temperatures, reducing disease risks.

Wood Ash for Determinate Tomatoes

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Wood ash can be a great addition to your garden, especially for determinate tomato varieties. These tomatoes, which grow to a fixed height and produce all their fruit quickly, benefit from the potassium-rich nature of wood ash. Potassium is crucial for overall plant health, aiding disease resistance, water regulation, and fruit quality.

Incorporating wood ash into the soil around determinate tomatoes helps improve flowering and fruiting. It also adjusts the soil pH slightly, making it more alkaline, which can be beneficial if your soil is naturally acidic. However, it’s important to use wood ash sparingly and test your soil’s pH before applying, as too much can lead to an imbalance that might hinder plant growth.

To use wood ash in your tomato garden, sprinkle a light layer around the base of your plants early in the season or mix it into the soil before planting. This slow-release source of nutrients will feed your tomatoes, improve the soil structure, and promote healthier, more vigorous plants.

Organic Fertilizer & Feeding Tomatoes Naturally

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Proper fertilization is crucial to support the robust growth of tomato plants. Fish emulsion, a concentrated liquid fertilizer made from processed fish, is rich in nitrogen, which promotes healthy leaf and stem growth. It also contains other beneficial nutrients that support overall plant health and fruit development.

Applying fish emulsion according to the package instructions—usually diluted in water—provides a quick nutrient boost that can help sustain plants throughout their growth phases. For best results, apply this organic fertilizer every 2-4 weeks during the growing season, starting after transplant until the end of the growing period. This steady supply of nutrients mirrors the natural feeding cycle of the plants, ensuring they receive what they need when needed.

Other organic sources of nutrients, like seaweed extracts, can enhance nutrient availability and absorption, promoting stronger plants and more flavorful tomatoes.

Proper Pruning

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Pruning focuses the plant’s energy on fruit production rather than excessive foliage, improving air circulation and reducing disease risk.

The best way to prune indeterminate tomatoes is to remove the suckers, which are the small shoots that grow in the joints between the stems and the leaves. Pinching these suckers off when they are small prevents the plant from becoming too bushy and directs more energy into producing larger, healthier fruits.

There is some controversy surrounding the practice of pruning tomatoes. Some gardeners argue that it exposes fruit to sunscald and reduces the plant’s natural vigor. Others believe it’s essential for maximizing yield and health in indeterminate varieties. The consensus favors moderate pruning to balance foliage and fruit production, especially in humid climates where poor air circulation can lead to fungal diseases.

On the other hand, determinate tomatoes, which grow to a fixed size and produce all their fruit at once, do not require pruning. Removing suckers from determinate plants can reduce the yield and is generally not recommended. For these types of tomatoes, it’s best to let them grow naturally, focusing instead on proper staking and support.

Effective Staking and Support for Tomato Plants

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Proper support is essential for tomato plants as they grow taller and bear heavy fruit.

Tomato cages often fall short for larger, indeterminate varieties, as they may not support the weight of a fully laden plant.

Stakes or a trellis system are generally more effective. Use sturdy stakes at least 6-8 feet tall and 1-2 inches in diameter, driven 1-2 feet into the ground. Tie the plant’s main stem to the stake with soft materials like cloth or twine to prevent damage.

Alternatively, a trellis with horizontal wires or strong string between vertical supports allows vines to grow upward, enhancing support, air circulation, and sunlight exposure. This method surpasses tomato cages, which can restrict maintenance access, limit airflow, and encourage disease due to overcrowding.

Epsom Salt in the Garden: Beneficial or Just a Myth?

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Epsom salt, magnesium sulfate, is a topic of much debate in gardening, particularly for tomatoes. Some gardeners swear by its use, claiming it provides necessary magnesium for plants, which can lead to bushier growth, greener leaves, and higher yields. Magnesium is indeed an essential element, playing a crucial role in chlorophyll production and the overall health of plants.

Scientific evidence on the benefits of Epsom salt for tomatoes and other garden plants is inconclusive. While it’s true that magnesium sulfate can help if your soil is deficient in magnesium, most soils contain adequate amounts naturally. Adding Epsom salt to soil that doesn’t need it might not produce any noticeable benefits.

If you’re curious about Epsom salt, it’s generally safe to experiment with in your garden. To try it out, dissolve a few tablespoons of Epsom salt in water and use it to water your tomato plants every few weeks. Alternatively, sprinkle a tablespoon or two around the base of each plant.

Read More: 18 Pervasive Gardening Myths Busted

The Importance of Mulching

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We mulch our soil with organic matter year-round to prevent compaction from rain and weather and to protect it from the sun. Mulch offers numerous benefits that should not be ignored.

Applying a layer of mulch to your garden beds or just around your tomato plants helps retain soil moisture by reducing evaporation. Consistent moisture availability is key to preventing issues like blossom end rot and drought stress, which can affect fruit quality and overall plant health.

Mulch helps regulate soil temperature, keeping the roots cooler in hot weather and warmer during cooler nights. Mulch also acts as a barrier between the soil and the plant leaves, reducing the risk of soil-borne diseases splashing up onto the plants during rainfall or watering. It can also inhibit weed growth around the plants, reducing competition for nutrients and simplifying garden maintenance.

Organic mulches, such as straw, grass clippings, and compost, slowly decompose and enrich the soil with organic matter, improving soil structure and fertility.

Read More: Mulching For Your Best Tomato & Pepper Harvests

Effective Companion Planting for Tomatoes

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Companion planting substantially benefits tomato growth, and scientific research supports its effectiveness. For example, planting basil alongside tomatoes enhances fruit quality and helps control root-knot nematodes. Additionally, basil’s strong scent naturally repels pests such as hornworms, thrips, and armyworms, providing an organic pest control method.

Another useful companion is clover, which has been shown to reduce the density of tomato fruit borer eggs and larvae. It also encourages the presence of natural enemies like predatory bugs, enhancing biological pest control within the garden.

Marigolds are also beneficial when planted near tomatoes. They positively affect fruit quality and combat root-knot nematodes without competing for resources, supporting healthier plants and better yields.

Lastly, intercropping tomatoes with potato onions can alleviate the severity of Verticillium wilt. This companion planting strategy enhances tomato disease resistance by influencing root exudates and upregulating defense-related gene expressions, contributing to a stronger, more resilient plant.

Optimizing Tomato Pollination

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While tomatoes are self-pollinating, taking steps to ensure thorough pollination can lead to larger and more uniform fruit production. One effective method is gently shaking the tomato plants, especially during the midday when pollen is most viable. This shaking helps release pollen from the anthers and catch on the stigma of the same flower.

Using a small paintbrush to transfer pollen from flower to flower manually can mimic the action of natural pollinators like bees. These techniques are particularly useful in greenhouses or urban settings where natural pollinators may be less prevalent. Enhancing pollination in this way ensures that each flower has the best chance of developing into a full-sized, healthy tomato.

You can attract more beneficial pollinators to your garden by planting native species of flowers and other plants.

Selecting and Saving Tomato Varieties for Your Climate

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Choosing tomato varieties that are well-suited to your specific climate and region is critical. Different varieties have distinct tolerances for temperature extremes, humidity, and common regional pests and diseases. Selecting types that thrive under your local conditions can significantly enhance plant health and fruit production.

In addition to selecting the right varieties, saving seeds from your best-producing plants can be highly beneficial. This practice allows you to cultivate a strain of tomatoes adapted to your local climate and possesses the qualities—such as taste, size, and resistance to diseases—that you value most. Over time, plants grown from these seeds may perform better in your garden than those grown from commercially purchased seeds.

It’s An Ongoing Experiment

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The key to success lies in the details—from the initial seedling care to the specific practices tailored to your garden’s unique conditions. Whether choosing the right variety for your climate, optimizing soil and nutrition, or employing smart watering and pollination techniques, each step is a building block toward a bountiful harvest.

By applying these tips and continuously learning from each season’s experiences, you’ll grow delicious tomatoes and enhance your gardening skills.

There are so many beautiful, rare, and delicious tomatoes! If you’re anything like me, you have dozens of seed packets and can’t stop yourself from buying more — almost like an addiction! Enjoy the process because you learn so much from it.

More On Mulching

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Learn More: Secrets of Mulching For Your Best Tomato & Pepper Harvests

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