Chances are, if you’re growing your own fruits and veggies, you’ve got a tomato plant or two. Casual growers and expert gardeners alike choose to tackle these easy-to-grow, relatively hardy plants because they’re so versatile and produce all summer long. Growing plump, red-ripe, juicy tomatoes takes a little more than soil and watering, though – mastering this perennial summer favorite requires a little know-how and planning.
Would you believe that, for a sizable period in human history, tomatoes were considered poisonous? They were lumped in with the Solanaceae family of deadly nightshades, which evolved alongside tomatoes in warm environments near the equator. The shady reputation was understandable, as belladonna, or “nightshade,” was a similar-looking plant relative that actually was toxic. By the mid-1800s, however, the fear had subsided and tomatoes were well on their way to becoming the staple of the summer garden that we know today.
When you’re choosing what type of tomato is right for your garden, you’ll need to consider which of the two major variations works best for your uses:
- Determinate. Also referred to as “bush” tomatoes, these compact varieties are bred to ripen consistently. Most buds will develop fruit within one to two weeks of each other so the entire plant ripens at the same time. This type of tomato is perfectly suited for container planting or preserving large quantities for canning. Roma or plum tomato varieties are usually determinate, with thicker skins and lower water content that make them perfect for processing into tomato sauces or pastes.
- Indeterminate. Indeterminate selections will bloom, set new fruit and ripen continuously throughout the season until frost. Staking and sometimes pruning will be required, as these plants will reach 6 ft tall or higher. Cherry tomatoes are typically indeterminate and continue to produce sweet, small tomatoes that are great in salads – and for getting kids to eat their veggies. And indeterminate beefsteak/slicing tomatoes are big, flavor-packed varieties meant for sandwiches or for eating alone.
Whatever the variety, tomatoes are hungry, fast-growing plants. They need consistent amounts of water and plenty of room to grow without being crowded too closely together. Tomatoes can be sensitive to plant disease, like early blight and leaf spot, so keep your eyes peeled for signs of infection on tomato plants and take preventative measures to limit susceptibility:
- Crop rotation. Change the location of where you grow tomatoes on an annual basis, if possible. Peppers, eggplant and potatoes are in the same family, which means they all need similar nutrients to grow and can be susceptible to the same diseases.
- Mulch. Many diseases that attack tomatoes originate in the soil. Whether you see spots on leaves, discoloration or extreme wilting, disease comes from other plants or the soil itself. Prevent soil from getting onto leaves at the bottom of the plant – make sure your tomato plants are upright off the ground and that there’s 2 to 3 inches of high-quality mulch on your garden bed.
- Preventative treatments. Spray a good, multi-purpose fungicide product, like Garden Safe® Brand Fungicide3®, every week to two weeks throughout the growing season to ward off listed fungal infections (and treat for listed insect types to boot!). Water in the early morning so plant tissues can dry as fast as possible and prune overgrowth to help increase air circulation to your tomato plants.