How to Plant Tomatoes
One of the best things you can do to get your tomatoes off to a good start is to plant them correctly. Tomatoes are oddballs in that they like to be planted deeply — with not just their root ball, but also most of their stem buried in the soil.
Why Should You Plant Tomatoes Deep?
When you bury the stem, tomato plants grow roots all along the buried length of stem. This results in a stronger, sturdier plant; one that is better able to handle drought and excessive heat.
How to Plant Tomatoes — 2 Methods
Method 1: Straight Down
For this method, you simply dig the deepest hole you can, while ensuring that at least a couple sets of leaves are still above the soil. This works fine if you have nice, loose, fluffy soil, but if you have less-than-perfect soil, you may want to try the next method.
Method 2: Trench Tomatoes
Dig a trench that is long enough to bury the entire plant except for the top couple sets of leaves. It should be deep enough to bury the stem at least three inches deep. Dig the trench, then lay your tomato plant in it, and cover it all over with soil. You’ll have the top-most sets of leaves sticking out of one end of the trench. You can use a small stake to stand the end upright, or just wait — it will start growing straight up in a few days.
General Tips for Tomato Planting
1. Incorporate plenty of organic matter, in the form of compost or composted manure, into the soil prior to planting, especially if you’re trying to grow in either sandy or clayey soil.
2. Adding calcium to the planting soil may help fend off blossom end rot. Add a bit of bone meal or a few crushed eggshells to the planting hole.
3. Mulch around your tomato plants to help retain soil moisture and reduce weeds. Organic mulches, such as wood shavings, straw, shredded leaves, or grass clippings work great. You can also use red plastic if you’d like (some say it increases yields.)
That’s all there is to it! A few easy techniques, and you’re well on your way to growing great tomatoes.
How to Prune Tomato Plants
It can be haphazard when it comes to pruning your own tomato plants. Some years, you might not pinch out a single sucker, and others lots, I’m very diligent about it. In my experience, the years I take the time to pinch out suckers are more productive, not to mention a little neater. When I don’t prune, I’ve found that my plants quickly become large and unruly. Since I tend to grow my plants close together to maximize my space, this is not a good thing.
What does pruning do for a tomato plant, and how and when should you prune if you decide to do so? Here are a few tips for pruning tomatoes.
Reasons to Prune Tomato Plants
Pruning tomatoes helps direct the plants’ energy toward fruit production, rather than stem and foliage production. This often results in earlier, bigger tomatoes — always a good thing!
Another reason to prune your tomato plants is to maintain a manageable plant size. Indeterminate tomatoes will ramble everywhere, and, if not properly supported (or pruned) will end up crowding out other plants.
We generally don’t bother with pruning determinate varieties, because these plants produce a crop all at once, and tend to be smaller plants in general.
When to Prune Tomato Plants
You should pinch the suckers (see explanation below) when they are less than two inches tall. This should be done throughout the growing season.
How to Prune Tomato Plants
When pruning tomatoes, you are trying to remove the suckers that appear between the main stem and the branches. These shoots will eventually produce fruit as well, so they’re not entirely useless, but if you let them all keep going, you will end up with large, somewhat unruly plants. To prune tomatoes, simply locate the suckers, and pinch or snip them out.
What Else to Prune
Even after you’re done removing suckers, there is still some regular pruning you should do. You should remove wilting, spotty, or dead foliage regularly, as well as any branches that have broken. Be sure to pick up any fruit that has dropped. Diseased foliage should be discarded, not composted.
Of course, there is a whole school of gardeners who don’t bother with pruning, and if it seems like too much trouble, you don’t have to prune either. If you decide not to prune, you’ll need to space your plants farther apart in the garden, and cage your plants to support them.
Why Do Tomatoes Split?
The title of this sounds like one of those bad “why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes, but it’s a very common problem among tomato growers. It’s frustrating to wait for a tomato, and then, when it’s finally ripe, to discover that its split in the last day or so.
Splitting is caused by irregular moisture in the soil. So, if you’ve been keeping your tomatoes on the dry side (as some gardeners do because they swear that the flavour is better when tomatoes are grown in drier conditions) and then you get a good, soaking rain, any tomatoes that are nearly ripe will usually split due to the influx of extra water.
Splitting can also happen if you do a good job of keeping the soil moisture level fairly even, and then you get a big rain storm.
You can still eat split tomatoes, but be sure to eat them the same day you harvest them — once they split they absolutely will not store well. Even if you’re not planning on eating the split tomatoes, be sure to harvest them and toss them in your compost pile — split, rotting tomatoes will turn your garden into a smelly mess in no time.
It happens to the best of us. Mulching your soil and watering regularly goes a long way toward reducing the likeliness of splitting, but Mother Nature is in charge, and if she decides to dump a few inches of rain on your garden all at once, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. There are some hybrids that are supposedly resistant to splitting, but any tomato will split if they get an influx of moisture when they’ve reached full size and near-ripeness.
How To Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors
The chill in the air may have you looking at your tomato plants, and all of that green fruit hanging from them, and wondering if they’ll have enough time to ripen. Luckily, if there is no frost in the forecast, and you’re supposed to get warm weather next week, you will have a bit more time. But, the first frost will be upon us soon enough, and I hate letting any tomatoes go to waste.
So when a frost is in the forecast, I’ll head out and harvest the green tomatoes. Any that are at least close to the size they’re supposed to be when ripe will come indoors to ripen. Those that are on the small side will also be harvested and used to make pickled green tomatoes or maybe green tomato chutney.
There are a few ways to ripen tomatoes indoors:
Pull up the whole plant
One method for ripening tomatoes is to pull up the entire plant, including the roots. Shake off as much soil as possible, and hang the plant, upside down, in a cool area that gets indirect light. I have to confess that I’ve never tried this method because my tomato plants are just too enormous to even consider it. I’ve heard from people who love this method, though, so it may be worth a try.
Ripen tomatoes on a window sill
If you’ve got tomatoes that are starting to turn colour, this method usually works very well. Simply pick the tomatoes, wash them, dry them, and set them on your window sill to finish ripening. There’s some debate about whether you should place them stem-side down or blossom-end side down. I’m pretty haphazard about this and haven’t really noticed any difference either way.
Store them in a box
If you have green tomatoes that are still pretty firm, and not showing any color at all, you can try this method. Pick the tomatoes, wash them, and dry them. Then wrap each one and place it in a box, stacking the tomatoes no more than 2 layers deep. Store the box in a cool dry place, such as an unheated basement or garage. Check the boxes regularly for signs of ripening, and remove those that are starting to change color so they can finish ripening on your kitchen top. The flavour won’t be as good as those you picked that were already starting to change color, but they’re still WAY better than anything you can buy in the supermarket, and this method can yield tomatoes for several weeks.
Ripen them with an apple
This is another method I haven’t tried yet, but I’ve heard of people putting their green tomatoes in a paper bag with an apple to ripen them. This is similar in idea to what commercial producers do to ripen their green tomatoes all at once — the ethylene gas from the apple ripens the tomatoes.