Tomatoes are a staple in many diets, and they are often the deciding factor in those that decide that its time to grow their own fruits and vegetables at home. While relatively inexpensive, they are so prevalent in all sorts of foods that it makes sense to have them available as and when you need them. Unfortunately, while they may seem like a good idea, they rank among the most challenging items to grow yourself, simply because they are more susceptible to problems than many other home-produced things. Fortunately, most of these problems are easily solved with a bit of planning and effort, and we will go through the most common issues and tips to get your harvest right the first time.
1. Give Your Seeds Space
Whether you decide to grow in pots, the garden or even a grow tent, you need to ensure that each individual seed has the room it needs to grow outwards. In the case of small pots, while it may sound counter-intuitive, we would never put more than a single seed in each. If you manage to overstuff the seeds and restrict the seeds, it will not only have an impact on their growth potential but potentially even cause the plants to become diseased later in the growth process.
2. Be Ready to Move the Big Growers
The space concern is one that never goes away. Some plants will grow better than others based on all sorts of factors, to the point that they might require a larger home than their original one. If it looks like your tomato plant takes over the pot, consider moving it into a larger one. It may not grow any larger, but you will have at least allowed it to do so.
3. Tomato Seedlings Love the Light
Everyone’s circumstances are different and where you decide to grow your tomatoes is mostly down to you. However, some considerations must be made regardless of where they grow, and the main one is access to direct light. The time of year has an effect, as do your own circumstances. Ideally, your tomato plants will be outdoors or near a window where they can receive all the sunlight they need. If not, it may be worth investing in artificial lighting, which you can then direct at your plants for around 18 hours each day.
4. Tomatoes Love a Nice Breeze
Light is a big concern, but so is slight exposure to the elements. An often overlooked aspect of tomato growth is good air circulation. This is rarely a concern when your seedlings are outside, as natural winds and breezes will be enough to encourage the growth of strong stems. Indoors, however, circulation is often at a premium. Fortunately, even something as simple as a fan can provide the requisite gust of wind, and just pointing one at your plants for a few minutes, a couple of times each day will achieve the required results.
5. Tomatoes Love Warmth
Tomatoes originally grew in the wild in South America, so there’s every chance that you may have to adjust the climate to promote good growth. They simply will not grow in cold weather, and it is best to warm them up at the earliest opportunity. This can begin right from the planting process, as preheated soil – such as soil that has been covered with plastic before planting – will lead to earlier, stronger harvests.
6. Keep Most of the Stem Underground
Part of the visual appeal of a tomato plant comes from the stems rising out of the soil. However, if you are happy to sacrifice aesthetics for superior results, it is worth burying most of the stem and only leaving the top few leaves exposed. The more of the plant is in the soil; the more roots will grow, strengthening the plant and increasing the capacity for nutrient intake.
7. Wait for the Ground to Warm Up before Adding Mulch
If you’ve ever grown anything in your own time, you’ll be well aware of the importance of mulch. Tomatoes are no different in this regard, and the mulch will keep in moisture and work against diseases. However, the mulch also gets in the way of the sun, leading to lower soil temperatures. Wait until the soil has warmed up, or increase the temperature artificially before you apply the mulch for the best results.
8. Keep Lower Leaves Trimmed
Your tomato plant will grow to several feet in length, but this is certainly not a set and forget project. Once your plants reach around three feet in height, you should take the time to trim away the bottom leaves. They no longer serve any useful purpose and, as the oldest leaves that are closest to the ground, they are the most susceptible to disease. Their removal is a no-brainer, so don’t be afraid to put in the work.
9. Keep Your Plants Watered
The love that tomatoes have for warm conditions mean that they tend to grow best at times of the year when water is at a premium. That means that it is often on you to provide them with this all-important source of development. You’ll need to make a judgement based on how dry it is in your growing area, but an inch of water each week is always a decent baseline from which to work.
10. Finish with a Flourish in the Ripening Process
When the time comes for your tomatoes to ripen, you’ve almost certainly invested plenty of time and energy into their growth. It is almost time to reap the rewards, but don’t slow down just yet. Natural ripening generally depends on the weather, but you can tend to them to encourage positive results. If you cut down on the water supply, the plant will focus on sugar instead for sweeter tomatoes, while if you pinch stem tips towards the start of summer, more energy will go towards flowering.