Tips for Top Notch Tomatoes


Pig City Garden Calendar

By Daniel Marvin

(Cazenovia, NY – April 2011) Perhaps my most looked-forward-to vegetable from our garden is a ripe tomato. Here are some tips from “Growing Great Tomatoes” at Marie Iannotti’s website.

Is it too early too be thinking about your tomato plants? Not if you’re the competitive tomato-gardening type who wants the earliest and sweetest tomato on the block. Unfortunately, growing great tomatoes doesn’t just happen. Sample some of the science experiments on sale at your grocer’s this winter, if you don’t believe it.

Start early with some time-tested tomato growing tips to insure your bragging rights this year. If you are starting tomatoes from seed, be sure to give the seedlings room to branch out. Close conditions inhibit their growth, so transplant them as soon as they get their first true leaves and move them into four-inch pots about two weeks after that.

Buy seed or plants for Zone 4.

Provide lots of light; tomato seedlings will need either strong, direct sunlight or 14 to 18 hours under grow lights. Place the young plants only a couple of inches from florescent grow lights. Plant your tomatoes outside in the sunniest part of your vegetable plot when the time is right.

Put a fan on your seedlings. It seems tomato plants need to move and sway in the breeze, to develop strong stems. Provide a breeze by turning a fan on them for 5 to 10 minutes twice a day.

Tomatoes love heat. Cover the planting area with black or red plastic a couple of weeks before you intend to plant. Those extra degrees of warmth will translate into earlier tomatoes.

Bury tomato plants deeper than they come in the pot, all the way up to a few top leaves. Tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems. You can either dig a deeper hole or simply dig a shallow tunnel and lay the plant sideways. It will straighten up and grow toward the sun. Be careful not to drive your pole or cage into the stem.

Mulch after the ground has had a chance to warm up. Mulching does conserve water and prevents the soil and soil-borne diseases from splashing up on the plants, but if you put it down too early, it will also shade and therefore cool the soil. Try using plastic mulch for heat lovers like tomatoes and peppers.

Once the tomato plants are about three feet tall, remove the leaves from the bottom one foot of stem. These are usually the first leaves to develop fungus problems. They get the least amount of sun and soil-borne pathogens can be unintentionally splashed up onto them.

Spraying weekly with compost tea also seems to be effective at warding off fungus diseases.

Important! Pinch and remove suckers that develop in the crotch joint of two branches. They won’t bear fruit and will take energy away from the rest of the plant. But go easy on pruning the rest of the plant; you can thin leaves to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruit, but it’s the leaves that are photosynthesizing and creating the sugars that give flavor to your tomatoes.

Water deeply and regularly while the plants are developing. Irregular watering (missing a week and trying to make up for it) leads to blossom end rot and cracking. Once the fruit begins to ripen, lessening the water will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars.

Don’t withhold water so much that the plants wilt and become stressed or they will drop their blossoms and possibly their fruit.

Global Warming … But Which Globe?

I am an old enthusiast for the quality of life in Cazenovia, Fort Fairfield, Maine, and other similar places that tend to be like a “family town,” and I ask each of you who reads this column to think about what it is that you do to help keep this place such a very special place.

Are you careful not to litter? Do you do your utmost to purchase what you need from local stores? Seriously, do you buy most of your groceries locally? And gas, oil and diesel fuel locally?

If you decide to give the lady of the house a break and dine out, do you pick a place in Cazenovia or Fort Fairfield and be one of those loyalists who want to do their part to keep the heartbeat of the community strong, vital and smooooth?

Do what you can and we will leave this place as nice for our children and grandchildren as we found it for ourselves.

What is a rose sucker? Suckers are stalks that emerge from below the bud union where the rose bush was grafted onto the root stock. Suckers are growing from the root stock and will not bloom, like the top half of your rose bush; however they will sap energy from the plant and can take over completely, so it’s best to remove them.

The only sure sign that a branch is a sucker and not simply new growth is that it is coming from below the bud union, although most suckers will have leaves that don’t exactly resemble those on the upper portion of the rose bush.

How to remove rose suckers: Cutting suckers with pruners seems to encourage more suckers. It’s recommended that you dig down to where the sucker is originating and pull, twist or tear it off. Wear thick, protective gloves.

You may have to follow the sucker back to its source. Suckers can pop up several feet from the originating rose bush. The good news is that many newer roses are grown from cuttings, not grafts, and these do not sucker.

Now let us pray for planting, pruning and enjoying weather!

Happy gardening!

Daniel Marvin is a retired lieutenant colonel and hobbyist gardener. He can be reached at


2 comments to Tips for Top Notch Tomatoes

  • Great tomato growing tips one I always us is adding a tablespoon of Epsom salts in the hole when I plant the seedlings.

  • grandma maloy

    Daniel, you are truly a tomato plant specialist! Thanks for all of the good information. I’ve depended upon a favorite online garden retailer for years. I appreciate your comments on buying locally, and do so when it makes sense, like buying OK produced products in the grocery store, but since I live in a very rural area, I’ve started shopping for my plants online. It is 35 miles one way to WalMart and even further for any kind of garden center or greenhouse, so shopping online just makes things more economical, both in terms of fuel and time.
    I’ve also gotten most of my advice on raising tomato plants from a blog and Master Gardener, but I’ve learned a few things new from you, like about putting a fan on the seedlings.

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