Want fewer troubles with your tomatoes? Consider these ten tips:
- Choose the right location: Tomatoes need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Leave plenty of space between plants for good circulation; staking plants also helps.
- Rotate crops: Many disease spores can live in the soil for years. Don't grow tomatoes or related plants like peppers and eggplants in the same spot year after year. If you can't rotate crops, plant tomatoes in large containers and change the soil annually. More on crop rotation and plant families.
- Improve soil: Get tomatoes off to a good start by planting them in well-drained, weed-free soil that's enriched with organic matter like well-rotted compost.
- Water correctly: Deep, slow watering encourages good root formation and is better than short, frequent irrigation. Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems to avoid wetting foliage, which can lead to fungal diseases. Water early so plants dry before evening. By keeping moisture levels consistent, you'll help prevent problems like blossom-end rot and leaf curl.
- Mulch: Reduce weeds and maintain consistent moisture levels by spreading mulch around plants. Leave space around the stem. Mulching reduces the spread of early blight and other diseases by preventing spores from splashing onto plants.
- Encourage beneficial insects: Praying mantises, predatory wasps, lady beetles and toads are natural predators that reduce tomato pests. Keep them happy by avoiding the use of pesticides in your garden.
- Don't smoke around plants: If you smoke, wash your hands, clothing and tools carefully before working in the garden to avoid spreading tobacco mosaic virus. Remove and destroy infected plants to prevent disease from spreading to healthy plants.
- Keep it clean: Remove garden debris, leaf litter and weeds to keep pests and pathogens away. To avoid spreading diseases, sterilize garden tools in a solution made from one part bleach to nine parts water.
- Solarize soil: Want to control weeds, fungi and nematode diseases? Soil solarization kills weed seeds and diseases without chemicals. Cover wet garden soil with clear plastic sheets to trap the sun's heat. Solarization works best in areas with long, hot growing seasons, and requires at least four to six weeks.
- Plant the right tomato: Hundreds of tomato varieties are available, so select the types that grow best in your area. Your local garden center or cooperative extension service will have recommendations. Look for healthy green leaves and stems when buying a plant. Avoid tomatoes with roots growing out of the containers' drain holes; they've been in containers too long. Check carefully for pests or diseased plant parts so you don't introduce these problems into your garden.
F - Fusarium wilt
FF - Fusarium Race 1 and Race 2
L - Septoria leaf spot
T- Tobacco mosaic virus
N - Nematodes
V- Verticillium wilt
A - Alternaria leaf spot
Heirloom tomatoes to try
Tomatoes for cooking and preserving
Portions of this article were published previously in Gardening How-To Magazine.