Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ten Tips for Trouble-Free Tomatoes

Want fewer troubles with your tomatoes? Consider these ten tips:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
Tomato varieties marked with these codes have resistance to these diseases:
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.


  1. Thanks for the tips. We just started gardening and I need all the help I can get. Carla

  2. What do you mulch with if you remove all leaf litter? Numbers 6 and 9 are also contradictory, since any method that kills weed seeds will also kill anything beneficial living in the soil.

  3. Pogo,

    Thanks for your message. While leaves can certainly be used for mulching tomatoes, it's best to chop and compost them first, according to the USDA. Here's more on mulching: (see chart)

    Gardeners certainly want to encourage as many beneficial insects as they can in their garden. But sometimes they need extra help in controlling weeds and pest damage, and soil solarization can be an effective non-chemical method. Here is research from University of California Davis

  4. Had no idea on the smoking/tobbaco tip! Glad I don't smoke - just one more reason to avoid it!

  5. Hi WashingtonGardner: Absolutely, keep all your smoking friends from touching your tomatoes... until they are picked, of course. ;) Teresa

  6. Smoking is not only bad for our health the same thing goes for the plants also, happy to know that. thanks for the links, those links are really helpful.