News release: Tomato Culture

Tim Baker, MU Extension Horticulture Specialist
102 N. Main, Suite 1, Gallatin, MO 64640
660-663-3232, bakert@missouri.edu

Release Date: June 23, 2016
Headline: Tomato Culture

After you’ve selected your tomato variety and planted it, taking care not to over fertilize it, you now need to think about how you will care for your future bountiful harvest.  Needless to say, if you don’t care for the plants properly, you won’t have a bountiful harvest.

First of all, you will need to stake your plants.  Now perhaps you have seen tomatoes grown without stakes.  That is ok, but these plants usually don’t produce well.  You need to keep the plants up off the ground, where air can flow around and through the plant.  This will help keep diseases at bay and produce cleaner fruit.

There are several ways to accomplish this.  You may prefer to stake each plant, carefully tying them with a material that will not damage the vine against the stake.  Don’t tie the vine right up against the stake, but allow for freedom of movement and growth.

Another way of staking is by setting a row of stakes, with tomatoes between the stakes, and then weaving twine between the stakes and plants.  This method is used frequently by commercial growers, and works well.  Simply tie a piece of twine to one stake, and brush up against your tomato plants on one side.  Then go to the next stake, weave a circle around it, and on to the next stake, taking care to brush up against the tomatoes planted between each stake.  When you get to the last stake, turn around and head back to the original stake, catching the plants this time on the opposite side. You start this process when the plants are smaller, and then add levels of twine as the plants grow taller.

Another way of “staking” your plants is to use tomato cages, or something similar.  This works well for determinate plants, but indeterminate plants may eventually outgrow their cages, and a better method of support is usually recommended for them.

Some people like to prune their tomato plants.  There are a lot of opinions on whether this is really necessary. Some folks say this will produce earlier and larger fruit.  Let’s just say it’s optional.  Pruning refers to the removal of side shoots or suckers which develop.  If you are interested in doing this, please give me a call and I’ll send you a guide sheet with photos that show you how to do it.

One of the most important aspects of tomato culture is proper watering.  Tomatoes are subject to a problem called Blossom End Rot.  I’ll talk more about this in a future article, but for now, the easiest remedy is to water the proper amount, as evenly as possible.  You don’t want your tomatoes to dry out excessively, but you don’t want too much water either.

Generally, tomatoes will need about one inch of water per week.  Keep a rain gauge near your garden so you know how much you are getting, so you will know how much water you will need to add.  It’s best to water your tomatoes at ground level, using a soaker hose or similar arrangement.  Watering methods that wet the leaves are less desirable, since wet leaves become diseased more quickly.

Be sure to mulch and keep the weeds down.  You may also want to consider side dressing with fertilizer, applied when the fruits are about one third grown.