Planting for Perfect Tomatoes

by Lisa Watters-Lain, Arizona’s Garden Gal

An amazing truth: A single tomato plant can produce 50 pounds of fruit in a single season. Also, the cost of homegrown tomatoes beats supermarket prices, but more importantly, they taste so much better than their commercially grown cousins.

Sadly, recurring scares in commercial food safety generate serious reasons for us to cultivate our own vegetables. If you’re planning to grow your own tomatoes this year, I suggest you read through the essential, straightforward information that follows. It will get you off to a good start and result in a grand finale of exceptional produce.

It’s All About the Soil

Good soil conducive to healthy, productive vegetable plants must have good drainage and adequate moisture retention. Because vegetable plants need to breathe at the root level to grow plump sweet fruit, proper drainage is vital. Drainage is not an issue for tomatoes grown in containers and/or raised garden beds, which is why I suggest them to first-time tomato gardeners. When working with containers and raised beds, it is essential to use good potting soil and necessary to know that not all soil mixes are equal.

At Watters Garden Center, there is only one choice and it’s Watters Organic Potting Soil. This is the same growers’ mix used to start all of Watters’ non-GMO vegetable-starter plants.

If you have established vegetable beds, the soil must be turned with fresh mulch every spring, and the same holds true when preparing a new tomato patch. A 2- to 3-inch layer of Watters Premium Mulch turned into garden soil at one shovel’s depth is all that’s needed. I also incorporate the following four additives that practically guarantee a healthy bounty. By incorporating these additives along with the mulch into your garden soil, you’ll be impressed by how well your tomato plants produce.

Must-Have Soil Ingredients

  • Calcium nitrate contains calcium and nitrogen, two essential nutrients tomatoes need to prevent blossom-end rot. When fruits are enlarging rapidly, as tomatoes do, sufficient amounts of calcium fail to reach the ends of the fruit, resulting in a deficiency of calcium. Calcium nitrate solves that problem.
  • Bone meal adds an essential source of organic phosphorous that increases root formation. Healthy, thriving roots enable plants to produce a greater abundance of fruit.
  • HuMic granular is a humic acid amendment for all vegetable gardens. It tickles the feet of new plants so they will root deeply into garden soils. Keep in mind that robust roots equal bigger fruits.
  • Watters 7-4-4 all natural plant food is a mixture of cottonseed meal, bird guano, iron and sulfur. It is the perfect food for local vegetable gardens. We named it All Purpose Plant Food because it really does work for all mountain gardening.

BONUS TIP: A tomato plant’s moisture must be regulated or tomatoes will form thick skins that often crack. Add one tablespoon of Aqua Boost Crystals per plant at the time of planting to retain moisture at root level for increased root mass.

Plant Varieties are Key

A critical step to great tomatoes is plant selection. In our climate and soil, I’ve had the best luck with tomato vines that produce small- to medium-size fruits. Any varieties of tomatoes that produce small fruits do well locally; they ripen early and produce heavy crops. They’re the little ones you can’t resist popping into your mouth while picking them. I’m talking about Cherry, Sweet 100 and Yellow Pear tomatoes. All are dependably delicious.

Vines that produce medium-sized fruits also produce well in local gardens. My favorites are Early Girl for salsa, and Champion, Patio and Celebrity for good slicing tomatoes. Many other mid-size producers also do well. The only big tomato recommendation I can make is Ball’s Beefsteak.

Oops! Almost forgot to mention Watters’ ever-increasing selection of heirloom varieties, including Brandywine, Black Krim, Amish Paste, Cherokee Purple and Gold Medal.

Plant Selection & Care

It’s important to know that tomatoes are one of those rare plants that root from the vine when planted deeply in the soil. I like to buy a tall plant that has beautiful foliage at the top and pick off all the lower stems and leaves. This allows me to plant a lot of the main stem well into the soil. The deeper the planting, the bigger the mature tomato plants will be, which is important because large plants are easier to keep adequately watered.

Consistent moisture is critical for tomatoes. To that end, top dress your garden soil with a layer or Premium Mulch when you’ve finished planting. I like to put a single layer of newspaper down around my plants and add a 2-inch layer of mulch on top of the paper. The newspaper controls weeds from growing around the vines, and the mulch regulates the moisture needed by the plant.

Blossoms that drop off tomato plants and just-won’t-set fruit usually are the result of a pollination issue. It’s critical to spray your plants at two-week intervals with Tomato & Pepper Blossom Set. This easy-to-use spray forces flowers to pollinate and set fruit.

If you have more questions about growing your own irresistibly luscious tomatoes, visit me at the garden center for more answers. However, the simple measures I’ve described will produce an extraordinary crop of backyard tomatoes. Truly!

Until the next issue, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping gardening friends grow the perfect tomatoes.

Lisa Watters-Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted through her website at WattersGardenCenter.com or FB.com/WattersGardenCenter.