5 Gardening Secrets for a Bountiful Tomato Crop

One of the easiest vegetable plants to grow is tomatoes. A still sun-warmed tomato is one of my favorite treats in the summer! As easy and plentiful as tomatoes are to grow, they can be a bit fussy sometimes, so here are 5 gardening secrets so that you can have a bountiful tomato crop this summer!


5 Gardening Secrets for a Bountiful Tomato Crop

I want to start by saying, don't let any of this post overwhelm or intimidate you. I have literally taken a sad-looking tomato plant on clearance, planted it into the ground and did nothing but water it, and had success. This summer, I have volunteer tomato plants. You know, ones that I didn't plant but have somehow made it through the winter in unfertilized soil and survived. These 5 tips will help you go above and beyond, but shouldn't overwhelm you so you never start. 

Here are some tips on how to rescue clearance plants


Start here! 5 Easy to Grow Veggies to Plant in Early Summer

Prepare the Garden 

Tomatoes like lots of sun, low humidity, and well-worked soil with good drainage. Garden tomatoes won't grow well if nighttime temps are below 55F. That said, tomatoes will thrive almost anywhere if the planting area is sufficiently equipped. Define your plot and determine if a cage is necessary. Dig down at least 12-14" throughout the garden, discarding all large rocks or roots and crumble any large clumps of soil.

Prep the garden bed by mixing in plenty of organic matter like shredded newspaper or bark, compost, bone meal, peat moss, etc. Level the garden area and determine if/where walkways might be needed. Keep in mind the size of the adult tomato plants!

{Optional} Warm your Soil

After preparing your garden soil, tack plastic sheeting or landscape cloth down to your beds for a week or two. This will trap the heat of the sun and warm your beds well before you insert your tender tomato seedlings. Your garden, especially the tomatoes, will thank you for it by rewarding you with an earlier crop.


Give your Tomatoes Lots of Room

Don't crowd your tomatoes! Each tomato plant will grow tall & wide, and each needs ample sun and stretching space. Leave a minimum of 18-20" between plants for the best yield.

Bury Them 

When transplanting tomato seedlings, bury all but the top few layers of leaves on the plant. You can do this in a shallow trench manner for taller transplants. Roots will develop along with all buried parts of the tomato plant stem, and deeper roots will ensure better growth and a stronger plant. Shallow planting makes for spindly stems and small tomatoes. You will be pleasantly surprised at the difference if you have never tried this!

Fertilize Them

Add a few eggshells or a tablespoon of bone meal in the planting hole to help prevent blossom rot {the black or brown ring around the bottom of tomatoes}. The first dose of commercial fertilizer can be added here, as well. Note that tomatoes prefer more phosphorus and potash, but they require less nitrogen, so choose commercial fertilizers with lower first numbers, like 6-12-12, for more fruit and less foliage. Don't overthink this. I've used this and this before.

Plant Basil between Rows or Alternate with Tomato Plants 

Recent studies show that these plants complement each other. Each plant grows larger and more vigorously when planted near one another though the reasons for this remain unclear. Basil goes great with tomatoes as well as many other foods, though, so why not give it a try?


Don't Cage or Support Plants Too Early

Swaying strengthens young stems, resulting in a stronger plant that produces better fruit. Wait till plants are tall enough to require support before caging or tying off to encourage strong stem growth.

I just bought these supports after a friend recommended them and I'm going to get a bunch more!

Water Tomatoes Consistently and Adequately 

A consistent, ample water supply and plenty of sun are the secrets to uniform and tasty garden tomatoes. Misshapen shapes, end rot, and cracking tomatoes are due to inconsistent or inadequate watering. A deep, thorough watering two or three times a week is much more beneficial than shallow, daily watering. Water early in the day, without spraying the leaves, for best results. Allow time between waterings to prevent root rot and mold.

Prune the Tomato Plants

Each plant needs adequate space to produce abundantly, and you should space plants with this in mind. Once the plants get to 4-5", you should prune the most bottom leaf clusters from the stem. A clearance of 1-1.5" maintained between the ground and the first set of leaves is a good standard. This helps prevent fungus, leaf rot, and backsplash contamination from the soil. It makes weeding and mulching a cinch too. You can pinch off sucker shoots that develop between larger, V-joints of the main stem while the plants are still small, but this shouldn't be done too vigorously. Once the plant is solidly established, this is no longer necessary. Some gardeners also pinch off the first set of leaves on the top of the plants to encourage bushier growth below.


Once plants are established, mulch helps regulate the ground temperature and retain moisture in between waterings. Mulch will also help with keeping down weeds. Many types of commercial mulch are available for this, but shredded newspapers, straw, hay, landscape fabric, or plastic sheeting all work well.


Don't miss this post! Vacation Proof Your Garden

And please....don't refrigerate your garden-fresh tomatoes! Putting tomatoes in the fridge causes a breakdown in enzymes, resulting in an unpleasant, grainy texture and diminished flavor. You all know what I'm talking about if you've ever eaten a tomato in the winter. Gross! 

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1 comment

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