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GardenSMART :: Timely Tips for a Super-Satisfying Summer Tomato Crop

Timely Tips for a Super-Satisfying Summer Tomato Crop

By Joan Casanova, Bonnie Plants
Photographs courtesy of Bonnie Plants, Inc.

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in home gardens across America; most gardeners agree nothing tastes better than a homegrown tomato! It's important to understand common tomato terms, often seen on tomato plant tags, and the basics of growing tomatoes… the more you know the better you'll grow.

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To reap successful tomato rewards you'll need six to eight hours of sun per day, good quality soil, fertilizer, good drainage, plenty of water and room to grow. If you plant tomatoes each season, it's best to rotate them to another spot in the garden.


Indeterminate: Varieties that grow throughout the season, and bloom and produce fruit as long as the weather allows. You'll need to add staking for support since they can grow upwards of 5 feet. If you want fresh tomatoes for salads and sandwiches throughout summer, choose an indeterminate variety.

Determinate: Varieties that grow to a certain size, produce fruit and then stop growing. They bear fruit all at once, and most of their fruit matures within a month or two. These tomatoes can be caged, and determinates work well in containers. If you like to can and make sauce, choose a determinate tomato.

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Heirloom tomatoes: Any tomato that's been around for at least 50 years and is not a hybrid. Heirloom examples include Black Prince, Cherokee Purple, and Mr. Stripey.

Hybrid tomatoes: A tomato bred by plant breeders, crossing two existing tomato varieties, is called a "hybrid." Hybrids can offer better disease resistance, higher yield, and other improved traits. Hybrid examples: Bonnie Original, Big Boy and Tami G.

Heat Tolerant: Some tomato varieties are good choices for weathering high heat. If a heat wave is likely in your area, choose a heat tolerant tomato variety that will bear fruit in high temperatures, such as Florida 91, Heatmaster, Solar Fire or Super Sweet 100's.

Selecting tomato varieties can be daunting, especially if you've never grown them or are overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. The tomato experts at Bonnie Plants suggest you start the selection process by considering how you'll use the tomatoes — in salads, for slicing or for cooking (making sauces). Different types will be more conducive to different uses. A great tool to help you is Bonnie's Tomato Chooser, which will sort through Bonnie's tomato varieties for you. Just check the boxes of the traits you desire and the Tomato Chooser will match your specifications to specific varieties. (There's a Pepper Chooser too!)

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Planting Tomatoes Step-by-Step

Prepare your plot: Loosen the ground to create a welcoming bed for roots to grow. You can add 3 or 4 inches of compost or other organic matter, especially in clay or sandy soils. Then dig a hole that is as deep as the plant is tall because you are going to bury two-thirds of the plant. Tomatoes are the only vegetable planted this way.

Slip plant from pot: Gently remove the plant by slipping off the container from the root ball. Don't tug on the plant stem; this can sever it from the roots. If your plant is in a biodegradable pot, follow label directions; be sure to tear off the bottom half of the bio-pot so plant roots are in direct contact with the soil.

Bury two-thirds of the plant: Set the plant in the hole, deeply enough so two-thirds of it is buried. Roots will sprout all along the buried stem to make the plant stronger. You can pinch off the lower leaves, but it's not necessary.

Fertilize hungry tomatoes: It's best to fertilize according to results from a soil test. All fertilizer labels have three numbers, which represent the primary nutrients: nitrogen (N) - phosphorus (P) - potassium (K). If you haven't tested your soil, choose a fertilizer with a balanced ratio of elements (10-10-10), or one where the middle number is larger than the first number. Whatever you choose, be sure to follow manufacturer label directions for rates and intervals.

Water wisely: Water in the morning hours at the base of the plant, avoiding the leaves. (Never put your plants to bed wet!) To know when to water, stick your finger or a pencil 1.5" down into the soil right near the stem. If dry, water, if moist, wait until dry.

Maintain your mulch: Mulch with pine needles, straw, or compost to help keep moisture in the soil and prevent weeds. Mulch should be 2 to 3 inches deep for effective weed control.

Hefty harvest: Tomatoes are ready to harvest when they have reached their mature color and pull away easily from the stem (check "maturity" on the plant tag). Wash thoroughly and store at room temperature, not the refrigerator, which can interfere with their flavor and texture.

Plant tomatoes that work for you: they're loaded with nutrients, fun to grow and the taste of a homegrown tomato can't be beat! Visit to learn more.


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