Planting tomatoes in your home garden can be a successful and fast-growing endeavor. However, if you are new to gardening, you may make mistakes during the process. Fortunately, some of these errors can be corrected, allowing your plant to flourish once again.
Numerous factors can lead to the withering of your plant, such as planting too soon, selecting an inappropriate location, or watering improperly. Therefore, to ensure that you cultivate tomatoes with confidence, it is essential to steer clear of eight mistakes that could prove costly.
9 Deadly Mistakes To Avoid When Growing Tomatoes
1. Planting Tomatoes Too Early
To ensure optimal growth of summer crop tomatoes, it is important to avoid planting them too early, as they require warm temperatures and do not tolerate cold weather. The soil temperature should reach at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and the young plants should be 6 to 8 inches tall before transplanting.
Rushing the planting process may cause blossom drop, where flowers fall before fruit forms. Moreover, if temperatures drop too low at night, the tomatoes may become misshapen or scarred at the blossom end, but they are still safe to eat. Many popular tomato varieties are not perfectly round or red.
2. Planting Tomatoes in the Wrong Location
Selecting the appropriate location is crucial for planting tomatoes. Although these plants thrive in warm temperatures, it is important to maintain cool and moist soil to prevent diseases.
To avoid dried-out soil and plants, avoid planting tomatoes in areas where potatoes or peppers have been grown in the last couple of years. For optimal growth, choose an open spot that receives at least eight hours of sunlight per day and has well-drained soil. Consider using mulch to retain moisture and prevent evaporation. Mulching around the plant 2 to 4 inches deep can control weeds, prevent the spread of diseases, and allow water to penetrate deeply into the roots.
When applying mulch, create a small well around the base of the plant by pulling back the layer about 2 inches from around the stem. This helps to prevent moisture from accumulating around the stem and causing rot or other problems.
3. Planting Tomatoes Too Close Together
Wanting a plentiful harvest is a natural desire, but cramming too many tomato plants together can impede their growth. When plants are in close proximity, they don’t receive sufficient airflow and can be shaded by nearby foliage. To ensure that your tomato plants have adequate space to flourish, it’s crucial to adhere to the suggested spacing recommendations.
To determine the ideal spacing for your particular tomato variety, consult the seed packet or conduct research online. Typically, determinate tomato plants should be placed 18 inches to 2 feet apart, with each row spaced 4 feet apart. Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, should be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart and rows should be left 5 to 6 feet apart.
If you’re uncertain about whether your tomato plants are determinate or indeterminate, it’s beneficial to understand the distinction to maximize your gardening efforts.
By providing sufficient room for your tomato plants to grow, you can enhance their airflow and exposure to sunlight, resulting in a healthier and more productive harvest.
4. Planting the Wrong Type of Tomatoes
To successfully plant tomatoes, it’s crucial to select the appropriate type of tomato plant depending on your desired harvest outcome. Determinate tomatoes are a favored choice for home gardens as they are simple to manage and grow to a height of around 3 feet, making them suitable for gardeners with limited space.
These plants produce fruit all at once, which makes them ideal for preserving or canning. On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes can grow and produce fruit continuously, with some plants reaching up to 20 feet tall. They are suitable for those who desire a regular supply of tomatoes for homemade dishes and salads. Indeterminate plants will continue to yield fruit throughout the summer and into fall until the first frost sets in.
It’s essential to note that determinate and indeterminate tomatoes are just two of the many tomato varieties available. When choosing a tomato plant to grow, consider factors such as taste, texture, and size to ensure that you obtain the highest possible yield for your gardening aspirations.
5. Watering Tomatoes at the Wrong Time of Day
For your tomato plants to grow and stay healthy, it’s crucial to water them at the appropriate time of day. It’s not recommended to water them late in the afternoon, but instead, you should try to water them in the morning or at dusk when the sun and temperatures are not too high.
It’s preferable to water them in the early morning, but watering them in the evening is also acceptable as long as you avoid watering them when the sun is high and temperatures are high, as this can cause the water to evaporate quickly, and the soil may not absorb enough water.
6. Watering Tomatoes Too Often or Not Enough
Achieving the right balance of watering is crucial for healthy tomato plants. Overwatering can affect the fruit’s taste, and underwatering can cause diseases. Instead of shallow and frequent watering, consider using a drip irrigation system for a gentler approach. As the plants mature, “deep watering” is the best practice, where the soil is slowly soaked to allow the water to penetrate deeply into the roots.
It is recommended to water deeply once or twice a week, but sandy soil may need watering every four to five days, while heavy soil can go seven to 10 days. Consistent moisture is essential, so check the soil daily by placing your finger an inch or two beneath the surface to ensure that it is evenly moist. However, avoid sudden or irregular changes in moisture levels that can cause problems like splitting and blossom end rot. Near the end of the season, reducing irrigation can improve flavor, but keep the plants well-hydrated during the growing season.
7. Fertilizing Tomatoes Too Much or Not Enough
Achieving healthy tomato plants requires proper fertilization, which can be challenging. Giving too much or too little fertilizer can result in issues like calcium deficiency or overgrowth of foliage.
To avoid such problems, it’s advisable to choose an organic tomato fertilizer that includes NPK micronutrients and calcium in balanced proportions. A good dose of phosphorus in the fertilizer will promote the production of fruit. Different types of tomato fertilizers, such as granular, water-soluble, or slow-release options, are available. However, it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application rates and timing. Over-fertilization can be harmful, just like under-fertilization.
As a gardener, you should regularly check your plants for signs of nutrient deficiency or excess, such as yellowing leaves, stunted growth, or leaf burn. You should adjust your fertilizer application as necessary.
8. Not Providing Proper Support
Supporting tomato plants is crucial to ensure optimal growth, prevent diseases and pests, facilitate harvesting, and maximize garden space. Whether you are growing determinate or indeterminate tomato varieties, providing support structures can be beneficial.
It’s important to support tomato plants immediately after transplanting to prevent root damage. There are three popular methods for supporting tomato plants:
- Staking involves using metal or wooden stakes that are usually 3 to 6 feet long, depending on the tomato variety. As the plant grows taller, the main stem is loosely but securely tied to the stake.
- Caging is a simple method that involves using wire cages to support and contain plants. The tomato stems are pulled through the wire as the tomatoes grow.
- Trellising is an effective and visually pleasing support option, particularly for indeterminate tomato varieties. It can be done using string, metal posts, or wire tied together in rows, as long as the structure is sturdy enough to hold the heavy limbs of the plants.
9. Under-Pruning or Over-Pruning Tomato Plants
Proper pruning of tomato plants is essential to ensure optimal growth and yield without damaging the plants. For determinate tomato plants, it is not recommended to prune them as it can negatively affect the harvest. In contrast, indeterminate plants should be pruned once they reach a height of 6 to 8 inches. During pruning, it is advisable to remove the leaves at the end of a stem up to the next stem or node to improve air circulation and reduce the risk of disease.
This practice can also lead to larger fruit and faster ripening. However, it is important to avoid over-pruning tomato plants, as excessive pruning can cause sunscald and pale spots on the fruit due to overexposure to sunlight. To avoid this, always leave enough leaves on the plant after pruning to provide adequate shade for the plant.
10. Letting Pests Eat Your Tomatoes Before You Can
Protecting Your Tomato Plants from Pests Despite your best efforts to care for your tomato plants, pests can still wreak havoc on your garden and damage your crop. Here are some common tomato pests to be on the lookout for and tips for dealing with them: Hornworms are green caterpillars that can grow up to 5 inches in length and may feed on the edges of tomato leaves. If you spot them, simply remove them by hand and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
Spider mites can cause spots on the leaves and gather on the undersides. You can use a garden hose to spray both sides of the leaves to remove them or try using an insecticidal soap. Stink bugs can leave pale spots on the fruit by feeding on sap. Although stink bugs can be bothersome, the unaffected parts of the tomato fruit are still edible.
To eliminate stink bugs, you can spray them with warm, soapy water or drown them in a soapy solution when you see them. By being vigilant for these pests and taking action when necessary, you can safeguard your tomato plants and enjoy a fruitful harvest.