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Grow Your Best-Ever Tomato Crop!

We think nothing tastes like summer more than fresh plump tomatoes! Especially ones you’ve grown yourself. Make this year your healthiest, most abundant tomato yield ever with these helpful tips.

Feed!— Use a fertilizer that is built to support the fruiting nature of tomatoes. While nitrogen gives you strong healthy plants in other parts of your garden, tomatoes really need higher potassium and phosphorus levels to produce abundant, high-quality fruit. They are also prone to calcium deficiency which is what causes blossom-end rot. This appears as a sunken, leathery, rotted spot on the blossom end of your tomatoes. Watering is a big factor as to why your plants may be calcium deficient. The stress of irregular watering (too much, too little, too random) might be keeping the plant from taking in the calcium. Over-watering can wash calcium right out of the soil.

Prune!— Pruning opens circulation which helps prevent fungal disease. In fact, poor air circulation around the base of your plants may be the leading cause of molds and mildews. Pruning also helps with bigger fruit and earlier ripening. We recommend trimming the bottom leaves and suckers off of all indeterminate varieties (ones that grow and keep fruiting until stopped by frost or disease). When trimming the bottom leaves you can go as much as 12 inches up the stem. Use a pair of sharp, clean pruners. Cleanliness is important so you aren’t unwittingly spreading disease from plant to plant. Also be careful not to trim too many of the upper leaves as they will protect the fruits from sunscald later on.

Support!— Stake and tie plants that weren’t caged earlier in the season. If your tomatoes are growing well in their cages, you can reach in and prune off some of the leaves to create better airflow. Make sure not to remove the leaves directly above and below the fruit cluster as these are the ones that send sugar to the fruit!

Diligent observation!— At this time of year we have customers begin to bring in photos or specimens of tomato problems they are experiencing. One big concern is the curling of tomato leaves when there is no sign of insect infestation. Three common causes of tomato leaf curl:

  • Heat exhaustion— Tomatoes will wilt in the hot afternoon but don’t automatically assume they are thirsty. If they droop but the soil is wet, they need a shade, not more water. Make a simple shade cloth with bamboo poles and some frost blanket or a sheet.
  • Herbicide injury— This can be caused by accidentally spraying an herbicide on your plants or herbicide drift can come in from a neighboring yard, field, or ditch. Unfortunately, these injuries will usually lead to the death of your tomato so if caught early, it is recommended that you plant another one. There has been some success with pruning leading to healing but even then your production will be severely diminished.
  • Curly Top virus— Prevention is the only way to beat this virus. Once your tomatoes have it, there is no effective chemical cure. Leaves thicken and curl upwards and you will notice purple veins. This purple color is what differentiates this leaf curl problem from the first two mentioned. Curly Top virus is spread plant to plant by leafhoppers during their migration northward. Neem oil application may be effective in controlling leafhopper population but will not prevent the virus.
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