Tomato Growing Tips

Get your tomato plants off to a healthy start with these smart suggestions.

Mulch for sure.
While plastic mulch has proved its worth, all-natural mulches also help tomatoes grow well. Surround your plants with a layer of straw, leaves, dried grass clippings or pine needles and it will keep the plants' roots cool, prevent weeds from sprouting around them and retain moisture in the soil. Because these mulches keep the soil cool, don't apply them until after the soil warms to 65 degrees F. 
Pluck the first flowers.
Growing deep, extensive roots and a full leaf canopy will help establish newly transplanted tomatoes. Many experienced tomato growers pull off the first flowers, so the plant does not devote energy to forming fruit before its roots and foliage have filled out. Amy Goldman, who grows hundreds of heirloom tomatoes in her Rhinebeck, New York, garden each season, reports, "I pull off all the flowers until the plants reach at least 1 foot tall." She also pulls off all the suckers (shoots that emerge from the main stem below the first fruiting branch). 
Grow them up.
Tomato vines left to sprawl on the soil are more susceptible to attacks by pests and diseases. Sprawling vines take up a lot of room in your garden and the fruit they bear is more difficult to harvest. So stake or cage the vines for your healthiest, most productive tomato crop ever. 
You can revive damaged plants.
If cutworms, mice, slugs, the neighbor's dog or other hazards hack into your transplants, don't despair. If you get to the plant before the sun has baked the life out of it, cut an inch or so off the bottom of the stem and place the rest in a container of water out of direct sun for a week or so. It will sprout roots along the stem. Then transplant it back into garden and watch it grow.