By MIKE BEAUDIS
OSU Ext. Master Gardener Volunteer
We passed the first day of summer a couple of weeks ago, which means every growing day will have a little less daylight for our tomatoes. Hard to believe, but true.
I love tomatoes and can’t wait until the first one is ripe. To get started, I suggest you do what I do — just choose the variety you like.
This year I did one thing right and one wrong. I had the soil tested through the OSU Extension office, which showed my soil was slightly low in nitrogen and phosphate. I added urea and triple phosphate at the recommended rates along with compost about two weeks before planting. My mistake was the same as what I’ve done in years past: I planted too early and had to cover the plants three nights in a row to prevent frost damage. Therefore, my first and most important recommendation is to not plant tomatoes and other warm-weather plants until Memorial Day here in the Mahoning Valley.
I plant my tomatoes in well-drained soils and in hills in order to ensure that enough air space exists near the roots. I keep the rows 3 feet apart and the plants separated by at least 2 feet. If you intend to stake the plants, drive the stakes in before you place the plants in order to avoid damage to the roots.
After the plants are in, I apply mulch to keep down the weeds (unless you have time to and like to pull weeds every day, all summer.) The next important consideration is when to water and how much to provide. It is best to water in the morning because the tomatoes need water while photosynthesis is occurring. Avoid watering in the evening to prevent moisture from being on the leaves, which promotes infection by fungal diseases.
Probably the best way to apply water is through the use of a soaker hose because the amount of water can be controlled and does not splash onto the leaves. However, careful watering with a standard sprinkling can will also achieve good results. About an inch of water per week is adequate, with maybe a little more when the fruit is starting to size up.
As often as possible you should inspect your tomato plants to insure that leaves and stems are not close to the ground. Just prune these off as they develop over the course of the growing season. This practice will reduce disease by increasing the air flow between the plants.
After the first cluster of flowers have set fruit, an additional side dressing of a nitrogen fertilizer can be applied along the rows and then watered in.
For additional information on tomatoes, we have a new factsheet with all of the details on growing tomatoes at http://go.osu.edu/tomatoes.