Planting tips for healthy tomatoes

Q. How can I keep my tomatoes healthy so I can pick more this summer?

Kim from Boardman

A. Tomatoes seem like an easy crop to grow. Buy a few plants. Plant them after the last chance of frost. Stake them. Pick them. Eat them.

But, it’s never that easy.

Better tomatoes start with planning. In the garden, plan to have a site with the most sun possible. If sun is limited, pick the site with the most morning sun. This will help dry off leaves to reduce disease. Prepare the site by doing a soil test, improving drainage so water doesn’t sit around, and add some compost to improve the organic matter content of the soil.

Purchase plants based on variety. Choose some small tomatoes and early varieties of large tomatoes that will be ready to pick in about 50 days from transplant. Choose later varieties to extend the growing season.

Pay attention to disease resistance, especially for virus diseases. There will be letters on the plant tag to show the disease resistance.

Just after planting, mulch plants with 3 to 4 layers of newspapers, overlapped 4 inches. If it is windy, use a hose to wet the papers as you go. Sprinkle bark mulch, grass clippings or compost over the papers to hold them in place. This process will significantly reduce weed pressure for the season, and it will prevent soil borne diseases from splashing up on the leaves of tomato plants.

Be sure to space the plants far enough apart to allow air flow between the plants. Spacing depends on your growing method, staking or caging and pruning practices. In urban settings, place plants at least 2 feet apart.

Plan to stake your tomatoes shortly after planting. Some choose one stake per plant. Others use metal stakes and the Florida Weave to tie all plants up with fewer stakes. This weave pattern uses a figure eight pattern that ends up with a string on each side of the plant for stability without having a stake at each plant.

If you plan to use cages, try training the stems to the outside of the cage and reduce the amount of foliage in the center of the cage.

Prune the lower branches on tomatoes to improve air flow through the plant. Any practice that allows leaves to dry off faster in the morning will reduce disease throughout the growing season. When pruning, be sure not to over prune as tomato fruit can be sunburned if the plant is over pruned.

For varieties and other growing practices for your tomatoes this season, go to

Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Mahoning County. Call 330-533-5538 to submit your questions. Regular clinic hours are 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays.

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