Food Gardening Network

Growing Good Food at Home

Tip #3: Ensure the Right Soil, Sun, and Fertilizer for Your Tomatoes

Having healthy tomato plants starts with having great soil in which to grow them, and there’s nothing like good old-fashioned compost to give your plants some of the organic materials they need to thrive.

You don’t really want to grow your tomato plants in 100% compost. Pure compost lacks some of the minerals that tomatoes need to grow and thrive. A 30% mix of compost with your overall soil is a good balance. Buy a soil mix that includes granite dust to mix with your compost and topsoil—10% soil mix with your 30% compost should combine with 60% of the remaining top soil you already have.

Tomato plants need a lot of sun, at least six hours of full daily sun exposure. And if you want to boost your harvest and grow tastier and sweeter fruits, try giving your tomato plants eight hours of sun per day. You’ll either need to plant according to the sun’s daily patterns if you’ve planted in open land or in raised beds. With containers or pots, you’ll need to move your plants around to optimize the sun exposure for your plants.

While the tomato plants themselves need plenty of sunlight, the fruits mature faster in the shade. With containers or pots, you can easily manage this situation by moving the pots around. For plants in open land or in raised beds, your best strategy is to plant in areas that eventually have partial shade sometime during the day.

And it’s perfectly fine to expose your tomatoes to morning sunlight, afternoon sunlight, or a combination of both—as long as the plants get enough sunlight, without getting too much.

Tomatoes need lots of nutrients to properly grow, and fertilizers can provide the extra nutrients that tomatoes need to grow quickly and fully.

Using tomato fertilizer depends on the current nutrient content of your soil. To be certain, the best thing is to have your soil tested. If your soil is correctly balanced or high in nitrogen, you should use a fertilizer that is slightly lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus, such as a 5-10-5 or a 5-10-10 mixed fertilizer. If your soil is lacking in nitrogen, use a balanced fertilizer like 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. If you can’t get a soil test, just go ahead and use higher phosphorus tomato plant fertilizer—unless you’ve experienced past problems with sickly tomato plants.

Fertilize your tomatoes when you first plant them by mixing the tomato-plant fertilizer in with the soil at the bottom on the planting hole. Then, place some unfertilized soil on top of this before placing the tomato plant into the planting hole. If raw fertilizer has direct contact with the plant roots, it can burn the tomato plant.

As soon as your tomato plants start bearing fruit, you can fertilize again right after watering the plants well. Failure to water the plants first can cause the plants to absorb too much fertilizer all at once and burn them. When fertilizing, stay at least 6 inches away from the base of the plant—fertilizer running off onto the stem can also burn your tomato plants.

Add light amounts of fertilizer every one to two weeks during the growing season until the first frost kills your plants.


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