Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tomato Tips

               Many folks know that the deeper you plant a tomato the better. The plants develop a much stronger root system off of the stem. Once the plants have settled in and begun to grow, here a few tips that can save time and expense.

Quick Pruning Lesson
2 suckers going and one low branch gone

            Once the tomato is growing nicely, raise the canopy or remove any branch that (with further growth) will make contact with the soil. Many disease issues with tomatoes start with the lowest branches. Disease on most plants is spread by water splashing on the foliage and yes, diseases can spread upwards.
             This is also a good time to pinch out the first suckers the plant is trying to grow. The sucker is the new, vigorous growth that starts between the stem and the older branch or lead. Suckers are primarily vegetative and fruit production is limited when these are allowed to stay. You can root these suckers and start new plants to give you a Fall to Christmas crop of tomatoes.

Water Wisely

We know that many diseases are spread by water splash so let's minimize the opportunity for that to happen. Consider using black round soaker hose or one of the new pressure compensating drip hoses along the row next to the tomato stalk, preferably not touching but very close. Coat hanger or light wire can be bent in a deep U to hold down the hose.

Soaker hoses and Onion scapes to deter pests

Mulch and Cage

       Tomatoes love mulch and mulch cuts down on water loss, weeds and helps keep the roots cool. We like to start with newspaper for weed control. I keep it simple and use whole sections. Two layers equaling 8 sheets of newspaper works really well. Leave a small open square around the stem for watering/fertilizing or lay the paper on top of the drip hose. We top this off with natural mulch or leaves for cosmetic purpose although both materials will work by themselves. Apply your granular fertilizer before mulching. After mulching you can use a liquid product such as fish emulsion or you can siphon in your favorite fertilizer through the soaker hoses.

           Many of the tomatoes we grow are trellised using the Florida Weave, but we are caging this group. We prefer concrete reinforcing wire; it is strong, lasts for years and won’t bend in the middle like so many light wire cages. Many of the varieties we grow can reach 14' + in length so we stake each cage as well ,I prefer rebar because it lasts and can be tapped in to the ground if needed, but wooden / bamboo stakes work just fine.
The plants grow up and out of the cage and then back down and start to run. Pruning can be helpful to a tomato plant, particularly thinning and judicious heading back in mid to late summer. Careful, don't prune too much too quickly at that time or you will scald the plants. Frankly I am so busy at that time of year we don't prune the plants unless they break a limb or I am trying to stop a disease issue. It’s a good idea to sterilize your pruners between cuts.

 It is the first week of June and unseasonably hot. Thrips, aphids and some leaf diseases are starting to show up. Be sure to look on the undersides of the foliage for insects. Leaf curl is often an indicator of their presence. If you must spray do so in the cool just before dark or early in the morning. Try to avoid spraying foliage during the heat of the day with these high temperatures. Of course use the least toxic material, labeled for use on vegetables and follow all label directions.
                Water deeply but infrequently. Trying to water a little every day is futile and can be harmful to the plants. Apply 1” – 1.5” of water a week where possible. Consistent soil moisture is a big key to consistent fruit quality.

No comments:

Post a Comment