How to Care for Tomato Plants – An Essential Guide
Wondering how to care for tomato plants for best growth and production? Check out this guide for the essential details!
You may already know that tomatoes belong to the Solanaceae or nightshade family of plants, which also includes a number of other veggies, such as potatoes, eggplants, tomatillos, and peppers. Growing tomatoes in your home garden or containers is an excellent way to cultivate biologically, nutritionally, and flavorfully better tomatoes – and it’s relatively easy to get started!
Although the tomato plant has hundreds of varieties, the most popular ones are cherry, grape, Roma, beefsteak, and various varieties of heirloom tomatoes. No matter what tomato variety you select, tomatoes are annuals – that is, they will live for one growing season (although you may be able to extend the season using a greenhouse or other season-extension tools). The climate, environment, variety, and care/maintenance you provide will determine a tomato plant’s growth and productivity.
For instance, you can likely grow tomatoes efficiently and easily if you live in a temperate region. However, temperature fluctuations, such as above 90 degrees or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit will affect the plant’s growth and ability to produce fruit.
Therefore, caring for your tomato plants properly is crucial to producing nutritionally rich and flavorful fruits. The question is, “how to care for tomato plants?” “What factors do you need to consider when growing tomatoes at home?” Today’s post will answer these questions and provide essential details for the home gardener. Read on!
How to Care for Tomato Plants
Tomato plants require less maintenance than many other vegetable species. However, these are fast-growing plants and need lots of essential nutrients to produce a reasonable volume of fruit.
So, you must develop and maintain a care schedule to protect tomato plants from problems like black mold, early blight, powdery mildew, root rot, leaf roll, poor fruit set, and stem canker. Here are the most important factors to consider when caring for tomato plants:
Sunlight and Temperature
Sunlight for tomato plants is critical to streamline photosynthesis and produce energy to make their fruit. So, the more sunshine your tomato plants get, the more fruit they can produce.
Tomato plants love sunlight because they are warm-season species. These plants prefer a constant temperature of 21 to 30 degrees Celsius or 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. So, if you want to make your tomato plants thrive, make sure they receive enough warmth and sunlight!
However, a 2020 study published by NIH states that intense sunlight or higher temperatures (above 85 degrees Fahrenheit) can negatively affect plants. As a result, they may fail to flower or drop the fruits. Moreover, during heat waves, temperatures higher than 90 degrees during the day or 80 degrees Fahrenheit at night can prevent fruits from setting.
We suggest providing temporary shade if possible, and plenty of water. Likewise, you can mulch the soil with a thick layer of organic mulch to help your plants develop a deep root system that will help them to better weather intense conditions.
Water or Hydration
A 2021 research study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that a tomato contains 94% water. Therefore, tomato plants require lots of water to streamline their growth and provide plentiful, juicy fruits.
During the early growing season when your seedings are small, you may need to water your plants daily, especially if it’s hot outside. Once the roots are established and the plants are growing well, they should be watered at least twice a week – or more in dry, hot weather.
Tomato plants require one to two inches of water a week in your home garden. They will need even more water when growing in containers. This is because the soil in containers/pots heats up faster, leading to increased water evaporation.
For potted tomato plants, you will want to water until the water runs freely from the container’s bottom. The general rule of thumb is to water your tomato plants in the morning and check the moisture levels in the afternoon. Water the plant again if the soil is dry one inch below the surface.
A 2019 study highlights the ideal soil moisture levels for tomato plants, which is between 60% and 70%. We recommend using a moisture meter or hygrometer to measure the soil moisture levels.
Fertilizer and Soil
Tomato plants require rich and fertile soil because they are heavy feeders of essential nutrients. However, the bad news is that without amendments, they can quickly deplete the soil of its essential nutrients, negatively affecting the plant’s growth.
So, this is where fertilizers come into play to maintain the plants’ overall vitality and well-being. Add plenty of finished compost to your soil before planting, and feed your tomato plants with a natural, organic fertilizer, such as adding slow-release granules during planting. You can also water your plants with compost tea.
Next, use a phosphorus-heavy blend after the plants begin flowering. You can top-dress the plants with granules at least once a month. The other option is to use liquid formulas every two weeks.
According to the College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (CAES), tomatoes require rich, fertile, and well-draining soil with 6.0 to 6.8 ph. Remember, your tomato plants will lack potassium and become more prone to diseases if the soil pH is too acidic.
Pruning and Pest Control
A tomato plant does not necessarily require pruning if it grows and produces at a reasonable rate. However, you can trim a tomato plant if it has poor fruiting or disease issues. Pruning prevents soil-borne diseases, maintains transpiration, and improves airflow, leading to healthy and optimal growth.
Pruning side stems below the fruit clusters is an excellent way to grow a vigorous plant with larger fruits, but it isn’t always necessary. As the plant matures, its lower leaves may turn yellow. You should pinch or prune the leaves to prevent diseases, enhance airflow, and streamline fruit production.
Thrips, aphids, hornworms, and whiteflies are common pests that negatively affect the plant’s development and growth. To control these pests, you may treat your plants with organic insecticidal soap, a sharp stream of water, or a neem oil spray. BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) is an organic-approved spray that will kill tomato hornworms without harming your plants or other beneficial insects. However, picking hornworms by hand is simple and effective if you only have a few plants.
If you have problems with animals such as squirrels bothering your tomato plants, you can use chicken wire to protect the entire plant from small and large pests.
How to Care for Tomato Plants – FAQs
How Long Does It Take Tomatoes To Grow?
Tomatoes require 60 to 100 days to harvest. Bear in mind that the growth duration depends on the variety, sunlight, temperature, soil moisture/pH, and routine care.
How Many Tomatoes Do I Get from One Plant?
You can often get 20-30 tomatoes from a medium-sized plant growing at a healthy rate. A typical tomato plant has an average yielding capability of 18 fruits. However, if you grow Roma tomatoes, you can expect an average of 30 fruits per plant, and of course, cherry or grape tomato varieties may provide hundreds of sweet little fruits from a single plant.
Is Morning or Afternoon Sun Better for Tomatoes?
Tomato plants require morning sun to optimize their overall growth. Morning sunlight ensures the dew/water/moisture evaporates quickly. Afternoon sun can also be helpful for plant health, but during hot weather, it may cause plant stress. If you have to choose between morning or afternoon sun when planting your tomatoes, choose a spot with more morning sunlight.
The Bottom Line
Growing tomatoes in your home garden (or containers) does not require a lot of work or maintenance to provide a delicious crop. However, there are a few things you’ll want to provide in order to produce loads of fresh, tasty, and flavorful fruit for your table. Follow the evidence-based tips and guidelines in this post to streamline your tomato plants’ health and growth. You’ll be rewarded with better, fresher, and healthier tomatoes than you’ll find in any store!