7 tips for growing great tomato plants

June 30, 2015

Tomatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables around, delicious eaten raw or cooked into a rich, red sauce. The following seven tips will help your tomato plants stay healthy and strong to yield a bountiful crop of produce for you and your family to enjoy.

7 tips for growing great tomato plants

Banana fix

1. Grow stronger tomato plants by placing three or four banana peels in the bottom of each planting hole. (Note: No need to eat all the bananas at once! Freeze peels in freezer bags until you have enough to work with.) When you plant a tomato seedling, top the peels in the hole with a mixture of dry leaves, manure and soil. Banana peels act as a kind of time-release fertilizer, leaching potassium and trace minerals into the soil.

A corny save

2. Save corncobs and shucks to help tomatoes thrive in arid climates. Place 10 to 12 centimetres (four to five inches) of corn waste at the bottom of each planting hole and cover with a layer of cow manure. Then refill the hole with soil as you plant the seedling, taking care not to mix the three layers. The spongy corn waste will conserve moisture for the roots on hot, dry days.

Sun reflector

3. On really hot days, lay sheets of aluminum foil around the base of your tomato plants, shiny side up, and anchor them with a few stones. The foil will reflect the sun's rays upward, reduce soil temperature by about 10 percent, and help keep the tomatoes' root zones from drying out.

Ladder support

4. If you grow tidy determinate tomato plants, which grow only so big and then stop, consider painting a stepladder in bright colours and using it as an ornamental A-frame trellis. Plant one seedling 7.5 to 10 centimetres (three to four inches) from each leg, then tie the stems loosely to the ladder as they grow. As the plants mature, they'll be supported by the ladder's brackets and slats, and no ripening tomatoes will have to rest on the soil and risk rotting.

When your tomato fruits start to show colour, add a spoonful of sugar to your watering can — especially when you've found a variety you like but that seems a bit too acidic. (That old-time tomato taste we all long for results from an optimum balance of acidity and sweetness.) Your tomatoes will not only be sweeter but juicier.

Epsom salt solution

5. The bane of many a tomato grower, fruit-spoiling blossom end rot is often caused by a calcium deficiency. Stop the disease before it starts with this simple addition to your tomato bed: Use 125 millilitres (1/2 cup) Epsom salt poured into the bottom of each planting hole. Cover the salt with a thin layer of soil before putting in your seedlings. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, which aids the transport of calcium to the tops of tomato plants and the fruit. As a bonus, Epsom salt helps the plants absorb phosphorus and sulfur.

Urban bale-out

6. Live in an urban apartment and have no place to grow tomatoes? If building regulations permit, haul a bale of hay up to the roof and you have a nitrogen-rich medium that heats up like a compost pile. (Plenty of big-city garden centres sell hay, especially in the fall.) Starting in very early spring, give the bale a daily hosing to activate the heating process. Once the bale decays into fertile compost (usually seven to eight weeks), it's cool enough for planting. Stand two stakes in the bale and nestle a tomato seedling into the hay next to each one. A daily watering will keep the plants growing well for the rest of the season.

Easy to handle

7. To make small tools easier to spot when you're working in the tomato patch, paint their handles bright colours — say, fluorescent orange. This way, you won't waste time searching for the trowel you left under the sprawling Golden Jubilee tomato plant two rows away.

These easy tips will keep your tomato plants healthy and strong so you can enjoy juicy, sweet tomatoes all season long.

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