Today, I thought I would share with you some simple tips for healthier tomato plants to help you avoid common pitfalls and meet with success in your growing endeavours.
Tomatoes are an extremely popular crop to grow. But there are unfortunately a number of things that can go wrong when growing them in your garden. If you are growing tomatoes, you may sometimes be disappointed by poor performance and lacklustre yields.
Where Possible, Start Tomatoes Early, Indoors in the UK
One of the most important things when growing tomatoes in the UK is getting the timings right. You can plant later. However, for the best chances of obtaining a worthwhile harvest before the end of the growing season, start early. Sow indoors in late February or March, or no later than early April if you will be placing them outdoors.
Select the Right Variety of Varieties For Where You Live
For tomato plants that are as healthy as possible, take time over making your selection. Make sure that you carefully consider the length of your growing season and the environmental conditions you can provide. Some tomato varieties are far better suited to UK growing conditions than others.
Pay Close Attention to Heat and Light
When sowing tomatoes, especially when sowing them indoors early in the season, heat and light are both important. A heated propagator can be beneficial to provide the right temperatures and improve germination rates.
But once germination takes place, make sure the seedlings are uncovered and getting as much light as possible. Too little light in their early lives can make tomato seedlings weak and leggy.
Pot On and Plant Out Tomato Seedlings Promptly and in the Correct Places
Once you have some seedlings growing, the timings of subsequent moves are very important. It is important to pot up the young seedlings promptly into their own individual pots, to avoid competition between seedlings and make sure the young plants get off to the best possible start.
It is also important to make sure that you get your timings right when it comes to moving tomato plants to their final growing positions. Proceed to early and it may still be too cold. But leave it too late the growth may be stunted. Usually, you will plant out just as the first flowers begin to open – but be sure to pay attention to the weather and the forecast.
Make sure that you plant in a suitable sunny and sheltered spot outdoors or in an undercover growing area.
Plant the tomatoes just a little deeper than the level they were at in their pots to encourage strong root system formation.
Invest in a Polytunnel For Best Results
In the UK, growing tomatoes outdoors can be hit and miss. In a poor summer, the results can be disappointing. You will usually find that you are able to obtain better yields of tomatoes and other warm weather crops if you grow them in a polytunnel. An undercover growing area means that you won’t have to contend quite as much with unpredictable weather patterns.
Planting out tomatoes into a polytunnel rather than outdoors can lead to healthier tomato plants and higher yields of tomatoes for you.
Provide Appropriate Support Structures Where Required
There are two different main types of tomato that you might grow: indeterminate or cordon types, and determinate or bush types. Understanding which type you are growing will help you determine if support structures are required. Cordon types will always need some form of support, while bush types will sometimes just need a little propping or support, but will frequently be fine on their own.
Make sure you know what type you are growing and provide the appropriate support where necessary.
Pinch Out Side Shoots on Cordon Types
If you are growing cordon type tomatoes, you should pinch out the side shoots to leave just one central stem for the best results.
Water Consistently and Correctly
Tomatoes need plenty of water, and it is important to be consistent in the amount of water you supply. Try to water deeply and regularly, rather than dribs and drabs at one time, as shallow watering can encourage shallower roots. Remember that tomatoes in grow bags, pots or other containers will need to be watered more frequently than those in the ground.
Try to water your plants early in the day where possible. And water the soil not the plants. Try to avoid wetting the foliage, flowers and fruit as this can increase the likelihood of fungal diseases taking hold.
Mulch Around Tomato Plants When Planting Into Their Final Growing Positions and Over Summer
Mulching will provide fertility, reduce watering needs by reducing moisture loss from the soil, and suppress weeds to a degree.
After planting tomato plants, spread a mulch of homemade compost or well-rotted manure around your plants – but take care not to pile it close around the stem or it may rot.
I also find it beneficial to add a mulch of comfrey leaves around tomato plants in summer. Comfrey leaves are high in potassium and give a boost for fruit formation.
Companion Plant Around Tomato Plants
Be sure to think also about what you will plant close to tomatoes to aid them. Companion plants like basil and garlic can help in beneficial wildlife attraction and repel, confuse or distract tomato pests. Marigolds, calendula and borage, and other flowers and herbs, can also be great companion plants for tomatoes. These are just a few examples.
Provide Tomatoes With a Liquid Feed From When Fruits Begin to Form
Comfrey leaves are also excellent to make an organic liquid plant feed for your tomato plants. Use this or another organic liquid feed every couple of weeks from when the fruits first begin to form.
These are just some tips, but should help you avoid some of the most common issues, grow healthier tomato plants and obtain a better tomato harvest in your garden.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.